spiked plus reader Q&A: January 2013
The obesity panic is back with a bang on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, there have been calls for welfare benefits to be withheld from obese people who don’t exercise enough. The Labour Party’s shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, has called for legal limits on the sugar, salt and fat content of food. In the US, New York City has approved a ban on supersized sodas and enforced calorie counts on restaurant menus. On both sides of the Atlantic, there are calls for ‘fat taxes’ on food. What’s going on?
Who better to ask than Paul Campos, author of the groundbreaking exposé, The Obesity Myth, in which the University of Colorado law professor takes a forensic legal approach to the issue. The book has become a touchstone for anyone who is sceptical about the scary claims made about our expanding waistlines. So, what does he think now, nearly 10 years on from the book’s publication? Is the threat of obesity really a ‘myth’? What are the consequences of the public-health campaigns and initiatives in recent years? How did a law professor come to write a book about obesity?
spiked plus reader Q&A: November 2012
Should there be any speech restrictions at football grounds? Or should football fans be allowed to chant anything they like, even if it’s offensive and obscene? What about racist insults or sectarian songs - should they be allowed too? Why have football stadiums become so controlled in recent years? What drives the authorities’ desire to clamp down on the speech and behaviour of fans, at a time when football hooliganism is in decline? Should we just accept that football is a place where, for 90 minutes a week, you can do or say what you like, or should we expect the same levels of decorum and decency in a football stadium as we would reasonably expect when walking down the street or going shopping?
spiked is recruiting for a:
Business Development Executive
Location: London, United Kingdom
Launched in 2001, spiked magazine became the first online current affairs magazine in the United Kingdom. spiked has since built a growing national and international reputation for exposing fashionable myths and bursting overblown egos.
True to our belief in the importance of debate, spiked runs regular debates – online and off - where opinion formers and members of the public alike convene to debate burning contemporary issues. We have also recently launched our exciting new spiked plus offering for regular donors to spiked.
We are seeking a Business Development Executive who can work with us to generate the resources necessary to expand these important areas of our work, alongside assisting us with additional fundraising activities.
Depending on experience.
Reporting to the editor, you will be responsible for driving spiked’s sales activity, generating new contacts and pitching spiked debates to a wide range of industries, alongside managing existing relationships, and helping to coordinate sponsored activities. You will also be responsible for meeting spiked plus subscriptions targets.
The role would suit a dynamic graduate who has an excellent telephone manner, is confident working with and approaching senior clients, has a strong organisational mind and a keen eye for business-development opportunities.
A strong familiarity with - and enthusiasm about - spiked’s editorial content, alongside a good knowledge of current affairs, is required; however please note that this is not an editorial position.
Roles & Responsibilities:
• Growing revenue across spiked’s activities and achieving monthly targets
• Contacting and pitching to potential clients via telephone and email
• Generating leads through market and client research
• Drafting fundraising bids for a wide range of organisations
• Setting up, preparing for and coordinating client meetings
• Attending relevant trade / networking events
• Assisting in the coordination of spiked events, online and off
• Working on presentations for clients
• Answering phone calls that are made into the department
• Updating and maintaining accurate client / contact databases
• Managing spiked plus subscriptions
Reader Q&A with Bruno Waterfield
What have you always wanted to ask Bruno Waterfield, Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, and longstanding contributor to spiked?
Do you have a question
for Bruno Waterfield?
What is it like reporting on the higher echelons of the EU in Brussels? Are EU bureaucrats as anti-democratic as they can often appear? Is there a future for the Eurozone? What should the Greeks do next? Is Spain the new Greece? Why the trend towards Germany-bashing? How would he vote in a UK referendum on the EU? What does it mean to be ‘for Europe, but against the EU’?
Whatever you want to ask Bruno Waterfield, here’s your chance. He will be taking part in our regular Q&A feature for the August edition of spiked plus.
If you have a question, email it before 5pm Thursday 9 August – to firstname.lastname@example.org
Reader Q&A with Josie Appleton
What have you always wanted to ask Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club, and longstanding contributor to spiked?
Do you have a question
for Josie Appleton?
What are the most important ways of campaigning for civil liberties today? How did the Manifesto Club manage to change the climate of debate around a sensitive topic such as Criminal Records Bureau checks? Is that battle won? Why has the Lib-Con government backtracked on its promise to be ‘strong in defence of freedom’? What’s the nature of state regulation in the UK, and how has it changed from previous eras? What grounds, if any, are there for freedom lovers to be optimistic today?
Whatever you want to ask Josie Appleton, here’s your chance. She will be taking part in our regular Q&A feature for the July edition of spiked plus.
If you have a question for Josie Appleton, email it before 5pm Wednesday 4 July – to email@example.com.
Reader Q&A on subversive parenting
spiked has been at the forefront of criticising the idea that poor parenting is the cause of a vast array of social problems, from last year’s English riots to declining educational standards.
How might we stand up
to the ‘Supernanny State’?
What is driving this unprecedented demonisation of parents? Is there any truth to the finger-pointing? In an age of paranoid parenting, how should you bring up your kids? Is there really nothing to be gained from parenting classes? And how might we stand up to the ‘Supernanny State’?
Jennie Bristow, author of Standing Up to Supernanny, and writer of spiked’s ‘Guide to Subversive Parenting’ column, will be answering your questions in our Q&A feature for the June edition of spiked plus.
If you have a burning question for Jennie Bristow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org before Thursday 7 June.
Reader Q&A with Claire Fox
What have you always wanted to ask Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, media commentator, former publisher of LM magazine, and longstanding friend of spiked?
What have you always wanted
to ask Claire Fox?
Is she still a communist? What’s the aim of the Institute of Ideas? Which of her panellists does she most agree with on the Moral Maze? Has she, as some claim, travelled from far left to libertarian right? Is it true, as some of her detractors argue, that she’s a pro-gun, pro-porn, tobacco-loving agitator? What’s the worst thing and best thing about being on Question Time? What – if anything – does she do to relax?
Whatever you want to ask Claire Fox, now’s your chance. She will be taking part in our regular Q&A feature for the May edition of spiked plus.
If you have a burning question for Claire Fox, email it before Wednesday 9 May – to email@example.com.
What have you always wanted to ask Wendy Kaminer, the American lawyer, renowned free-speech activist and author of the spiked column Letter from America? What was behind her falling out with the American Civil Liberties Union? Does she think there are still any good, liberty-loving organisations left in the US? What are likely to be the prospects for freedom in America after the forthcoming presidential election? What does she now think of the Occupy Wall Street movement? What are her views on the emerging non-theist movement? How does a free speech campaigner from across the pond view the Leveson Inquiry in the UK?
Whatever you want to ask Kaminer, now’s your chance. As part of a new dimension to spiked - the monthly spiked plus - we have launched a new feature called ‘Ask the Author’, where every month spiked readers will get the chance to grill one of our contributors.
What have you always wanted to ask Mick Hume, the founding editor of spiked and previously editor of Living Marxism? Is he really, as he claims, a ‘Grumpy Old Marxist’? Does he actually think 1978 was better than 1968? Who’s his favourite author? When and why did he join the Revolutionary Communist Party? Was he gutted when it disbanded? What does he do to unwind? Does he think his obsession with Manchester United might be bordering on unhealthy? Does he still feel he was right to fight the libel trial that closed LM magazine and left him a million quid in debt?
Whatever you want to ask Hume, now’s your chance. As part of a new dimension to spiked - the monthly spiked plus - we have launched a new feature called ‘Ask the Author’, where every month spiked readers will get the chance to grill one of our contributors.
What have you always wanted to ask Frank Furedi? What does he do for fun? Who’s his favourite author? What does he think of David Cameron? Is he a liberal or a communist? Does he really run a secret cult of media entryists?
Whatever you want to ask Professor Furedi, now’s your chance. As part of a new dimension to spiked, we will shortly be launching a feature called ‘Ask the Author’, where every month spiked readers will get the chance to grill one of our contributors.
Who pissed in George Monbiot’s muesli? The green-fingered columnist for the Guardian, a daily newspaper in the UK, has launched an attack on spiked. Again.
He seems to hate spiked almost as much as he hates aviation (‘flying across the Atlantic is now as unacceptable as child abuse’) and laughter (‘the world is dying and people are killing themselves with laughter’).
With the monotonous regularity of a methadone addict visiting a pharmacist, or something like a Chihuahua chasing a car, Monbiot has spent the past 10 years launching salvos against spiked and its friends. But why?
What’s his beef? Did a spiked reader once spurn his advances? Did an argument about spiked once ruin an otherwise splendid soiree chez Monbiot? Is it our authors’ mugshots he doesn’t like, or our web design? What can explain his stalker-style obsession with all things spikey?
We want to know what YOU think. Today, spiked is launching a competition to find the best explanation for why Monbiot gets a kick out of kicking spiked. Answers on an ethical postcard (ie, an email) please.
We would like to offer a first prize of a cheap flight to Riga… but we can’t afford it. So the best entrant will win a copy of the most ethically-enlightened book in the world instead: Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas by Ethan Greenhart.
Selected entries below:
George Monbiot hates spiked for one simple reason. He harbours a deep distrust of we, the people, but doesn’t understand this properly, which is why he finds spiked’s unrelenting support of the freedoms of you and me somehow inexplicable and suspicious, part of a bizarre conspiracy to defend the interests of big business. While Monbiot’s dislike for ordinary folk is undoubtedly framed by his toff, elite upbringing, it is more substantially a product of the terms of the Green movement’s misanthropic, degenerate version of anti-capitalism, which turns out to be little more than an absolutist rejection of anything developed, advanced and industrious, and of the modern masses that make that happen.
You only have to try to describe the contours of the Green mindset of which Monbiot is such a zealous/obsessive representative to understand that in minds of Greens, the masses don’t count for much, and that in truth, by our truculent refusal to give up the benefits of material prosperity, it is we who are the problem. Just think of the usual logic of Monbiot’s complaints: who controls society? Why, big business and corrupt governments do. What makes the big corporations tick? Their endless pursuit of money and profit. But how do these corporations make their profits? By making more and more stuff. For whom? Well, for us. And why do we consume this never-ending stream of stuff? Because we’ve been brainwashed by big business and its marketing men, that’s why. In other words, in the green version of anti-capitalism, it turns out that we, the masses, are merely deluded eating-and-shitting byproducts of a profit-motive that is out of control. Any question that we might, as free-willing subjects, decide to pursue a better life through greater growth and prosperity, is incomprehensible to Monbiot and other anti-human greens, which is why, perplexed and apoplectic, Monbiot clutches at stories of cults and conspiracies to explain away spiked’s steadfast defence of our freedom to question Green pieties.
Not so long ago, Monbiot sneered that there was no point seeking popular assent for the punitive reductions in living standards that he deigns necessary to protect the planet. ‘Our problem’, declared Monbiot, ‘is that no one ever rioted for austerity. People tend to take to the streets because they want to consume more, not less.’ Shame on us for not demanding less of everything! Never mind though. Monbiot must be delighted that the recession is biting: after all, if we could never agree to impose austerity on ourselves, how wonderful that capitalism’s recession will impose it on us regardless…
JJ Charlesworth, UK
Monbiot hates spiked because although he is categorically the most insufferably smug and irredeemably sanctimonious peddler of apocalyptic fantasy on the planet, everyone else in the media seem to take him seriously and give him a platform. Heroically, spiked is a bulwark against misanthropic Monbyism. All power to you!
Andrew Hayes, UK
Why does Monbiot hate spiked? Fear. Specifically, to paraphrase Public Enemy, fear of a free-thinking planet. His intellectual stasis should surprise nobody - he’s been launching intermittent, unintentionally hilarious salvos at spiked people for most of the current decade. Like his elitist co-religionists in the green movement, from Zac Goldsmith to Prince Charles (never short of a few bob these people, are they?) his willingness to luxuriate in some kind of radical garb – when all Western politicians, most broadcast networks and every single mimsy millionaire celebrity with a cause (usually their own egos) to promote, agree with him – should alert all questioning people to something badly amiss with his capacity to read events.
But this is a man not content with broad consensus, it seems. So brittle is his grip on the hearts and minds of his fawning, easily-pleased acolytes, he must crush all who have the temerity to be sceptical about his Tuesday sermons. Enraged by such heresy, but unable convincingly to engage with the arguments, he resorts to personal calumny.
Having said that, a Cheshire cat smile plays about my features whenever I see he’s delivered himself of another wild-eyed broadside at spiked. It will make people who haven’t done so before investigate the website, and any remotely reflective, half-sentient adult will be glad they did. To compare Monbiot’s narrow, joyless pronouncements with spiked‘s penetrating, unbowed humanism is to compare backwards with forwards. So come on George, keep the vituperative lies, the finessed factoids and your own peculiar brand of frowning, priggish puritanism coming. spiked can never have enough readers!
Justin Smyth, Ireland
The French say ‘qui s’accuse, s’excuse’ which means ‘he who accuses, excuses himself’.
Monbiot hates spiked because he sees his own faults exposed and doesn’t like what he sees. Instead of attempting to rectify his dogmatic right-on eco-political correctness, he attacks those who have the temerity to point out the absurdity and hypocrisy of his own self-righteous, and often flawed, outpourings,
Peter Hollander, UK
Seeing as there’s not much room on the back of a postcard, one suspects Monbiot just wishes you weren’t here.
Paul Thomas, UK
George Monbiot is in essence a religious zealot; he has faith in the evil of humankind and all its works. In common with other fundamentalists, his beliefs are unalterable, literal-minded, dogmatic and fanatical. The beliefs of spiked are alterable, ironic minded, experimental and tolerant. Battles for free expression begin as a struggle over what is and is not ‘blasphemy’. George is a true believer and spiked offends as only blasphemy can. And that is why he hates you.
Alan McGovern. U.K.
Is it because George Monbiot is Walter and spiked is Dennis the Menace
Joe Doyle, UK
Monbiot hates spiked because, unlike him, it didn’t pray for a recession to cleanse us from our sins and because it refused to pay lip service to the rich and famous by ridiculing his genius idea that ‘it’s the poor that will suffer the most from further development’. But perhaps what George despises the most about spiked is that it’s independent, free-thinking, and genuinely interested in coming up with new, human-centred, and progressive answers to modern-day problems as opposed to advocating his preferred and clearly enlightened solution: mass austerity.
Another possible explanation is that he’s suffering from sort of identity crisis. Sharing the same initials as technologies that could help feed millions, the thought that there might be a more venerated GM is bound to prove upsetting for a self-styled defender of the poor. That spiked advocates research into such technologies must feel like an assault on GM himself.
Maria Grasso, UK
Maybe Monbiot thought that with a name like spiked it was some new online society for pricks anonymous? One can only imagine his eye-popping horror on discovering spiked was there to ‘kick against the pricks’ not console them.
With enemies like this hot air-spouting descendent of the aristocracy, spiked will never be short of friends!
Dom McCarthy, Australia
George’s problem is that he has to turn somersaults in order to sustain his image as a radical ‘thinker’.
He emerges dizzy from his own spinning and thinks it is the world that’s confused about what direction it is moving in. Everything he writes is a projection of his own inability to understand a world that fails to conform to his expectations. The ideas he uses to orientate himself fail to give him purchase on his own existential crisis; they crumble underfoot. The result is his capricious, vacillating, and incoherent column in the Guardian with its frequent attacks on spiked. This disorientation demonstrates beautifully - albeit unintentionally - spiked‘s broader analysis that the Left-Right axis doesn’t sufficiently explain the world. Monbiot is a painful symptom of this disorientation, not a bright and leading advocate of an urgent cause.
He is a walking contradiction - as you’d expect from a man who is the son of Tory politicians descended from French aristocrats, went from a famous public school, through Oxbridge, to the BBC, yet fancies himself as a critic of the establishment. The very same establishment has mirrored George’s disorientation by redefining itself according to the tenets of environmentalism. The government has gone green. The Labour Party is green. The Tory Party is even greener. The media is dominated by the environmental message. Huge Corporations rush to demonstrate their Green credentials. This makes it harder and harder for Monbiot to style himself as an anti-establishment radical - he fails to realise it, but they’ve bought the message, in spite of environmentalism’s failure to interest the wider public. Thus the few occasions where environmentalism is challenged or fails to assert itself become the battleground for George’s war with the imaginary anti-environmental ‘establishment’. Hence, spiked, one of the few critics of environmentalism become the object of his anger and frustration, and the go-ahead for the new Heathrow runway moves him to join the Conservatives, and closer, therefore, to the real establishment he pretends he is distant from.
Ben Pile, UK
From the perspective of an East European reader like myself, Monbiot’s attack was mostly about the Marxist connections of leading spiked columnists like Frank Furedi. But funnily enough it is George Monbiot that looks like the Communist ideologue. He perhaps does not realise it, but the authoritarianism of his ideology is of a similar intent to that of die-hard Communists in the old days of the Bolshevik Revolution. George Monbiot should learn and memorise one old Polish proverb: ‘Good wishes paved the way to hell.’ Indeed, while his ideas seem to be rational and complementary, the final outcome is terrifying. It is a kind of utopia where people are forced to abandon their basic instincts like mobility (travelling as a luxury) according to the dogma of a dark environmentalism.
Zbigniew P Szczesny, Poland
Monbiot hates spiked because you champion civil liberties for all in the face of those who wish to restrict civil liberties under the guise of ‘saving the planet’. He hates spiked because you don’t want to stop people from flying and do not believe that supermarkets should be shut down and turned into farmers markets and that everyone should go back to shopping at the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers
Dan Factor, UK
Maybe Monbiot hates spiked because, unlike him, you get your facts right…
In his tirade against Brendan O’Neill and his ‘fellow travellers’ who ‘refuse to accept that man-made climate change is real’ – that is, you deny the facts – Monbiot also claimed that ‘a large Aga running on coal turns out nine tonnes of carbon dioxide per year: five and a half times the total CO2 production of the average UK home’.
Only – oops! – that isn’t true. A correction has since been added to Monbiot’s article, stating: ‘We said that a large Aga running on coal turns out nine tonnes of carbon dioxide per year: five times the total CO2 production of the average UK home. We meant to say that an Aga produces 35 per cent more than the total CO2 production of the average UK home.’
Wow. There is a mighty big difference between something being 500 per cent more destructive and 35 per cent more destructive. What a corker of an error! Perhaps if Monbiot spent less time chasing those who ‘deny the existence of social and environmental problems’, and more time concentrating on reality, he wouldn’t commit such embarrassing crimes against objectivity.
James L Lynch, UK
I don’t know why Monbiot hates spiked but he does seem intent on expelling anyone associated with it from public life. After revealing in his article ‘The invasion of the entryists’ that people who have written for spiked also have - shock horror! - jobs, some of them in the public eye, he seemed very upset in a later interview that his revelations had not led to anyone being sacked: ‘What absolutely staggers me is none of these people have lost their positions. And indeed, some of these people gained positions subsequent to [the publication of my Guardian article about them].’ Lovely! I suspect George is just upset that public life lacks a modern-day Joseph McCarthy. ‘Are you now or have you ever been associated with spiked or its fellow travellers?’
Julia Hutchinson, UK
Is George Monbiot being a bit sensitive about being called a toff? But then his ancestors were French aristocrats, the Ducs de Coutard, his parents leading Tory politicians who sent their little boy to Stowe Public school and Brasenose College, Oxford, before George got a job at the BBC, trolled around the anti-roads protests for a while, sponsored by career diplomat Sir Crispin Tickell, then landing his current job as Guardian columnist. George thinks air travel the equivalent of child abuse, except when he is doing it to ‘promote his book’. Climate changes gives George the intellectual justification for refusing to share his flights with the great unwashed.
James Heartfield, UK
At the heart of Monbiot’s disdain for spiked is a firm belief that the people associated with the magazine are part of a sinister, manipulative and duplicitous anti-Green conspiracy. This is why in his Guardian article ‘This is indeed a class war’ he paints spiked writers as being both firebrand Marxists and pocket-lining champions of big business. And by doing so, spiked is apparently sowing confusion amongst all ‘right-minded’ people everywhere. Monbiot’s fixed paranoia on this ‘evil conspiracy’ reached a high/low point with his 2003 Guardian piece ‘Invasion of the Entryists’ whereby any spiked associate with a public profile only has one because they’re in cahoots with The Man. Such a worldview is still more easy and comforting than dealing with spiked’s actual arguments.
Neil Davenport, UK
I should think the answer is simple: spiked has been the most consistently pro-human publication in an increasingly anti-human political climate. Monbiot views the human race as a plague upon planet earth which should be culled at least, or even exterminated. spiked is the leading obstacle to such a species-cidal project. Keep up the good work and, by the way, two fingers up (British version of the American ‘bird’) to Ethan Greenhart!
Tikhon Andrew Gilson, USA
Why does he hate spiked? Why ask? Who cares? It shows you’re on the right track. So please, provoke away. Reading his frothing and writhing brings light to the darkest morning.
Dominic Dodd, UK
Monbiot hates spiked because in his eyes it’s a cult. In other words, the magazine’s arguments can only be explained by reference to some sort of psycho-social derangement or an imposed conformity to a perverse ideology. Evidently so: only a group on the distant fringes of ‘mainstream society’ could possibly refuse to take a stand on the Aga/no-Aga divide (for those unfamiliar, it’s supposedly a sort of fashionable retro-cooker). Only the demented would refuse to man the barricades in the struggle over what type of holiday people take and what you do when you get there. Only a cult could insulate itself from such an historical confrontation.
That spiked have no truck with the miserable lifestyle politics Monbiot encourages is incomprehensible to him. The revelation that fellow green Jonathan Porritt took 42 flights last year only makes the latter a hypocrite. But that I might envy his luxury, rather than moralise his behaviour is likewise incomputable for the Guardian journo. In Monbiot’s strange world, not indulging his brand of cod-class politics by refusing to sign up to the green-lifestyle brigade can only be the consequence of being in a, er, cult.
Unfortunately for Monbiot (and dissenting ‘cults’ the world over), the world is not pre-ordained to conform to his worldview - the facts do not ‘speak for themselves’. If only someone would let him know that in speaking from on-high to those he believes are beneath him, he’s really only gazing at his own navel.
Alex Hochuli, UK
Whatever illness has caused the malice, I’m sure it’s nothing a decent anti-Monbiotic can’t clear up.
Mischa Moselle, Hong Kong
He writes and talks bollocks and spiked tells him so.
Roger Clague, UK
Well, I had been thinking that it was because either he’d got out of the wrong side of his hessian-lined bed. Again. Or that Mrs Monbiot had put the wrong kind of hand-knitted yoghurt in his recycled cardboard lunch box - the yoghurt having been made as far away as Kent, meaning many unnecessary yoghurt miles. Poor Mrs Monbiot had to reduce her emissions cap immediately.
However, it turned out that one of the organic aduki beans in Les Monbiots’ weekly DeLuxe Vegetable Sack was harbouring a little parasite (ah! the wonder of organophosphates)... The parasite, Wrath of Khan style, made its way into George’s brain, and began directing unspeakable thoughts towards all things spikey.
Michael Hatcher, UK
Monbiot hates spiked because he is obviously a subscriber to the ‘lump of wit’ fallacy which believes that there is only a limited amount of wit in the world. Therefore Monbiot thinks that every time spiked writes something, it takes away from his (obviously more important) share of the world’s wit resource.
Sean Holland, USA
I don’t know the answer, but his name is an anagram of ‘I go to Green Mob’. Coincidence? I think not.
So, beware of the environmental mafia turning up on your doorstep. Next thing you know you will be waking up with a free-range horse’s head in your bed…
Neil O’Connor, UK
Monbiot appears not to grasp that political opinions - whether or not they’re consciously acknowledged as such, and even if they’re as elementary as ‘humanity takes precedence over nature’ or vice versa - are a prerequisite for forming and interpreting scientific opinions.
From Monbiot’s point of view, ‘politics’ means ‘the decisions you make in the tiny amount of wiggle room left over once scientific consensus has fixed the parameters of the world’. From such a perspective, anyone who refuses to put scientific ‘consensus’ before political opinion must be a liar, a cynic, a shill or a dupe - basically, someone who holds science in contempt.
What spiked conveys so well, in its coverage of climate change and other issues, is that human-centred politics and scientific endeavour do not need to impede one another but rather help to make sense of one another. In the jargon of IT, bold political opinions in the discussion of ‘scientific’ issues such as climate change are not a bug, but a feature. Long may spiked and its kindred spirits continue to confound the Monbiots of this world.
Sandy Starr, UK
Why does George hate spiked? Why did the Spanish Inquisition hate Galileo?
Mark Ramsden, UK
Surely it must be because Brendan reminds poor Georgey of his imposing father, Raymond Geoffrey Monbiot, the Tory grandee who presumably bullied his myopic son by sending him to beastly boarding schools and hounded him for sending his weekly allowance to World Wildlife Fund campaigns rather than investing it in Allied Biscuit shares.
I’ve seen Brendan perform at a number of pugilistic events and can attest to the sheer animal charisma of the man. One could easily see him striking the fear of god into be-sandalled yoghurt-weavers like George.
The answer is actually quite obvious! In fact, at the very top of www.monbiot.com, our friend proclaims: ‘Tell people something they know already and they will thank you for it. Tell them something new and they will hate you for it.’
Roar Larsen, Norway
As a contributor and regular reader of spiked I am ashamed of spiked – have a little sympathy for the nerves of poor old George. Remember, as Kermit so memorably said, it isn’t easy being green. There are the constant contradictory impulses - should one buy organic beans from Kenya or locally grown green-house beans; is consumption bad (yes, if done in Primark) or good (yes, if buying items hand made by an indigenous women’s collective); should one go to dinner with the Fearnley-Whittingstalls when dear Hugh has done so much to encourage everyone to grow their own vegetables in the spare room. Or should one not, given that his ‘lifestyle’ is paid for by evil big corporation Channel 4; ditto a weekend at one of the houses of the charming Goldsmiths…
Tara McCormack, UK
I suspect it’s some sort of ‘If you like a girl, pull her pigtails’ thing. Hence Gorgeous George always inserts gratuitous digs about Brendan O’Neill in seemingly irrelevant articles (Agas? - unless the spiked cult HQ has one).
Rob Johnston, UK
In common with all his ilk, Monbiot hates free-thinking. Free-thinking is why I love spiked... go figure!
Peta Dawson, UK
The invasion of Iraq is five years old. Here, spiked editor Brendan O’Neill looks back at how our arguments about the war and the anti-war movement have been vindicated.
Five years on, what is the key lesson of the invasion of Iraq? That outside interference in another country’s affairs always makes things worse. And yet, even as many officials, thinkers and activists admit that the shock, awe and occupation of Iraq was a disaster (George W Bush is the only person who still thinks it was ‘noble’), they have singularly failed to learn this lesson. Instead, both the war’s authors and the war’s opponents have reunited around a blinkered post-Iraq thesis: that we now need to focus Western interference on other parts of the world, be it fighting the ‘good fight’ in Afghanistan, rescuing genocide victims in Darfur, upping the ante with the Russians, or encouraging instability in the violent, polluting beast of the East: China.
spiked has been implacably opposed to invading Iraq for longer than five years, since before the war actually started on 20 March 2003. In July 2002, we argued that Iraq was being talked up as a target, not because there was any evidence that the Ba’athists were stockpiling dangerous weapons (spiked didn’t need two discredited dossiers to know that ‘after the devastating defeat in the Gulf War and a decade of stringent UN sanctions, Saddam is much weaker than he once was’), but rather because a deeply, historically crisis-ridden White House needed an external focus through which it might discover some of that elusive ‘purpose’. Under the heading ‘When in doubt, attack Iraq’, spiked argued that the tough-talking policy on Iraq ‘is primarily about giving the US administration a self-image of purpose, a sense of mission and clarity’.
Throughout 2002, spiked challenged the ‘evidence’ that was emanating from Whitehall and the White House about Saddam’s alleged WMD and links with Osama bin Laden. Indeed, spiked invented the term ‘dodgy dossier’ on 24 September 2002, the day on which Tony Blair published his first dossier on Iraq – the one that most politicians and journalists accepted as good coin. Blair’s dossier ‘consists of little more than speculation, rhetoric and rehashed allegations that have already been challenged elsewhere’, spiked argued.
Yet even as spiked picked apart and kicked in ‘the evidence’ for war, we argued that, in order to be effective, the opposition to the war had to be fundamentally political and moral rather than merely factual. In 2002, we said: ‘The fact that so many of Blair’s anti-war critics have made The Evidence against Iraq their main focus - always demanding better evidence, more evidence, harder evidence - shows that they have no problem with Blair and Bush sitting in judgement on Iraq and deciding when and how to change the regime. They just need a bit more convincing, and would rather it was done through sanctions/enforced inspections/not so many bombs (delete according to how radical you are), rather than all-out war.’
Since 2002, the key complaint of anti-war activists, commentators and those who initially supported the war but then changed their minds is that ‘we were lied to’ and ‘duped by the evidence’. Yet if spiked could see through the evidence as early as in the summer of 2002, why couldn’t they? For spiked, the relentless reduction of the Iraq story in 2003, and since, to a question of lies and false intelligence was a convenient way for those who shamefully supported the war at the start to escape political responsibility for it. In July 2003, we argued: ‘The “debate” over Iraq has been reduced to an evidence-based affair, where the only question is over which facts are true, which aren’t, and who made up what. This is politics with the politics taken out - where principle and judgement have been replaced by technical squabbles, and where no one is prepared to take responsibility for what is going on in Iraq.’ Five years on, the discussion of Iraq is still technical rather the political, forever focusing on the legality of the war or the lies that Blair told us. Some now predict there will be a public inquiry into the pre-war deals and discussions that took place behind closed doors. The moral debate about Iraq – the principled challenged to Western intervention – has yet to take place; small wonder that the key lesson about the destructiveness of outside interference has yet to be learned.
On Iraq, spiked was never particularly concerned, in that narcissistic, self-flattering way, with having been lied to by the powers-that-be. (Indeed, we asked why so many people seemed ‘surprised by war lies’, pointing out that ‘from the Boer War of 1899 to the Kosovo War of 1999, British and American leaders have lied, exaggerated and invented for the purposes of launching and justifying military ventures’.) No, spiked’s concern was to argue that interfering in another state’s affairs always intensifies conflict, and robs the people themselves of their agency and ability to take control of their destinies. In February 2003, a few weeks before war began, we argued: ‘The internationalisation of Iraq’s local conflicts threatens to divide Iraqis further and store up conflict for the future, rather than herald anything like a new era of freedom.’
The invasion of Iraq on ‘humanitarian’ and ‘peacekeeping’ grounds would give Turkey the ‘green light’ to pursue its historic war against the Kurds in northern Iraq and encourage Iran to send in its forces in order to secure its ‘interests in the set-up of postwar Iraq’, we said in February 2003. Both of these things have come to pass: the Turks recently invaded northern Iraq, and the Iranians are deeply involved in shaping Iraq’s new government and reportedly in arming some of the Iraq-based militias. The West’s toppling of the Ba’athists and internationalisation of ‘the Iraqi problem’ has invited a whole host of forces to stake their claim in the country.
Just prior to the war, some liberal commentators started talking about the idea of ‘accidental liberation’: yes, they said, the war would be overseen by that unpredictable Texan cowboy Bush ‘who is only interested in oil’, and it might have some bloody consequences on the ground, but at least it would have the accidental spin-off benefit of liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s rule. For spiked, this captured everything that is politically wrong and morally repulsive with the arguments in favour of Western military intervention. We pointed out that ‘the idea of “accidental liberation” is a con’ and a ‘contradiction in terms’: ‘It depicts the people of Iraq as hapless saps who should only expect freedom as the by-product of a Western war.’
More fundamentally, spiked pointed out that liberation simply cannot be imposed from without – and thus Operation Iraqi Freedom, as the Coalition named its invasion, was a mad, bad and dangerous idea from the very start. A people can only liberate themselves, spiked argued. In April 2003, shortly after the war began, we said: ‘What we have seen in Iraq is liberation as farce. Liberty, freedom and democracy for Iraq could only come about through the struggles of the Iraqi people themselves. The process of liberation is not just one of freeing people from the constraints of their regime; it is about them deciding how they want to rule themselves, how they want to organise and govern their society. It is in fighting for freedom that people gain a sense of what they want freedom to look like.’ This is a lesson that those calling for Western meddling in Sudan, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Tibet and elsewhere should take on board: spiked offers support and solidarity to people around the world who want to be free, and who fight to make their freedom a lived reality, because we recognise that freedom cannot be delivered on a silver platter by caring, benign, superior outsiders. That is not freedom; it is patronage, which in Iraq’s case meant that ‘the Iraqi people have found themselves washed up in a post-war landscape that they played no part in creating’, said spiked in 2003.
When the war began in March 2003, many anti-war activists argued that it was a ‘war for oil’ or the first salvo in an attempt to build a new American Empire in the Middle East. spiked recognised it as a ‘war without purpose’.
We argued that the swift defeat of the Ba’athist regime by the Coalition forces – which occurred within weeks of the invasion – highlighted how overblown were the pre-war claims of Saddam’s awesome power and his terrible threat to the civilised world. Surely even ‘the wildest of imaginations could not conceive of Iraq as a strategic threat to the world’s only superpower’, spiked said. In April 2003, we argued that the speedy implosion of Saddam’s regime – ‘like the wretched, ruined state that any objective observer of Iraqi affairs knew it to be’ – exposed to ridicule, once and for all, all the pre-war evidence about Iraq being a thorn in the side of the entire world (not that this has prevented observers from incessantly obsessing over the pre-war evidence, of course). Yet the almost instantaneous demise of the Ba’athists exposed a bigger, more fundamental truth, too. ‘The Coalition’s hollow victory in Baghdad marks a fittingly surreal climax to a war that was always empty of meaning’, said spiked.
In April 2003, spiked argued: ‘There has been no conflict of interest underlying the war in Iraq.’ We said that, ‘lacking any substance, the war has been all about image’: ‘Those who would draw a line between the shallow politics of spin at home and this real battle of conviction politics in Iraq are missing the mark. In a sense, the war has shown that the politics of spin can come out of the barrel of a gun.’ Indeed, we noted that as the Coalition defeated the Ba’athists and inherited control of Iraq, its prime task seemed to be to find a justification for the war, to discover in the rubble of shot-through towns and cities or the bombed-out ‘weapons factories’ some dusty casus belli, so that it could hold it up and say: ‘THIS is why we invaded… THIS is what we’re fighting against… THIS is what the West is all about today.’ A couple of weeks after the war began, at the end of March 2003, spiked described it as ‘a war in search of a war aim’: ‘American and British officials, uncertain about what the war is for and of their mission on the international stage, seem to be lashing around desperately for something, anything, to justify the war.’
In many ways, said spiked, this new unhinged war-as-spin – foreign ventures not in pursuit of some specific aim but in search of a general sense of purpose – was even more dangerous than old colonial wars of the past. The disconnection of war from policy gave rise to a new kind of war that was unpredictable, unwieldy and with no obvious end in sight. spiked argued: ‘The war against Iraq was not motivated by traditional concerns about pursuing the national interest, gaining a geo-political advantage, or securing economic assets.’ Indeed, if there was any overriding concern behind Bush and Blair’s Iraq war it was pre-emption – ‘the contemporary Western obsession with precaution and risk aversion’, said spiked. ‘If, as Clausewitz suggested, war is the continuation of politics by other means, then this war is the projection of our fearful domestic political culture on to the world stage.’ Observing that ‘risk-averse’ war frequently means attacking faceless, apparently scary ‘Others’ who allegedly pose a terrible threat to civilisation as we know it, spiked recognised that a ‘risk-free war’ fought against ‘ominous threats’ could be a ‘risky and bloody affair’ indeed for those on the receiving end.
Following the war, in 2004 and 2005, spiked analysed how the lack of purpose and direction to the war led to a peculiar new kind of ‘phantom occupation’. Far from seeking to build a new Empire on the ruins of Iraq, and spread their ‘Project for a New American Century’ around the rest of the Middle East, Coalition forces continually disavowed sovereign and political responsibility for Iraq. Many started to ask when would the Coalition withdraw from this bloody mess? Yet as spiked pointed out, ‘What this debate overlooks is that America and Britain left Iraq long ago – in spirit anyway. Politically and emotionally, if not physically, the Coalition of the Willing had already “cut and run” from Iraq by late 2003.’
This was best summed up in the Coalition Provisional Authority, which governed Iraq from May 2003 to June 2004. spiked described it as being ‘nothing like your usual force of occupation, shaping the nation in its own image or interests’; instead it was headed by an ‘administrator’, Paul Bremner, rather than a High Representative, who, strikingly, was guarded by private security guards rather than US soldiers. The CPA described itself as ‘the temporary governing body which has been designated by the UN as the lawful government of Iraq until such time as Iraq is politically and socially stable enough to assume its sovereignty’. The CPA couldn’t wait for ‘such time’ to arrive, said spiked: its website came complete with a Countdown to Sovereignty ticker, which anticipated, by the second, the moment when postwar Iraq would become Iraqis’ permanent responsibility rather than the CPA’s temporary responsibility.
spiked also noted the historical significance of the Coalition’s desire to outsource as much responsibility as possible to non-state military machines. While some shrill commentators discussed this as the state joining forces with corporations in order ruthlessly to pursue their oil grab in Iraq, spiked argued that the Coalition’s turn towards mercenaries to do their dirty work was far more significant than that: ‘The use money-hungry former soldiers in Iraq is not a product of any clear-cut political agenda on the part of the Bush administration, but rather of its opposite: a severe crisis of authority amongst America’s rulers which means they are even willing to outsource the means of coercion – traditionally the highest form of authority in capitalist society – to non-state actors.’ spiked pointed out that commentators had overlooked ‘the sweeping historical significance of America’s readiness to share its means of coercion with private companies’: ‘Over the past 200 years, capitalist elites centralised and monopolised the means of physical force; they jealously guarded their right to use violence over any other section of society. Now, that is changing – swiftly and dramatically.’
The Coalition’s desire to take a hands-off approach to the government of Iraq, and to send mercenaries to protect their representatives on the ground and to fight some of their grittier battles with insurgents, led to what spiked termed a ‘phantom occupation’. Yes, the Coalition still has troops on the ground in Iraq, but they have been mostly withdrawn from active engagement and are now used largely as a political prop, spiked argued in 2006. ‘The thousands of soldiers, even though they do little of note, have become a kind of prop for the coalition, physical evidence that it remains steadfast and committed over Iraq where no political evidence for such steadfastness exists. Indeed, the more that coalition leaders have politically and spiritually cut and run from Iraq, the more important the brute presence of the soldiers has become, as a sign that America and Britain haven’t given up and remain committed to “developing democracy”.’ Just as the shock’n’awe in 2003 and the search for a casus belli throughout 2004 were media stunts designed to send a message about Coalition bravery and determination, so the continuing occupation is best understood, not as oil-mad Empire-building, but as a drawn-out PR exercise where the troops become cheap adverts for a political commitment and longevity that does not really exist.
In a sense, the Coalition was saying ‘Not In My Name’ about their war in Iraq; in their effort to absolve themselves of political and emotional responsibility, they were washing their hands clean of the bloody mess they had created. This was a distorted mirror image of the anti-war movement’s own stance on Iraq, which as well as being myopically obsessed with The Evidence has also always declared ‘Not In My Name’ – that is: ‘I personally want nothing to do with this war, stop the world so that I can jump off!’
As spiked said following one of the earliest anti-war protests in November 2002, and as we have reiterated in our critical coverage of the anti-war movement since: ‘The “Not In My Name” slogan sums up the current anti-war sentiment. Resigned to the fact that a war will take place and unconfident of their ability to stop it, anti-war protesters instead wash their hands of war. “Not In My Name” is a way of declaring that, when the war does inevitably happen, you personally want nothing to do with it. Far from challenging Bush and Blair’s war-in-the-making, anti-war protesters are virtually saying, “Do what you like, we know we can’t stop you - just count us out”.’ This was an anti-war position driven more by fear, fatalism and narcissism rather than political principle or serious solidarity.
spiked has consistently argued that the real problem today is the West’s disjointed, disconnected foreign policy, which is driven by a domestic crisis of legitimacy rather than by a clear global framework or by definable foreign aims. This means foreign policy is both ravenous, as it searches out new crises in foreign fields to which it can attach itself, and deeply destabilising. And as spiked argued recently, the end result of this desperate and narcissistic foreign interference is to expose rather than resolve the crisis of political authority and meaning at home: ‘As events have shown, it is difficult for the West to pursue a foreign policy in search of meaning without exposing the uncertainties and confusions that gave rise to this quest in the first place.’ From the tortured discussion of the torture snaps at Abu Ghraib in 2004 to the shocking images of Saddam’s execution at the end of 2006, spiked has explored how every crisis in Iraq has been a result, not simply of ‘making mistakes’ as many claim, but of the internal incoherence of the invading powers.
At the start of 2007, on Saddam’s hanging, spiked argued: ‘Iraq is a phantom state without any central authority, where the government’s handpicked volunteer hangmen can turn out to be sectarian political militants, while government officials film the gory spectacle on illicit mobiles. Of course the USA and Britain are invading powers in Iraq. But far from exercising colonial-style domination over the country, these embarrassing events confirm that the Coalition cannot even control what goes on within the Baghdad Green Zone where the American military is bunkered down.’
The impact of the Iraq war has been twofold: it has laid bare the political crisis at the heart of the West, and worse, far from liberating Iraq it has left it a bloody, suicidal mess. As spiked argued in April 2007, contrasting Margaret Thatcher’s use of the ‘Falklands Factor’ 25 years earlier in 1982 with Blair’s failure to make any political mileage out of Iraq: ‘No doubt the Blair government hoped that the Iraq war would have a similar effect, pulling New Labour out of the doldrums, giving it a sense of purpose and uniting the nation as previous wars had done. But it quickly became clear that the opposite would be the case. The Iraq adventure has laid bare and made worse all of New Labour’s woes. If the Falklands launched Thatcher towards electoral triumph and a place in history, Iraq will be recalled as the conflict that sunk Blair as surely as she did the Belgrano.’
And in Iraq, we have what spiked labelled in September 2006 as ‘the world’s first Suicide State’: ‘Iraq looks like a country committing suicide rather than aspiring to independence and liberty. This new Suicide State is not quite as foreign or “evil” as commentators and officials would have us believe. Rather, it seems to have been shaped by some very contemporary political trends, and by the denigration of international politics over the past decade.’
This is the end result of five years of war on Iraq: increased political doubt, disillusionment and cynicism in the West, and a hole in the heart of the Middle East where an Iraq run by its own people ought to stand. Yet rather than face up to and hotly debate these facts, all the better to ensure that such a thing never occurs again, those who supported the war now call for more interventions in ‘dangerous hotspots’ around the world, while some of those who criticised the war want Western troops in Darfur, Kosovo and Tibet. They have learned absolutely nothing. Those who truly value freedom and self-determination around the world should reject both the inexorable interventionism of our hollow Western rulers and the fearful isolationism or ‘liberal interventionism’ demanded by the anti-war critics, and instead state the case loudly and clearly against outside interference in others’ affairs.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here.