A certain pair of former Labour leaders – and others – referred to left-wing writer in glowing terms
The Labour right and the mainstream media are featuring heavily the ‘outrage’ of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn writing a foreword to a reprint of well-known left-wing thinker JA Hobson’s 117-year-old book, “Imperialism: a study”.
Hobson’s language about financiers would have drawn relatively little attention in 1902 but would now be considered antisemitic. It’s not a rare phenomenon for those responsible for great works to have an unpalatable side – and there are some recent and relevant examples of ‘centrists’ doing that, including with reference to JA Hobson.
Winston Churchill infamously accused Jewish people of a ‘worldwide conspiracy‘ – and also claimed white Europeans were a ‘higher grade race‘, as well as saying he strongly approved of the gassing of ‘uncivilised’ tribes. However, it has not stopped now-independent MP Ian Austin – vocal among critics of the Hobson foreword and who blamed antisemitism for his departure from Labour – calling Churchill the ‘greatest ever Briton‘ and giving him ‘pride of place‘ on his mantel.
But hypocrisy also hits close to home for other so-called ‘centrists’ – because both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are on record praising Hobson.
Former PM Tony Blair – the hero of many ‘moderates’ – spoke fulsomely about Hobson in his seminal 1995 lecture to the Fabian Society, praising him as the ‘most famous’ proto-‘New Labour’ figure:
Blair’s successor as PM, Gordon Brown, went even further. In his 2005 Chatham House speech the then-Chancellor name-checked Hobson and quoted his words as a key plank in his argument:
In Britain, this idea of liberty as empowerment is not a new idea, J A Hobson asked, “is a man free who has not equal opportunity with his fellows of such access to all material and moral means of personal development and work as shall contribute to his own welfare and that of his society?”
The references by Blair and Brown appear to have escaped the notice of the media now – and to have escaped condemnation at the time.
But Brown has other relevant examples. When right-wing writer David Aaronovitch tried to dismiss Brown as a comparison on the basis that he didn’t write a foreword to a book, it turned out that Brown did:
Writer Sol Hughes commented:
Smith infamously wrote at length of the deficiencies of “savage peoples”.
Other centrists have got in on the act, too. Jon Cruddas MP – once supported in a deputy leadership election by eminent right-winger Roy Hattersley and current vocal centrist Tony Robinson and considered a leading ‘moderate’ thinker – made no fewer than five references to Hobson in his 2009 pamphlet on social democracy.
It seems that many people are usually capable of separating the unsavoury aspects of historical figures from their works and achievements.
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