Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sigh... Cohen's at it again

That greatest of many good reasons not to read the Observer, Nick Cohen, has been at it again:

The same question haunts the Liberal Democrats, who benefited so greatly from the anti-war wave of 2003. After a mediocre performance in the local elections came terrible opinion polls last week, which included the finding that half of Liberal Democrat supporters wanted rid of Sir Menzies Campbell. The former darling of the BBC and Channel 4 is now a liability, but I doubt if his enforced retirement would help a party without a purpose.

Its pro-Europeanism has gone, because the English won't accept more power going to Brussels. David Cameron has stolen its green clothes, while Gordon Brown is winning back disillusioned Labour voters. True, it still favours PR, but only because it suits its interests. There are good arguments for change, but the slogan 'vote for me so I can rig the system' is not one of them. Maybe they will recover. A large part of the Lib Dems' appeal is to protest voters who support it only because it isn't the Labour or Tory party. More demanding citizens will want to know how it plans to change the country and to that reasonable question no reply comes.

As Chomsky and many others often point out, the criticism that a group never propose any alternatives (often the green movement) has a straightforward translation: They propose plenty of solutions, but I don't like them. Nowhere is this more true than in what Cohen has written here. Or, I suppose, maybe he just speaks from ignorance; a couple of paragraphs later, he claims that Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky pose "no threat" to the rich, and all they do is oppose US and UK policy. Again, simply untrue.

Also, isn't it pretty bizarre to accuse of wanting to rig the system by bringing in the least riggable of all electoral systems? Or is this, to misquote Douglas Adams, a strange new use of the phrase "rigging the vote", that now actually means "ensuring the vote is accurately reflected in the makeup of parliament", of whose use I was previously unaware? This kind of doublethink is quite astonishingly prevalent now in comment writers; see Simon Jenkins a week or two ago.

Cohen as a writer paints from a palette of pure cliche and popularly perceived falsehood. His attacks on groups or people are often so content free that it becomes really quite hard to engage them at all.

1 comment:

James said...

Apart from anything else, PR doesn't actually particularly help the Lib Dems. In the Scottish local elections this year, the first using STV, the Lib Dems increased their number of council seats across Scotland by, er, 1 seat. We've languished in every PR poll held in the UK since 1999, while other parties such as UKIP, the Tories, Plaid and the SNP have used it to their advantage.