Friday, April 14, 2006

euston manifesto

War in blogworld! Another predictable outbreak. For the last couple of weeks I've been - and remain - very interested in the activities of a number of activists and bloggers - some of who I know - who have spent the last couple of months working on a new cross-party manifesto which aims to clearly voice the ideas of what is variously called the 'decent left' or the 'pro-war left', and which is increasingly and not entirely unfairly characterized as the 'really-not-very-left-at-all left', although they entirely fairly point out that notions of left and right don't really work in this context anyway. The result, 'The Euston Manifesto', was published in yesterday's New Statesman, and has attracted a predictable mixture of acclaim and disdain across the web and disproportionately, for some reason, on the Guardian's generally excellent Comment is Free project. You can read the manifesto here, and sign it if you feel it strikes a chord.

And some, as we might expect, have met the manifesto with exaggerated howls of derision. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has used the section of my sidebar, right, which is dedicated to 'Political Blogs'. If you have used it, and have therefore spotted the increasing polarisation of opinions between the pro and anti-war camps (two almost completely well-intentioned groups, I might add), you'll doubtless be as frustrated as I am that neither appear able to moderate their contempt for the other.

Andrew, over at Bloggers4Labour, is frustrated, too, feeling that the sentiments of the manifesto are not being given a fair chance by the majority of bloggers, and he is quite right; we seem to have reached a stage where both camps are so firmly entrenched that neither is prepared to allow the other the oxygen required to make their case. Matters weren't helped by the New Statesman, whose decision to print the manifesto was in any case rather odd (given their anti-war stance), denouncing the Manifesto on its editorial page before anyone even got the chance to read it (it appeared, abridged, 12 pages later). At the same time, despite protestations to the contrary, and despite a good deal which is admirable contained within, it's very hard to believe that certain parts of the manifesto were not carefully calibrated to offend the traditional left.

I think it's a very worthwhile project, all the same. I'd like to see the anti-war movement come up with either an alternative or a constructive critique of its contents, and I'd also like to know how it is received within a Labour Party which is presumably as divided (and doubtless as aggressive) as the blogworld. Will we see any MPs signing it, I wonder? Most importantly, I want to see if the 241 people who have so far signed up will have input in how the project develops. I'd like to come back in six months and see a much-changed manifesto there; not necessarily one which has altered its principles, but one which has been expanded, modified and refined by intelligent discussion and debate. How flexible and responsive its authors are may prove how worthwhile the 'decent left' argument is.

Similarly, it would be nice to think that the 'stoppers' (ridiculous expression, not mine) could contribute without just slinging insults - but we are talking politics, and acting like an aggressive, macho idiot is, I'm afraid, par for the course...


One-Seven-Two said...

Very diplomatically put!

Anonymous said...

J, very surprised by your line on this. I've just read the document and it's deeply unpleasant, and seems to run counter to stuff we've talked about before. Astonished to see you supporting it.


jonathan said...

Hello Matt. To clarify: I'm not supporting it. The intention was to present it without endorsing or criticising. I'm sure you can work out which side of the fence I come down on without me adding to the controversy...

Bloggers4Labour said...

How's it "deeply unpleasant", Matt? I don't want people just saying they don't like it without (a) other people knowing what's wrong, and (b) them justifying their objection. I don't bite.

Also, J, which parts did you think were calculated to offend the traditional left? (I nearly put scare quotes around those two words, but that's not important right now)

While some parts were (though I didn't have a hand in the text) aimed at directly confronting a particular view (something that may cause offence), the intention is not to cause offence. Obviously there's a +ve aspect (setting out an agenda) and a -ve aspect too (drawing a line, distancing from X or Y).

jonathan said...

Hi Andrew,

I didn't find it deeply unpleasant, although there were bits which I thought were very aggressively worded. I'm sure it was created with the best of intentions, but I could not sign up to it.

I suppose that the bits which I thought were calculated to cause offence were the references to 'anti-americanism' and 'anti-semitism', which I consider a wholly innapropriate generalisation when used in respect of a mass movement in which only a few lunatic extremists can be described in such a way. Pretty much without exception everyone I know on the anti-war left considers the likes of Robin Cook to be their political hero. All are appalled by the likes of Galloway. All are appalled by anti-semitism. We detest the neo-cons in the White House, not Americans. Of course plenty on the left (and right, I suspect) exacerbate the situation by allowing their frustration with Bush to simmer over into a frustration with those who voted him into power, but this still doesn't, I don't think, represent anything approaching anti-Americanism.

Elsewhere, I also think that while it is indisputedly true that the prime concern of all leftists should be to help bring peace and security to Iraq, leftists are also absolutely right - if they feel strongly about it - to pursue the proponents of the war and to not rest until they have been made accountable for their actions.

I thought it was completely absurd and quite frightening to say that it is wrong to try to 'understand' Iran. I didn't understand what the manifesto meant by states 'forfeiting their sovereignty'. I thought the condemnation of human rights abuses was extraordinarily vague. I felt that the reference to protecting the right to criticise religion was meaningless and offensive without a caveat which made some attempt to place in context recent controversies. No leftist I know would defend censorship, but almost all were appalled by the Danish cartoons.

I thought the whole tone was tremendously negative and accusative (if that's a word), designed to denigrate a section of the left and 'cut them off'. And I didn't understand why the authors of the manifesto presented themselves as holding opinions which are under-represented when they have a whole government pursuing their agenda, to the horror of those who they claim have their views adequately represented.

That's not to say that there's not lots of good stuff in there elsewhere, but the overall tone seemed embittered, macho and motivated by ideological vendettas. I want to join a broad church movement, not one which runs down people it disagrees with and assumes the moral high-ground. And to adapt a well known phrase, I wouldn't want to be part of any club which would have me (or the authors of Harry's Place) as a member...

The other, final thing which I think is relevent (then I'll shut up): as much as people on the left disagree about foreign policy, there's an extent to which I find this all a little self-indulgent. I'm pleased that that manifesto attempts to cover other issues too, but I still find the focus on war distastefully disproportionate. I supect that the vast majority of people are more concerned about issues like the welfare state and education. It seems dangerous to start dividing up the left over foreign policy when there are so many other things to be talking about.