The Reading Room


Describing itself as “an independent online phenomenon dedicated to raising the horizons of humanity by waging a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism” Spiked nails its colours to the mast up-front, but insists it is neither right or left leaning, and as editor Brendan O’Neill puts it, “it is not contrarian. Our aim is not, as some of our critics claim, to say things simply for the sake of rattling cages.”

In setting out his stall, O’Neill also says Spiked “subscribes to principles and ideals that were once taken for granted amongst certain sections of left-wing or radical-humanist thought, but which no longer are.” Which looks for all the world like a reaction to the way UK main party politics has coagulated to the right of centre and the fact that voters think politicians are largely cut from the same public school cloth.

In a climate of pervasive political correctness and grey economic austerity, O’Neill’s view is that “the accusation that spiked is contrarian is really testament to the shrinking of what is sayable and thinkable these days.” Perhaps this wasn’t the case when Spiked was launched in 2001, the internet still an electronic wild west and clear distinctions between traditional and new online media. Now everyone is online and these differences too have blurred with traditional media like the Mail and BBC succeeding in the online news space.

My latest read actually leads me to believe that Spiked wouldn’t look too out of place in The Guardian or Red Pepper. Their “selected authors”, a week after the Olympics, were describing their favourite Games moments, ideas of legacy being a political sop, and how nightmare scenarios over terrorism and transport chaos failed to materialise. Another writer talks about the Eurozone crisis and accuses political leaders of firefighting rather than coming up with long-term solutions. Arguments I’ve seen in the Times, the FT and pretty much everywhere else for well over a year. A film review of Ted says it isn’t as funny as it’s cracked up to be. There are articles on Syria, the death of Robert Hughes and how Western empowerment of Islamists threatens precious antiquities. You get the picture, all pretty standard stuff.

But elsewhere Spiked gets out its teeth. Tim Black writes about the current angst over rail fares and franchises (typical fare in most papers on news websites that week) but he takes a wider view about the state’s lack of confidence in its own authority and ability to govern, evidenced by successive governments’ mixed approach to running services like the railways via a not too successful mix of outsourcing and subsidy. There’s also a nice line about political bickering in Westminster by Patrick Hayes: “After having officially to announce that House of Lords reform is dead in the water last week, Clegg took the tit-for-tat approach of sinkng the Tories’ plans for boundary reform in the name of restoring balance. (Does he think this is politics, or Star Wars?)” Earlier this year Spiked launched the Counter-Leveson Inquiry “an intellectual two-fingered salute to the creeping conformism and censoriousness being unleashed by the Leveson process” where they refer to Lord Leveson’s efforts as a “showtrial of the tabloids.”

So a lot of mainstream topics but enough quirky or contrary material to make it worth a read if you want deeper and wider views than are regularly available in the ‘Fleet Street’ press.

Spiked sells things, has advertising and five methods of donating financial support to keep the wolf from the door. Whether you regard it as conformist or contrarian, long may Spiked remain among the multifarious voices giving British journalism some much needed depth and pep.

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