When is it okay to make obscene Hitler comparisons and to mock cancer survivors, while still claiming to be an enlightened, privilege-checking, compassionate progressive?
Well apparently if your name is Sandi Toksvig and you are speaking at the Hay Festival – the “Woodstock of the mind“, according to Bill Clinton – then you have a license to do just that while still being taken seriously as a decent, responsible individual.
The Spectator gives an account of Toksvig’s inflammatory off-the-cuff remarks:
Toksvig saved her most cutting remarks for Nigel Farage. ‘I watched the count for South Thanet and I found myself cheering for the Tory candidate,’ she told the audience. ‘I hate Farage for that, I really do. He made me cheer a Tory, the b—-rd.’
She then went on to refer to the testicle the Ukip leader lost to cancer, joking about what Farage and Hitler have in common: ‘Farage kept having pictures of him defaced with Hitler moustaches. I mean he’s not really like Hitler. Okay, he has a German wife, he hates foreigners, he only has one testicle and he was defeated.’
Imagine now that Sandi Toksvig had launched a crass verbal tirade against a senior politician of any other party while living it up at the Hay Festival. Suppose that she had made a joke about David Cameron’s late son, Ivan, or chortled to herself as she regaled her audience with a wisecrack about Ed Miliband’s deviated septum. Hell, imagine that Toksvig had just made fun of Ed Balls’ mild stammer.
If Toksvig had done any of these things it would have been a national scandal – guaranteed front page stories in all the national newspapers. Forget any more lucrative gigs on BBC Radio, Toksvig would have counted herself lucky to work as a volunteer on hospital radio after so openly and tastelessly mocking an establishment party leader.
Mocking “mainstream” politicians in this tasteless way would have seen Sandi Toksvig totally excommunicated from public life – not merely forced down a different and more lucrative career path as happened to corrupt MPs Denis MacShane and Chris Huhne, but effectively made persona non grata by the entire media and political establishment.
But when the target is a UKIP personality (or really anyone with solid conservative credentials in modern Britain), there are no limits – either social or apparently even internal. When it comes to UKIP, no ad hominem attack is too low, no smear is too opportunistic, no joke is too off-colour.
Prominent people on the political left feel empowered to make these attacks because they are so certain of their own moral superiority – and the moral deficiency of their conservative opponents – that they grant themselves a license to be as rude and provocative as they please, because they are convinced that they stand for the Greater Good.
Sandi Toksvig can joke about testicular cancer because her proudly flaunted left wing credentials identify her as a “good”, “compassionate” person underneath it all. But were a conservative to attempt the same thing, it would be taken as further proof that the Evil Tories really do hate the sick, and want cancer patients to die. So universally accepted is the idea that conservative ideas are selfish and mean spirited that the left can be as obnoxious as they like for much of the time, while the political right has to walk on eggshells.
Toksvig clearly felt that she was in safe enough company at the Hay Festival that she could make her disgusting remarks without fear of adverse consequences – I’m among literary friends, she doubtless thought, and since conservatism is wholly incompatible with culture and intelligence, there is no chance that I might be insulting anyone sitting in front of me.
And here is the real irony: The British artistic and cultural establishment – implacably opposed to austerity and conservative thinking as they are – is intellectually dying, a husk of its former self, while nearly all the original ideas and radical thinking can now be found on the right.
Ed Miliband’s Labour Party lost the 2015 general election because they were so busy basking in their own self-righteous compassion – and accusing opponents of being heartless eugenicists – that they forgot to bring the country with them and win over doubtful voters. But even had they remembered to make a positive case for left wing policies, they had no coherent intellectual offering to sell.
Similarly, the Sandi Toksvigs of Britain are so busy comparing Nigel Farage to Hitler, repeating the falsehood that UKIP “hates foreigners” and chuckling to themselves at their own third-rate wit that they have essentially forgotten how to think in public, let alone appeal to or represent the rest of the country.
And worse still (from the Left’s perspective), these lazy Hitler comparisons place Toksvig and her fellow travellers on the British left in the type of unfortunate rhetorical company that they would normally ridicule and avoid – the angry American “patriots” so incensed by the Kenyan-born, Marxist interloper in the White House that they regularly take to the streets of Washington DC in gun-toting protest.
This is what happens when you prioritise the appearance of moral virtue over the reality of pursuing policies which do the most good for the most people (often conservative policies, interestingly enough). This is what happens when Britain’s so-called intellectual establishment prioritises the easy work of virtue-signalling over the hard graft of policymaking. This is what happens when looking good becomes more important than doing good.
Follow this course for long enough and soon all you are left with are shrill Hitler comparisons and a woefully misplaced sense of moral superiority – as Ed Miliband also discovered, to his cost, on May 7.
Fiercely partisan. Unwilling or unable to handle dissent or opposing ideas. Quick to demonise and resort to ad hominem attacks rather than engage with the ideological substance of any debate. The Sandi Toksvig-cheering literary set currently camped out at the Hay Festival would go ballistic at the comparison, but when they talk politics they sound more and more like a British, left-wing version of the American Tea Party.
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