By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
There are many forces inside and connected with the Labour Party that are discouraging modernisation. The unions. The lack of private sector voices in the parliamentary party. And, the subject of this post, the Left-wing pundits.
There is a thoughtful centre left commentariat but there is a much bigger section of left-wing opinion which relentlessly plays to the Guardian-reading gallery. It never challenges the prejudices of its readers. It never questions left-wing conventional wisdom. It demonises the Conservatives, attempts to frighten the poor and excuses violent protest.
In 2009, in characteristic, crowd-pleasing style, Polly Toynbee advised the doomed Labour government to finish what it had started and wreck the economy for good…
"Go for broke – we're broke already."
Yes, she admitted Britain was broke but now is in deficit denial…
"Nail down the minimum wage by pegging it in perpetuity to average earnings, plus some, improving every year. Chase corporate tax dodgers with the same vigour they chase small-time benefit cheats – and put up posters in City wine bars to say so."
Below are some of the more recent examples of the crowd-pleasing Left in action. It's far from a comprehensive list. I spent a working day trawling through mainstream left-wing newspapers and magazines. If I had delved into the Left-wing blogosphere there's much, much worse. With more time I fear I could have found many more examples of the hateful Left. Before you start reading, take a deep breath. It's ugly.
DEMONISATION OF THE CONSERVATIVES
Gary Younge is a regular contributor to The Guardian. He "hates" Tories because Tories, he says, "hate" the people he cares about. That was his playground rant on the eve of last year's General Election: "I don't have a phobia about Tories. That would suggest an irrational response. I hate them for a reason. For lots of reasons, actually. For the miners, apartheid, Bobby Sands, Greenham Common, selling council houses, Section 28, lining the pockets of the rich and hammering the poor – to name but a few. I hate them because they hate people I care about. As a young man Cameron looked out on the social carnage of pit closures and mass unemployment, looked at Margaret Thatcher's government and thought, these are my people. When all the debating is done, that is really all I need to know."
Laurie Penny is another Left-winger who demonises Conservatives. Writing regularly for the New Statesman and Independent, this from "In Cameron's Britain profit has become the new piety" from 12th March: "At what point did the denial of compassion become a morally righteous act? When homeless people are criminalised and single parents left destitute "for their own good", it's a question we need to start asking. In a speech to the Tory party's spring conference, David Cameron laid out the "moral" case for an ideology which prioritises the wishes of business over the needs of ordinary people. Eulogising "small business owners" as modern-day Samaritans, the Prime Minister extolled the virtues of enterprise with as much pious self-satistfaction as any po-faced priest ever preached chastity. A generation after Thatcher, with Chicago-school economics laying waste to civil society across the globe, it is apparently no longer enough to believe that greed is good. We must be persuaded that greed is virtuous."
Ms Penny told a Fabian conference earlier this year that Tories really don't care at all. Not one of them, she said. Her evidence was a conversation with one Tory activist.
Polly Toynbee accused the Tea Party wing of the Conservative Party of disliking the poor: "The Tea Party strand in British politics has set about an internet rubbishing of this view [of equality]: though resoundingly refuted, it will never be budged by mere evidence. Even the rich in unequal countries are less happy than the best off in more equal countries. You see it in their miserable politics, the hatred, the fear, the exaggerated dislike of the poor, dread of crime, anxiety to hold on to what they have. Listen to the "greed is good" crowd and you suspect these are not happy people." ("An unhappiness index is more David Cameron's style", 16th November).
And Polly Toynbee again on 20th October, reflecting on the Comprehensive Spending Review, put rational argument aside and said the Tories were enjoying making cuts: "The price of everything was laid out, but not the value of anything about to be destroyed. The glee club on the government benches could hardly contain their delight. Even Iain Duncan Smith smiled as £18bn was hacked from his budget. How Jeremy Hunt beamed with pride at the 30% he had cut from the arts funds while gouging the BBC. What the governor of the Bank of England calls the "sober decade" began with unsuppressed smirks of satisfaction." ("Spending review: What's all the fuss about? Just you wait").
And for Mehdi Hasan at the New Statesman there is something illegitimate about successful people entering politics and presiding over the cuts: "The financial crash transformed public attitudes towards the privileged and the wealthy, the undeserving rich. I suspect voters will not stomach a diet of cuts, cuts, cuts imposed by millionaire ministers and backed by corporate barons and bonus-rich bankers." ("We are not all in this together", 21st October 2010).
THESE TORIES DISLIKE THE POOR, JUST LIKE THE VICTORIANS… AND JESUS WOULDN'T DO WHAT VINCE CABLE IS DOING
On LeftWatch we have an occasional Order of the OTT feature. Tristram Hunt is a Labour MP who many see as a future leader of the party but in "Tory spending cuts send us back to the misery of the Victorian workhouse" of 21st October he, too, resembled a student politician: "The cuts we are witnessing today to Britain's public services will not send us back to the worst days of the 19th century. But the approach of David Cameron and George Osborne to the welfare state reeks of the 1800s." What were these times like? Hunt answered the question: "The Victorians disliked the poor. At Andover workhouse in Hampshire, single women with illegitimate children were forced to wear a yellow stripe across their grey gowns if they wanted to eat. Young boys were sent out to work in the tanneries and were so starved they gnawed on rotten bones and putrid horseflesh to stay alive."
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, "The Government has declared war on the welfare state", 8th November argued that Jesus wouldn't tolerate what Vince Cable is tolerating – the "demolition of the welfare state": "It was listening this week to Vince Cable that got me going, yanked me out of my post-election stupor. He was justifying the tripling of tuition fees in the best British universities, a brazen volte-face and he knows it. His voice was dry as the bark on a dying tree – no smoothing lubricants coated his throat or his words. And sure enough, he issued ominous warnings – there was no other choice, no honour in contesting the decisions – because we are in the middle of the worst economic crisis ever, in a national emergency, nothing less. Most voters are subdued and submit to austerity measures docilely, nicely. But even Jesus wouldn't go this meek in the face of the hard, well-planned demolition of the post-war British welfare state."
Then there was Polly Toynbee's famous column in which she described Iain Duncan Smith's housing reforms as the "final solution": "Rent was always the glitch in the benefit system, and Beveridge never found a logical answer. Well, here at last is a final solution he never considered: put all poor people in distant dumping grounds where nobody wants to live because there is no work, then call them workless scroungers, lacking in aspiration for the children they have taken out of class to throw together in schools where nobody's parents work. Might we hear a little less sophistry about fairness from David Cameron and Nick Clegg?" ("Benefits cut, rents up: this is Britain's housing time bomb", 25th October)
TORIES ACCUSED OF IGNORING RACISM, PROMOTING FASCISM, EMOTIONAL TERRORISM AND EUGENICS
"David Cameron's message is that Muslims are not wanted" was Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's own message on 7th February: "Little official concern is expressed about crimes committed by various non-Muslim ethnic groups against each other, against Muslims or white Britons. Even more disgracefully, Tories ignore racists who terrorise people of colour. How unfair is that? Our PM, in effect, identified himself with the abominable English Defence League when he spoke up a day before the league marched through Luton shouting abuse. Are these the laudable British values we must embrace? Hot-headed Muslims will be even more convinced they are not wanted in the land of their birth."
In "Cameron plays the immigration card in the run-up to local elections" from 14th April Owen Jones compared Cameron's arguments to those of the "hard right": "Like other right-wing commentators, David Cameron has also recently attacked multiculturalism. There are certainly grounds for objecting to how it has been implemented. Faith schools, for instance, represent an appalling attempt to segregate children. And, while it has been fashionable to understand inequality in racial terms, class has been tossed to one side. This has encouraged some white working-class people to develop notions of ethnic pride similar to minority groups, promoting an identity based on race to gain recognition in multicultural society. The BNP has tapped into this disastrous redefining of white working-class people as, effectively, another marginalised ethnic minority. But these aren't the sort of objections raised by Cameron, who – with clear echoes of hard-right propaganda – argued that multiculturalism was helping to breed extremism in ethnic minority communities."
Laurie Penny compared Cameron's pro-marriage policies to terrorism: "The sheer hypocrisy of withdrawing welfare only to shrink the state small enough to fit into people's bedrooms, and the cruelty of playing on women's guilty fear of being bad parents in order to force them to swallow Thatcherite benefit cuts have nothing to do with child welfare. It's emotional terrorism, and any government should be above it." ("This divorce tax is emotional terrorism", 17th February).
Polly Toynbee accused Jeremy Hunt of eugenics after the Culture Secretary had encouraged people on welfare to think about the costs of having more children: "Jeremy Hunt's near eugenic view of the lower orders' breeding habits was a throwback to an ancient Tory threnody. It was an extraordinary echo of Keith Joseph in the mid-70s, fretting about the underclass weakening the nation's stock by outbreeding the rest. This ought to mean Cameron will strongly resist any tightening of the abortion law, since how else are low-income mothers-to-be to cope?" ("Alan Johnson can wipe smirks off Cameron's chainsaw mob", 8th October)
DISLIKE OF EXCELLENCE
Owen Jones is supposedly one of the up-and-coming stars of the Left but he embraces the same belief in levelling down, bashing the rich and strong. First the Left came for grammar schools and now Jones is gunning for Oxbridge: "It's time to abolish Oxbridge. The idea of having two reigning monarchs of the university system, whose students are automatically regarded as being of a better quality than anywhere else, is completely anachronistic and has to go. Despite repeated – and noble – attempts, both universities remain the preserve of the wealthy and the privileged. Both are treated as the training ground for the next generation of the Establishment. What we could call the 'Oxbridge system' has to go." ("Abolish Oxbridge", 1st June).
HATRED OF THE POLICE
Laurie Penny described the police as "rotten yellow scabs": "In Trafalgar Square, the worst November snowstorms in decades are pummelling thousands of teenage protesters more effectively than any police kettle. The cops are there anyway, of course, clotting every exit from the square like rotten yellow scabs, sealing off the social dissidence from the more compliant tissue of the body politic." ("The student movement evolves", 1st December).
For Seumas Milne the deficit debate is an opportunity for some good old-fashioned class war. "The Bullingdon boys want to finish what Thatcher began", he wrote, on 20th October: "So coalition leaders have used the absurd claim that the country is on the brink of bankruptcy to force through an array of sweeping changes, any one of which would normally be the focus of a prolonged political battle. It is a kind of political coup, and the result has been policymaking chaos, with a 16% cut in the BBC's budget imposed in the middle of the night and a Ministry of Defence deal that promises aircraft carriers without any actual planes."
Johann Hari, "The biggest lie in British politics", 29th March: "British politics today is dominated by a lie. This lie is making it significantly more likely you will lose your job, your business, or your home. The lie gives a false explanation for how we came to be in this crisis, and prescribes a medicine that will worsen our disease. Yet it is hardly being challenged – except by some of the world’s most distinguished Nobel Prize winning economists. Here’s the lie. We are in a debt crisis. Our national debt is dangerously and historically high. We are being threatened by the international bond markets. The way out is to eradicate our deficit rapidly. Only that will restore “confidence”, and therefore economic growth. Every step of this program is false, and endangers you." Fortunately we have the likes of Matt Sinclair to rebut Mr Hari's nonsense.
There is something seriously deficient in a movement that cannot see its opponents as anything other than grotesque caricatures. The Guardian prefers to commission cartoons which have Iain Duncan Smith kneeing a poor man in the groin. The Independent paints IDS as a man who attacks the poor with a nail-studded club. Some on the Left understand this. Peter Watt, former General Secretary of the Labour Party, wrote a blog last December – urging his comrades to engage with the Right's arguments rather than trashing every Conservative's motives. Six months after Mr Watt's blog, the stale, ugly Left-wing commentariat continues to spew its poison; unaware that it is saying much more about itself than the object of its hate.