Sunday, 24 June 2012

Paranoia and Progress

It's my last blog for a couple of weeks as the Centre Left is on holiday, but I thought I'd post a quick final thought about the attempts of the GMB and Unison to have the New Labour thinktank, Progress, ejected from the Labour Party.

Nick Cohen writes brilliantly today in the Observer about the cowardice of Wikileaks' Julian Assange, and the bizarre conspiracy theories being propagated by his supporters, that he is being pursued by the US government (which has yet to even issue an extradition request). But I was struck by his final quote, from American commentator Richard Hofstadter, about how such thinking leads to cognitive dissonance of a type by no means unknown on either the left or the right:

"the tendency for the paranoid to emulate the enemy they claim to oppose. His words read as well today: "It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him."
The GMB's original motion fundamentally derives from the perception of a shadowy conspiracy on the part of a perfectly above-board and transparent organisation, with a handful of employees and which only operates within the Labour Party (there is no "outside the party", unlike unions themselves, which is why accusations of entryism are so ridiculous). This is not an opinion, held because I happen to subscribe broadly to Progress' politics: it is fact, easily verified by the most cursory analysis.

In short, it is precisely unions' own weakness for anti-democratic stitch-ups which makes them fear such phenomena in Progress, whether they exist there or not. It is precisely their own factionalist plotting which convinces them that Progress is guilty of the same, even if the truth is that they generally aim for the opposite: to build broad coalitions. It is precisely their own wish to take out their opponents, rather than win the argument against them, which feeds their view that Progress is a dangerous force which will, unchecked, do the same to them.

As we come into a critical conference season where Cameron has surely handed Labour the chance of the whole parliament to get back in the electoral running, surely the last thing we need is to be drifting carelessly into the conspiracy theorising which, in our world, is normally to be found only on the far left.

The Centre Left is now on a brief hiatus until 12 July

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