Long before the first votes were cast in the 2015 general election, this blog was warning that Labour’s arrogance and sanctimonious moralising was likely to cost them any chance of forming a new government.
One can almost forgive them their arrogance. After all, so commonly heard is the left wing worldview and so widespread is the belief that right wing ideas are inherently selfish and lacking compassion that many Conservatives – including some very prominent figures – have been forced to radically adapt their messaging to this most inhospitable of climates, sounding more like Diet Labour than the Conservative Party of old.
Even in the aftermath of David Cameron’s victory, many members of the public are still too afraid to openly admit that they voted Conservative or UKIP, for fear of the inevitable social backlash that would result: painful real world consequences for holding perfectly normal, middle-of-the-road political opinions.
But it isn’t just young and intemperate activists – the kind who scrawl obscene graffiti on a war memorial during the VE Day celebrations – who are now giving Labour a reputation as a party of sore losers. Take the case of Matt Woodruff, the mild-mannered owner of a garden centre in East Sussex, whose smarmy anti-Tory message, scrawled on his shop’s blackboard, was posted on Twitter and quickly went viral.
The Guardian reports:
The owner of a small garden centre in East Sussex whose anti-Tory blackboard went viral on social media says he has no regrets, despite admitting it could put him out of business.
Matt Woodruff, the owner of Woodruffs Yard in Lewes, said he was moved to vent his political views on his shop’s blackboard after the Conservatives took the local seat that had been occupied by the Lib Dem former Home Office minister Norman Baker.
The sign proposes a “Tory tax” of 10% on any customer who voted Conservative as one of the “‘tough’ decisions I need to make to ‘balance the books’ under your preferred government”.
The sign also says Ukip voters should “shop elsewhere”.
This anti-Tory hatred combined with a self-righteous, blind fidelity to left wing rhetoric – fermented so effectively on left wing blogs and columns – has now percolated through to ordinary members of the public, some of whom think nothing of letting politics intrude where sometimes it shouldn’t.
The same people who would rightly be shocked if a business posted a sign disparaging any protected minority group see absolutely no contradiction – or irony – in inflicting precisely the same kind of “shaming” technique on their political opponents.
Well, two can play at that game. Here is this blog’s effort, a blackboard for Socialist Sam’s Tea Shop, having a preachy dig at people who dared to vote Labour:
There you go. £10,000 cups of tea for billionaires, because since wealth inequality is such a corrosive evil we should be using all means and levers at our disposal to reduce it, including extreme government-mandated price discrimination on all goods and services, based on a person’s wealth. See, we can all have fun lampooning our political opponents by exaggerating and distorting their original positions.
But this doesn’t help us move forward. It doesn’t help us understand one another and engage in substantive debate. So it is particularly disappointing to see this virulent strain of angry left wing denialism infecting not only the angry young activists and regular members of the public, but also the world of academia and people who supposedly think for a living.
Step forward Rebecca Roache, lecturer in philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. Roache is so assured of the righteousness of her cause and the moral turpitude of those who disagree with her that she used an article in Practical Ethics to declare “if you’re a Conservative, I’m not your friend“:
One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online.
So, unfriending. Is it okay? Well, the view that I have arrived at today is that openly supporting a political party that—in the name of austerity—withdraws support from the poor, the sick, the foreign, and the unemployed while rewarding those in society who are least in need of reward, that sells off our profitable public goods to private companies while keeping the loss-making ones in the public domain, that boasts about cleaning up the economy while creating more new debt than every Labour government combined, that wants to scrap the Human Rights Act and (via the TTIP) hand sovereignty over some of our most important public institutions to big business—to express one’s support for a political party that does these things is as objectionable as expressing racist, sexist, or homophobic views.
Racism, sexism, and homophobia are not simply misguided views like any other; views that we can hope to change through reasoned debate (although we can try to do that). They are offensive views. They are views that lose you friends and respect—and the fact that they are socially unacceptable views helps discourage people from holding (or at least expressing) them, even where reasoned debate fails. Sometimes the stick is more effective than the carrot.
For these reasons, I’m tired of reasoned debate about politics—at least for a day or two. I don’t want to be friends with racists, sexists, or homophobes. And I don’t want to be friends with Conservatives either.
This is exactly the type of preening, moralising, Holier Than Thou, virtue-signalling claptrap – from an intelligent person of the Left – that resulted in the Labour Party only returning 232 MPs to Westminster.
With such a big head, inflated from from basking in her own compassion and moral superiority, you would think there might be some spare capacity for Rebecca Roache to attempt to actually understand the conservative worldview rather than glibly misrepresent and slander it. But apparently such efforts are beyond the ability of a Lecturer in Philosophy from the distinguished Royal Holloway university.
Rebecca Roache is not a stupid person. You don’t achieve her level of professional success by being stupid. And yet, when it comes to weighing conservative policies against left-wing policies, the brain simply never engages. The idea that conservative policies are selfish and help only the rich is taken as a given, and her analysis proceeds only from this assumption. The idea that it might be a good and moral idea to encourage people out of welfare – or seek to eliminate the deficit and pay down the national debt to avoid burdening future generations with the cost of our present-day profligacy – is never even considered.
(Note also the irony of Roache’s opposition to TTIP, on the grounds that it represents “hand[ing] sovereignty over some of our most important public institutions to big business”. This, apparently, is an unpardonable sin, while giving away sovereignty over our entire democracy to the undemocratic bureaucracy of the European Union is perfectly acceptable).
Fortunately, an increasing number of commentators are noticing the degree to which Labour and much of the British Left has lost the plot, blindly lashing out at the electorate rather than seeking to understand why they remain so deeply unappealing to the general population.
Writing in The Independent, a young student and Conservative voter asked:
So, why is there such hesitancy among Conservative voters to support this record? The simple answer is that for many, particularly students like myself, it is still seen as taboo to support the Conservative Party. F**k Tories signs dotted across university, student unions dominated by the far left – who worry more about solidarity with Peruvian revolutionaries than they do about issues for students on campus – and being called a murderer for expressing right wing opinions – all combine to make it feel as if the Left has a monopoly on university life.
The Telegraph’s Tim Stanley also weighed in against the increasingly “juvenile left”, and continued a very welcome fightback against the ludicrous assertion that the Left has a monopoly on compassion, charity and altruism:
This is hogwash. It implies that the Tories are far, far more Right-wing than they really are – for David Cameron is the man who legalised gay marriage, poured money into the NHS and ring-fenced foreign aid. It suggests, too, that there’s something fundamentally bad about the millions who voted Tory, which ignores the role that active Tories so often play as civic leaders, charity workers, teachers, doctors etc. Fraser’s attitude might also be why “shy Conservatives” don’t tell pollsters how they intend to vote. Who wants to be called “scum” outside of an S&M convention?
As the American Tea Party movement grew in noise and influence during the second half of President Obama’s first term of office, the blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote extensively about the epistemic closure enveloping the political right – or what came to be known as the “closure of the conservative mind“. He presented powerful evidence that the confluence of dedicated right wing news websites and a sympathetic cable news channel (Fox News), served to create an ideological echo chamber which adherents never had to leave, and never wanted to leave.
In this world of confirmation bias and groupthink, wild theories – such as the President of the United States being an illegitimate, Kenyan-born usurper intent on destroying America from within – seemed not only plausible, but naturally and inescapably true. Many Tea Party politicians ended up embarrassing themselves because of the ideological company they kept. And the same thing is now in real danger of happening to the British political left.
By curating our news consumption and social media networks to include only those people who agree with us – and in Rebecca Roache’s case, actively cutting out those who think differently – we fail to subject our ideas to the scrutiny of examination and criticism, eventually leaving us with nothing but a dead ideology wrapped in the dried husk of a dying political party.
There is less chance of the British political right suffering the same fate – so hostile is the environment to small government and conservative thought in general that some degree of intellectual rigour is all but guaranteed. But the Left, used to scraping by based on unearned credentials for being on the side of compassion and generosity, has all but forgotten how to make any kind of intellectual argument.
This is not about taking the actions of angry young protesters, smug business owners or uncurious professors and and claiming that they represent the entirety of left-wing thought. Neither is it about picking on the actions of a vocal minority just to score political points. It’s about recognising that our democracy can not function properly when one of the two main parties, trapped in its own ideological echo chamber, remains so utterly divorced from reality.
Whoever becomes the new Labour leader will have a narrow window of opportunity to lead their party back out of the bubble, and re-engage with a country which – thankfully – does not yet believe that all conservative ideas are the work of the devil.
They must also possess the restraint to stop chiding the British people for failing to support Labour in the past, and the vision to offer the country something actually worth supporting in the future.
The only alternative to this is a very long, very cold purgatory in permanent opposition.
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