I recently attended a big conference called Battle of Ideas at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. My precense was a product of BoI organizing a debate on burkas and tolerance in Oslo some weeks earlier in cooperation with The British Council. The program for the Londons talkfest was very tempting.
I also knew some of the speakers by name. Mainly from the engaging online magazine Spiked, which I have read for quite a while. I often find myself agreeing with their position on issues as diverse as animal rights, immunization and economic policy. They are, in other words, liberals or liberalists.
But the strangest thing happened i London, I gradually came to view the organizers with less confidence.
As the conference progressed, I found myself noticing with increasing curiosity how the main moderator Claire Fox seemed much in synch with a number of participants. It was not that she mishandled her job as much that she with increasing boldness estabished herself at center stage in the discussions, commenting and summing up their main points as she saw them through rather tinted glasses. (I also quickly found myself disliking a certain self gratulatory and heavy handed smugness in her comments. But then I often do that when listening to the radical chick, it might just be prejudice.)
I tried to research the (poilitical) background of the network/group/cadre central to the BoI conference and it’s organizing group Institute of Ideas. Sources are George Monbiot (whom I neither like nor trust on environment issues, smugger than most, but whose expose of long time enemies has many of the qualities I enjoy in politichal archaeology), a major essay on the RCP cadre in London Review of Books and web sources that I, unfortunately, have not have had time to research. (Nick Cohen also has an interesting take on the group.)
As I mentioned, I usually find myself enjoying and often agreeing with the opinions voiced in Spiked and by Brendan O’Neill. For instance, amongst many, I like O’Neills latest article on the «nudge industry».
There is nothing wrong in former Trotskyites finding outlet for their considerable energy in other ventures and little suspicious in some of them maintaining friendship and sharing positions as the world and especially our thoughts change. I guess.
What is a little strange, is apparently maintaining the hierarchy of the old group, including the premiership of it’s least alluring ideologue. Even more, if the RCP tradition of establishing front organizations, being less than upfront about its aims and intentions to some degree lives on in Instiutute/Battle/Academy of Ideas and their sister setups, the phenomenon deserves some extra light.
Also, after growing a little suspicious, I find myself asking if the network’s positions and polemics sometimes might be a little unproportional and their claims to the academic merits of their favourite intellectuals, perhaps a little exaggerated. In that case, this is something they have in common with other groups that are convincing, but should be apprached with skepticism.
These are some of the main characters I came across at the Battle of Ideas 2010 and by reading up on them:
Claire Fox, 20 years veteran of RCP, started startet IoI when the High Court banckrupted Living Marxism by awarding ITN and it’s reporters £ 375.000 for libel, moderator of most major debates
Mick Hume LM editor, started Spiked-online at same time, speaker
Ellen Hume, wife, american, speaker (cancelled due to illness)
Frank Furedi (aka Richards), “The Guru” of RCP. Several panels, though very dull
Ann Furedi, wife, speaker
Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked, several panels, very engaging speaker
Thomas Deichmann, the LM-journalist who wrote the «expose» on ITN’s coverage of a Serbian prison camp that bankrupted the RCP magazine. Now chief editor of NovoArgumente in Berlin. It’s predecessor Novo was called the sister publication of LM, NovoAgrumente the sister of Spiked. Speaker
Sabine Reul, NovoArgumente Berlin, speaker (Claire Fox: “The woman I admire most”)
Fiona Fox, Claire Fox’ sister, claimed in LM that there was no genocide in Rwanda. Speaker
Kevin Rooney, husband of Fiona Fox, speaker
Helene Guldberg, Norwegian-British, ex RCP/LM, then CEO Spiked, speaker
Patrick Hayes, press officer Battle of Ideas,
Dennis Hayes, brother (?), speaker
Nathalie Rotschild, speaker. Also coordinator of Young Journalists’ Academy, run by Spiked and sponsored by the city of London since 2006
Who are they?, London Review of Books, July 2010, long and fun essay
Nick Cohen: Long March to the microphone
RCPwatch, looks less than detached
LM network, from Powerbase
(This is Helge Ogrim’s personal blog. I am the editor of Journalisten/Journalisten.no, a trade magazine in Norway. Also former member of AKP(m-l), the defunct maoist party in Norway. You can reach me at hogrim[at]gmail.com)