Saturday, 26 November 2016
An existential cry of pain - how "The Left" is losing
As a conservative, it's only recently that I've begun to use the term 'The Left' to describe...well...'The Left'. This was a term that 'The Left', somewhat self-indulgently, used to characterise its so-called values. The premise of any discussion involving such folk was that good things were left-wing and bad things were right-wing. This made life simple - the torture and imprisonment of opponents in an approved left-wing country was necessary to protect the revolution or else simply lies put out by reactionary forces of 'The Right' seeking to undermine said revolution.
In contrast, the torture and imprisonment of opponents in a place designated as 'Right-wing' is a terrible crime against humanity. If you're a Blairite this justifies bombing the terrible place back into the stone age whereas, if you're genuinely of "The Left", the response is to organise a rally, wear clothing symbolising your support for the cause (especially if it looks cool and helps you pick up girls), and do that 'organise, mobilise, agitate' thing that 'The Left' always does.
So I thought that I'd explore this idea of 'The Left'. Not as a coherent political philosophy because, Marxism aside (and Marx would have thoroughly approved of Fascism), there is no coherent philosophy behind 'The Left'. Instead we have a set of positions - some simply not 'The Right' (remember that 'The Right' simply means "bad things I disagree with") whereas others are wrapped up in an incredibly indulgent thing usually called, in that trashing of the language beloved of 'The Left', values.
A long time ago, my Dad said that socialism or socialist in its common usage (by 'The Left') simply meant good. That was it - references to socialism or 'The Left' are intended to conjure up images of people who care more than nasty people who are called 'The Right'. We get folk pulling down a good wage paid for out of tax money or from the contributions of gullible donors while arguing for more 'caring' to be done by taking more cash off other people to give to a different set of ('deserving') people (plus well paid jobs for people from 'The Left'). These people have "values" to which we should all aspire. They are 'The Left' - complete with fluffy kittens, unicorns, glitter and shiny happy people marching for change.
The problem for 'The Left' is that countries that take the ideas of the left and turn them into a platform for government often end up totalitarian, lock opponents up and routinely use torture. These countries - from East Germany to Cuba are places that people tried to leave. Indeed they didn't just try to leave 'The Left', they did so facing the risk of getting shot, arrested and tortured. Or drowning as the tractor inner tube holding up the rickety raft sinks beneath the waves.
Today, 'The Left' face a new problem. Or rather an old problem revisited. In the democracies of the western nations there's an anger among the voters. Millions of column inches are being dedicated by 'The Left' to challenging this anger - they call it 'populism', 'nativism', even 'fascism' and are really agitated by the message it's putting out to voters. Of course, because this threat to 'The Left' is (because it is a threat) a bad thing, it is therefore right-wing, from the dark places of 'The Right'. And as a result people on 'The Right' are being told they should do something about the prospect of more folk like Donald Trump getting elected.
But when you peel back the cover of Donald Trump's agenda (ditto for Marine Le Pen and other nasty populist folk) and look at the policy programme underneath, it's pretty much an agenda that, had it come from 'The Left', would have been applauded. Clamping down on the corrupt and cosy relationship between big business and government. Protecting jobs by stopping firms moving them offshore. Protecting communities by ending dumping. Making politicians more accountable. This is a left-wing programme and it is 'The Left' that is threatened by its success.
What 'The Left' doesn't realise is that us right-wing folk simply don't start from the same place in all this debate. We don't think that the agenda proposed by the likes of Trump, Farage and Le Pen is a right-wing policy platform. The problem is that, after decades of taking its working class voter base for granted, 'The Left' has been found out. Hence the spluttering, shouting and screaming about the way in which those working class voters didn't do as they were told.
There's a huge difference between sympathy and empathy. 'The Left' is very good at the former but appalling at the latter with the result that, for all its language of caring, sharing and 'aren't we good', left-wing people these days come across as patronising, judgemental and arrogant. This is the world of 'we know what's good for you' and 'it's someone else's fault, let's go shout at the government'. The denial of agency to anyone who didn't get a degree is shocking - kids get sugary snacks because their parents can't resist advertising, poverty isn't solved by getting (and keeping) a job, and we need to make it harder for people to have a drink because they don't know how to control themselves.
But these caring noises - "there, there, it's not your fault, nasty, nasty government" - don't wash when 'The Left' shows a tin ear to the communities they claim to care about. At times it seems almost as if 'The Left' are talking about a different animal - one unable to look after itself properly, a permanent victim of 'the system'. There is no empathy for the condition of these people just the idea that we can use them to make our political point (mostly about how caring we are and how our values are so good) and to paint a cartoon picture of 'The Right'.
Back in the day, socialist parties were populist movements. Britain's Labour Party, the Socialist and Social Democratic Parties of Europe, Italy's Communist Party - all these groups built their support using the same sort of populist rhetoric that they now condemn in new political movements. It's true also that these socialist parties emerged from the same place as the Fascists - this doesn't make them the same, just that (unlike conservatives) they're competing for the same voters. This is still true and, in part, explains the screams of pain and anguish from the mainstream left. The problem is that those values 'The Left' is so big on simply aren't the values of a large chunk of the traditional support base for left-of-centre parties.
So when left-of-centre pundits tell 'The Right' that this populist (or nativist, fascist, even Nazi) upsurge is some how its problem they speak from fear. Not fear of a conservative hegemony - nothing conservative about Trump, Farage and Le Pen - but rather fear that the success of populists will keep them, 'The Left', from the things that sustain their livelihood and allow them to patronise the rest of us about values. And those things are government-funded jobs, membership of influential boards or committees, positions of authority in local and national and European government - this is what motivates 'The Left' today. The insurgent populists threaten 'The Left' by borrowing its language but sounding like they actually mean it - there's a real empathy, a genuine feeling of pain rather than a patronising, smug Tony Blair-style "I feel your pain" sympathy.
At the moment, aside form America, the traditional conservative right looks set fair - no room for complacency but it wouldn't be surprising to see by the end of 2017, conservatives leading France, Germany, Spain, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Those who think that the Front National, UKIP and Five Star are a threat to the conservative right are sadly misguided. It is 'The Left' that stands to lose as it continues to pretend that a sort of international order of the smug can sort everything out but only if we can stop those pesky electors voting the wrong way.