Alex Morton was a member of David Cameron’s Downing Street Policy Unit.
The Left is as responsible as the Right – if not more
The Brexit vote and the victory of Donald Trump are being portrayed as the creation of – and a win for – a brand new type of politics. This ‘post-truth’ politics is about whipping up emotion and ignoring fact. Those who lost were the cerebral, intellectual types who relied on fact and reason to guide them. Those who won were the uneducated and stupid, who at best did not realise what they were doing, and at worst were bigots. Needless to say, this narrative is pushed strongest by the centre-left, who feel that their electoral coalition is crumbling and are seeking ways to make themselves feel better.
There is only one problem. The post-truth narrative is itself post-truth. The Left has long relied on emotional bullying and sheer nastiness to get its way, shut down debate, and generally win victories. Consider the sheer hatred of Margaret Thatcher, which is where the Left first really got going on post-truth politics. It didn’t matter if the economy was doing well due to her reforms, or that the Conservatives could afford to spend more on healthcare than ever before. Wasn’t Thatcher evil? How could anyone decent vote for her? It was no coincidence that the viciousness grew with her electoral success. The more the Right succeeded, the more vitriolic the hatred. In large part, the current championing of a post-truth narrative from the Left is down to the electoral weakness of the Left, and the feeling this may not be just temporary.
The Left’s relationship with evidence is as bad – if not worse – than the populist Right
This is not to deny the slipperiness of some of the claims during the referendum campaign on the Leave as well as the Remain side. Nor is it to ignore the rather bombastic and evasive nature of Trump’s election campaign. But the Left has no morally superior relationship with evidence. In some areas, there is a deliberate erasure of ambiguity. While almost all scientists agree that the greenhouse effect is real and that we are contributing, the levels of change that man is responsible for, and opportunity cost of reducing emissions, are both legitimate points for debate – but raising this bring forth claims and smears about ‘climate change deniers’ as if raising these topics were on a par with holocaust denial.
But it goes further. Not just with Fidel Castro, the left often simply lies, or ignores inconvenient evidence. Consider “Islamophobia”. Given the fact that the Islamic world is fighting a civil war between fanatics and moderates, you might think we should discuss some data. For example, Pew finds that in Pakistan 84 per cent of respondents want Sharia law and 74 per cent in Egypt. Of those overwhelming majorities, 76 per cent in Pakistan and 86 per cent in Egypt want the death penalty for people who leave Islam and high majorities back horrific penalties (e.g. stoning for adultery).
Of course, most UK Muslims do not want such an approach, and majorities in many Muslim majority nations do not favour Sharia or if they do, support modern versions. But why can’t we be honest – some versions of Islam are not acceptable here. Halting mass migration from such countries is not racist, but legitimately avoiding importing a raging civil war between fanatics and modernists. Shutting down this debate just gives fuel to genuine bigots who pretend all Muslims are the same and all a threat.
Further, the Left ignores different facts create very different realities. The Economist, bastion now of progressive rather than liberal thinking, stopped publishing average wage growth in the back-page roundup of economic indicators a while ago, as it was in its view not important enough. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of voters did not quite see it that way: it didn’t matter that GDP was rising when their wages were not. Lhe left chooses to ignore data that shows that the NHS, far from being the envy of the world, is inferior to social insurance schemes – with the BBC and others ignoring the data on most European or Far Eastern (superior) health systems.
The Remain campaign argues that the Leave campaign lied. But its entire campaign was based on a lie – that the decision was about a trade relationship, not about an ‘ever closer union’. We were told simultaneously that unravelling EU law was too difficult , yet also that EU interference was negligible. Now, rather than focus on positive objective data we are subject to a constant blast of subjective speculation that any minute now UK plc will collapse.
Post-truth doesn’t get much better than that in terms of ignoring data in favour of opinion and gut feeling.
The Left, for all its faults, used to care about the communities that it represented. Now, Jeremy Corbyn’s bullying clicktivists and their Twitter wars, prepared to attack viciously online but not get stuck into their local communities, are the final gasps of the post-truth left eating itself. Who needs to sort out community issues when you can, from the comfort of your armchair, virtue signal to your friends on Facebook?
The Right still needs to focus on the evidence
This is not an excuse for the Right to stop looking at and gathering data, nor an excuse for some of the post-truth statements in recent years from the Right. But we should fight back against opponents who have indulged in post-truth emotional manipulation for several decades. On the one genuine point that the Left has in this area – that it has ‘expert’ opinion on its side – should be a wake-up call.
The Right has allowed the Left to seize control of a new parallel quango state, well-funded pro-state charities and academics in order to force its worldview through. But the evidence is no more supportive of left-wing views than the past. What has happened is that those who are in charge of interpreting and advising on this evidence have shifted to the Left – pushed by government funding and post-truth bullying. We urgently need to fight back on this seizure of power. But we should not believe our opponents’ smears. The facts of life are still conservative, and if any one side has created the current state of nasty, post-truth politics, it is the Left.