The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right, by Oliver Eagleton, Verso, 240 pp, £12.99, ISBN: 978-1839764622
In the preface to his 1961 book Parliamentary Socialism, the radical sociologist Ralph Miliband wrote the following truisms: “like Hobbes and fear, crisis and the [British] Labour Party have always been twins – Siamese twins”. And: “What is so remarkable about the Labour Party is the similarity of the problems which have beset it throughout its history”. He was referring, of course, to the perennial division between the party’s left and right – or radical and moderate – wings, and he is yet to be proven wrong. While the combatants, formations and intensity of belligerence might change, the fundamental dynamics remain largely the same. The latest iteration of this civil war has now played out, and the victor can hardly be doubted: the Labour right has vanquished a briefly insurgent left and punished its leaders with Thermidorian efficiency. Seriousness and competence have been re-established after a brief interregnum in which the party was seized by a band of silly utopians and sinister Leninists. The confidence of business has been restored. The “grown-ups” are back in charge, their enemy – quite literally – exiled. The party is now fit to govern. So goes a consensus of sorts.
Who is Sir Keir Starmer, the leader crowned after the counter-revolution? Oliver Eagleton’s The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right, which sets out to answer this question, is a critical biography in the truest sense of the word: unforgiving – hostile, frankly – but detailed and evidence-based. Tonally, the book is very much in the style of New Left Review, where Eagleton is an assistant editor, and whose imprimatur he has been granted: doyens Perry Anderson, Tariq Ali and Susan Watkins are graciously thanked for their comments in the acknowledgments. Indeed, Eagleton opens with an extensive literature review à la Anderson: amassed are the words of Starmer’s champions in the media, who eulogise his “sobriety”, “credibility”, “debating style”, “impressive CV” and “lawyerly demeanour”. Not coincidentally, these – Polly Toynbee at The Guardian, Andrew Rawnsley at The Observer, and Laura Kuenssberg at the BBC, among others – were also some of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vociferous critics. The excitement, however, was far from limited to the Labour left’s enemies; even after the movement’s decapitation, figures around the party’s soft left, like the journalist and commentator Paul Mason, held out for a “Corbynism without Corbyn”. Starmer himself – the ultimate “sensible radical” in Patrick Maguire’s words – implied such a compromise, making overtures to his predecessor’s supporters and even pledging to retain much of his popular manifestos. Perhaps a new synthesis was to be welcomed by all: one that dressed up Corbyn’s ostensibly radical project in a slicker suit and tie?
The problem, as Eagleton shows, is that Keir Starmer doesn’t share – or at least no longer shares – the left’s priors on a range of fundamental issues, from political economy to foregign policy. As such, his is hardly a good faith attempt at pawning Corbyn’s scruffiness for managerial nous in the pursuit of similar political goals. In fact, much as Corbyn’s “project” was a conscious repudiation of Blair’s New Labour, Starmer’s is a clear rupture with Corbyn’s. Eagleton conceptualises this using the term “New Labourism”. By this he means something like the following: Starmer’s ascendancy not only heralds the return of Blairite centrism (“with none of its original élan”), but also the recrudescence of the party’s chronic left-right cleavage. Of course, within this schismatic structure, it is – and ever has been – the right that has wielded hegemony; the left membership is a useful source of loyal foot soldiers come election time, but is otherwise treated by the party’s grandees with “amused condescension”, in Richard Seymour’s words. This is the “Labourist” tradition about which Tom Nairn lamented in his famous two essays in the New Left Review in the 1960s. For Nairn, that “broad church”, the British Labour Party, has long been marked by the fraught co-existence of two competing orientations: an overtly socialist one, which has nonetheless tended to eschew Marxism and continental “theory” in general, preferring to get its sustenance from home-grown nonconformist moralism, and the Fabian incrementalists, whose cautious, technocratic “evolutionism” has made them a more congenial prospect to a deeply conservative British state. Starmer is firmly of the latter camp, although he draws rhetorically on the former in vague appeals to “social justice” and “labour values”: quintessential expressions of what Nairn called a “sentimental socialism”, “forever indignant at the ‘excesses’ of capitalism and at the iniquitous conduct of the very rich and very poor alike”.
Unlike Starmer’s other biographers, Eagleton focuses less on his family and academic background and more on his time as an influential human rights lawyer and eventual head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). What he lays out is illuminating, if only because so few have scrutinised Starmer’s position at the vanguard of British state power during his tenure as director of public prosecutions. Having studied law at Leeds and then Oxford, Starmer, then a self-declared socialist – in the pages of Socialist Alternatives, run by “a post-Trotskyist grouplet”, he “explored models of grassroots organising that could resist the Thatcherite onslaught” – initially built a reputation as an effective and reliable defender of good causes. For example, he offered indispensable counsel to Greenpeace campaigners Helen Steel and David Morris, famous for the so-called “McLibel trial”, which was the subject of a 1997 Ken Loach documentary. More broadly, he built a name for himself as a pre-eminent authority on the 1998 Human Rights Act (the Blair government’s attempt at incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law), which culminated in the publication of his authoritative European Human Rights Law (1999).
Eagleton is more interested, however, in what Starmer would later become. He doesn’t mince words: “Sir Keir’s record shows his evolution into an unabashed authoritarian. As a young lawyer from a Labour-voting family, he dedicated significant time and energy to liberal causes, using his natural diligence to win a number of worthy cases against powerful interests […] his identification with socialists and environmentalists was always secondary to his ambition and the conformist reflexes that came with it.”
In support of this damning conclusion Eagleton refers to a variety of contentious cases involving the UK’s security and intelligence services, cases over which Starmer, as head of the CPS, must have had some oversight. To cite a few: having cultivated a close relationship with Eric Holder, then attorney general in the Obama administration, Starmer offered little protest against an extradition order for Gary McKinnon, an autistic IT expert who had hacked Pentagon databases. McKinnon never made public any of the information (on UFOs …) he had gained access to, and his extradition was blocked by the home secretary, Theresa May, who said he was at a high risk of ending his life, should he end up in a US prison. Starmer was allegedly furious. A not dissimilar case during his tenure led – revealingly – to a very different conclusion: Talha Ahsan, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, was extradited to the US on charges of having helped run an Islamist website in his early twenties. A campaign against his detention had gained support from the Greens’ Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Gerry Conlon and Noam Chomsky, among others. Upon extradition, and having spent six years detained in the UK without trial, Ahsan was placed in solitary confinement at the notorious ADX “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado. He eventually entered a plea-bargain with US prosecutors to charges of conspiracy to provide material support for militants in Chechnya and Afghanistan; all other charges were dismissed and he was sentenced to twelve years in prison, most of which had already been served. Starmer was apparently “not enthusiastic” about the idea of introducing a “forum bar” in response to this and other analogous cases, which would have allowed domestic courts to refuse extradition requests if the UK was judged to be a more suitable venue for trial.
Eagleton later turns his attention to Starmer’s record at home. Following the 2011 England-wide riots, the CPS favoured rapid prosecutions over heavier sentencing, the Tories’ weapon of choice. Starmer argued that this would serve as a more effective deterrent against “antisocial” behaviour. While he might contend that the CPS was operating in extremis, slapping (mostly black and ethnic minority) teenagers with criminal records in what was described as a conveyor-belt manner seems – in the long run – as self-defeating as it is draconian. Meanwhile, Starmer’s focus on benefit fraud was very much of its time, chiming with Tory chancellor and austerian-in-chief George Osborne’s crusade against “benefit cheats” and “scroungers”. As chief prosecutor, Starmer announced that suspects could be charged under the Fraud Act, which carried a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. He instructed prosecutors “not to shy away from using a range of legislation that carries higher sentences where it is merited”. Of course, Starmer added that this should be reserved for the most egregious cases involving “organised criminal elements”, but the recommendation was nonetheless made at a time when tabloid-fuelled hysteria about welfare claimants was at a fever pitch.
Starmer’s trajectory from idealistic human rights champion to tough-talking dispenser of “justice” is hardly unusual: yet another case of incipient radicalism tamed. Indeed, it serves as an instructive reminder about what and who will be deemed admissible by political elites – the “Establishment” – in the UK. As David Renton, a barrister and activist who once thought Starmer an ally, put it in The Guardian, the sense we get from how he framed his actions at the CPS in the media “is of an individual with a radical past making peace with power”. He was showing its gatekeepers that he was no longer the unreconstructed “lefty lawyer” agitating in obscure socialist periodicals; he had “grown up”. He was therefore, Renton writes, “at ease there [at the CPS] in a way that Jeremy Corbyn, among others, could never have been”. It pays to dwell, if only briefly, on the contrast. On numerous occasions, British securitarians expressed their concern that Corbyn, the democratically elected leader of the opposition, posed a significant threat to the country on the back of his alleged sympathy for its enemies. In the Daily Mail, Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, warned of Corbyn’s dubious past, calling him “a political relative of the gang of Communist henchmen who created East Germany”. Under no circumstances should he “be trusted with the fate of Britain”. A curious line of attack from Dearlove, who was instrumental in legitimating the hecatomb in Iraq, as the Chilcot Report documented at length.
This, along with Starmer’s intervention on the issue of benefit fraud during the peak austerity years, poses difficult questions for his supporters. At the very least, his transformation betrays a disinclination to challenge power and orthodoxy, as well as an opportunist streak. Should we take at face value Starmer’s political commitments, such as they are? Let’s turn to what he and his advisers have come to term “moral socialism”, the socio-economic tendency around which Newest Labour, at Starmer’s behest, is seeking to situate itself. “Moral socialism”, at least as espoused by Starmer’s Labour Party, draws on the work of Claire Ainsley, author of The New Working Class: How to Win Hearts, Minds and Votes. In April 2020, Starmer appointed her executive director of policy. Ainsley’s work emphasises the importance of British voters’ ‘fundamental values’ on the one hand and the obsolescence of narratives of class struggle on the other. To win, Labour should meet the public “where it is”. Based on her research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Ainsley concludes that the values the “new working class” attach most significance to are family, hard work, fairness and decency. If Labour policies can be seen to dovetail with these ethical compulsions, the party is destined for success. Hence Starmer’s weakness for patronising “listening” exercises that usually take the form of focus groups as pioneered by the Blair dispensation.
There are significant problems with Ainsley’s diagnosis, not to mention the treatment prescribed. One, which Eagleton points out, is that the basis of her research is thin, to put it charitably. To establish which values “the public” cherishes most “a sample group of 1,771 people were shown a list of 28 different values and asked to pick their favourites”. Another is that these values are as amenable to right-wing ideologues as they are to would-be moral socialists: what Hayek-quoting neoliberal hasn’t trumpeted the merits of “family” and “hard work”? Even “fairness” is easily co-opted as meaning whatever “just deserts” the market spits out. The damaging incoherence of such rhetoric is perhaps best illustrated by Starmer’s own account of moral socialism. For The Guardian, he wrote: “we have to fight to put wealth, power and opportunity in the hands of all.” This is a textbook example of what the intellectual historian Stefan Collini called “blahspeak” in a devastating assessment of one of Blairism’s darling concepts, “aspiration”. What he means by this term are statements that manage to be both uncontroversial to the point of vacuity and contradictory or unrealistic – utopian even. The basis of this rhetoric’s success is its adjacency to a kind of lazy common sense: who wouldn’t want such a society, one in which everybody somehow wins? The discourse of aspiration, which Starmer clearly wants to revive, is really a form of populism, because its primary virtue is that it sounds good. Ironically then, it can be indicted on precisely the same grounds that Corbynism has been by its right-wing detractors: as a politics built on “unrealistic demands” which fail to reckon with the world as it is. What would it actually mean for all to have “wealth, power and opportunity”? It would probably mean a revolutionary break with our current political and economic system.
Starmer and his amanuenses – scarcely revolutionaries – are of course aware of these contradictions, and his statement shows it: the duty of Labour is to fight to provide all with wealth, power and opportunity. The emphasis here is on the righteousness of the struggle (a bit too marxisant a term, perhaps) itself and the moral victory that might come with it. As Nairn pointed out long ago, this is a hallmark of Labourism: the party produces a moral-sentimental socialism founded “upon the conviction of the world’s wrongness and injustice”. Starmer opens the article mentioned above: “I have always been motivated by a burning desire to tackle inequality and injustice, to stand up for the powerless against the powerful.” Revealingly, Theresa May’s 2016 Queen’s Speech deployed the same mawkish vocabulary, announcing her and her Tory government’s intention to tackle Britain’s “burning injustices”. The ease with which Labour’s opponents commandeer its idiom is troubling and suggests that there is a likely to be a wide gap between its leader’s soaring rhetoric and his party’s policy platform. Corbyn often resorted to similar rhetorical moves, but the sense one got – whatever one’s opinion of him – was of sincerity. Hence he could inspire hope in some and nothing but fear and contempt in others. Starmer, on the contrary, is a politician whose well-documented hesitancy – welcome lawyerly caution to his supporters – bespeaks conservatism, whatever his penchant for leftish bromides.
More broadly, as Eagleton demonstrates, Starmer’s reliance on work by think-tankers like Ainsley signals a clean break with Corbynist strategy. Rather than trying to build a new hegemony by “reshaping Britain’s ideological consensus” – a task at which Margaret Thatcher, to many a left-winger’s chagrin, was perhaps most successful – Starmer’s Labour instead seeks to mirror “back to the public what they already think”. The political inclinations of voters are thereby “figured as innate components” of a distinct, immutable – and largely reactionary – “British psyche”. This goes a long way towards explaining the general obsession among activists and commentators alike with the notorious “Red Wall”, a term coined by the Tory pollster and strategist James Kanagasooriam, for the legions of allegedly disgruntled ex-Labour voters preponderant in North Wales, the Midlands and northern England.
Disagreements over this elusive entity and the implications of its existence abound. On the one hand, as Eagleton reminds us, the left’s enduring weakness is rooted in “a number of damaging secular trends”, including: “the atomization of the working class wrought by deindustrialization and globalization; the decline of trade union militancy; the rise of Scottish separatism; the Tories’ populist transformation; and the intense hostility of mainstream media outlets including the national broadcaster”. On the back of these shifts, a real decline in the share of working class voters backing Labour has occurred, a fate which has befallen a range of social democratic parties across Europe. Thus, a term like the “Red Wall” evokes an important truth. On the other hand, the precise formulation smacks of a trap. The historian David Edgerton goes so far as to assert that “the phenomenon of a working-class red wall is an ideological concoction that benefits Labour’s enemies”. Similarly, Andy Beckett, another commentator sympathetic to the Labour left, suggests that “winning back these voters” – something that most assume is essential to the party’s electoral prospects going forward – could do Labour “more harm than good”. For Beckett, who singles out Ainsley’s work in particular for criticism, Labour “risks alienating many of the supporters it still has elsewhere” by pursuing these older, more conservative voters. Perhaps the party should be as concerned about consolidating the red cities of the young and diverse as it is about rebuilding its mythical Red Wall? To focus exclusively on the latter is to take the Tory bait, allowing them to drag political discourse onto terrain over which they have long held a monopoly: flag and family, law and order.
These questions of strategy go to the heart of contemporary Labour’s predicament. When does compromise become capitulation? When does realism merely serve to validate a series of political attitudes – hatred of migrants; resentment of welfare “scroungers”; contempt for the LGBTQ community – that any left social democratic party worthy of the name should reject? Edgerton’s warnings should be heeded: the “Red Wall”, at least if we take the media’s version of it, is a confection that should be conflated neither with the working class itself nor England’s North. Following Beckett and Edgerton, Labour should seek to build a coalition of the young and disenfranchised, voters with whom a programme tackling economic precarity, the housing crisis and the climate emergency, resonates. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that Starmer’s Labour will adopt this approach. After all, he has thus far shown a prosecutorial zeal for banishing the last remnants of the left’s recent insurgency; many are surprised that the coup de grâce, its leader’s expulsion from the party, hasn’t yet been delivered. Moreover, the reality is that Corbyn, who sought to revive a more radical, if still firmly social democratic politics, lost two elections.
This brings us to Brexit, which features heavily in Eagleton’s book. The left’s enemies will of course howl that Britain’s protracted departure from the European Union is merely a convenient excuse for Corbyn’s defeat, but the fact remains that the elections contested in the referendum’s wake were thoroughly a product of it and its painful inconclusion. Labour’s position was nothing short of vexed. For Eagleton, that the party became enmeshed in the “People’s Vote” campaign, widely regarded as a ploy to thwart the referendum’s consummation, was especially disastrous. On his reading, Starmer, as shadow Brexit secretary, was in large measure to blame, although he was joined by others, most notably John McDonnell, shadow chancellor and one of Corbyn’s closest allies.
Eagleton’s relitigation of the Brexit saga shows an impressive command of its labyrinthine plots and subplots. That a significant portion of the book is devoted to Brexit has two implications. First, it’s a testament to just how much the subject has dominated British politics since 2016; although superseded by more recent calamities (Covid-19, the war in Ukraine), Brexit remains a spectre that haunts Westminster. Second, the sheer divisiveness of the matter was instrumental to Starmer’s rise because it put Corbyn’s Labour in a uniquely difficult position: haemorrhaging votes to the strongly “Remain” Liberal Democrats on the one hand, and further alienating crucial “Leave” constituencies on the other. Strategists attempted to circumvent the issue through a combination of high-wire triangulation and sheer insistence, the goal being to redirect coverage back to the home turf of anti-austerity politics. But the Tories’ Leave machine ruthlessly exploited Labour’s prevarications. Meanwhile, what was unfolding could only benefit Starmer: the invidious dilemma facing the party was likely to be the end of Corbyn, and the former was already positioning himself for the leadership, no doubt encouraged by the latter’s many opponents.
The Starmer Project lurches into court history in these sections, replete with intrigue, back-stabbing, score-settling and fire-fighting; blame is apportioned and counterfactuals are considered. Much of this feels tedious and somewhat unedifying, but it’s not exactly Eagleton’s fault: I, like many, simply don’t miss the interminable haggling over Brexit. The primary reason he has to get so deep into these weeds, even if it means losing some focus on Starmer, is because he has an agenda – one which comes into sharper relief in the more pugnacious sections targeting John McDonnell. Eagleton is keen to debunk the notion – current on the left post-Brexit – of McDonnell as Labour’s “lost leader”. The narrative goes thus: McDonnell was a savvier Corbyn, more adept at navigating the hostile waters of the British media, and less prone to unforced errors. If McDonnell had been at the helm, Labour might well have won.
In New Left Review, Eagleton attacked arguably McDonnellism’s most prominent voice, the Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who had just published his own post-mortem of Corbynism, This Land (2020). With some justification, Eagleton convicts Jones of teeing up victory for Starmer by endorsing the view, through his framing of McDonnell, that what really crippled Corbyn was “poor image management” and a lack of “professionalism”. Sound familiar? He writes: “under Starmer, ‘seriousness about power’ is equated with maximum flexibility, “administrative competence” is elevated over political substance, and every strategic decision is geared towards the establishment press. Starmerism is the end-point of McDonnellism, the logical result of Jones’s prescriptions.”
This being said, does Eagleton’s own position on Brexit hold water? What emerges from his narrative seems to be a preference for a “left populism” that would have embraced a more unapologetically leave position. This is almost identical to what one of Eagleton’s mentors, Tariq Ali, who also supported Brexit from the get-go, staked out in December 2020. Indeed, his article, “Starmer’s War”, includes the same swipes at Jones and McDonnell. Yet even if such an approach had stalled the rot on one side of the ledger, the Labour Party’s own membership, including the Corbyn-allied Momentum, was Remain-inclined, to put it mildly. Moreover, as James Butler – another McDonellist, of course, to Ali and Eagleton – wrote in the London Review of Books, for many Brexit voters, “the referendum was merely an accelerant, and only a fraction would have voted differently had Labour’s position on Brexit been clearer”. Jeremy Gilbert, another “Europhile” McDonnellist, put it more bluntly in Open Democracy: “the now-popular idea that a tiny middle-class elite within the party ‘betrayed’ the working class by abandoning the party’s support for leave is nonsense.” A polemical Eagleton will have none of this: in his view, McDonnell showed a “baffling” willingness to “divide the Left”, “demoralize the leadership” and “empower the ghosts of New Labour”. While he’s right to point out that the party’s vacillations allowed the Tories to appropriate their anti-establishment credentials, it’s not clear how rebuffing a large portion of the membership by avoiding “recalcitrance on Brexit” would have done anything other than “divide the Left”. Moreover, it seems uncharitable in the extreme to accuse McDonnell of anything beyond poor judgement at a remarkably fraught conjuncture. Ali writes of the shadow chancellor “showing his colours”; Eagleton tells us he “flipped”, “manoeuvered”, fomented a “centrist coup” and engaged in “sabotage”. The insinuation is clear: McDonnell, in their eyes, behaved treacherously.
This brings us, finally, to Labour and antisemitism. As Eagleton points out, Corbyn’s opponents on the Labour right were dogged in their efforts to further delegitimise his leadership by insisting that he had a “blind spot” on this issue. They suggested that not only did his longstanding support for the Palestinian cause make Labour a more hospitable environment for a fringe whose anti-Zionism was merely a cover for their hatred of Jews, but that the leader himself harboured similar prejudices. Moreover, this didn’t even constitute a fringe: rather, the Labour party was rife with virulent antisemitism under Corbyn. The extent to which this narrative became implanted in public consciousness is evidenced by one survey, which seemed to suggest that the public estimated that about 34 per cent of Labour members had been accused of antisemitism. Corbyn himself drew on this figure when responding to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into antisemitism and the Labour Party. It was of course for this statement, in which he said that the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, that Corbyn was suspended from the party.
Eagleton’s attitude to this is crystal clear: Corbyn was the victim of a “smear campaign” and should be vociferously defended. What ought to be avoided is Jones’s “timid” response. In two “Sidecar” essays, his colleague at the New Left Review, Daniel Finn, was similarly unapologetic, even lambasting the Corbynite Socialist Campaign Group’s “tepid communiqué”, which he argued demonstrated an unwillingness to “hold the line” for the embattled former leader. Like Eagleton, what concerned Finn was that excessive defensiveness would both validate an “outlandishly false” account and represent a betrayal of Corbyn’s internationalism. Moreover, just as there was continuity between McDonnell’s obsession with media strategy and Starmer’s ascent, the Labour left’s “equivocation” encouraged the latter “to think he could get away with an unprecedented factional manoeuvre”. Yet as Richard Seymour – no McDonnellist – argued in his Jacobin essay on the subject, there is a danger that vigorous defence can become a kind of “performative toughness”. While Eagleton is right to underscore the often extraordinary cynicism of Corbyn’s enemies in weaponising his EHRC response – what was surely an example of legitimate political speech – his tone on this subject is often needlessly dismissive. Indeed, a naive reader might get the impression that antisemitism is virtually non-existent on the political left. As Seymour points out, citing research conducted by the Community Security Trust charity, “the left is not exempted from antisemitism”, despite it remaining a scourge whose source is far more commonly found on the right and far right.
Overall, The Starmer Project is a combative and well-researched examination of both Sir Keir Starmer himself and the contemporary Labour Party’s recent past and likely future. For those on the left, it makes for grim reading. Corbynism, which tried to mobilise post-2008 discontent with a view to rejuvenating social democracy, has given way to Starmerism: an even more attenuated version of its Nordic apotheoses. For the current leader’s supporters – less likely to touch Eagleton’s book, granted – the read would be even more instructive: given his track record of conformity and compromise, do they really think Starmer intends to bring about sweeping change in the nature of British capitalism? Some, like James Meadway, the left-wing economist who worked closely with McDonnell while he was shadow chancellor, are hopeful that there is more continuity than many assume between the Corbyn and Starmer projects; Meadway argues that the former ultimately did succeed in transforming the post-Thatcher consensus – just look at Boris Johnson’s willingness to spend – and that a new political-economic common sense is in the process of cementing itself. There is some hope, perhaps. One thing is certain, though. Whatever Starmer’s individual actions and attitudes, the Labour Party, even as the respectable wing of the British left, will inevitably face trenchant opposition from the conservative edifice that is the British state. Perry Anderson’s observation from his 1964 essay “Origins of the Present Crisis”, that a Labour-majority Westminster suddenly becomes “an isolated, spot-lit enclave, surrounded by hostile territory on almost every side, unceasingly shelled by industry, the press and orchestrated ‘public opinion’”, remains evergreen.
Luke Warde recently completed a doctorate in French at the University of Cambridge. His essays, reviews and criticism have appeared in The Irish Times, the Sunday Independent, The Stinging Fly and Eurozine (www.eurozine.com). He is books editor of Totally Dublin. He is currently a research fellow in French at Trinity College Dublin