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Lefties are the worst when it comes to cancel culture & handing out Twitter fatwas – why are they always hunting for traitors?

The vituperative game of accusation and counter-accusation being played out online by left-wing media personalities desperate to stay relevant is unseemly, infantile and petty – but it also endangers free speech and free thinking.

One of the worst literary cliches in the book is quoting some dead white man as an opening gambit – just to show your opponents how clever you are. As Oscar Wilde wrote: “I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”

But jokes aside, while no one really reads Wilde’s aphoristic Hallmark scribblings beyond the odd line or two, one has to admire his dramatis personae of foes, notched up over a ‘complicated’ adult life that saw him come to metaphorical blows with the novelist Henry James, the painter James Whistler and tragically the Marquess of Queensbury, father of his homosexual lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, whose indiscretion ultimately led to Wilde landing a two-year jail term with hard labour following a conviction for ‘gross indecency’ and sodomy. 

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Had the loquacious Wilde been alive today he’d probably be all over Twitter like a rash, chalking up adversaries galore, much like fellow scribe, Guardian columnist, broadcaster, Labour activist and all-round voice of the New Left, Owen Jones. Like Wilde, Jones has a propensity to cause offence – and be offended – because of his kindred, albeit more prosaic, fascination with identity politics and what you could call a button-pressing, ‘anthropology of opinion.’ But ideas, as the old saying goes, are ten a penny. Say what you like about Jones’ opinions on class, race, gender or religion (and people often do), his one million Twitter followers mark him out as a superstar of Britain’s New-Left social media commentariat. 

And in the online battle for ideological supremacy, followers are the way we keep score, stay relevant and get paid.

These days, if you have a few half-baked theories on identity, e.g. intersectionality or identitarianism, a ‘legitimate’ media or ideological gig, such as a Fleet Street column or a mainstream political blog, and the ability to needle people, you too can be a latter-day ‘thought leader’ – even if what you’re thinking is utter nonsense and what comes out of your mouth or onto the page is mindless drivel. The critical thing is: have you managed to penetrate Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and most importantly, Twitter with a big fat following? If you haven’t, you’d do well to look inside the mind of a dead white man who really did have something interesting to say.  

Enter Canadian philosopher and media theorist, Marshall McLuhan

While it’s the hustler-artist Andy Warhol who gets all the praise for coining the phrase, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” it’s McLuhan’s theory that “the medium is the message” – from his 1964 classic, ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’ – that was vastly more prescient and relevant to the ‘culture war’ currently engulfing the West. 

Just as McLuhan’s notion of the ‘global village’ predicted the decline of print media and the creation of the “electronic interdependence” we now know as the internet, he foresaw a world in which content is secondary to the communications media in which it is contained and channelled. Physical or virtual communications media, McLuhan argued, is the modus operandi that shapes and alters human behaviour. 

An obvious contemporary example of this is the ersatz “coup attempt” at the US Capitol on January 6. The vaudeville line-up of whacko ideologues, string-vested interests, tinfoil-hat-wearing loons and conspiracy fruitcakes who showed up on the day are legion. These sad sacks tell us much about the state of undiagnosed mental illness in modern America, and very little we don’t know about political extremism. But one singular thing we do know is that the message of dissent, anarchy and disrespect for the rule of law that was beamed around the globe was carried by the medium. 

And that medium was Twitter.

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As outwardly sane as the UK commentariat appears when compared with America’s shock jocks, polemicists, columnists and sundry talking heads, the British are of course are also stark raving mad… for Twitter. 

Alongside Jones at the The Guardian is stablemate, fellow political activist and Novara Media senior editor, Ash Sarkar, who, with a tidy 279.5K followers on Twitter is not to be sniffed at. I like Sarkar, certainly more than I like Jones. She wears her anti-imperialist, anti-racist chops on her sleeve and doesn’t take any s**t. I’d sooner see her in a battle with some rabid right-wing op than, say, Afua Hirsch (180.6K), who, as eloquent as she is – on the page and on screen – has been punk’d out one too many times for my liking by reactionary slobs on ‘debate’ shows such as Sky’s The Pledge. Then there’s anti-Brexit activist Femi Oluwole (294.5K), a sort of political free-wheeling number 10 or ‘false nine,’ who glides all over the multimedia pitch, firing in opinions from all different angles.

The New Left commentariat undoubtedly has some fascinating ideas. Somewhere. But taking a McLuhanian position, and skipping the epistemology for now, it’s their long running ‘beef’ on the media’s ‘turf’ with anyone deemed to be ‘unwoke’ – either in their eyes or the minds of their loyal if somewhat misguided followers – that makes for an intriguing case study of eristology or analysis of an argument. 

Especially if you have skin in the game.

As an old friend of old school lefty columnists, Suzanne Moore (116.3K) and Julie Burchill (12.5K), I’ve watched, from afar, how both have been taken to task in the past few years by the New Left for expressing ideas and opinions, which, in the court of woke opinion-formers is deemed to be (and here’s the catchall phrase) ‘offensive.’ Moore is a recent victim (sorry, ‘survivor’) of a Guardian witch-hunt involving hundreds of staff who wrote to its editor condemning the paper’s ‘pattern of publishing transphobic content.’ 

One of the signatories to this low-rent J’accuse was none other than Owen Jones.

Having written a defence of women’s rights in a column last year, which stated, ‘You either protect women’s rights as sex-based or you don’t protect them at all,’ Moore found herself hounded out of a paper she had more than a contractual relationship with going back years. 

It seems odd to think that the beef started some eight years ago with a piece for The Guardian’s Sunday sister paper, The Observer, by Burchill, which was a defence of Moore, who had contributed a polemical essay on women’s anger to ‘Red, The Waterstones Anthology’. In the much-extracted essay, Moore wrote that women were angry at a multitude of things, including “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”

The offending line saw Moore driven off Twitter by a hate campaign from the trans lobby, which led to Burchill responding with both barrels. “Transsexuals should cut it out,” ran The Observer headline over the now-expunged column, in which Burchill described transgender people as “screaming mimis,” “bed-wetters in bad wigs,” and “dicks in chicks’ clothing.”

In the 24 hours following publication, Guardian readers’ editor Stephen Prichard received “more than 1,000 emails [in his] inbox and 2,952 comments were posted online, most of them highly critical of the decision to publish what one correspondent called ‘[Burchill’s] bullying nonsense.’” 

And on and on it went. For eight years.

Once upon a time, both Moore and Burchill could have gotten away with their salty prose, as feminist writing gave women the freedom and right to say what the hell they wanted about issues affecting them – as women. But then along came intersectionality and ‘non-binary’ this and ‘self-identifying’ that. I’m worried that soon I won’t be able to write about pet subjects such as race, crime and mental health for fear of offending racists, criminals and psychopaths. Once upon a time you could publish and be damned as punters had to actually pay for a newspaper or a magazine or a book and thus earn the right to have a go at you. Now they get the ‘content’ for free, and the bonus of putting a Twitter fatwa on you – without paying a red cent for the privilege. 

Well, no pay, no say: that’s my motto. 

Recently, I’ve seen both Moore and Burchill rumbling with Owen Jones and Ash Sarkar in what can only be described as a form of commentariat tag team WWF wrestling. Sarkar accused Burchill of Islamophobia and “outright racism” in relation to some tweet or t’other, prompting Jones to step over the Twitter rope to have a piece of the action. Burchill’s publisher Little, Brown announced it would no longer be releasing her book, ironically a takedown of ‘cancel culture’ titled, ‘Welcome to the Woke Trials: How #Identity Killed Progressive Politics’. POW! She did, however, still get her full advance. BAM! Climbing up onto the ring apron, Moore then called out Jones as, “a nasty bully who rewrites history” over something to do with AIDS. CRUNCH! 

While the right is always looking for converts, the left is always on the hunt for traitors. But the stakes here are embarrassingly low. I wish my friends had chosen their adversaries more carefully, as they’re a measure of your own worth; and girlfriends, these chumps ain’t worth it. This is no Dreyfuss affair or Burr-Hamilton duel. It’s an unseemly squabble between two sexagenarian female writers fighting to remain relevant and two young upstarts desperate to protect their corners. But just as Moore and Burchill find that they are not left enough for this year’s vintage of champagne socialism, Owen and Sarkar will one day be betrayed by the fickle nature of identity politics. I just hope that when the woke mob comes for them demanding more bread and circuses, my old chums will be gracious, at least outwardly. As Wilde wrote: “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

Fair play, Oscar: that’s not a bad payoff, for a dead white man.

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