I really like this piece by Bonnie Greer at the Huffington Post. It expresses something that I’ve been seeing for a while now but haven’t quite been able to articulate.
I was quite bewildered at the time of the Scottish Referendum (“Indy Ref”) at the general coverage that I saw. Me, being London-based and London-centric, it seemed that the mainstream media (MSM) (largely London, too) were actually telling the people of Scotland that: “You People Up There Know Not What You Do” .
If you’ve ever wondered why people don’t engage at politics, look at what happens when they do. The sneering, condescending, overwhelmingly hostile response to popular new political movements – look at Ukip, Scottish Independence and now Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – always comes in the same way. It’s a particularly childish, insulting, snotty little attitude that goes like this: “Look, you fools, you might want to play, but this is our game and we don’t want you.”
I mean, I don’t even like Ukip. A lot of their members are awful people. But I can see why they’re popular. They’re popular because the mainstream parties don’t attend to the needs of voters. And when ordinary plebs try to blunder in to politics they’re quietly ushered out the fire escape, told to sober up and pull themselves together. Ukip get supporters because of the arch contempt for actual people that is shown by the cosy, insular, cut-and-thrust world of mainstream politics.
Same for Scottish independence. Again, I’m not a massive supporter, but then I don’t live in Scotland so my views are entirely irrelevant; it’s not really up to me. But I can see why their supporters feel isolated, patronised, looked down upon and regarded as lesser people – because that’s exactly the message that’s intended for them. Politics is not for the likes of you, they have been told time and time again.
It’s as if politics is supposed to be a very, very narrow band of argument in the “centre” between two (or possibly three, but four is far too messy) parties. Cut and thrust. Jolly japes at PMQs. Chuckling away at each other in BBC studios about how the other lot were worse when they were in power! The same faces saying the same things in the same way a million times over, and nothing ever changing, and certainly not improving.
And now you look at Corbyn. Christ the man is flawed, obviously. He’s knocking about with all sorts of odd people, fringey people, people who don’t do things the same way as you and I might, people with pretty suspect views at times. So why on earth have a lot of Labour voters latched on to him, rather than doing The Right Thing and putting their support behind one of the other three much safer more electable bets?
You just have to look at the coverage. An endless slew of hatred, suspicion, warnings, innuendo and muttering, and that’s just from the people who claim to belong to the same political party. You know the usual suspects in the press are going to hate you, and that’s fine, but it’s not just them. Time and again, the weary attempts to force people who are doing The Wrong Thing to understand. Look, this isn’t how it’s done, old chap. If you think X, you must be stupid, or if you’re not stupid, you must have not thought about it as much as me, or not read as many books as me, or understand things quite as subtly or as nuanced as me, so maybe I can help you.
Greer points out there’s a particular kind of “helpful” arsehole who steps in with the “You People” thing:
This strain is especially prevalent among many of those who support/are Tories – particularly from its “Good Right” wing – who want us to accept that the Conservatives do not hold a particular monopoly on unkindness and cruelty. The GRs’ modus operandi is to ever so gently urge a re-think, a “come to our senses”.
“You appear to hold a view with which I disagree, let me try and make you come to the right view, because you’re clearly suffering from some kind of mass delusion – you can’t possibly have arrived at that conclusion by thinking about it.” I mean, do people even understand how that comes across? I suspect they do. It’s massively condescending, and it’s not helping at all to try and painstakingly finger-wag at people to make them understand like the idiots they are. Yes, I’m looking at you Tony Blair (twice) and every other New Labour grandee who pitched in with a “Let me help you understand why you are so wrong and there’s only one right answer” piece during the run-up to the Labour leadership vote.
Never, once, is there any kind of examination of why people might feel a particular way. There’s a perplexed shoulder-shrug. Why on earth might these people be deserting the One True Way? Hmm, to answer that might involve uncomfortable questions for us, and might imply we’ve ever done anything wrong – and we know that’s not right! – so we must just try and get them into line and be the good obedient servants they are. Why don’t they just know their place?
Now when Corbyn refuses to answer questions from the Sun, who hate him whatever he says, or Sky News, or Michael Crick haranguing him with his big microphone and “HIT ME HIT ME HIT ME HIT ME IN THE FACE OOH YOU HIT ME I’M TELLING” shtick, people tut and say, well, that’s not going to get him anywhere. Like actually answering the questions would get him anywhere, anyway. Remember Ed Miliband? Answering questions, playing the game, doing The Right Thing, being part of the same cosy establishment led him to be absolutely crucified on a daily basis, have his dad slagged off, have all sorts of shit thrown at him. Why bother? What would be so much better if you did bother?
I don’t think anyone voting for Jeremy Corbyn considers him to be some kind of messiah, any kind of messiah – although by all means do find an outlying view on Twitter to represent as being the opinion of all mainstream supporters, because that will indeed make you look so grown up. I don’t think many people voting for a change on the left of the Labour party believes it’s going to be easy, or that principle is so much better than being in power, or that it’s a magic cure, or that Corbyn is a magician who’ll heal huge rifts in the party. It might well fail. It probably will.
But if you have to ask why people are bothering, if you really don’t understand why people are trying something different, you might be part of the problem.