“Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead,” scream the protesters as they file past the Midland hotel in Manchester. It is a cruel greeting for the Conservative party as it gathers in this most un-Tory city. “Filth, you’re a waste of space, a waste of oxygen,” they shout at the shiny young delegates as they pass. I suggest to a policeman that this constitutes intimidation, especially the bloke in the “Kill Tory scum” T-shirt who is filming people as they enter the secure zone. “We have to protect people’s right to protest, but it’s a fine line,” he admits.”
Stephen Moss’s report from the opening day of the conference helps to put the row about the Daily Mail and Ralph Miliband into context. The paper and its Editor are being targeted by the Left, as another round of Leveson looms, for sacking and censorship: a headline about hate has put it in the dock, charged with being an organ of hate. But where is the hate from the right – which, after all, has been roughly the same size electorally as the right since the war and before, if one tots up the totals at each general election? Where are the demonstrators wearing “Kill Labour scum” T-shirts outside that party’s conferences each year?
An answer from the Left is that the demonisation of the right is a proportionate response to the Government’s policies. In which case, why weren’t delegates at the recent Liberal Democrat conference targeted in the same way? After all, the Liberal Democrats are arguably worse even than the evil Tories, if one follows the logic of the protesters – since, not being a party of the Right, they know that what they’re doing in government is wrong. But even briefly to conjure with these speculations is to grasp how hollow they are. There are, strictly speaking, no “cuts”. In 2010, public spending stood at £672 billion. This year, it will reach £675 billion.
The Left counters by pointing to particular cuts in particular places. This is right – but the last Labour Government also carried out particular cuts in particular places. Indeed, “austerity” began under Labour, when it was forced to face up the consequences of the crash and its own policies: the use of foodbanks went up tenfold while Gordon Brown was Prime Minister. It was Brown, the employer of that nice Damian McBride, who forced through the disastrous tripartite sharing of responsibility for bank regulation which worsened the effects of the crash. New Labour worshipped at the altar of finance with more devotion and less discrimination than its Conservative predecessors.
Or consider equality. Inequality is now at its lowest since 1986, as Liberal Democrat voice was quick to trumpet. I appreciate that the income gap is a rubbish indicator (since all that’s necessary for it to close is for the rich to become poorer, not the poor to become more rich), but it is one of the Left’s favourite measures: if it applied its own thinking consistently, it would have cheered representatives as they queued for the conference, not booed them. And if it was more inquisitive and open-minded, it would read up on Labour history. Labour usually ends up scaling back public spending. During the 1970s, it cut the hospital building programme by a third.
Yes, that was “the Party of the NHS” in action – the same party that presided over the Mid-Staffs horror, in which an old man was forced to stay on a commode for 55 minutes wearing only a pyjama top, a woman’s legs were “red raw” because of the effect of her uncleaned faeces, a woman who found faeces under her mother’s nails was told that it was “not in the nurses’ remit to cut patients’ nails” – and so on. But why waste sense on the Left’s desert air? Hatred is what it does, what it breathes: in this way, it mirrors the so-called “far right” – the fascist movement which, in at least some respects, has its roots in Marxist ideology. (Read up on the origins of Mussolini and his party.)
So why is the Left like this, once one travels west of social democracy through democratic socialism and out into the void? Theses might be lavished on the question, and probably have been. Not being in the business of writing one, I will pause only to point out what is not the cause: poverty. When the smoke clears after a riot, and the taxpayer has paid to clear up the damage, those who committed criminal acts turn out to be no worse off than some of those who didn’t – or even better off. Consider the quintessentially illustrative case of Charlie Gilmour, son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who made an exhibition of himself on the Cenotaph during a protest against tuition fees.
Once one starts to hate other people because of their class or race or religion or sex or disability – or for any cause – that hate is in danger of never ending, or ending in extermination camps and gulags, like those of Europe’s terrible twentieth century. (Especially if that hatred is self-hatred: middle class Left-wingers hating their own life story, and projecting that hatred on other people.) There is a lesson here for the Right. We must never, ever become like the Left. Vigilance, energy, sharpness of eye, persuasiveness, wit: all these are necessary in the long effort to convince others that the Left is wrong. Hatred is not – at least when it comes to people rather than ideas.
It is legitimate, even necessary, sometimes to hate ideas: fascism and communism are bad ideas, and thus, I suppose, worth the hating. But hating people themselves brings nothing good with it: such hatred it is self-corroding, self-defeating – eating itself up, like ingratitude, the “universal wolf” in that great speech by Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida. One aspect of hatred is that people who hate find it very hard to admit they or their side are ever wrong. I think the Mail plays an important part in public discourse, and is a bulwark against the Left (which is precisely why Ed Miliband wants it and other papers shackled). The paper has got many big calls right: consider its actions in the Stephen Lawrence. But its claim that Miliband’s father hated Britain was wrong.
UPDATE: I was wrong to write that the use of foodbanks went up tenfold under Gordon Brown. The numbers from Factcheck are as follows: 2,814 people were using food banks in 2004-6, and 61,468 were using them in 2010-11. So under the last Labour Government, there wasn’t a tenfold increase. There was an over twentyfold increase.