The shame of the new ‘Tribune’ and its editor


Opinion differs on that section of the left that takes antisemitism seriously, as to the rights and wrongs of the Long Bailey sacking. But what no serious leftist can doubt is that retweeting Maxine Peake’s conspiracy theory about Israeli “secret services” teaching the US cops how to kill black people like George Floyd was – at best – a serious error of judgement.

Amongst those who think otherwise, however, is one Ronan Burtenshaw, the editor of the present iteration of Tribune. His bizarre suggestion that the sacking was “to protect the reputation of the Israeli occupation” was followed up by him on twitter with such statements as that Peake’s allegation was “only slightly wrong”.

The idea that the Long Bailey sacking was even remotely to do with protecting the reputation of “the Israeli occupation” was soon shown to be nonsense: the following day 21 members of the Campaign group of MPs (including Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon) put out a statement condemning “any annexation of the occupied Palestinian lands” and calling for sanctions in the event that annexation happens.

Quite rightly, there has been no suggestion of of any action by Starmer against the signatories: on the contrary, the Campaign group statement was swiftly followed by a virtually identical call for sanctions from … Lisa Nandy, Starmer’s shadow foreign secretary, who told the Observer:

“This is now urgent. The government must be clear with the Israeli coalition government that concrete action will follow, including a ban on goods entering Britain from the illegal settlements in the West Bank. This is a major step, but such a blatant breach of international law must have consequences. It will take a level of courage that so far ministers have not been willing to show.”

So, whatever the exact motive(s) behind the sacking, it should now be plain to even the most crazed anti-Israel conspiracy-theorist that it wasn’t in order to “protect the reputation of the Israeli occupation.”

To the best of my knowledge, Burtenshaw has not withdrawn his allegation. But to have made it in the first place was a disgrace that in itself verged upon antisemitism. This is, perhaps, not a surprise: the present Tribune comes from the same stable as the US Jacobin, which has just published this conspiracist, denialist piece of apologia, including the following ignorant, disingenuous statement:

“Claims that Long-Bailey was promoting an “antisemitic conspiracy theory” should be dismissed with the contempt they so richly merit. Long-Bailey’s critics are the ones guilty of antisemitism, by holding Jewish people collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli state. At a time when Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is preparing the formal annexation of the occupied territories, such tawdry exercises in mudslinging are the only thing Israel’s supporters can offer in its defence.”

Some statements are so self-evidently stupid and/or dishonest as to not warrant a response: that’s a classic example.

The “old” Tribune was founded as a weekly newspaper in 1937 to resist appeasement and work with others to build an anti-fascist “popular front”.

It was always thoroughly reformist and, although now remembered for its “anti Stalinism”, it wasn’t always as clear-cut on that as some people like to think (its reputation on that score derives mainly from the fact that George Orwell was a regular contributor, with his ‘As I Please’ column and other writings between 1943-47).

From the start Tribune was supported by a group of MPs – left-reformist dissenters, sometimes challenging the party leadership and championing causes originating from outside the Labour Party: the anti-fascist “popular front” movement of the 1930s,  and, in the 1950s, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Post-1945, however, Tribune evolved into a mainly a parliamentary force  and its leading members – Aneurin Bevan, Barbara Castle, Michael Foot –  became fully integrated into parliamentary politics.

The publication was supported in parliament from 1964 by the Tribune group of MPs, who acted as a left caucus within the parliamentary Labour Party and played an important role in internal Labour politics at various points. They remained the main left-reformist grouping in the Labour Party until the rise of ‘Bennism’ in the 1980s.

From then on Tribune struggled to stay afloat and became increasingly less influential within the Labour Party during the the Blair years. It passed through a series of owners until it was taken over in 2013 by millionaire Blackpool FC owner and convicted rapist Owen Oyston.

In 2018 Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder of US Jacobin magazine,  bought the title and relaunched Tribune at that year’s Labour Party conference.

The “new” publication was enthusiastically supported by Len McCluskey and Unite members were offered a 20% discount to subscibe.

However, the magazine itself, while pretty (see a typical cover, below)

Tribune magazine has relaunched at this year’s Labour Party Conference.
has proved to be a disappointment, to say the least. Those of us who initially subscribed and had hopes (or just subscribed, as I did, as an act of solidarity), can’t really complain: we were warned. Back in October 2018, Sunkara told the Press Gazette:

“Essentially the Morning Star will cover the beat and we’ll do more analysis.”

Well, since then, the “new” Tribune has followed its friends at the Morning Star down the well-worn path of kow-towing to “left” union bureaucrats, boosting the most regressive and Stalinoid elements of the Parliamentary Labour Party … and now, it seems, into antisemitism or at least, denialism (at least on the part of its editor).

It’s also very, very boring.

Time to cancel my subsciption.

4 thoughts on “The shame of the new ‘Tribune’ and its editor

  1. Oh interesting history on some of the big figures that used to be associated with the Tribune. You only need a handful of big names to give a journal a respectable niche in history, and there would have been party dross as well. But a lively intellectual and political atmosphere when Labour politics was still fresh and new.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Labour Party had been in existence for over 20 years when Tribune was established in 37. There had been Labour Government under Ramsey McDonald and McDonalds ‘great betrayal’ of coalition with the Tories. Two years prior in 35 there had been a GE which produced an even worse result than Corbyn’s in 2019. Though Clem Atlee had gained 100 seats improving on the previous GE. They faced the National Government in the middle of the great depression (Corbyn faced a Tory Government in an existential hole.) So Labour politics was hardly ‘new’. As for ‘dross’ there was Michael Foot, Harold Laski, Nye Bevan and Barbara Betts nee Castle.They’d later be joined by George Orwell. Maybe you can name the dross or any line-up from the marginal left to compete with that lot. Labour is a mass party which has changed this country it’s capable of re-energising itself.


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