Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of this online journal. Spiked represents a different sort of liberalism to the type that I associate with. It stands up for freedom all right; in the words of its editor Brendan O’Neill in his 10th anniversary piece Spiked exists to:
…to fight the good fight for freedom, progress, growth, tolerance and a bit of Enlightened spirit.
But it sets itself against pretty much any attempt by the established political leadership to uphold liberal values. It finds itself against the idea that climate change is a threat worth doing anything about; it was against the smoking ban in public places; it got quite hysterical about Cleggmania. It has defined its enemies as “miserabilists” or, the current favourite, “misanthropists”. I browse their weekly email digest and sometimes click through to their articles. What do I think?
I want to like them. I may disagree with them most of the time, but it helps to have challenge. The problems start when I click through. Mostly, the articles just aren’t very good. They are usually too long and self-indulgent; they rarely credit the strength of the other side’s case. If you have the patience you can dig out the odd cogent argument and the occasional interesting observation. There is a general tide of negativity usually directed against an ill-defined “elite”. There can be quite a lot of description of abstract ideas. For example, one writer (Daniel Ben-Ami) in criticising the the fad for well-being economics spends so much time describing how these ideas evolved, and the other ideas it is associated with, that he scarcely engages with the ideas themselves. It mostly reads like contributions to undergraduate journals, but Spiked’s writers should have grown up by now. Unfortunately those that have got beyond the undergraduate ramblings (for example Mick Hume, the founding editor) just seem to rant rather than engage in sensible argument (for example this article about the judgement that caused the Littleborough & Saddleworth by-election). It is a striking irony that a journal attacking “miserabilists” is so miserable itself, without a positive word to say for any establishment position.
Just as striking is how defensive Mr O’Neill’s celebratory article is. He spends a lot of time trying to fend off the argument that Spiked takes its positions purely to wind people up, rather than out of a coherent set of principles. I suspect the problem is not the lack of a coherent view as an unwillingless to engage properly with the opposing argument; people won’t try to understand you if you make no effort to understand them. They also seem unwilling to host much of the way in genuine discussion on their website; I have had only one of a dozen letters published; looking at the letters page today, it hasn’t been updated this month at all.
Would Spiked’s world view start to fall apart if they did try to engage properly with the ideas? That would be an over-complacent view from a “left-liberal” like me; but I would like to read more stuff that is properly argued. Surely a missed opportunity.