Gray matter

John Gray, the New Statesman’s resident intellectual and lead book reviewer is often entertaining but not always for the reasons he might want.

He seems to revel in his carefully constructed self image of a free-thinking radical who refuses to follow trends and is unafraid to bravely defy the received wisdom of the age.

All well and good except that this former Thatcher fan boy seems to be most comfortable reaching back to his earlier political position and engaging in a spot of leftie-bashing or lofty derision towards anyone or anything contaminated with the virus of socialist ideas.

A peculiar variant of this was visible recently in his review of the biography of the British NKVD/KGB agent Guy Burgess (New Statesman, 25 Sept-1 Oct 2015).

His explanation for Burgess working for Stalin was that ‘his opinions were the truisms of his era’. Simply everyone was pro-Stalin, surely you knew that? Even better is Gray’s comparison of Burgess with ‘his fellow Etonian George Orwell’ who:

‘showed more individuality when, rather than going to Cambridge and joining the Communist Party like so many of his generation, he signed up to serve as a military policeman in Burma instead.’

Putting aside the factual error (Orwell Joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma not the military police), I think it is just a fraction more likely that ex-Etonians ‘of his generation’ would serve the Empire than join the Communist Party. And if Gray really thinks that it was commonplace for ‘many of his generation’ to go to Cambridge then it probably tells us more about him than it does about either Burgess or Orwell.