Extremists and the mainstream: the case of Comrade Newman

17 September 2013

The Chippenham Labour Party has decided that its candidate to contest the 2015 general election will be one Andy Newman. As the anti-totalitarian blogs Howie’s Corner and Harry’s Place have already argued he is almost certain to be the worst politician to stand for a mainstream party. An innocent observer, who believes the British Left’s protestations that it is for workers’ rights and against sexism, racism and homophobia, could go further wonder how such a man could get close to the Labour Party – let alone close enough to run on a Labour ticket.

Newman manages the laughably named “Socialist Unity” website: laughable, not just because it engages in vicious factionalism, but because it indulges the religious strain of far-right thinking. He has campaigned against Anne Marie Waters of One Law for All , which opposes the imposition of Sharia law in the UK. In other words, he has put himself on the wrong side of the struggle between religion and women’s rights. Socialist Unity praises the Iranian theocracy, which as well as subjugating women, denying democratic rights, persecuting minorities and murdering homosexuals, jails the leaders of the Iranian left, who might have hoped for support from their western comrades. None is forthcoming from Newman because he, like many others, has concluded that supporting the ayatollahs is ‘progressive’, although he has the grace to add (see comment 5) that ‘progressive politics is a very broad and possibly contradictory concept’.

Isn’t it just? In his case, progressive politics also means going along with Hamas and with the Communist Party of China’s restrictions on workers’ rights – (see comment 5) ‘It is not unusual for socialist governments to have a tension with trade unions…who impede the advance towards greater equality.’

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The tidy minded may find simultaneous support for Islamist Iran and Communist China inconsistent in the extreme. But within the modern radical mentality, it makes sense. All that is left of the far left after the collapse of Marxist-Leninism is the desire to follow anti-western feeling wherever it may lead. If it means supporting atheist commissars one minute and inquisitorial mullahs the next, so be it. The incoherence behind the posturing explains why those trying to set up a new version of the Socialist Workers or Communist Party to the left of Labour are going to face huge political problems. Beyond anti-Americanism, what do they have? Are they going to argue for a central committee that demands absolute obedience all over again, or state control of the whole of society? You only have to ask the questions to know there is no articulate political position to the left of Labour, indeed Labour itself is struggling to define what it means to be left wing in the 21st century. The confusion of our day explains why Andy Newman and his kind can embrace wildly different tyrannies with such promiscuity and without a hint of self-awareness.

The more interesting question is why decent Labour Party members selected him as a candidate. Or, to put it more broadly, why does a vast section of opinion from the extreme left well into the liberal mainstream, regard universal human rights and support for the oppressed as distractions from the true political business of condemning the West? Just as you should start to worry about the influence of the far right when apparently sane Tories ape it and send out propaganda vans telling illegal immigrants to go home, so you should worry about the far left when Labour politicians ally with tryannophiles who want to keep Assad in power, as they did during the Syria debate.

Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British left by Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey, provides a psychological explanation for the mainstream’s indulgence of the extreme. It is a fine little book you can read in a day – 168 pages for just £3.50 on Kindle. Anderson and Davey have taken advantage of the vast amount of research into communism since the end of the Cold War. They wear it lightly, and refreshingly, are open about their political position. As members of the democratic left, they believe that communism was a disaster for left wing politics. It tied the left to tyranny and the lies and disillusion that went with it. Leaving everything else aside, the far left burnt out activists. For generations, idealistic men and women joined the Communist Party, Militant and the SWP, and left disgusted, not just with Leninism, but with politics of any kind.

Many in Labour fought back. Labour banned communists from membership because as Nye Bevan said, the Communist Party is ‘the sworn inveterate enemy of the socialist and democratic parties’. (After he made this point forcibly to Khrushchev, the appalled dictator said that he would vote Tory if he were British.) Bertrand Russell went to Moscow, looked around, and declared that the Bolsheviks had established ‘an iron discipline beyond the wildest dreams of the most autocratic American magnate’. Neil Kinnock fought an exhausting battle to drive out Militant.

I could go on, but it would be foolish not to record that an awful naivety limited support for anti-totalitarian politics in the mainstream left. On the one hand, people did not want to agree with right-wing politicians and journalists, who from the days of the Zinoviev letter in the 1920s to the Sunday Times claiming that Michael Foot was a Soviet agent in the 1990s, had a proven record of inventing false stories to scare people away from left-wing politics. More generally, they did not want to believe that the world was as bad as alarmists maintained it was. They thought that if only we could shake off our anti-Soviet (or today) our anti-Islamist prejudices we would realise that Soviet Union/Iran/Hezbollah were not so bad, and live together in peace. If apparently despotic regimes don’t conform to our democratic norms, that is because they are backward. Give them time and goodwill, they will attain our freedoms.

This illusion explains the failure of Barack Obama’s attempt to “reset” American foreign policy as much as the decision of the Chippenham Labour Party members to allow Newman to represent them. To sustain it, requires a fair amount of outright lying by intellectuals, who are frightened of confronting their supporters’ prejudices. You can see it today in the British press. The Telegraph and the Mail do not tell their readers in terms that Ukip is a disaster for the right, which not only splits the vote but confirms all their opponents’ worst prejudices. The left-wing press meanwhile is incapable of writing honestly about radical Islam. Michael Foot gave the best response in the 1950s, when he looked back at the failure of the left to tell the truth about the show trials and murders of the Soviet Union. In words, which I will aim to live by for the rest of my career, Foot said:

‘Let us hope that we have learnt the moral, which might be put in a maxim to be inscribed above every editorial chair: “Never funk the truly awkward issues; they are the very ones your readers most want to hear about. And if by any chance, they don’t, to hell with them!’

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Show comments
  • JimHHalpert

    I wouldn’t be too quick in citing Foot as a model. He received money from the KGB, he passed them information about the Labour and Union movements, and he kept quiet during the 1956 invasion. He was classed as an agent by the KGB and given the codename ‘BOOT’. Just sayin’.

  • John Edwards

    Paul Anderson who co-wrote that book about the Soviet Union and the British Left used to organise demos in support of members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang when an undergraduate at Balliol College,Oxford. So he is hardly in a position to criticise anyone.

    • Alan Ji

      D’you know; he may have grown up.

  • andrewm

    It’s the same reasoning that led to leftists marching, chanting “Argentina” during the Falklands war. This,lest we forget, was the Argentina of the Galtieri junta, which was throwing left wingers from helicopters into the sea. The origin is some crackpot Leninist colonial theory-always support the rebels , no matter how reactionary as this will destabilise the colonial power..
    It’s depressing but predictable, now, that most of the strongest articles on the niqab debate were in the likes of the Mail and Telegraph while the Guardian largely capitulated.

  • Oliver

    This is a deeply worrying trend on the left, on the one hand we have a vocal minority of extreme anti Western/3rd worldists like Comrade Newman, Galloway and Aaron Kiely and on the other the mainstream majority is so desperate to appear pro diversity and anti racist they blindly follow the extremist minority.

    But even as I write this I’m beginning to think anti Western extremism is increasingly becoming the core of what it is to be a person of the left.
    I can’t help but notice every time a bombing or beheading happens and those of us not blinded by our “anti racism” speak out more and more previously responsible lefties plunge off the Gallowayan ledge in to the bowels of the pro Islamist, anti Western pit.

    It has reached a point where I would say the vast majority of my Labour supporting friends lean closer to Andy Newman on these issues than they would to Nick Cohen.

    The truly terrifying thing is they think their position has remained the same, a principled anti racist, anti war, pro multicultural humanist stance.

    There seems to be an inability on the left to get out of the pre civil rights mindset where white skinned people and Western civilization was always oppressing peaceful, noble and soulful people of colour.

  • global city

    You had me until the last paragraph there Nick.

    How do UKIP, democrats to the core, be compared to ‘far right’ politics? That statement just shows that you are still emotionally tied to the shibboleths of the old left yourself. Always looking for enemies, creating them when necessary, which just happens to be most of the time.

  • global city

    When your enemy is ‘the west’ and ‘capitalism’ then your enemy’s enemy leads to some strange bedfellows.

    Honesty and consistency have never been strong points amongst the leftist fraternity of bigots and loons.

  • Wessex Man

    Came to this article really late, which is a shame, given that the last Labour candidate isn’t standing there and that he only achieved 6.9% of the poll, I don’t think the Revolution is going to start here any time fast!

  • Fraziel

    Speaking as a former socialist who has seen the light – good article.

  • MikeF

    “The more interesting question is why decent Labour Party members selected him as a candidate.” Perhaps it is because they are in a minority and the norm for today’s Labour Party membership is intolerant, self-righteous authoritarian narcissism. To put it another way the mindset of the 1970s and 80s ultra-left has now gone mainstream. Why also assume that Mr Newman lacks self-awareness? Maybe he knows exactly what he is doing.

  • Simon Fay

    This Newman chap sounds like something out of a post-Blair parody of triangulation. Further down I see that failure to get sucked into Syria is mashed up with this old record of Nick’s about the chumminess of the Dave Sparts and the Jihadists for the 2013 remix of 2003’s big hit ‘Action This Day (45 Minutes To Blow’) by So Slippery Crew.

  • NotYouNotSure

    Going a bit off topic, this author mentions communist China.So many mistakenly think that China is communist, the reality is that although China can be a nasty place sometimes, it is communist in name only, its driven by strong nationalism and the love of making money (hardly communist ideals). Likewise a supposed conservative like Cameron is conservative in name only.

  • Eddie

    The British left has always hated the Jews and aped their Soviet masters by warmly embracing Arabs. But the sheer hypocrisy of the left with regardings it craven cowardice and kowtowing to Islamofascism is something to behold. At least the left in other countries – eg France – rightly fights these Muslim fascists and rightly too enforces a ban on people wearing masks to school.

  • andy_gill

    Fortunately his chances of this left-wing nutcase getting elected are indistinguishable from zero.

    • Ron Todd

      Yes but next time round he could with backing from the public sector unions be given a safe seat to contest.

      • Alan Ji

        Why would anyone want to do that? His own Union, the GMB, will have better people to promote.

  • black11hawk

    Great article…”All that is left of the far left after the collapse of Marxist-Leninism is the desire to follow anti-western feeling wherever it may lead.” Truer words were never spoken

  • SarahAB

    Good article, although I do think it is possible to criticise aspects of Anne Marie Waters’ rhetoric from a (I hope) secularist perspective.

  • David Lindsay

    Small-mindedness, narrow-mindedness, closed-mindedness, communalism, sectarianism and factionalism. Those are urban, metropolitan, secular, socially liberal, white and upper-middle-class vices no less than they are vices of anywhere or anyone else.

    Indeed, whereas the anti-war and anti-cuts movements speak for the huge majority of the population when they are permitted to speak at all, the ostensibly left-wing criticism of them articulates urban, metropolitan, secular, socially liberal, white and upper-middle-class small-mindedness, narrow-mindedness, closed-mindedness, communalism, sectarianism and factionalism.

  • darwins beard

    Mr Cohen on the pulse again

    • David Lindsay

      Nick Cohen and the Harry’s Place crowd, the constituency of Chippenham,
      doubtless devastated by the cuts and looking with dread at the cake-icing privatisation of the Royal Mail, awaits your alternative candidacy.

      Put up.

      Or shut up.

      • Wessex Man

        This is something that you are entirely wrong on again dear David, Chippenham has adapted to the massive loss of jobs caused by Gordon Brown, fought back and is growing againI A little known fact in your circles is that Gordy started the sell off of the Post Offices and Call me Dave has just carried it on, both ordered to by the EU. Go off and write another Fairy Tale.

        • David Lindsay

          Well, I certainly knew about the EU and the Royal Mail. It was all in my last book, since you ask. “Little-known”? I ask you! Do you never wonder why the pub always empties when you go into it?

          You are the last person left alive who still believes this “caused by Gordon Brown” rubbish. And your account of country town would make it quite unique in the country.

          They are now queueing up to invite Owen Jones to come and speak in their places with no Labour Councillors, never mind MPs. He freely admits that he had never previously heard of many of the places that now provide him with packed and rapturous crowds.

          The cake is being iced by Royal Mail privatisation at the hands of both the Tories and the Lib Dems. With the right local candidates, Labour could sweep rural England in 2015.

          The Labour Party doesn’t know who and where those candidates are. But Owen does. They keep inviting him to speak in places of which he had never previously heard.

          • Wessex Man

            I must have missed that best-seller, sorry about that there’s so many. Strange that you think I empty Pubs, I mean how I actually do it is say you are coming in in five minutes!

            You obviously Know **** all about “country towns” The g**** Owen Jones would be run out of town by real working people who pay your social when not selling your latest bestseller, is that Gordon Brown ‘How I saved the World and the ungrateful ba****** never thanked me.’

            Everyone in Chippenham will be dancing in the streets of Chippenham when Comrade Newman turns 6.9% into 5.9% at the next election!

            • David Lindsay

              Confronted with the fact that you have not yet quite succeeded in pricing everyone else out of rural England, and you don’t like it. Put together the cuts and the privatisation of the Royal Mail, and, if Labour gets its act together, you are in for the shock of your sweet little lives in 2015 from all the people whom you almost literally cannot see, in the way that the early Americans somehow could not see the Red Indians, or the early Zionists somehow could not see the Palestinians.

              • Wessex Man

                You will have to forgive me for not bothering to read your amusing little ditty, I have been away for two days. I do wish you would stay on message, what has pricing anyone out of rural England got to do with me? Born and bred in Rural England, you can’t force someone out if you were always there, the clue is in my moniker.

                If you knew anything about Chippenham you would know that Chippenham never was and never will be a Labour it was always a Liberal town. You and your comrade Newman will have to start your revolution somewhere else, in your mind maybe?

          • S&A

            ‘It was all in my last book, since you ask’.

            Put out by a vanity publisher, completely unread.

      • S&A

        Says the man who set up the one-man party.


  • Scott

    Cohen on the money again. Without a doubt the most important journo in Britain.

  • David Lindsay


    The Henry Jackson Society?

    Conservative Friends of Israel?

  • zanzamander

    Ok my comment is awaiting moderation. Says it all.

  • classieview

    The Chippenham comrades are the kind of humanity-hating utopians who would have the Cotswolds drenched in blood just as their French counterparts managed to do in the Vendee in the early 1790s – the totalitarian Comrade Newman is their avatar.

    • David Lindsay

      It is the position now represented by the British Conservative Party, or even more so by its Australian allies, that is the most perfectly Jacobin. Blame her. She never knew anything about anything. But Tony Abbott has no such excuse.

    • Wessex Man

      hang on a minute, I’ve got close family in Chippenham, have played in the Chippenham and District Quiz League for years before it died of boredom, drank in every Pub and Club there and have never heard of this nutter, are you sure you’ve got the right town?

      • David Lindsay

        I remember Theresa May as the Conservative candidate against Hilary Armstrong in 1992.

        She moved in just around the corner from me (I still live in the same house, from which I am writing this) for the duration. But we had never heard of her before.

        The Tory Boy last time couldn’t even be bothered to do that, and gave a London address on the official literature. They have simply stopped trying in the North.

      • JohnPReid

        Afraid so, as Niel Kinnock said we’ve got our party back, and yes it will probably less tha the 8.4m Foot got,

  • S&A

    Good article, Nick, but since when was Chippenham ‘in the Cotswolds’? That’s like saying that Newport is in Gloucestershire.

  • TenPillocksInARoom

    “people did not want to agree with right-wing politicians and journalists”

    That is very true. So when we had the awful spectacle of the racist paedophile gangs, the only political party to stand up for the victims of racism seems to have been the BNP.

    This doesn’t require us to agree with the BNP on the whole, but to accept that they were right on one issue. Even further than that, those of us who don’t like the BNP, myself included, cannot argue against them intelligibly without acknowledging that they might have been right on one issue. Blanket condemnation of them risks lying, thereby confirming that us mainstream types just lie about everything.

    Also, I’m not so sure that UKIP is a disaster for the Right. They will do very well in the European elections. I’ll vote for them myself, mainly to protest against the usual EU line that European Parliament democracy is just as good as Westminster democracy, so it doesn’t really matter how powers are allocated. I don’t believe this and also think that a non-UKIP vote in the European elections will tend to encourage this false narrative.

    When it comes to the Parliamentary elections, I will think of the prospect of Prime Minister Miliband getting in on a lower share of the vote than Michael Foot achieved in 1983, and I will vote Conservative.

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