Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The Left list

I’m old enough to remember when lists were about shopping - or activity displacement (there’s no better way of avoiding what you’ve got to do than compiling a ‘to do’ list). Then someone at the Sun had the bright idea of running ‘20 Things You Didn’t Know About Freddie Starr’s Hamster’ on a slow news day. Journalists hunt in packs, so before you could say ‘Scoop!’ we were all at it. Lists became the order of the day.

They started as simple top tens, padding out the colour supplements and lifestyle magazines. The Sunday Times took them upmarket with its first ‘Rich List’ in 1989. And now you can’t turn on Channel 4 or Five of a weekend without coming across at least one evening given over to ‘100 best films beginning with the letter F’.

So it’s no surprise that someone has finally got around to doing a ‘top 100′ of the left. I’d have expected the Guardian to have got in there ahead of the Telegraph but it’s probably more fun to do it from the right because you don’t care so much about who you offend by leaving them off.

But in truth there’s not much fun in the Telegraph’s Left list. It’s 80 per cent Labour establishment (Gordon Brown and Tony Blair occupy the top two slots, while eight of the next 15 are in the Cabinet and three more work at Downing Street), with a random smattering of mavericks (David Osler, formerly of this parish, comes in ahead of John Pilger, which should please Dave, if not John) to get everyone talking.

Red Pepper editor Hilary Wainwright opposes the idea of a ‘top left list’ in principle - and not just because she’s not on it (shame!). She complains that it ignores all those unsung natural born rebels out there. The authors of this list, Iain Dale and Brian Brivati, have also relied on a rather odd definition of what it is to be ‘left’:

‘To cut through the mess contemporary politics has made of traditional political labels, we have adopted a policy of allowing people to describe themselves,’ they write.

‘Politics is today mostly about branding. Being on the left is, in essence, a brand which identifies with certain historical trends and against certain others. To be on the left is to be for forms of change to the existing status quo, for reform in a broad sense.’

‘To be for forms of change to the existing status quo’? That’s as opposed to being for reforms to the non-existing status quo, presumably?

All together then, comrades - on or off the list. What do we want? Reform in a broad sense. When do we want it? Now!

4 comments:

Oscar Reyes said...

It is a very strange list of ‘lefties’ that they’ve come up with, isn’t it? I wonder what a leftie-compiled version of the best ‘right wing’ bloggers would look like? Not that I’m volunteering to compile one, mind…

Freddie T said...

As you say the list is largely a Who’s Who of the Labour establishment. Then it just gets silly. No offence to David Osler, who I am sure is a fine blogger - but “influential”? and more influential than John Pilger? When the New Statesman did a “50 Heroes” poll a little while ago Pilger came in 4th behind Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela and Bob Geldof. That was silly as well but people did vote him there so it does say something about his influence.

Paul Evans said...

Placing Pilger in 100th place was a massive overstatement of his influence as a left-winger.

Outside of a small parish of political negativists, Pilger’s advocacy of almost any point provides a strong signpost pointing to causes that should be ignored. He’s recycled almost the same article for the past fifteen years - simple explanation - every unwelcome phenomenon is only caused by the perfidious Americans.

This simplification is as idiotic as it is politically damaging to everyone who adopts it. I’ve never come across the word ‘automarginalisation’ before, but it is very useful for describing anyone who choses to cite any observation by Pilger on any particular issue in support of their case.

This is clearly not the case with Dave Osler. He adopts a position that is no more comforting to the political centre or the right than Pilger. But he avoids simplifications, applies a materialist critique (as opposed to a hopelessly idealistic one), acknowledges rival arguments and is prepared to respond to criticism. He is conversational and is concerned with actually achieving change - as opposed to Pilger’s relentless pessimism.

Objectively, Pilger should be listed as one of the most influential right-wingers. He’s done more to infantilise the left than anyone else I can think of.

Ellen Jones said...

Ellen Jones Says:

October 2nd, 2007 at 10:22 pm edit

It doesn’t matter if John Pilger is right or wrong. If the list is about the 100 most **influential** people on the Left then he must certainly rank higher than almost any other journalist.

I also wonder if Dave Osler’s appearance on this list has anything to do with him writing for Iain Dale. Only asking.

Ellen Jones Says:

October 2nd, 2007 at 10:24 pm edit

Unfortunate juxtaposition of titles on this blog by the way.

Should the left give up on Labour? Even though it’s run by blacks