Friday, 25 January 2008

A case of neoconitis

You couldn't make it up. Barely a week after Alan Johnson's deft analysis, on the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' site, of 'neoconitis' - the use of 'neocon' as an all-purpose insult that 'stops us thinking straight' - in which he cited Seumas Milne as one of the worst culprits - we find Milne, writing in the same paper, condemning the current attacks on Ken Livingstone as (you guessed it) 'driven by a neocon agenda'.

The reasoning behind this absurd accusation? The fact that some of the criticisms of Livingstone focus on his 'dialogue with non-violent Islamist groups' and that his critics include Martin Bright and Nick Cohen who 'share a broadly neoconservative agenda on Islamism and the "war on terror'''. As Johnson pointed out in his article, introducing the neocon label in this way 'blocks off any proper consideration of the social democratic antitotalitarianism' of these writers. In Milne's worldview, anyone who takes up a position hostile to Islamism or supportive of any aspect of American policy, however leftwing their credentials, is automatically a 'neocon' and their views unworthy of consideration. This kind of labelling is also a diversionary tactic designed, as in Milne's Livingstone piece, to distract attention from the real question as to whether the accusations being levelled against London's mayor have any substance.

It's perfectly legitimate - and certainly not a case of doing the Tories' work for them, as Milne implies - for socialists and liberals to question Livingstone's policy of dialogue with Islamists. After all, why should a Labour mayor who has traded on his support for feminism, gay rights and anti-racism, give a political opening to a movement that is openly misogynist, homophobic, antisemitic and anti-democratic? Would Milne be so supportive if Livingstone were to enter into dialogue with 'non-violent' white reactionaries, such as the BNP, with whom the Islamists have so much in common?

On a lighter note, Milne's tortuous attempt in the article to square his support for Livingstone as the clarion voice of the working-class, whose actions must not be questioned for fear of giving comfort to the class enemy, with his dislike of Ken's support for police chief Ian Blair, cries out for a Dave Spart-style parody. He may think that the campaign against Livingstone risks taking us back 25 years, but Milne is the one living in the past if he really thinks that Ken's defeat would represent 'a wider defeat for progressive politics, in Britain and beyond'. 

No comments: