A selection of the writing, wittering and viewing that has caught our attention over the past week.
► Judged solely by name, the Conservatives should be the nostalgic party. But, as anyone who’s spent time in left-wing circles knows, said title actually belongs to Labour.
Of course the eras, leaders and causes celebrated vary according to faction. While all of Labour invokes the Spirit of ’45, those on the right more readily laud the white-hot governments of the 1960s-vintage Harold Wilson, whereas the left looks back to … well … the years when Labour has been out of power. Indeed, for the uncompromising Bevanite or Bennite, the bitterer the failure, and the purer the principle clung to throughout, the better. Thus the decade par excellence for Corbynistas must be the 1930s, with the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, a hated Tory hegemony, Labour’s (ultimately deposed) pacifist leader George Lansbury, and the intellectual torch represented by the Left Book Club.
It was at an event marking the resuscitation of the latter, last Tuesday, that Ken Livingstone revealed his appointment as co-chair of the party’s defence review (a cause of some harrumphing in the shadow cabinet, we hear). The former London mayor was the keynote speaker ahead of a discussion of the question ‘Can Corbyn’s Labour become a mass movement for radical change?’. (We assume the answer wasn’t a negative.)
In attendance, too, was Ian Jack, who reflected on the history of the original Left Book Club in the Guardian. As he noted, the venture – publishing topical radical tracts affordably – proved surprisingly popular, attracting 40,000 subscribers in its first year. But that was still tiny compared to the 2.25 million readership of Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express, so you might well wonder why a publisher whose last title was released in 1948 has so long lingered in the collective memory of the left.
The reason, surely, is the calibre of the contributors it attracted. To cite just a few: Clement Attlee, Ellen Wilkinson, André Malraux, C.L.R. James, Stephen Spender and Michael Foot. The writers for the new Left Book Club – which include, of course, Lord Redken himself – have tough acts to follow.
And toughest of all is George Orwell, whose The Road to Wigan Pier was published by the club in 1937. Although, as Jack observed, Mr Blair – tending to a dismal view of his fellow travellers – quickly posed a problem for founder Victor Gollancz:
As the publisher who commissioned The Road to Wigan Pier, he was also among the first to read Orwell’s typescript. He loved the first of the book’s two parts and hated the second, when the narrative leaves off describing hardship and turns to the socialist prescription for curing it. In his view, Orwell had traduced his fellow socialists as Stalinists, vegetarian cranks and middle-class snobs. The Communists among the club’s associates were particularly upset. In an desperate attempt to placate the book’s critics, Gollancz wrote an introduction that dissed the second half.
► Unsurprisingly, few conservatives spend much time hankering after the National Book Association or the Right Book Club, two responses to Gollancz’s success from the other side of the political spectrum. Neither merits, it would appear, a Wikipedia entry, while the website of bookseller Foyles omits to mention the role played by its ‘idiosyncratic’ manager Christina Foyle in the founding of the latter; although Foyles are keen to point out the following:
When Hitler started burning books in the 1930s, William [Foyle] had immediately telegrammed the Fuhrer to request that he be able to purchase them instead and would offer a good price; the response quickly came back that Germany had no books to sell and the burning would continue. Years later at the start of the Blitz Foyles filled sandbags with old books to protect the shop from damage and William announced that he was covering the roof with copies of Mein Kampf to ward off bombers.
Ah, the Blitz spirit! A more cozy association than a book club whose publications not only lauded appeasement, but openly admired the Nuremberg rallies and the Nazis’ use of forced labour to reduce unemployment.
► Someone who might benefit from the existence of a conservative book club (not the ersatz Cameroon variety, mind you) is Lion & Unicorn’s long-standing favourite Peter Hitchens. Apparently he has problems finding a publisher, although we can’t help thinking that a Christian of such doomy bent probably relishes his status as a voice in the wilderness.
Still, there are issues on which policy-makers might benefit us all by heeding him. For many years Hitchens has been collating evidence for a link between cannabis use and violent phenomena such as the lonely gunmen who periodically embark on killing sprees in the United States, and the atrocities committed by so-called Islamist terrorists. As every new horror hits the news cycle, so Hitchens adds to his pile, and the recent events in Paris have been no exception. Indeed, regular readers of his blog will know that the exceptions are few and far between.
Yet Hitchens’ calls for an inquiry into the question go ignored. His fellow hacks seem largely unperturbed, no significant public official has deigned even to patronise his suggestion, and his own newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, appears similarly disinclined to pursue the matter.
Which is all very odd, given the sheer regularity of the correlation. One need not be a zealous narc to entertain the idea that concentrated forms of cannabis (i.e. skunk) could, if consumed intensively – and by angry young men in particular – produce changes in behaviour and mental health. Few doubt alcohol has such a capacity. As Hitchens put it this week:
What does this mean? I don’t claim to know. Conceivably, it means nothing at all, though surely the habitual use of powerful mind-altering drugs by people who then commit crimes of extraordinary horror and callousness is suggestive of something, even to the most prejudiced mind?
I just think the pattern of correlation between terrorist outrages and drugtaking needs to be investigated and noticed in a scientific and objective fashion, and examined on each occasion these events happen. It shouldn’t be left to dissenting journalists to compile such things.
► The attempts to uncover instances of the sexual abuse of children in the past has become a familiar part of modern life. Last month a new name was added to the list of the accused: the Church of England issued an apology (and paid compensation) to an alleged victim of George Bell, Bishop of Chichester until his death in 1958.
Bell had long been seen as one of the greatest Anglican clergymen of the twentieth century, and many observers (including Peter Hitchens) are unhappy at his posthumous treatment. Here is a summary of the case for the defence from the Virtue Online site:
George Bell, former Bishop of Chichester, is being unpersoned and expunged from all memory. For those who knew him, it is disquieting. For everyone who cares about justice and due process, it is time to stand up for the presumption of innocence, for without it, we’ve all had it.
► A couple of weeks ago, we were watching archive footage of the aforementioned George Lansbury, a leader of the Labour Party who never became prime minister. Here’s another of very different stripe, Hugh Gaitskell, defending Labour’s commitment to nuclear weapons against unilateralism: ‘I would not wish, for one day, to remain a leader who had lost the confidence of his colleagues in Parliament’.
► And finally, 25 years ago today, Margaret Thatcher announced that she would resign as leader of the Conservative Party and as prime minister. Here she is in the 1970s, while she was still leader of the opposition, talking with William F. Buckley, Jr on American television about freedom, science and socialism: