Seumas Milne: The Worst of a (Very) Bad Bunch

Seamus Milne, Flickr, Julia Davidson

There is much to revile about the new-and-certainly-not-improved Labour Party, especially on an individual basis. Jeremy Corbyn is a clear candidate – after all, his utter ambivalence and general incompetence when campaigning during the EU referendum campaign may have been what made the difference in the result. And that’s not to mention his contempt for other Labour MPs who do not practice the ideological purity that he adheres to (perhaps unaware that some in the Parliamentary Labour Party actually have non-safe seats to contest). Highgate and Cambridge-educated Jon Lansman could, merely for the setting up of the pretty reprehensible group that is Momentum, also be a reasonable candidate for uncontrollable fury. Diane Abbot’s suspicion of Finnish women working at her local hospital in Hackney while claiming that “white people love playing divide and rule” and that Mao, the Chinese dictator with as much blood on his hands as any other historical figure, “on balance did more good than harm” would also be a reasonable subject of virulent hatred.

Yet for those who refuse to accept that the West is the root of all that is wrong with humanity, for those who believe that, despite its flaws, capitalism has by-and-large succeeded in delivering greater prosperity to society than at any time in human history, and for those convinced that radical Islam and despots should be condemned, rather than praised, Seumas Milne must occupy a special place in the moderates loathing of the new (or old?) Labour Party.

Winchester and Oxford-educated (a privileged posh boy if there has ever been one), Milne was columnist and associate editor of the Guardian up until his recent appointment as the Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. While Jeremy Corbyn’s worldview can be forgiven for its incoherent and messy nature – rarely coming across as anything other than banal – it is figures like Milne, highly-educated and sophisticated in their ideals – that should be truly feared. Those concerned about a reselection movement within the Labour Party need look no further than Milne who, in 2009, argued that “putting all but the most blameless MPs through a process of reselection would offer the chance both to revive local democracy and replace some Tweedledum career politicians with more independent, rooted and working-class candidates­” (of course, he himself doesn’t fit this criteria).

In the past quarter of a century, the West has seen its ideological enemy shift from Marxism and its associated ideologies and political systems, to the radical Islamism that is increasingly enveloping the Middle East. Milne’s admiration of both systems is well-documented. Whether the root of this admiration is in the principles and beliefs of ideologies such as Salafism and Maoism, or simply in their role as the other side of the Western-non-Western dichotomy one can only speculate. The result, though, is the same. In an opinion piece written in 2006, Milne argued that “for all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment… Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the west, boosted the anticolonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to western global domination.”  For a depiction of what the Soviet Union was really like, one might be better inclined to listen to Orwell. Certainly the willingness, and sometimes even desperation, of ex-Communist countries in eastern Europe and central Asia to join western institutions such as NATO and the EU after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 suggests that they might disagree with Mr Milne’s eulogy.

After the September 11th attacks, Milne quickly jumped to the defence of al-Qaeda, claiming that the attacks were the product of “longstanding grievances” over U.S. intervention in the Middle East. Never mind that before 2001 actual U.S. military intervention in the Middle East was limited to the Gulf War of 1991 and a couple of minor interventions in Lebanon, or that those who planned and carried out the attacks on the World Trade Centre had been the recipients of major U.S. military and financial support in their guerrilla war against the Russians. Equally, after the July 7th bombings in London Milne claimed it to be “an insult to the dead” to claim that al-Qaeda was motivated by a “hatred of western freedoms and way of life” and “that their Islamist ideology aims at global domination”. Of course, all the evidence points to the contrary but for Milne this is not important.

Corbyn is well-deserving of ridicule. But there is something genuinely terrifying about the prospect, however slim, that a man as shameless as Seumas Milne could play an important role in the modern-day political narrative. At a time when we need to stand up for Western ideals more than ever, Corbyn has appointed a man who has spent the majority of his adult life condemning them.