Tendance Coatesy

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Spiked, Frank Furedi, Unherd, and National Populism are Back in the Spotlight.

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RED TORY TO BLUE LABOUR How Spiked and Unherd are Keeping National Populism Alive

Jon Bloomfield and David Edgar

There have been a fair number of articles about Spiked, the ex-RCP Network, and national populism. This is one of the most important. For a start, not all have linked them to Unherd. An obvious connection, which this excellent piece does not mention, is that one Frank Furedi, former leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, is at the centre of Réseau Spiked, while his son, Jacob Furedi, is Deputy Editor of UnHerd. The area is a vast one. One should also add that Frankie is something of a full time publicist for the Hungarian national populist government of Viktor Orbán these days. (The EU wants to bring Hungary to its knees.)

The central issue is, as the authors write, that these forces “whose project is to deride the mainstream left and promote nationalist populism here and abroad” have a large audience, pots of money, influence in the Tory Party, and one could note, the far right Reform UK and a host of right-wing populist front-organisations on free speech, on ‘gender issues’, tame columnists, including Julie Birchill, and renegade leftists such as (from Class War no less!) Lisa McKenzie, and lots of air time, from Sky to the far-right alt-news programmes like GB News to Talk TV.

I note this, of interest. One of the author’s of the piece below, with extracts, David Edgar, the celebrated playwright, was the author of an influential pamphlet on the National Front in the 1970s, Racism, Fascism and the Politics of the National Front (Race and Class Pamphlet 1977). Widely read by anti-fascist activists at the time it helped alert a wide audience to character of the NF and its place within wider British politics. It would not be amiss to say that Edgar pointed to the kind of links between wider politics and the growth of John Tyndall’s party, that the present study makes between national populism, Spiked, and UnHerd.

“As the next general election approaches, will the Conservatives abandon the national populism which proved so successful in 2019? And what is the role of online ideologues – notably writers for the websites Spiked and Unherd – in the battle for the party’s soul?

We fear that the death of national populism – both praised and mourned in the brief moment of Trussite market ascendancy – has been much exaggerated. Despite the heartening – but whisker-thin – victory of Lula da Silva in Brazil, national populists have gained ground in Sweden, won power in Italy, and are edging closer than ever to the French presidency. While the American mid-terms checked the expected resurgence of Trumpist Republicans, the Grand Old Party remains heavily under the influence of conspiratorialist Trumpians.”

While many of us are very far from conceding that the Rassemblement National are edging closer to power in France, this is an important starting point.

Here are some further extracts.

The role of The Spectator is well-known but this article focuses on the profound influence of two websites: Unherd and Spiked

What makes these sites so significant and successful is that many of their lead writers originate not on the right but on the mainstream and indeed the far left, and now promote ideologies that seem contradictory but – in practice – are increasingly allied.

Or as this Blog has argued for some time, drawing on French studies and political interventions, confusionnismes are the birthplace of national populism and the present day far right. In La grande confusion. Comment l’extrême droite gagne la bataille des idées (2021) Philippe Corcuff argues that the word confusionnisme refers to, ““the current name of a relative disaggregation of political benchmarks previously stabilised around the left-right cleavage and the development of rhetorical bridges between extreme right, right, moderate left and radical left” 

By way of an introduction to the article below,

Imagine a country where a former extreme left party has recycled itself as a Tribune against Woke and publishes articles defending the national populist ruler of Hungary, Viktor Orbán. Think of a political scene, where this party- become-network, joined with members of a Communist Party committed to the fight against globalisation, and a wing of a social democratic party, nostalgic for the ‘real’ working working class. Imagine these defenders of the ‘somewhere people’ and the traditional values of family faith and flag, up in arms behind national sovereignty against the European Union. That they came together to fight for the right-wing side, of a Referendum. Think, if you can, of these old revolutionary girls and boys actively supporting a far-right party with a marked hostility to immigration and getting one their number elected as a MEP, and then given a Peerage…

September 2021. La grande confusion: Comment l’extrême-droite gagne la bataille des idées. The Great Confusion: How the Far-Right is Winning the Battle of Ideas. Philippe Corcuff. Review.

Bloomfield and Edgar,

The construction of this new divide has encouraged strange, paradoxical political alliances – exemplified in the mirroring of the Red Tory and Blue Labour tendencies within the two main political parties. Even stranger is the ideological overlap between the website of a formerly Marxist, now right-libertarian think tank and the main online home of anti-liberal communitarianism. So why – on the issues that are tearing Britain apart – do Spiked and Unherd appear to be bedfellows?   

Both are prolific sites supplying a daily flow of political and cultural commentary. Spiked is an outgrowth of the  Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which developed an increasingly eccentric version of Trotskyism with its magazine Living Marxism, and was successfully sued by ITN over allegations of fabricating pictures of Serbian concentration camps and closed down.  

Unherd has more conventional origins within the Conservative party.  Its founder Tim Montgomerie  set out its stall in Prospect arguing for a “social Thatcherism,” which would re-balance “from a conservatism of freedom to a conservatism of locality and security.” Montgomerie argued that within the Tory Party “the magnetism of national sovereignty has finally overtaken the magnetism of free markets.” 

However, Unherd has also attracted former left polemicists, including ex-Labour-supporting, Prospect-editing and Demos-running journalist David Goodhart – now ‘Head of Demography, Immigration and Integration’ at the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange; academic turned national-populist advocate Matthew Goodwin; trade union activist and anti-woke campaigner Paul Embery; and the ex SWP-flirting, Tory-convert vicar Giles Fraser. 

Embery’s recent anti-woke polemic in Spiked adds him to a growing list of pundits who happily write both for the right-libertarian Spiked and the communitarian Unherd. As we write, Spiked is running a 45-minute conversation between Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill and Unherd’s Matthew Goodwin, both agreeing that Rishi Sunak is really a cultural conservative who understands the Red Wall electorate and its cultural concerns. Perhaps most strikingly, the right-libertarian Spiked has just run long extracts from the latest book by Blue Labour guru Maurice Glasman.

This is a key point:

The reason for this unexpected cross-fertilisation of ex-Trotskyites, traditionalist Tories and communitarian, socially-conservative Labourites is their ideological alignment on many of the key cultural controversies of the day. A fervent commitment to Brexit and belief in the unreformed UK nation-state are central, but what gives the two platforms their raison d’etre is the consistent vitriol directed at the mainstream Left and the new social movements that have emerged around it over the last few decades. A bitter animosity against social liberalism and a caricatured ‘woke’ Left is their most distinctive, current and common thrust. 

Neither website is short of funds. Both receive hefty support from key figures associated with the populist Right.  Unherd is funded by an endowment from Sir Paul Marshall, a senior hedge fund manager and ardent supporter of Brexit, who gave £500,000 to the Tories in 2019 and is a supporter of and for a short period chaired GB News. Spiked’s backing includes $300,000 from the Koch brothers, who have been one of the most substantial funders of Donald Trump.


Both have significant readerships.  In April 2022  Unherd’s monthly figure was 2.7 million while Spiked’s figure was 1.4 million (by comparison, the New Statesman’s monthly readership is 1.5m). But their main impact is the way their ideas – particularly on multiculturalism and the ‘woke agenda’ – have been eagerly lapped up by the mainstream right-wing media. 

Unherd editor Freddie Sayers wrote a set of columns in the Daily Telegraph throughout the COVID crisis attacking lockdowns, while Spiked deputy editor Ella Whelan has a regular column almost exclusively devoted to culture wars.   

Mick Hume, former editor of Living Marxism and then of Spiked,  is an established figure on the right-wing press circuit, having had a decade-long stint with The Times, as well as blasting off occasional polemics in The Sun and now enjoying a regular slot in the Daily Mail.

Read the full article.

This will be interesting: In Part 2 of this analysis, we’ll discuss how and why they agree and what the progressive left should do to oppose them.


Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2022 at 5:53 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Andrew Coates

    December 8, 2022 at 7:48 pm

  2. Very good, all round.

    I didn’t know Lisa McKenzie but I googled and was reminded that I’d come across her before. Clearly very much the sort who jealously wants to guard the establishment status that Blairism gave her tastes, and the likes of Liam Gallagher (as a more residually Hoggarist government under John Smith or even Gordon Brown elected in 1997 wouldn’t have done), and then pull up the drawbridge and never extend any such status to any newer working-class voices, newer ways of being working-class.


    December 8, 2022 at 8:21 pm

    • She is so loud-mouthed you would only have to be proximate vicinity at a demo to hear her opinions. Coming from Nottingham she has adopted a London accent no doubt to emphasise her working class identitarian credentials..


      The great academic circle-jerk What that research project on masturbation tells us about the state of academia.



      Andrew Coates

      December 8, 2022 at 8:32 pm

      • She is a typical Class War type; sometimes funny but usually very tedious. She seems less awful than Ian Bone at least.


        December 8, 2022 at 8:52 pm

        • Boney was a mate of a family friend (now deceased) in his Swansea days. Met him once, when I mentioned the chap below (still alive at the time) he had some respect for me, geezer!

          Natural troublemaker’ – filmmaker and poet, Tom Joseph
          Wednesday, 26th August 2015

          Published: 26 August, 2015

          FILM maker and poet Tom Joseph was a “natural troublemaker” and once a well known face of Camden’s counter-culture scene.

          Described as a “radical provocateur”, he died on June 27 aged 71. But many say he is lucky to have survived as long he did.

          A big drinker and the notorious “life and soul of the party”, he was banned from nearly every pub in Camden.

          Also, no stranger to near-death experiences, he once jumped out of a window, a human fireball, after he set fire to his room after falling asleep drunk with a cigarette.

          He was born in Richmond on November 27 1943 into a political family.

          Both his parents were journalists. His father, Noel Joseph, worked for the News Chronicle and his mother Tish, a Communist, for The Times.

          Tom’s sister Anthea Joseph was part of the folk world of the 1960s, running the Troubadour club, and acting as a minder to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and later Nick Drake.

          He struggled to walk as a child after developing polio, but made up for it by walking everywhere after his recovery.

          Friends say Tom had “the most incredible brain”. Countless hours spent in libraries meant he always knew the story behind the story and could tell you the alternative history behind most establishment wealth in London.

          His biggest project revolved around exposing the secrets of the gun, slave and drugs trade. He made a promo documentary called A Gentleman’s Trade exploring the story of the East India Trading Company and the opium trade.

          Tom was well respected in art and literary circles. He worked for some time as a book runner for bookseller Ben Weinreb and later ran a stall inherited from him, dealing in many rare first edition books.

          He had an amazing knowledge of music and street culture from the 1960s to the 1990s and often helped others do well in academia. Despite often joking about his third class degree from Swansea, he was mostly self-taught.

          He was invited to address the Black Panthers at the invitation of civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael during the Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation at the Camden Roundhouse in 1967.

          Despite his natural abilities and others’ will for him to succeed, Tom, who lived in Mornington Terrace, would “self-sabotage” whenever opportunity came along. Described as “remarkable person”, many say he was his own worst enemy. One friend said: “He was a notorious face around Camden, picking up waifs and strays and taking them under his wing.”

          His stepson Joe Hanson said many people had tried to “save” Tom over the years, such as Joe’s mother Anna, but he “made this impossible”. And though he was “fearless,” with a mind like no other, he was also “reckless”.

          There were many stories about Tom’s antics, such as when he tried, unsuccessfully, to perform a citizen’s arrest on Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet while he was in London, and that he was once friends with Jimi Hendrix.

          His stepson also recalled another piece of Thomas Joseph legend, when he was arrested by armed police officers in Camden Town while drunkenly brandishing an air pistol, practising a scene from an IRA documentary he wanted to make.

          A Japanese artist named Fuji has recently published a photographic book of Tom, capturing his personality and striking look, among friends around Camden. He leaves behind three children.

          His friendships and collaborations influenced many now successful entrepreneurs, artists and academics who attended his funeral.


          Andrew Coates

          December 8, 2022 at 9:38 pm

          • London did use to have some real characters. Never cared for Ian Bone and found the studied working class affectations a bit false. IIRC he was a graduate of Bristol Uni and from a middle class family. The old Class War newspaper used to sometimes be funny though.


            December 9, 2022 at 12:55 am

            • Son of a Butler, Bash the Rich: True Life Confessions of an Anarchist in the UK (2006) is great.

              “His father was a butler. His family grew up “in service”. “So I grew up bitter and resentful with a chip on my shoulder,” he tells me gleefully. When he was 15 he wrote off to an address that he found in Punch to find out more about anarchism. “I believed in chaos,” he said. “I then panicked for weeks. I though they might send round a bearded person.” Since then, of course, he has realised that anarchists are just not that efficient.”

              Bone idol: the Shard provocateur is my kind of anarchist
              Suzanne Moore


              Moore knows about real life.

              She grew up on the mean streets of Ipswich, off the front line, Foxhall Road, not that far from the Tendance HQ.

              Andrew Coates

              December 9, 2022 at 9:13 am

    • “Clearly very much the sort who jealously wants to guard the establishment status that Blairism gave her tastes”

      I must ask. What on earth does that even mean?


      December 8, 2022 at 8:51 pm

  3. mis-spelling above: I meant *Hoggartist* (after Richard H’s views on rock music obviously)


    December 8, 2022 at 8:22 pm

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