I’m writing this as a rejoinder to yesterday’s piece, in which I noted the casual contempt displayed towards people who held the wrong kind of opinions trying to get involved with politics.
By classifying even vague supporters of the newest Labour administration as an amorphous mass of “Corbyn fans” (or the dreadful “Corbynistas”), it drives a bigger wedge between two groups who are going to need to work together at some stage if they ever want to get back into power or defeat the Worst Government Ever, the current despicable hard-right punish-the-poor Conservatives. (Yes, even the “electable” Sensible Decent folk from The Golden Age are going to have to regain the support of The Silly Lefties Who Have Made A Terrible Mistake at some point in the future; ex-Conservative voters won’t be enough.)
This isn’t one-way traffic, though. Far from it. And while I can see the frustration of people of principle being ridiculed, belittled, patronised and insulted by odious twits in the mainstream media, that’s not enough of an excuse.
True, the most extreme examples of Labour supporters, found through a diligent scrape through Twitter or Facebook or whatever, is always going to turn up something problematic: if you plunge your hand into a bag of dicks you’re going to find dicks. You look through any widely diverse group (or not even group) of people supporting anything, or claiming to support anything – be that Labour, feminism, or whatever – and you will find unpleasant people saying unpleasant things, because that’s what you find when you look for it. (If you think the causes you support and the people you align yourself with are free of that, give me five minutes on social media, and I’ll get back to you with a few examples of awful people, and say “Aha!”.) As I’ve said before those outlying examples will be presented as if they represent everyone in that movement. But that’s not good enough, either.
What I’m saying is, yes, there are a lot of things stacked up against people who might find themselves backing the current Labour leadership, for whatever reason. And yes, a lot of people stacking those things up have less-than-decent motivation. And yes, a lot of those accusations will be unfair. And yes, some people who should be allies are standing alongside some truly terrible types.
But. There is a chance that if you sink yourself into the nuclear bunker, and exclude all critical voices, there are going to be some problems.
The good side of social media should be that it makes you question yourself by presenting yourself with opinions and ideas you might not necessarily agree with. Some people, whom I like, who happen not to be red-and-black lefties but who are relatively liberal and floppily sympathetic towards Labour, have found themselves bombarded with unpleasantness by those who claim to be supporting the Labour leadership. I’m not talking about generalities chucked into the ether but personalised, nasty stuff. And that’s wrong. It’s obviously wrong. And beyond being not only wrong, it’s not helpful and entirely counterproductive. I keep thinking that at some point “we” (if there must be a we) need them, and “they” (if there must be a they) need us.
The problem comes in the assumption of motivation. As I said yesterday, the insulting element to a lot of ways in which people on the (and I’ve been holding off in using this term until now) Left are depicted by “helpful” and “unhelpful” people in the centre and right alike is that it’s assumed we are either stupid, deluded, mistaken, haven’t thought things through properly or are just plain wrong. Well, suppose that isn’t true though. Suppose we’ve thought about things as best we can and arrived at different conclusions.
It’s incumbent on us, then, to assume that those in the centre and on the right have done the same, and their motivations are possibly (if not always) benign. Which would mean that we both lean in similar directions, but we’ve just decided there are different ways of going about it. And if that’s the case, talking nicely to each other, without windmilling in with spite and rancour and all sorts of score-settling, is probably going to be a lot more productive.
Yes yes, I know. For some, that’s not enough. Some people want a war. Good, you have your war. (God knows you love them. Oops, sorry, that one slipped out.) That doesn’t mean that everyone has to fight it, though. Some of the people who are criticising you aren’t doing it to be harsh, or mean, or deliberately nasty; some of them care about things as deeply as you do, and want to try and give a helpful nudge.
I think that’s hard to spot at the moment, in all the anger and noise. It needs to calm down, and then maybe we can have some better conversations. Right now, all the infighting from people who will eventually need to become allies again, feels extremely wearying.