Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
“I mean, I’ve got friends who’re as Labour as you get. I don’t have a problem with it.”
“No,” I said. We had just toasted the Tory victory; aware – since we were sat in the middle of Islington, in a wooden-floored, white-walled vegetarian restaurant – that not many of our fellow diners likely shared our quiet pleasure.
She went on: “But I wasn’t ready for the outpouring of hatred all over my Facebook timeline. I mean, I’ve got this friend, he’s a nurse, and he was writing this vicious stuff. A nurse!”
“Are we so psychologically different to them?” I wonder.
Different in more ways than voting choice, I mean. According to the Guardian’s online readers (and many of their ATL writers) this is a question which answers itself:
‘Although I share many of the spoils of the good life with you [...] I have never met a right wing person with whom I would wish to share a covivial [sic] evening. Their genes are alien to mine.’
Alien genes? As in different species from another world? Just “morally alien”, perhaps, because here’s another comment in the same piece:
‘This is a great advantage for right-wingers; [...] when it comes to economics, there is very little behaviour which goes against their beliefs – selfishness, greed and callousness are core values.’
We could go on. A hallmark of the UK in recent years is the extent of the unreasoning hatred evinced by the Left against those of us on the Right. All those desecratory riots, that mob attacking Douglas Carswell, the constant spew of language that seeks to dehumanise the Conservative.
This spew has a consequence, I think. It’s not one that serves the interest of the Left, as I’ll try to explain.
Here is a trick I use when people – especially people I like – write something horrible about gay people. I say to them (in my head): “You tell me you know about love, and goodness; that I am an ‘intrinsically disordered’ ‘moral stain’ ((c) The Vatican). But I know my own desires, which of them are good and which ill. I have manifold failings. But my love for a good man is not one of them.”
In other words: I know myself not to be that thing of which I am accused. The impossibility to prove this to another, that their argument therefore lacks force upon me, is irrelevant.
Who suffers in the long run? The people who call me disordered? Or the man who looks quizzically upon the assertion, and rejects it? Ask Ireland. Empathy 1, Ideology nil.
I had agreed with Eleanor (that the political bias of my friends doesn’t bother me) without even considering it. Is it true, though? Does our Conservatism lack a moral dimension? If it doesn’t (and it doesn’t, of course it doesn’t), aren’t we at least imputing lesser moral standards upon those with whom we disagree? Perhaps we don’t accuse Leftists of being aliens, but…
Occasionally Tories aim for the moral high ground, by pointing out that saddling untenable levels of debt onto generations of the as-yet unborn isn’t a definition of “kindness”. (Sooner or later, Labour, some of those as-yet unborn voters won’t be bankers.) We don’t bang on about this a lot, however (compare with Labour’s campaigns about the NHS). Something about making the claim leaves Tories uncomfortable.
I suspect the roots of that discomfort lie in our instinct for the messily human over the tidily ideological. Few Tories can answer “My country or my friend?” with complete honesty. Yes, we know which ought to take precedence, which answer a patriot ought to give unhesitatingly, and aren’t we patriots? There’s a gap between “is” and “ought”, however.
Had Forster been facing a tribunal of Fabians, he might have recast his thought experiment as: “My party or my friend?” How would a committed socialist answer that question? Ask David Miliband. Empathy nil, Ideology 1.
I wrote about my friend Sam a few weeks ago, the good man of the Left. He shamed me recently. We were arguing in the canteen about the proposed changes to asylum law, which would mean instant deportation for those who lost their case. To me this is self-evidently an act of signalling: don’t come here unless you’re “genuine”.
Sam announced that, far from being common sense, this change would affect the men and women to whom his family give shelter, the ones who live in terror of being sent back to Zimbabwe, the ones we forbid to work, who want to work. The ones who sometimes lose their appeals to stay.
Are they not “genuine”? What a horrible adjective, a Channel Four word not fit to apply to a human being. This is asylum, not Big Brother.
I still support the reform, but at least I’ll take more care with my language. And I know perfectly well that, were I to sit down with Sam’s house-guests, my commitment to the reform would evaporate. How could I possibly tell my friend that his kindness is unpatriotic, inhuman or anything less than angelic? Empathy v Ideology: no-score draw.
From Eleanor, I learnt that the careless hatred of the modern Left is hurtful. From my own reasoning, I know it to be unwarranted. From Sam, I learned that such failures aren’t entirely of the Left.
The biggest failures of love in 2015, however, are born on the Left. If they would accept a word of caution from a Tory: avoid making these hate-bombs a defining characteristic.
As I said: ask those other movements, which made dehumanising language a central plank of their campaigns, how things worked out, in the long run. In the long run, but before we’re all dead.