Martin Bright

Does America Point to a Future for the British Left?

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I have had the pleasure of meeting two major figures of the American intellectual left over the past two weeks: Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne and Michael Kazin, co-editor of Dissent magazine. I'm sure there are as many differences as similarities in the politics of these two men, but what struck me about meeting them was how complacent and flabby we have become in Britain with our progressive politics.

The relative strength of the Labour Party and the trade unions make us believe our radical traditions are safe here. But last night's Dispatches made me realise just how fragile a principled left-wing politics has become. 

It is as well not to get over-romantic about other intellectual cultures.

But in the States, the left has been beleaguered for so long that it knows it has to remain vigilant at all times. 

Is there something about the umbilical link between US academia and public intellectuals such as Dionne and Kazin (both are professors at Georgetown University) that makes their positions more sustainable?

If so, this is not a model we could adopt in this country until we find academics on the left who can write with the didactic clarity of right-wingers like Niall Ferguson.

To my mind, there is only one way out of this bind. We have a crying need for a new journalistic voice on the intellectual-political left. It can't be possible that the centre-right can sustain Prospect, Standpoint, Total Politics and The Spectator, while the left has no equivalent publication. 

This is not an argument designed to gain much sympathy on this site. But a British left in total philosophical disarray should concern us all.