Why the Liberal-left Isn’t Wishing Spiked a Happy 10th Birthday

I once wrote a contentious piece for the Spectator with the tongue-in-cheek title I Am Facing Up to the Fact That I May Be Marxist. This wasn’t because I was seriously thinking of moving leftwards after a lifetime’s natural and unrepentant conservatism. Rather it was an affectionate tribute to the fact that the best political commentary in Britain at the time was – and still, pretty much is – coming from an eccentric bunch of self-proclaimed revolutionary Marxists. (Though I personally did – and still do – prefer to think of them as libertarian conservatives in denial).

One of them – Brendan O’Neill – is now an adornment to Telegraph blogs. Others include the feisty but oddly cuddly Claire Fox who runs one of Britain’s most entertaining intellectual talking shops the Institute of Ideas; Austin Williams of the Future Cities Project; the Times commentator Mick Hume; academic Frank Furedi; and destroyer of PC in the museums world Tiffany Jenkins. Their spiritual home is the website founded by Hume a decade ago: Spiked.

Spiked is often accused of its critics on the left of being gratuitously contrarian. I encounter this a lot myself: it’s how left-liberals often dismiss political views they lack the mental wiring to comprehend. They don’t understand the logic, therefore it can only mean that the journalist adopting these unhealthy, politically incorrect views must be voicing them as a cynical attempt to get more readers or because they’ve been ordered to do so by their evil right-wing bosses. Because, obviously, any point of view which contradicts the left-liberal Weltanschauung cannot possibly be sincerely held.

Here’s how Spiked’s editor Brendan O’Neill sees it, in a characteristically thoughtful, intelligent essay:

spiked does not adopt political postures in order to annoy. But we understand why some people think that we do. Because spiked subscribes to principles and ideals that were once taken for granted amongst certain sections of left-wing or radical-humanist thought, but which no longer are. And it is our attachment to those ideals, our commitment to freedom of speech, open-mindedness and a human-centred morality, which means that we often rub up against a political culture which not only now lacks faith in such values, but which sees them as undesirable. The accusation that spiked is contrarian is really testament to the shrinking of what is sayable and thinkable these days.

spiked has firm principles based on a commitment to the ideals of human liberation. Unfortunately, upholding those principles today often means dissenting from and being sceptical of both mainstream political thought and also the ‘radical’ outlook. So spiked is for free speech, moral autonomy, tolerance and the democratic spirit. These sound like easy principles to endorse, but in modern political debate they frequently come with a ‘but’ attached. ‘I am for free speech, but not for racists…’; ‘I am for tolerance, but I won’t tolerate climate change scepticism…’ spiked prefers no ‘buts’ with its principles. And it is our war of words against the contemporary ‘butting’ of what were once seen as key Enlightened ideals that makes us appear to some as contrarians.

This is why left-liberals loathe Spiked possibly even more than they loathe people on the right like me. No leftist likes being told he has betrayed both his principles and also all those oppressed people – moderate Muslims, say; scientists who still believe in openness, empiricism and keeping politics out science; Third World families who want working electricity not ‘renewables’ – that he is supposed, in theory, to be defending. Also, of course, there’s nothing the left enjoys more than an internal spat. It’s like the Judaean People’s Front versus the People’s Front of Judaea: splitters!

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