An award to honour the courageous few on the British Left who have come to realise that blindly screaming “Tory Scum!” at half the country might not be the surest path to victory, and who instead risk life and limb (or at least their careers) to propose speaking to conservatives as though they are human beings
Credit where credit is due to Peter Ormerod, who foresees the British Left’s imminent collision with reality on June 8, writing in the Guardian:
It seems many on the liberal left are determined to repeat the mistakes of the 2015 general election, the EU referendum and the US presidential race. There is a widespread failure – perhaps even a refusal – to understand the reasons May and the Conservative party are so popular. Until we try to do so, we will always lose.
We will break this cycle only by condemning less and understanding more. If the appeal of May’s Tory party eludes us, we surely need first to appreciate that we are relatively unusual, and then try and see what all those others see. This is not to say that they are right and we are wrong, or to ditch any of our principles; only that May evidently represents something that huge numbers of people in our country want, and that it is worth our while to analyse that and take it seriously.
Only then can we win back the people whose support we need. This is something the New Labour project, for all its flaws, understood: we must meet people where they are, not where we would like them to be. Only then can we take them with us. It just takes some emotional imagination on our part. And this brings us to the heart of our problem.
For all our supposed touchy-feeliness, many on the liberal left seem to forget that elections are fought not only on the grounds of reason but also on the battlefields of emotion. It should be obvious that responding with snark and hostility to people with whom we disagree just raises defences and entrenches beliefs: after all, we know how we react when we are mocked and insulted. But we should also have learned by now that facts in themselves are often unpersuasive too. If we have not grasped this from experience, then there is plenty of scientific research to make that clear. We can recite statistic after statistic, pointing to failing after failing, and they’ll just bounce off our intended target because Theresa May gives them a sense of confidence that Jeremy Corbyn does not. You can win a hundred arguments and change not a single mind.
This is also good, on the role of the media in influencing public opinion – one of this blog’s pet peeves:
We can believe that these millions of people are wrong, but we cannot say they are stupid. Nor are they all zombies, or all brainwashed, or all unenlightened. And it’s not enough to blame “the media”, either: newspapers are commercial operations and if the public mood changes, the media often changes with it. This was the case in 1997 and continues to be the case today: it is why, say, the political position of the Scottish Sun may differ from that of its English counterpart. It would obviously be naive to underestimate the extent to which some newspapers shape public opinion, but these publications would not exist if they failed to reflect it.
Peter Ormerod’s conclusion? Listen more, judge less. Meet the people where they are, not where the Left would like them to be. Dare to imagine that a political disagreement may be borne not out of a catastrophic moral failure on the part of the other person, but from a legitimate different perspective on life, one worth exploring and understanding if not necessarily accepting.
One can still quibble with parts of Ormerod’s article – despite the general thrust being correct, he still manages to accuse conservative-leaning voters of irrationality in the opening paragraph. But to focus on likely rhetorical slips like this would be churlish, particularly when so few others on the British Left – either among the political leadership, the commentariat or the grassroots – are willing to be so introspective or make such a concession.
Ormerod admits that it will take a “concerted effort” from his ideological colleagues to “lay off the sneering”, and right now I’m just not sure that the appetite is there. Certainly not before the general election on June 8. For better or worse, the two main parties will butt heads on election day more or less screaming their current war cries – “strong and stable leadership!” from the Conservatives, and something about the Evil Tories being worse than Hitler from the Left. The only question remaining is precisely how many voters this petulant strategy will manage to alienate by polling day.
There will then doubtless be a period following Theresa May’s victory – as there was when David Cameron vanquished Ed Miliband in 2015, breaking the hearts of many a Tumblr Milifandom blogger – when the red mist descends even deeper over the British Left. We will hear about how the stupid working classes voted against their own interests for Goebbels to be prime minister, and for the government to wage a deliberate holocaust of the sick, the disabled and the otherwise perpetually “vulnerable” (a term which the British Left have conveniently extended to cover over half the country).
But every such outburst is only a further step taken in the wrong direction; one which must be re-trodden when the fever cools, the temper abates and the Left finally decides that they want to make up with the British people rather than continue to bitterly rage at them.
As things stand, though, every angry leftist outburst on Twitter, every snarky and sanctimonious meme shared on Facebook, every slanderous anti-conservative status proudly shared, every “Tories are vermin” t-shirt proudly worn around the streets of London, every weepy Huffington Post article about how some precious little “citizen of the world” can no longer bear to look at the parents who raised and sacrificed for them simply because they dared to vote for Brexit – all of this must be paid for in a lump.
Peter Ormerod is one of the few to sense the impending crash before it takes place. Perhaps, before long, he will be joined by others.
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