Owen Jones is clearly channelling the British Left’s guilty conscience.
As the stories of left-wing hysteria and bad behaviour following the Conservative election victory rack up, at least one left-wing commentator is finally starting to feel a sense of shame and embarrassment at the words being said and misdeeds committed in the name of so-called principled opposition to the Evil Tories.
For Owen Jones, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the way that UKIP’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell, was set upon by foul-mouthed, threatening activists as he waited for a bus outside Parliament. But even now, Jones is unable to simply express regret or disapproval, choosing instead to water down his criticism of the anti-Tory hysteria in a broader (and redundant) argument defending the activists’ right to protest.
So we’re clear, the way [Carswell] was reportedly treated was out of order. Protest is a basic democratic right, won at great cost by our ancestors. It is often passionate and angry, be it about cuts to public services or opposition to the ban on fox hunting. It includes civil disobedience, employed by protest movements ranging from the suffragettes to tax justice campaigners.
If a disabled sufferer of the bedroom tax angrily accosted Iain Duncan Smith, it would not be the place of privileged me to tut at them. But subjecting Douglas Carswell to what was undoubtedly a frightening and upsetting experience was totally wrong, and it is difficult to see what those involved hoped to achieve.
However, his attempt to use the incident to make political gain – and resort to sweeping generalisations about the left – cannot go without a response. “Austerity, according to the left, is the ultimate evil,” writes Carswell. Well, no, actually. I suspect most on the left, if asked for “ultimate evils”, would opt for, say, genocide, war or murder.
Heaven forfend that those of us on the right should point out the moral wrong of physically and verbally intimidating someone simply because they hold right-wing political views. This is the kind of principle that the Old Left (wherever they went) would have been rushing to the barricades to defend – but apparently no longer.
Pointing out the ways that many (though not all) left-wing commentators and activists are currently overstepping the mark is not a case of “making political gain” out of the incidents. Rather, highlighting the fact that some left wing activists feel so aggrieved and entitled that they vandalise war memorials and physically threaten MPs is making the obvious and necessary point that one of Britain’s two main parties has completely and utterly lost touch with reality – and with the British people.
Owen Jones seems to be insinuating that the natural public outrage at these acts of vandalism and intimidation is the same as people denying angry left-wingers the right to protest, but nothing could be further from the truth. Had Ed Miliband swept to power on May 8, propped up by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, this blog would have been one of the first to support public demonstrations against the socialist lunacy threatening to drag Britain back to the darkest days of the 1970s. Losing an election doesn’t suddenly mean that the losing side is obliged to stand meekly by while the victors implement their agenda
But just as conservatives endured thirteen years of Labour government without defacing the cenotaph or violently intimidating left wing MPs, so conservatives would have comported themselves with a little more dignity in the event of an Ed Miliband victory in 2015. It’s always embarrassing to witness people on your own side behaving badly, but sweeping it under the rug or explaining it away with more hyperbole about Tory persecution of the poor will not solve the underlying problem.
Owen Jones concludes:
No, Carswell should not have been subjected to his upsetting experience. But if he, or anyone else, believes that people are going to stop protesting about the living wage, the housing crisis, workers’ rights, tax justice, public services, climate change, or whatever, then they will be sorely disappointed.
Yes, the left needs a message of hope, of optimism rallying around a coherent alternative that can inspire. But if the likes of Carswell try to smear the left as a whole – well, then we need to speak up.
And follows up on his Facebook page:
The logic of Carswell – and others – is that if a party wins a general election, then the whole population must submit and accept their legislative programme without so much as a whimper. An elected dictatorship, if you will. Even if that government is pushing one of the most radical rightwing agendas in postwar British history after receiving the support of a quarter of eligible voters – no, we must silently accept everything, from the dramatic curtailing of the trade union movement to the abolition of the Human Rights Act.
No one is denying the leftists’ right to protest. True, the parties of the right (Conservatives, UKIP and the DUP) actually won more than fifty per cent of the vote in 2015, a remarkable achievement and stunning repudiation of the clapped out idea that there is some rainbow coalition or “progressive” left wing majority in this country. But the freedom of the left-wing minority in Britain to protest and make their voices heard must be held sacrosanct and protected at all costs, for we can have no free society and no democracy without it.
But if Jones wasn’t so desperate to defend the reputation of the Left at all costs, he might realise that those on the political right are actually doing him and his cause a favour. The British Left will never enjoy power or influence again, so long as they continue to view those with conservative or other opposing views as morally defective, selfish or evil.
This is an attitude whipped up by those with influence in the Labour Party – from the leadership on downwards – as well as sympathetic commentators in the media. It took a conscious decision in 2010 to frame opposition to the coalition government’s deficit control measures not as a difference in degrees (neither Labour, the LibDems or the Conservatives really proposed much to shrink the state) but as a giant clash of ideologies, a pitched battle of Good versus Evil.
As this blog noted before the election:
We live in a country where nearly half the population – those on the political left – have convinced themselves that everyone who disagrees with them, anyone with a vaguely right wing political stance, is a cruel, heartless monster – or at best, a gullible simpleton easily persuaded by crooks to vote against their supposed self-interest.
This holier-than-thou attitude bubbles up from the grassroots (see popular left wing blogs Another Angry Voice and Vox Political), infects the left wing commentariat in general, and is then gratefully seized on by a Labour Party elite which, having lost all touch with their working class base, are desperate for a narrative to convince themselves that they are still on the side of the poor and the disadvantaged, serving others rather than themselves.
Once this intellectual framework was created, and seized on by the media, it became impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Left wing activists and the party faithful unquestioningly swallowed the idea that they are on the side of fairness, equality, virtue and goodness, while conservatives actually want poor people to suffer and (in some particularly hyperbolic instances) actually die. And as these noxious ideas swirled around the party base, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party leadership team – so used to preaching only to the faithful – gradually started to believe their own hype.
The great irony of Owen Jones’ intervention is the fact that Jones has been one of the very few prominent left-wing commentators to generally refrain from openly mocking and deriding UKIP and Ukippers. While he is as guilty as others of explaining away UKIP’s rise with the worn-out “politics of fear” dismissal, he has at least taken care not to insult or laugh at Labour defectors to UKIP, or accuse them of moral deficiency.
Contrast this with the tub-thumping criticisms from other Labour-supporting columnists such as Dan Hodges, always lighting-quick to accuse UKIP of xenophobia, and conflate principled opposition to unlimited immigration with out-and-out racism. Owen Jones, for all his flaws and misapprehensions, has at least refrained from taking this lazy intellectual path. And yet he squanders this credibility now, in the aftermath of post-election left wing hysteria, defending the indefensible with elaborately-constructed straw man arguments.
No one disputes the Left’s right to protest, even if they do choose to waste their public platform making hyperbolic and unreasonable accusations that the Evil Tories are planning a genocide of the sick and disabled. If the Left want to pretend that they are the good guys in some galactic battle of Good versus Evil, that they alone hold the moral high ground and have all the answers, that is their inviolable right – they can do all of this, and see just how much good it does them when 2020 rolls around.
But the line stops at defacing war memorials. The line stops at physically intimidating anybody, especially an elected Member of Parliament, even if they do hold extreme and abhorrent views – which UKIP and Douglas Carswell patently do not. And for left wing thinkers and commentators like Owen Jones, the line should stop at explaining away these sickening actions or pretending that the resulting public outrage is part of some sinister campaign to silence legitimate protest.