In its attention to historical detail, Protest and Power cannot be faulted. But Kogan largely relies on sheer quantity of facts. Every vote, every poll is reported with such fidelity that it occasionally feels like reliving an interminable and intricate democratic procedure. And in the absence of any effort to explain events (rather than simply report them), he offers little sense of who and what really mattered amid this deluge of evidence. Every so often, an event arises that we already recognise as crucial; yet Kogan puts no more emphasis on the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rewriting of Clause 4 or the Iraq war than on internecine tussles within the NEC... At a time of rampant distrust in politics and rising polarisation, there is certainly some value in committing events to the record in as consensual a fashion as possible... But then who’s to say that such an empirical, balanced and exhaustive account of political conflicts won’t one day be invaluable to those looking back from some yet more divided future?
For all its virtues, though, his book does not dig deeply enough. His narrative revolves almost entirely around party insiders, but he says almost nothing about the kind of people who supported Benn in the early 1980s and Corbyn today, whom George Orwell famously described as “that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of ‘progress’ like bluebottles to a dead cat”.
This is a meticulously researched and balanced history by a writer with sources at the highest level across different wings of the party. Kogan was a political reporter who published his first book, The Battle for The Labour Party, in 1981, before making his money selling football broadcasting rights and going on to run Magnum Photos. The book begins with an account of Labour’s election defeat on May 7, 2015, which he watched at his home in Tuffnell Park, London, with his old friends Jon Lansman, an acolyte of Tony Benn who is now an influential Corbyn supporter, and David Triesman, the party’s general secretary under Tony Blair.