Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nick, in the Standard, in a bit more depth

And so I find myself with a spare twenty minutes at the end of the day and a copy of the Standard, so I am in the mood to really have a go at this week's column; I realise that for the last few weeks I've just been screaming "god it's crap", but from time to time it's worth doing chapter and verse. This week's is, shall we say, an example of the genre, or perhaps a little worse.

A general remark to start with is that Nick really is being quite lazy with his Islington stereotypes; a casual reader of this column might get a vision of people in Barbours and hoodies buying crack and chutney from a farmer's market. I don't think he's making it up or anything; Islington is a geographically small and socially diverse borough and there are loads of bits of it where you can be five minutes from a sink estate and five minutes the other way from millionaires' row. It's just that the fact that Islington is Islington is not really a source of endless fascination to people who read the Standard; almost all of its copies are sold in Zone 1 and although you can probably still raise a small laugh by saying that a lot of posh lefties live in Islington it's a small and cheap one; I think it was Miles Kingston who wanked this joke dry in the late 1980s when the place was originally gentrifying.

Anyway, it appears that jammy bastard Harry Fletcher from the probation workers' union managed to be the lucky seventh caller this week, as Nick segues from talking about ASBOs and civil liberties to the need to hire a load of social workers with all the grace of a trucker's gear change. It really is extraordinarily incoherent; it starts off as a Tesco Metro version of Aaronovitch's "The Left's Mister Asbo" trope but then gets completely lost. By the way, I think that the belief that the government is systematically falsifying the crime statistics has to be considered a Seal of Dacre; Nick has now by my count broken four of the seals (house prices will plummet, middle class liberals are anti-Semites, we need grammar schools) and there are only seven, so we need to worry. No wonder he calls himself "an unreconstructed leftie" twice in the next paragraph; Robert Louis Stevenson often had his hero repeat to himself "I am Henry Jekyll". There is a column to be written about the balance between civil liberties and antisocial behaviour, but Nick has rather annoyingly not written it and instead gone for the easy journalistic gotcha.

I am all about taking the filler joke items seriously because they give away so much, so here goes. The Ming the Merciless bit is just dreadful beyond dreadful. Three points:

1. What kind of "support as they struggled to build democracy in Iraq" might anyone have been looking for from the Liberal Democrats? Seriously?

2. Presumably the answer to the above is not "men and materiel" or "the use of their massive political influence to swing world opinion in favour of sending more troops" but "a bland 'on your side' statement of no practical use whatsoever, rather like the Unite Against Terror petition". In which case here's the first Google result for "menzies campbell iraq speech"
Between now and the constitutional referendum, all efforts must be made to incorporate Sunni Arabs into the political process. The priority must be to repair sectarian divides and to arrest the slide towards civil war. We must improve the effectiveness of measures to train and equip Iraqi forces; redouble efforts to deliver public services; and strengthen the sovereignty of the Iraqi government.

Did Nick really think that Ming wouldn't have made some bland boilerplate statement of support like this? What the hey? He appears to be in the grip of a dangerous obsession with the view that nobody (or at least nobody where it really matters, in the Guardian or on the Today programme and Newsnight) has ever made the case for war. He wants Paxman to come out sneering saying "you loved Saddam, you cunt, didn't you? You opposed the war because you wank off night and day to mental images of people in shredders, don't you?" And it's never going to happen and it's tearing him up. Rioja Kid has written a lot of good stuff on the weird Alex Ferguson bunker complex of the Decent Left; a political position which is in fact the policy of the United States of America and the United Kingdom has managed to convince itself that it is a small unregarded sect of iconoclasts.

3. You could not ask for clearer evidence than this col that Nick's journalism is shrinking to the size of his Rolodex. Kanan Makiya has done a lot of good work and did indeed "first expose Saddam's Terror", in 1989, but he is currently fighting to build Iraqi democracy from Brandeis University, where he has been teaching for several years; his main activity over the last decade has been having fights with Edward Said over whether or not Makiya mistranslates Arab intellectuals to make them look more hostile and fundamentalist than they are. I am sure that Iraq expat dissidents are lovely brave people, but Nick is materially over-representing the extent to which he speaks for Iraqis here.


Blogger Matthew said...

Woah, that's a pile of tosh even for Cohen.

He seems to be in a desperate struggle to say how awful Islington is, and say how fantastic it is. He also seems to be unaware that other areas have farmers markets, tower blocks etc.

He nicked the smoking bit from a HP comments section, I'm pretty sure.

1/11/2006 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If there’s an addict in one of the slab blocks who hasn’t paid his bills, drug dealers pile in through the communal entrance, ..."

BT, British Gas, and NPower are using drug dealers as bill collectors? That's scary. Perhaps that's not what Nick means. I knew Islington was posh these days, but I didn't realise it extended to buying crack on tick, and settling at the end of the month. "But my dears, a gentleman never pays his tailor or his pusher."

Mind you, being the "nice one" (thanks BB), I agree with his distaste for reclassifying crimes as ASB.

1/12/2006 09:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No wonder he calls himself "an unreconstructed leftie" twice in the next paragraph; Robert Louis Stevenson often had his hero repeat to himself "I am Henry Jekyll".

I warned you about this: NC will keep insisting on being "an unreconstructed leftie" even as the transformations into Melanie Phillips become more frequent. (Incidentally, what happens when the seventh seal is broken?)

1/12/2006 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Mad Mel references that Cohen column approvingly at


1/12/2006 10:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave: but the way it reads, Nick isn't against reclassifying crimes as ASBOs on civil liberties grounds (because it reduces the standard of proof and makes crimes out of non-criminal acts without legislation) - he is against them because he wants every single ASB to be subject to the full majesty of the law, arrested by a squad of Dixon of Dock Green with backup from the Sweeney. It's called "defending our liberties modestly and without self-righteousness".

1/12/2006 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OT: Aaro blog alert!

1/12/2006 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God. and the Brunei thing is the first post on it too!!!

1/12/2006 02:40:00 PM  

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