The Corbyn-loving Left may talk about a kinder, gentler politics, but mention the Tories and the thoughts of some quickly turn to violence
The problem with being so utterly convinced of your own moral superiority is that it tends to have a dehumanising effect on how you view those who think differently, making you more likely to say or do things that most people would never ordinarily countenance.
We saw this back in May, when the British political Left – which had insulated itself in social media bubble of their own making for the entirety of the general election campaign – exploded with rage upon discovering that the wider British electorate simply didn’t buy the endless retweets and alarmist infographics which the Milifandom accepted as gospel, and preferred to re-elect David Cameron and the Conservatives.
(I extensively covered the snarling, dark side of the British Left in the aftermath of the election here, in my Left Wing Hate Watch series).
And now, as the Conservative Party prepares to gather in Manchester for their 2015 party conference, an assortment of very angry individuals are also wending their way north to make their Tory-hating views known. Hit-and-miss campaign group The People’s Assembly issued the rallying cry before the dust had settled from the election, in typically hysterical terms:
This government continues to punish the most vulnerable in society, to cut & privatise our services, and to attack our rights. This October, the Conservative Party will be holding their conference in Manchester. Every single day they are there, the anti-austerity movement will be there too.
The People’s Assembly is calling a national week of protest from 3 – 7 October with events across Manchester. We will send a clear message that austerity has failed and we demand policies that benefit the majority and not just the few at the top.
Join us for as much of the week as you can; take time off work, book annual leave now, & help us make sure the Tories are met with the opposition they deserve.
Fine. We just about still pay lip service to the right of free speech in this country, and so those who want to stand on street corners in Manchester shouting about Iain Duncan Smith persecuting the sick are more than welcome to do so. And many intend to answer the call, with some optimistic projections anticipating up to one hundred thousand protesters.
The Guardian approvingly talks up the planned protests:
The prospective demonstrations – officially entitled “Take Back Manchester” – certainly suggest that anger with the Conservative’s programme of austerity emanates from a wide range of groups: a student ‘debt-in’ — a play on the traditional student sit-in — will be followed by a “Faith Against Austerity” vigil in Manchester Cathedral; a 7 metre knitted banner (reading “don’t stitch us up”) will be paraded, and a flash-mob is due to take place in Piccadilly Station to “welcome” delegates when they step off the train from London. There is even a competition for the best pig mask. To accommodate these activists, many of whom will come from all over the country, the People’s Assembly has booked out Sugden Sports Hall in the city centre where people can sleep for a couple of quid. It will be, say the organisers, “spectacular”.
So far, so typical. Just your average left wing protest: bad comedians, variable music, jugglers, flash mobs, die-ins, rabble-rousing speeches and eye-wateringly awful anti-austerity plays.
But clearly it is not all lame jokes and virtue signalling – some may be travelling with rather more sinister intent, with some groups openly talking about laying siege to the Tory conference:
Working towards this strategic goal means that for Tory Conference we need actions every day: we’ll have the TUC demo on 4 October; maybe we’ll occupy a bank; throw the media spotlight on Boots tax evasion; drown out conference delegates with pots and pans banging on the ring of steel security cordon; Manchester cathedral will be opened up for two days to host anti-austerity events; Mark Steel and Francesca Martinez will be doing a comedy gig; we should disrupt delegates arriving at Piccadilly station…
Quite what intimidatory tactics fall under the umbrella of “disrupting” Conservative Party delegates arriving in Manchester is, of course, left up to the imagination and temperament of each individual protester. But it sounds as though some activists are preparing a welcome designed to frighten and intimidate ordinary British citizens exercising their democratic right to associate with a political party.
This in turn has prompted the Conservative Party to warn MPs and activists to hide their conference passes when walking around the city. The Independent reports:
Conservative activists attending their party’s conference in Manchester have been told to hide their Tory-branded identification passes when walking around the northern city
The threat of hostile protest has led party bosses to warn members to take extra precautions if they venture outside the secure “ring of steel” around the event.
Conference passes must be worn at all times within the secure zone around the convention centre where the event is planned to be held.
But in an email to people attending the conference, party chairman Lord Feldman said it was “particularly important” this year for activists to take the Tory-branded identification badges off when around town due to safety concerns.
So is there a risk of serious violence at this year’s Conservative Party conference? Unfortunately, yes there is.
That’s not to say that left wing activists will necessarily be the only ones at fault if trouble breaks out – the police have proven themselves quite capable of abusing their powers to curb political speech and action too in recent years, and those of us on the political Right should never celebrate when the voices of those who disagree with us are silenced by the authorities.
But there is little doubt that the real risk of violence in Manchester over the next few days comes not from overzealous police or Tory mischief-makers, but from a small yet highly visible group of hardcore left wing activists who swallow all of the anti-austerity, anti-Tory rhetoric so completely and so unquestioningly that physically provocative and intimidating behaviour is seen as justified, even praiseworthy.
Just as hate-filled activists felt morally justified in desecrating a war memorial and physically intimidating an MP on the streets of London in their blind rage against the general election result, so a small but significant number of troublemakers will feel no compunction about vandalising property, invading fringe events or social gatherings outside the secure zone, screaming vile abuse or physically threatening conference attendees.
You just don’t see this type of behaviour from the political centre right. Conservatives may (and usually do) believe Labour policies to be utterly wrong-headed and harmful to the long term interests of rich and poor alike, but they do not feel the need to descend en masse to disrupt the Labour Party conference every year with real and threatened violence. The British Right (but interestingly not so much the American Tea Party movement) are able to disagree with the Left on the most fundamental issues facing our country, but do so without apocalyptic language and worse.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s new leader, has used his first weeks in charge to promote a kinder, more gentle form of politics than we have grown used to. And to be fair, Corbyn has been more or less true to his word so far – his ideas may often be wrong and sometimes downright dangerous, but they have generally not been proclaimed with deliberate malice. If only the same could be said for the army of people who claim to find Corbyn an inspiration and a reason to get involved with politics.
It can be hard to rein it in when you believe that you are on a great moral crusade. But those left wing activists gathering in Manchester to protest the Conservative Party conference this weekend should keep in mind those other, infamous groups around the world who are equally convinced of their opponents’ sinfulness and their own shining moral virtue.
Nothing good ever comes from such absolutism, such angry fundamentalism.