Monday, 2 June 2008

If you tolerate this....

. Jonny Wright has an interesting post on his blog, 'Hug a Hoodie'. It is interesting because of the questions it raises really, it is an attack on the 'intolerant' left and in particular a piece in the Independent by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Now, the piece is titled 'A lament for the death of the left as a political force' so right from the off you can tell that it is going to be a pretty downbeat rant and downbeat rants are usually bitter too; so the colourful invective is to be expected if not forgiven.

The basic thesis of the Brown article that the left is on the decline is probably a sound one; the centre of political gravity in this country is moving rightwards. However, what Brown rather misses out is that this has been happening for sometime under the auspice's of the Labour Party. Jonny objects to this in the following terms;

"Nobody of a conservative bent remotely cares about fairness, equality, human rights and universal justice, do they? I may not agree with people on the centre-right on much, but to say that right-wingers hate human rights and justice is ignorant and simplistic. We don't live in a cartoon world of goodies and baddies. Do my Conservative friends really get up in the morning thinking "Haha, how shall I undermine social justice today?"

No, they probably don't but on the other hand his friends are probably not hardened Conservatives, they are probably 'light-blue' and vote Conservative not through a positive ideological identification with the nastier side of Toryism. I think it would be wrong to be under illusions about hardened Tories, it is not so long ago that Iain Duncan Smith was standing up in Parliament effectively saying that two females needed a man to make a decent parental unit. This is the party that does talk about 'villain' parents and 'scruffy' teachers and no doubt on the fringes also does inveigh against homosexuality and ethnicity. Conservative ideology has in the past been the chief instigator of social hatred of minority groups and the examples I have chosen above show it has changed little; it has merely become more circumspect about expressing it's heartfelt prejudices.

Add into the mix the perpetual hostility of the Conservative Party to things like the European Convention of Human Right's and it is not hard to see why Brown feels like she does. If you take a second to read the editorial columns of hardened Conservative papers like the Telegraph, Express or Mail or indeed sample the delights of Conservative Home then it is not hard to see the true bitter, twisted and intolerant soul of the Conservatives spewing forth its 'pearls' of wisdom. Jonny feels that Browns piece reflects a;

"sort of attitude, branding one's opponents as haters of fairness and justice, does nothing but promote cynicism towards the political process as a whole."

What does politics discredit to my mind is refusal to call a spade a spade. I do not doubt that there are decent people withing the Conservative Party whose belief in their convictions is sincere and some are no doubt genuinely willing to embrace minorities and social tolerance. All power to them I say and I would welcome working with them to common ends but however, there is a large section of the party, and indeed Tory ideology, which remains downright 'nasty'. Notice throughout this i have said sections of the Conservative Party - that means I mean real, hardened Tories not necessarily their vote although undoubtedly for some sections of that Cameron couldn't bring back hanging a day too soon.

Jonny is on safer ground when he criticises Brown's attitude to the BNP. We do need to engage with BNP voters but we do so from a position of strength; by saying that we understand their concerns but that they are wrong-headed and this is why, I am not a relativist and to be honest prefer my politics hard-boiled. What I have just said about the Conservatives would equally apply to the British National Party though; some are "normal people with legitimate concerns who are exploited by extremists" but some, the 'extremists' that Jonny draws attention too, could be reasonably hated by progressives and indeed regarded as 'enemies'. The trick is splitting the 'normal people' from the 'extremists' through tackling those concerns but not for one second pandering to prejudice.

I also tend to agree with Jonny's comments about Brown's invocation of ethnicity as a determiner of voting behaviour. Having said his remarks that;

"The comment about "following the wind blowing the Tories to victory" is pretty distasteful, too. It's suggesting that people are only voting Tory because it's somehow fashionable; Yasmin can't get her head round the idea that someone might make a positive choice to vote Conservative for reasons of principle,"

does miss the point that there is a large section of people voting Conservative on the principle that they are not the Labour Party. In other words it could reasonably be said that they are just following a fashion. Lack of principle does exist in politics though it is not an exclusive patent of the Conservative Party. I agree that the way to combat the rise of the Tories is not through hysterical condemnation but it is by recognising the reality that it is a party of often extreme social prejudice and reminding the voters of that fact.


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