Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Tommy reviewers need a long spoon
Let me say straight away I believe Tommy Sheridan made the biggest mistake of his political life in defying the advice of almost all of his friends and party comrades to go into direct legal confrontation with the News of the World. He would have known that he faced a mass of contrary evidence from others on the ultra-left and the case would tear that group apart. To take the case on, whether or not he lied, and got others to lie for him, automatically meant him putting his personal standing above the political needs of the far left.
Why then am I so disturbed by Paul Hutcheon’s review in Saturday’s Herald, of Alan McCombes book on the hugely damaging affair? After all, both McCombes and Hutcheon are of the same opinion - although they both would I think, take it a good deal further than me.
I am also well aware that media editors like to give books on controversial subjects to reviewers with strongly-held views on the topic in question, whether for or (more often) against the authors thesis. This review is an example of why it is often a bad idea. One doesn’t have to be a Sheridan supporter to find the eulogising of Alan McCombes somewhat OTT. To one who spent many meetings listening to and watching Alan and other acolytes of the Revolutionary Socialist League operate in the Labour Party of the late 1970‘s and 1980’s, this modest man brilliantly writing savage turns of phrase with his unimpeachable integrity must be a completely reformed character!
Maybe the clue to my uncomfortableness lies in the penultimate para of the review. Hutcheon’s states that “Downfall has not altered my own unshakeable conclusions about the 2004-10 disaster: that while McCombes is a man of unimpeachable integrity, Sheridan is the most despicable politician I have ever encountered.” He no doubt has both reasons and evidence for this view, and of course, is entitled to it, but I question the wisdom of giving this book to someone with such staunch views to review. Given their similarity of viewpoint, it would surely have been a miracle if Downfall even gently agitated Paul Hutcheon’s ‘unshakeable conclusions’.
This review may have given Paul Hutcheon an opportunity to let off steam, and welcome the ‘happy ending’ of Tommy Sheridan in a prison cell, but in terms of shedding light on the book, a panegyric is as ineffective as a hatchet-job.