Oliver Kamm

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Oliver Kamm (born 1963) is a British journalist and writer. Since 2008 he has been a leader writer and columnist for The Times. His book on grammar, Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage was published in 2015.

Predominantly identifying with the left and liberal issues, he is a prominent supporter of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. An advocate of the foreign policies pursued by the Blair government, Kamm wrote Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy (2005) which puts forward the case for an interventionist foreign policy.[1] Kamm was formerly employed in the financial services sector,

Early life

The son of translator Anthea Bell,[2] and Antony Kamm,[3] he was educated at New College, Oxford and Birkbeck College, University of London. Kamm embarked on to a career in the financial sector, taking posts in the Bank of England and the securities industry, including as Head of Strategic Research at Commerzbank Global Equities in London.[4] He helped start a pan-European investment bank in 1997.[5][6]


Kamm describes his politics as left-wing.[7] His early activities in Labour included canvassing in Leicester South in the 1979 general election, which saw Margaret Thatcher become Prime Minister. While he continued to vote Labour into the 1980s,[8] he eventually became dissatisfied with the party's leadership and policies, particularly its stance on nuclear disarmament, and left the party altogether in 1988,[9] but has continued to vote for the party on the majority of occasions.[10] He worked for the 1997 election campaign of Martin Bell, who is his uncle,[11] against incumbent Neil Hamilton, drafting a manifesto "so right-wing that Hamilton was incapable of outflanking it."[12]

That year saw the election of the 'New Labour' government of Tony Blair, which Kamm strongly supported, particularly its foreign policy and 'liberal interventionism'. Although generally supportive of the Labour Party in the 2005 general election, Kamm stated that he could not support Celia Barlow, the Labour candidate in his local constituency, Hove, because of her opposition to Blair's foreign policies. Instead, he stated that he would vote for the Conservative candidate, Nicholas Boles, who supported the Iraq war.[13] Despite believing the Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was unsuited for office, he voted for the party at the 2010 general election.[10]

Kamm supported the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, and asserted that "the world is a safer place for the influence" George W. Bush had during his presidency.[14] Although critical of George W. Bush linking Saddam, Iran and North Korea in a combined "axis of evil",[14] in 2004, he outlined a case for supporting the re-election of George W. Bush.[15] In 2006, he was a signatory to the Euston Manifesto, arguing for a reorientation of the left around what its creators termed 'anti-totalitarian' principles. He favourably commented on Peter Beinart's The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, which has similar themes to Kamm's own book, arguing that the left should look to the policies of Clement Attlee and Harry S. Truman in the early days of the Cold War as a model for response to Islamism and totalitarianism.[16]

Because of his position on war and terrorism, critics such as Peter Wilby have stated that he is not actually left-wing at all.[17] Kamm rejects this criticism, saying that he "claim[s] to be left-wing, for the straightforward reason that it's true". He elaborates on his support for left-wing policies such as economic redistribution, progressive taxation and a welfare state. He also supports legal abortion and gay marriage.[7] When interviewed by political scientist Norman Geras in 2003, he said that he wrote to "express a militant liberalism that I feel ought to be part of public debate but which isn't often articulated, or at least not where I can find it, in the communications media that I read or listen to" and that he felt that "the crucial distinction in politics is not between Left and Right, as I had once tribally thought, but between the defenders and the enemies of an open society."[5] Kamm wrote that former Prime Minister James Callaghan's "greatest single achievement" was to "destroy socialism as a serious proposition in British politics."[18] He has also supported the rendition of suspected terrorists.[19]

Kamm has written in Index on Censorship in response to the 2009 visit of Geert Wilders arguing that "No one has a right in a free society to be protected from anguish".[20]

Regarding the bombing of Dresden, he has asserted that the bombing of the city "was not a crime. It was a terrible act in a just and necessary war."[21]

In September 2011, Kamm wrote in the New Statesman that he supports the Euro and admonishes Labour's recent criticisms of it: "Monetary union is not the cause of the crisis. Done properly, it may help insulate member states from disruptive volatility in the international capital markets".[22] He criticised Ed Miliband's stand on immigration before the 2015 general election, finding the Labour leader's position decidedly illiberal.[10] He believes current controls are far too tight, that immigration is economically beneficial, and such arguments against incomers are based on the Lump of labour fallacy.[10]

Other publications Kamm has contributed to include The Jewish Chronicle,[23] Prospect magazine[24] and The Guardian.[25]

Criticism of Noam Chomsky

Kamm has criticised the linguist and political writer Noam Chomsky. His thoughts on Chomsky are summarised in an article[26] for Prospect magazine opposing a readers' poll choice of Chomsky in the top position for its 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll.[27]

Chomsky in turn accused Kamm of "transparent falsification" and claimed that Kamm's article demonstrated "the lengths to which some will go to prevent exposure of state crimes and their own complicity in them".[28] Kamm replied by accusing Chomsky of "polemical distortions" including quoting himself selectively.[29]


Kamm's book Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage was published in the UK during February 2015.[30]


  1. Comment is Free profile: Oliver Kamm, Guardian website
  2. Oliver Kamm "Say it loud — I’m a pedant and I’m proud", The Times, 26 June 2009
  3. "Obituary: Antony Kamm, publisher, author, historian and cricketer", The Scotsman, 3 March 2011
  4. Investments: Strategy vs superstition BBC Online, 22 January 1999.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Geras, Norman "The normblog profile 9: Oliver Kamm", normblog, 21 November 2003
  6. Kamm, Oliver "In Praise of Hedges", Prospect 117, December 2005
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kamm, Oliver "Staggering", Oliver Kamm's weblog, 20 April 2006
  8. Kamm, Oliver "Foot again", Oliver Kamm's weblog, 5 April 2004.
  9. Kamm, Oliver "The liberal prospect now", Oliver Kamm's weblog, 6 May 2005.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Kamm, Oliver "Why Ed Miliband is wrong on immigration", The Times (Opinion blog), c.10–11 March 2013
  11. Kamm, Oliver "Rural Writing", Oliver Kamm's weblog, 3 September 2005.
  12. Kamm, Oliver "'Living Marxism' and 'Tory sleaze'"", Oliver Kamm's weblog, 13 December 2003.
  13. Kamm, Oliver "Help, I'm a pro-war leftie", The Times, 2 May 2005
  14. 14.0 14.1 Oliver Kamm "Bush made the world a safer place", The Guardian, 17 June 2008
  15. Kamm, Oliver "The liberal case for returning Bush to the White House", Oliver Kamm's weblog, 9 July 2004
  16. Kamm, Oliver "Time for the Left to be brave again", The Times, 7 November 2005
  17. Wilby, Peter "The Media Column", New Statesman, 24 April 2006
  18. Kamm, Oliver "James Callaghan", Oliver Kamm's weblog, 30 March 2005
  19. Kamm, Oliver "Ordinary rendition", The Guardian, 11 March 2008
  20. Kamm, Oliver "An Unlikely Champion", Index on Censorship, 16 October 2009
  21. Kamm, Oliver (21 March 2010). "The bombing of Dresden cannot be used to diminish the holocaust". The Times. Retrieved 17 September 2010. 
  22. Kamm, Oliver "This is no time to give up on the euro", New Statesman, 29 September 2011
  23. Contributor page, The Jewish Chronicle
  24. Contributor page, Prospect
  25. Contributor page, The Guardian
  26. Kamm, Oliver "For and against Chomsky", Prospect 116, November 2005
  27. "The Prospect/FP "Global public intellectuals poll—results", Prospect magazine's website
  28. Chomsky, Noam. "We Are All Complicit", Prospect 118, January 2006 (abridged version); the full version is available at chomsky.info
  29. Kamm, Oliver. "Kamm replies to Chomsky", Prospect 119, February 2006
  30. Oliver Kamm and John Rentoul "To split infinitives or not?", The Independent on Sunday, 15 February 2015

External links