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Seumas Milne: Labour moderates will have been worried when Corbyn’s team campaign said he and Milne shared the same worldview (© Mark Kerrison/Demotix/Press Association)


Is Seumas Milne, appointed in October by Jeremy Corbyn as executive director of strategy and communications for the Labour Party, a Stalinist? And if so, why did Corbyn hire him?

Milne was, until his new appointment, Associate Editor and previously Comment Editor of the Guardian. It is odd for a senior figure on a respected national newspaper to have the whiff of Stalinism about him, odder still for such a person to be at the heart of one of Britain’s two main political parties. He describes himself on Twitter as being “on leave” from the paper, implying that he may well go back once his foray into practical politics is over.

He is not your standard-issue Corbynista. While Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet was full of Oxbridge graduates, many with PPE degrees, Corbyn’s is noticeably different. Corbyn himself never graduated — he completed one year of a course on trade union studies at North London Polytechnic. More generally, the Corbyn shadow cabinet’s background is more working- and lower-middle-class than was that of Miliband’s team. By contrast, the former Guardian Editor Peter Preston says of Milne, “He is extremely clever in a Winchester and Oxbridge way.”

Seumas was born in 1958, the son of Alasdair Milne, then a BBC producer and later Director-General of the corporation. His father’s conflicts with the Thatcher government may well have played a part in radicalising Seumas. Alasdair Milne was forced out by the BBC board and its chairman Marmaduke Hussey in 1987 in large part, as Jean Seaton recounts in her authorised history Pinkoes and Traitors: The BBC and the Nation 1974-1987 (Profile, £30), for a perception of left-wing bias and more specifically his handling of “Maggie’s Militant Tendency”, an episode of Panorama made by Michael Cockerell alleging far-right involvement in the Conservative Party. The programme’s claims fell apart, specifically the notion that there was an attempt to infiltrate the party by far-right elements analogous to the organised infiltration of Labour by the Militant Tendency. The BBC was sued for libel over the programme by three MPs named in it — their action partly funded by the billionaire Jimmy Goldsmith — and the BBC eventually made an out-of-court settlement of nearly £1 million, according to Seaton.

Like his father before him, Seumas was sent to Winchester  College, a far cry from Adams’ Grammar School in Newport, Shropshire, where Corbyn got his two grade Es at A level. According to the Guido Fawkes website, Milne bragged to a former colleague that he spent his gap year at a training camp in Lebanon run by the Leninist terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It seems likely that this was more leftist posturing than an accurate depiction of what he did in his gap year; there are rather more public schoolboys who are revolutionary poseurs than those who actually spend time training with guerrillas. Whatever happened in his gap year, Seumas then read PPE at Balliol College, Oxford.

At Oxford, Milne became involved with far-left politics, more specifically with the “opposition” within the Communist Party of Great Britain. The official party was, of course, a Leninist organisation and thus by definition espoused the principle of democratic centralism. This is, if you like, a version of cabinet collective responsibility writ large. There is meant to be debate within the party, but once a decision is taken it is binding not just on the inner leadership but on the membership as a whole. Failure to support the party line is an offence meriting expulsion. In practice, what Leninist organisations neglected in most instances was not the centralism but the democracy. Policies were imposed by the leadership and binding on all members.

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amcdonald
January 5th, 2016
2:01 PM
All the tories lovin` it with the Chinese Communist/Stalinist Party ? Cameron and Osbourne as the stalinised epigones more like. There are more and more reasons to vote for Jeremy Corbyn not less and less.

Barry Cohen
December 2nd, 2015
11:12 AM
Our good friend, Seamus Milne

Observer
November 29th, 2015
2:11 PM
Most commentators seem to assume that Jeremy Corbyn's extreme left Labour party is a national joke and will soon be consigned to the dustbin of political history. I am not so sure about that. Corbyn's gang are bringing extremist views into the world of mainstream politics where they come up for discussion on the mainstream broadcast media. When Ken Livingstone can appear on QT telling us all that the 7/7 bombers gave their lives for what they believed then that opinion becomes just a little less extreme and no longer beyond the pale. As for McDonnell's "outrageous" Little Red Book joke: quoting one of Mao's innocuous pseudo Confucianisms at a Tory will probably appeal to the young middle class rebel and add to the drip-feed de-toxification of extreme left politics.

Anonymous
November 28th, 2015
1:11 PM
This article dredged up a name from the distant past - Fergus Nicholson. Part of my National Service, in the Royal Artillery, was with Fergus (we were not friends). The army put him in a clerk's job, on a base in the UK, where he could do no harm.

Jeremy Poynton
November 27th, 2015
11:11 AM
"It is odd for a senior figure on a respected national newspaper to have the whiff of Stalinism about him" Respected? Only by the decreasing number of people who read it; it is now the clarion call of the Liberal Left, those who hate everything that has made the West what it i; our culture, our beliefs, you name it - they loathe us.

Exsuburbanmaoist
November 26th, 2015
11:11 PM
I was at school with Seumas. He was an arrogant shit. He had more reason than most to be arrogant. But he was a shit.

Twinkle
November 26th, 2015
4:11 PM
Some say that slapstick is dead but they are utterly wrong. It is not just alive and well but flourishing in Corbyn's new Loony Labour party. Every week presents new opportunities including for prat-falls. The highlight of this week has to be reading the little red book. Every week will present new opportunities to exercise your chuckle muscles. Parliament closes for Xmas so another way will have to be found for exercising Chuckle muscles for the festive season.

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