Interview: Nick Cohen

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Nick Cohen is a writer and political commentator. He contributes to the Observer, Guardian, Spectator, Time and Standpoint magazine. Nick has published a number of books, including What’s Left? How the Left Lost Its Way (2007) which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for political writing.

Alastair: We’d like to start off by talking about liberalism and how you have often claimed that it is the best way of tackling a whole variety of problems. Are the events of the last couple of years a challenge to that, or do they confirm that liberalism really is the best way of dealing with such problems?

Nick: There is certainly a challenge in that for a long time you had the notion of the West, to use a broad generalisation, which was a safe, secure place. There were some very notable exceptions, starting off with the threat against Salman Rushdie in 1989 that made people realise that if you were to mock Islam in the same way that you might mock Christianity, you could get killed. But on the whole you had freedom of speech, you had the rule of law, and you had governments that for all their faults and crimes (and they were numerous) stuck to certain liberal minimums, about basic liberties for instance. But now you have everywhere appearing movements that say, “We speak for the people”. Obviously, they know they don’t speak for the whole people, but they know they can get round that by portraying those that don’t agree with them as enemies. For instance they say, “If you don’t agree with us, then you’re not a real Pole or Hungarian, for instance. You’re a cosmopolitan, or an outsider, you’re an agent of a foreign power, you’re decadent, you’re a fake Pole, or a fake Hungarian”, and that is hugely challenging. Disagree with them and you become an enemy of the people. And that really hasn’t been heard in Europe and America since the thirties.

Alastair: And has this infected even the parties of the centre in Britain?

Nick: They’re toying with it. You can see the Conservative party toying with it. Some have made a bit too much of Theresa May’s statement in her conference speech that people who aren’t tied to Britain are “citizens of nowhere”. She was actually talking about multinationals that switch between jurisdictions to avoid paying tax. But still, the Conservatives are toying with it. You can see the right wing very much now saying that to disagree with them on the EU referendum, or imply that the country has made a mistake and is going in the wrong direction (a perfectly normal democratic argument to have), or that the government has chosen to do X but should be doing Y, is to make yourself an enemy of the people and to ignore the people’s will in the referendum vote. It is very interesting because if you’re using the language of ‘people power’, and empowering people, you would expect people actually to get some more power, but actually the people only get to vote once. We got to vote once on a referendum in June on the EU and that is it. No one can then do anything. The courts can’t intervene. Here, we’re talking about the Supreme Court regarding the Article 50 case. The elected representatives in parliament can’t intervene. The people themselves can’t intervene. There is no way if the public change their minds, as I think will happen if Brexit unravels,  and they think they were misled by Farage, Johnson and Gove, if they realise it is far harder than they thought, there is now way for them to change their decision. There is an old joke about every dictatorship that has come to power, from the Nazis in Germany to Hamas in Gaza, that under them you have the right to vote, but only once. And it is a bit like that with Brexit in Britain. It is not people power in any sense of participative democracy, or Athenian democracy, it is not that we are going to give people more control at all. It is that you vote once their way in everything, the law, the judiciary, the commons, the Lords. The electorate cannot have second thoughts or try to deal with the complexity of it all.  The thousands of other decisions that are going to have to be taken will be made without the enemies of the people.

Alastair: That conceit was mirrored in the Leave Campaign’s language throughout the referendum, the kind of pop psychology that if you make one single decision, or if you make a radical change in your life, everything will be better, and that one change in one facet can change the nature of all other ways in which you relate to things.

Nick: Indeed. Imagine you and Margot are in the car, and you are going along one recognised route, and you’ve heard that there is a shortcut near here. You turn off the road and you go on and on, but everything looks wrong. You are thinking that you have taken a wrong turn, and suddenly Boris Johnson pops up in the back and says that not only can you not turn round, you can’t even stop and ask yourself whether you should turn round. You’ve chosen that route, and you’ve got to go on it come what may.

Alastair: I’m normally wary of drawing relationships between the centre and the periphery and the radical side of politics and the centre, but would you say that things like Jo Cox’s murder show that there is a direct link between extremist movements and the current political atmosphere as a whole?

Nick: You should always pay attention to the extremes, to the marginal, the fringes. It is guaranteed that at any time in history the status quo won’t last. And for good or ill, all movements in politics, in science or any type of life, will begin among small groups of people, who were at some point considered fringe or marginal. There is a rather clumsy sociological theory doing the rounds called the Overton window, part of which says that the fringe always becomes the mainstream. So you should always take notice of that. More generally, on Jo Cox’s murder, I don’t think it is a Neo-Nazi fringe that we have to look at. In fact, people should have paid vastly more attention to Farage and UKIP.  When David Cameron dismissed them as being fruitcakes and loons, although technically correct, that type of dismissal of their success, and of the idea that they could win a referendum, was dangerous. Cameron went into it with the blithe assumption that he would win. Similarly, I wrote in the last decade about this very strange movement developing on the Far Left of politics. People did not understand why I was writing it, yet now it has taken over the Labour party in the person of Corbyn. We should always think about these things. I genuinely don’t think that what is happening in America, Britain, France and Europe is fascism. At least not yet. But it is highly authoritarian and, as we were talking about earlier, once you have the one vote, all the constitutional restraints of a liberal society, the courts, the independence of the judiciary, checks within legislature, and normal arguments within the public sphere, become illegitimate. They become the “enemies of the people”.

Alastair: I remember reading What’s Left last year after Corbyn’s ascent to the Labour leadership, and I hadn’t realised before I finished the book that it was written in 2007. That was the height of New Labour’s power, just about.

Margot: And a lot of the things that you said in it have entered mainstream political discourse. Look at Momentum for example.

Alastair: How long was this situation in the making? It is surely not just about the last five years.

Nick: When the Berlin Wall came down and Socialism effectively ended as an argument that people believed in, no one asked what would happen to all those people and all those ideas. No one questioned what would become of those who used to be Communists and used to be Socialists. The answer is that they became incredibly unprincipled. Socialism committed you to a programme. You were committed to believing, in some measure, in the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and that has an interesting consequence. It meant that you allied with other people, you had comrades who shared your values all over the world. You were in favour of progressive forces. After 1989, to be Left Wing you are for anyone who is anti-Western, regardless of whether they are fascists, imperialists, as in the case of Putin’s Russia, sexist and homophobic as in the case of Iran, or a lot of the Islamic movements they support, or crudely secular and violent fascistic regimes like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. That does not matter anymore. Those regimes are against the West so this new Left demands that we must support them. You can see a kind of Left which, on the one hand, seems very bold and strong. But their only enemy is the West, or what they call capitalism, and that is it. That is all it takes to be Left Wing. So you are left with, disgracefully I would say, alliances which in the past would have made no sense. In the past one would have said, “you’re white, you’re Western, you call yourself Left Wing, surely you believe in the emancipation of women?”  They say, “Oh yes, of course”. But what about women in Iran? But it is supposedly culturally imperialist to even argue about this. It becomes in a way quite racist. The rights of women are all very well for white skinned women in the West, but not for brown skinned women in Tehran.

Alastair: What people call radical now is merely a function of the demands of the markets particularly, or of the entertainment industry. So much of the language of radicalism now seems to reflect strangely the language of advertising, of reinvention of the self, a disposition, a lifestyle choice.

Margot: Being a political radical has become a very individual thing: it seems a way of being more of yourself than anything.

Nick: I think there is an awful lot of truth in that. I do not have a moral problem with those who are working class, or poor, who vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I think there is a huge moral problem with those who are middle class or rich who support Corbyn because they are keeping in power a government that will cut their taxes. A Right Wing government does not want heavy taxes on the rich. It wants to lift taxes on the middle class, which means those who earn over £40,000 a year, which is actually the top 20%. If you were serious and principled, you would work as hard as you can, and make all kinds of compromises, to get in a more redistributive centre-left government, a more Blairite government. But they reply by saying, “how dare you question my morality like this? I want a party that reflects me”. These are people who have every choice at their disposal in lifestyle, and they think they can do the same in politics. There is a consumerist element in that. There is a good side to that element as well, to those ideas of personal liberation. The women’s movement and the gay rights movement came out of that. Those movements asserted that we are not just class blocks, and there were important tensions within them. Although, it does seem to have got to the stage where the fragmentation is extraordinary.

Alastair: In the last month or so, I haven’t seen Jeremy Corbyn appear in the news for anything other than to give hagiographies of Castro. There has been no coverage of his domestic economic policies.

Margot: There was not much of a response to the autumn statement.

Nick: When you go from a movement committed to a Socialist programme to this form of Occidentalism, in one way it frees you up. If I were a Communist in the 1930s, I could be talking to a public meeting and outlining the inequalities in society; the failures in the law, the injustice, anything from the prison system to the hospitals, and you and Alastair could be nodding along with me and thinking that I had a point. But because I was a Socialist, I would then have to step forward and offer my programme, and at some point either one of you might say, I don’t agree with this, it won’t work. The advantage of the radical left is it gives them a far wider audience because people don’t stand up and say, “I don’t believe in this”. This is why there is a show business element.  They are very like comedians, or satirists who never have solutions.  They are just very good at mocking the status quo. The disadvantage is that when it comes to actually running an opposition party they don’t have much of an opposition programme. They don’t really know. They can know what they are against. It is interesting that a whole series of very good centre-left economists who were ready to help Corbyn, like Thomas Picketty, Danny Blanchflower, Joseph Stiglitz, walked out because they saw that Corbyn and his allies don’t want to do anything. They just say they are against austerity. The centre-left are against austerity too but we’ve got to start looking at what practical measures we can propose.

Margot: Do you think that they justify this lack of any coherent plan with a kind of moral superiority? A sense that because they oppose all these things on ethical grounds, that austerity is bad, it means that they don’t really have to justify how they are going to start countering them?

Nick: Yes. You go to a Left Wing meeting in London and it is essentially just ‘Down with austerity’. This is fine, but then the ‘how’ comes. And the ‘how’ would inevitably involve choices and compromises, and priorities. Nye Bevan said that the language of priorities was the religion of Socialism, but they don’t understand that because priorities mean some win and some lose.

Alastair: You distinguish Socialism as a commitment to a programme from what the Far Left now espouses, and you also use the term ‘Liberalism’. These are after all Enlightenment terms, or came out of the Enlightenment heritage, and I was wondering if there was a contradiction there. A lot of the worst ideas that the Far Left and the Far Right now espouse, latent secular anti-Semitism for example, are also products of the Enlightenment. What is the legacy of the Enlightenment project for you among those choices?

Nick: Fascism was a self-consciously anti-enlightenment movement. There were some efforts by the Frankfurt School Marxists to say that it was false enlightenment; they were just poor Hegelians who loved the idea unfurling and couldn’t take the fact that sometimes terrible things happen. I don’t think the fact that terrible things happen is against Enlightenment principles. That just does not make sense to me.  These things were never uncontested.  There was a ferocious counter-Enlightenment in Germany too in response to these ideas.  It is true that Communism was a product of the Enlightenment. And I’m glad that it’s gone.  When I write an article on free speech from Enlightenment principles, people don’t read it. People on the Left are quite happy for me to criticise Trump and say that he is a threat to the freedoms secured by the First Amendment in the United States, but then when I argue that there are people in Britain, such as Hacked Off for example, who have plans to get a central press regulator and are exactly the same, people are not interested. They just do not want to hear it. And so you do get the feeling at the moment that liberal principles, Enlightenment principles, are under threat. People want freedom of speech for their own side but not for anyone else. People are happy to attack the illiberalism of the other side, but not of their own. Conservatives can’t see the connection between being very tough on the threats that radical Islam poses, but then not for the same reasons to attack what is likely to come out of Trump’s America. Equally, people on the Left will go on and on about tackling racism and sexism on the Right while not tackling sexism and racism within their own ranks. Or they see people who raise issues such as those as illegitimate, and as never doing it for an honourable reason, but always talking in bad faith.

Alastair: What is the best kind of language to describe these things? I know we now use terms such as ‘paleo-conservative’ to describe vulgarised sloganeering conservatism, or the ‘alt-right’, which has the character of an international movement with arms in various countries. But have these labels, ‘liberalism’ or ‘socialism’ included, run out of steam?

Nick: You do get that feeling. There has been a kind of gradual erosion: in the eighties, socialism went. It had gone even before the Berlin Wall came down. All across the world, people just stopped believing in it, it was no longer an ideology that could move men’s and women’s hearts. Across Europe now, social democracy is in absolute crisis. There are only three countries in Europe where a left-wing party, or even moderate centre leftists, are getting more than 35% in the polls: in Portugal, Norway and Malta. In 2000 you could travel from Pembrokeshire to the Russian border and every country would have a socialist government. Now liberalism feels very weak and under threat. On the one hand, you have these consciously anti-liberal movements. And on the Left, or the pseudo-Left, people are really not committed to it. People really are not committed to freedom of speech, to democracy, on limits to interference in private life and so on. We have gone from Communism, to social democracy in crisis, to liberalism starting to feel like it is just another of those twentieth century ideologies that may not make it into the twenty first.

Alastair: Have conservative ideas also become a kind of impossibility? Because of the way that market dynamics have grown over the last thirty years, to talk about limits, cohesive structures, traditions, or culture even has become an absurdity? It seems to have run out steam because the grounds have been pulled away.

Nick: There is a bigger crisis in conservatism everywhere between the interest of big business and the interest of small business, between nationalist conservatives, who in Britain’s case want Britain out of the EU, and the City and big business who most certainly don’t. It will be interesting to see how the Conservative coalition survives Brexit. There is a wider tension. What does it mean to be a conservative? Are you a Burkean conservative in Britain who has absolute respect for Parliament and the rule of law or are you a populist who says that judges are enemies of the people? That is a big difference. In the past, if Nigel Farage had called for a march on the Supreme Court, a traditional conservative would have accused him of being a rabble rouser, inciting a mob against judges- wholly unacceptable behaviour. But now they are on the side of the mob, or at least some of them are. This is the huge division in conservatism. What worries me is that they can see which way the world is moving – and it is the populist arguments that win as Trump has proved.

Alastair: People you think of as intelligent conservatives are certainly coming out with incredibly mendacious, very silver-tongued explanations or pseudo-explanations of why these things are within recognisable limits.

Nick: There is a great temptation for people like Boris Johnson to advance his career by forming an alliance between the ‘snobs’ and the ‘mobs’. They will say that they are the true voice of Britain to get popular support behind them, and that anyone who gets in their way is going to get roughed up.

Alastair: Theresa May has comprehended in some ways what is happening at the moment.  A lot of her conference speech was practically unhelpful. But in terms of tone, she can see that popular discontent is very real.  Do you think she could provide a bulwark to a truly scary authoritarian coming out of the wood work?

Nick: Until now on the Left and the Right, critics of the status quo have had a huge advantage because they haven’t been in power. They haven’t got their hands dirty. They haven’t compromised. Now, they have won. Are they going to accept responsibility? I doubt it very much. They are not going to admit that although Theresa May has in some senses read the national mood, she has not told the country the truth. She hasn’t levelled with the electorate. She hasn’t said that Brexit is going to be horrendously difficult; that it is going to go on for the next decade. If we end up with a ‘hard’ Brexit then living standards will fall and people are going to lose their jobs. She hasn’t said any of that. None of the pro- Brexit ministers or the Daily Mail have said that although we voted to take back control from Brussels, there is a cost to it. When those costs start to manifest, will they admit that this is the price we have to pay, or are they going to start blaming other people? They are going to argue that it is the fault of the EU or of immigrants, or of the liberal elite, or anyone but themselves. Far from settling the dispute, the referendum opens up the possibility of a ‘stab in the back’ style of right wing politics, which will be very nasty. They will not accept responsibility for not telling the public the truth during the referendum.

Margot: I read an article you wrote about David Cameron’s foreign policy, arguing that it was without strategy and just another bland part of his fundamentally creed-less government. The result was a “stop-gap” administration; do you think this will be same with Theresa May’s government?

Nick: I don’t Margot. You can’t duck Brexit. It is so vast and so complicated. This is going to be such an involved and complicated crisis. In all likelihood, it will go on so long that the government is going to end up in a very different place from where they intend to be. By the time it is finished, there will be no normal, the world will have changed.

Alastair: Do you think there is more of a chance of another referendum on the Scottish question in the next five or ten years?

Nick: It is hard to say. The SNP had the same problem as the Brexiteers. They were basically trying to sell to the Scottish electorate that we can have independence at no cost, just as the Brexiteers successfully sold to the British electorate that we can leave the EU at no cost. On the one hand, it makes the case for a second referendum compelling. In 2014, the Scottish people did not vote to stay in a country that is leaving the EU. On the other hand, quite a large proportion of SNP supporters voted to leave the EU. I do not think the SNP would risk another referendum, unless they were absolutely certain they would win. If you lose twice, it is over.

Alastair: In the run up to the Brexit campaign, it was scary to hear the Leave campaign use the same kind of pop psychology as the SNP were using.

Nick: The language that Orbán and Trump use, is the same as the SNP. If you criticise the SNP, you are accused of talking Scotland down, that you’re not a real Scot, a fifth column Scot, a treacherous Scot. They don’t accept the legitimacy of democratic debate. This ties into the identity politics of the Left. So often you hear that the only people saying this are “great white men”. As soon as you go against the crowd, your arguments are never taken on their merits. They must be on bad faith. They must come from essentialist reasons. You’re not a proper Scot and the only reason you are saying that is you’re not a proper Scot. The only reason you say that is because you’re white, or straight and so on. This is all about shutting debate down and not meeting arguments head on, and then appealing to a group consciousness. We will define the group against its enemies and if you don’t go along with a group then you are an enemy.

Alastair: The wars in the nineties in the Balkans, which were ethnic and religious conflicts based on identity, were very static and lasted for a very long time. They infected Africa too in the eighties and nineties, and have now infected the European and Western mainstream. Can you trace that movement all the way back to the breakdown of enlightenment values being an ordering principle of conflict?

Nick: To an extent yes. I don’t think it is as bad as that. What you can say is that now values and identity matter to people more than class for example. It did not do the Democrats an inch of good saying that Donald Trump is a billionaire who treats his workers appallingly in the American election. It doesn’t do Labour, or what is left of the Labour party, to point out that UKIP wants to privatise the NHS. It just does not work anymore because people who are likely to vote UKIP say that their concerns are about immigration and what it means to be English or British, and that you are ducking that by going on about the NHS. No one objects when a speaker gets up and denounces someone for their skin colour or their gender, on the grounds that is a bigoted way to talk. That it is a sordid move and equates to trying to duck the argument. Once you get into the politics of identity, the right always wins. If you spend your time going on about white privilege and straight white men ruling the world, don’t be surprised if unemployed men in Ohio say “who is the college educated rich kid saying I’m the oppressor when she has all the privilege? I’m not going to vote for her side of the argument”. And other Rights start winning. Religious Rights start winning in arguments within Islam, Hinduism or Judaism. Because by definition, if you start using identity or group politics and making it paramount, then the people who can be the ‘most’ White American nationalist, the ‘most’ Islamic spokesman, the ‘most’ Hindu, can say, “we are the purest, we are the most defined identity”. And it leaves the liberals and the moderates very isolated.

Alastair: Will France prove an exception to this trend? I can’t see Le Pen winning in the run off.

Nick: My left of centre French friends were saying that they really wanted Juppé to get the nomination. It could then be a repeat of the 2002 election, which saw Le Pen’s father against Chirac and Left Wing voters came out to vote for Chirac rather than Le Pen. But will Left Wing voters, working class Left Wing voters, come out and vote for Fillon or will they say that he is a Thatcherite?  It is hard to tell.

Margot:  Even if Le Pen does not win, her success is surely indicative of a shift because the National Front has done so well in local elections.

Alastair:  People say that the National Front has been around for a very long time, but not in the form that it now takes, in the sense that Le Pen has repudiated the directly anti-semitic language of her father.

Nick:  That is true.

Alastair:  But it is still white nationalist politics.

Nick:   It is not a hard thing to do.  It seems to me that, the way the world is moving, in country after country you are essentially down to two parties.  One is nationalist and quite authoritarian, maybe to use old language quite ‘Left Wing’ in defending welfare states, but those welfare states are only for ‘our people’.  They are not for immigrants, nor refugees.  That is one side; nationalist, authoritarian, paternalist. And on the other side is a kind of globalist conservative party who are in favour of keeping the EU and helping big business. But there is nothing further to the left of them. And that seems to be the only choice in many countries now.

Alastair:  Is the saddest thing that this makes is harder and harder to achieve international cooperation on conflict for example? Is the failure to get any consensus on Syria a result of these changes?

Nick:  I think it is sadder than that.  For all its faults and crimes, there was a possibility in the Old West of insisting that if there was a disaster in another country, you had to intervene, for example to save the Balkans. There was also the insistence that governments could not just ignore breaches of human rights.  Yet now you have leaders getting elected everywhere who absolutely reject these ideas, and make a virtue of being the strong man just concerned with the national interest.  All the authoritarian forces in the world have lined up behind Russia, Iran and Syria.  Trump and Corbyn are pro-Putin and pro-Assad. We cannot intervene but according to them Syria and Iran have every right to do what they are doing.  It is not non-intervention: they are quite happy to have quite regressive powers do the intervention for them.

Alastair:  Is there any possibility of intervention in Syria, to defeat ISIS and create consensus for a new Syria?

Nick:  It is impossible without America.  That is the truth of the matter.  Trump isn’t going to do that- and Obama wasn’t either incidentally.  The EU is now in such a mess that you can’t see it doing it either, although it has to cope with Syria’s refugees.

Alastair:  In what ways will a resurgent Russia use its new found consensus on the world stage?

Nick:  I think its main concern will be undermining NATO and the European Union.  That will be its overriding foreign policy objective.

Alastair:  How do you think that might manifest itself?

Nick:  It has already intervened in elections in Bulgaria.  There are pro-Russian parties everywhere.  It is intervening in France by funding Marine Le Pen.  It even intervened in the American election.  It wants to break the unity of the West and, just as Catharine the Great and Stalin had, to have domination over its Western flanks.

Alastair: You could also point to the Sputnik pro-Putin news organisation set up in Edinburgh to disseminate false stories in the British news.  It was amazing how much coverage these stories about electoral fraud got, in details completely made up. They gained millions of hits and enormous coverage.  It shows how fragile the way in which we talk about our politics is, and how vulnerable it is to attacks from our enemies.

Nick: And though we are meant to have rules in Britain about news impartiality, Ofcom will quite happily let a Putin propaganda station broadcast in Britain.  We don’t enforce our own rules.  That leaves us wide open to foreign propagandas.

Alastair:  So in that regard how do you think traditional media will cope with this fragmentation?  What is going to fill the gap if mainstream media continues to decline in influence?

Nick:  Newspapers like the Guardian, the Observer and the Mail have huge readerships; tens of millions of people, but we cannot make any money out of them.  There are some options, but my management for example want to keep the paper free to view.  There is a wider problem- you live in Cambridge. It is perfectly possible that soon there will be no local newspaper in Cambridge.  It is unsustainable.  There isn’t the advertising to support it. But it does matter that someone sits in the courts, goes along to the health authority meetings, and goes along to the council meetings, because no one else will.  There was a lot of talk about citizen journalism when the Internet was invented, but it hasn’t materialised.  No one wants to go and sit through a four-hour health authority meeting on the off chance that something important will break out of it. No one does this except journalists.  And across Europe, the model for that kind of journalism is falling apart.  There will be a boom industry in the next decade in local government corruption, because no one is watching it anymore.  At a national level, we will survive one way or another.  I get very angry with people like Lord Leveson, for trying to set up a state regulator of the press.  They do not understand that there is no press anymore.  It simply does not exist.  There is no such thing as the media in the sense of a guild of craftsmen and craftswomen.  That is just gone, completely gone.  At the moment of its weakness, its decline, that is when you are getting the most ferocious attacks on the press everywhere from Lord Leveson to Donald Trump.  They can sense its weakness.  They can sense that it is dying.

Margot:  It is interesting that the role of the journalist as someone to hold government institutions to account implies a relationship of trust between papers and their readers. At the moment though the media is probably one of the most harmful and divisive factors in politics in terms of trust.

Nick: But Daily Mail readers might trust what is written in that paper.  The whole idea of the press, the media as a monolith, is false.  Journalists at the Guardian and at the Mail are completely different.  They see the same things completely differently.

Alastair:  Is there also a worry about the certain places that money is moving to in journalism? Does it seem now that the only possible avenue if you want to make a career in journalism is to write for something like Breitbart or similar platforms, which have the ability to pay their journalists, so slowly the expertise gets shifted to the extremes?

Nick: If a rich man or a dictatorship wants to influence public life, they say that no one is making money out of serious journalism now.  They can set up their own propaganda station, be it Breitbart or Russia Today, and will pay people to produce what looks like news, but isn’t.  Funnily enough, because the old mainstream media is declining, there are great gaps in the marketplace for propaganda that is pretending to be news.  I am very pessimistic about this.  I don’t see how intelligent or informed debate survives except in patches.  As Auden wrote, all we can see is darkness with ironic points of light, which are intelligent people talking.  The Financial Times will be fine: it won’t have a mass readership, but it will still produce high quality journalism and is making a lot of money.  What is being lost is the ability to have mass-informed debate.  I hope I’m wrong, but sitting in a news room at the moment does not feel good at all.