The age of unreason
Jon Snow has “no recollection” of screaming ‘Fuck the Tories!’ at Glastonbury this year. Neither does he remember adding a cheeky, ‘I’m supposed to be neutral’ to a breathlessly happy fan, who then tweeted it (and then deleted it).
Maybe he doesn’t, maybe he does. Self-evidently it’s the sort of thing he might have said, otherwise he would have issued something more substantial than a good old fashioned non-denial-denial. I’m guessing being either quoted or misquoted as saying “Fuck Jeremy Corbyn!”, for example, might have elicited a slightly more strenuous response.
But here’s my point. Imagine, just imagine, what would have happened if Laura Kuenssburg or Nick Robinson had been quoted as saying “Fuck Jeremy Corbyn!” after they’d had a few jars?
Madness. Mayhem. Revolution! Fatwa! Twitter would have seen nothing like it. Wherever they went in future, they would have been greeted with the sort of zoo noises you already hear when a traitor is unveiled, or been forced into hiding for fear of violence.
The most notable thing about the frenzied backlash against Jon Snow, is that there wasn’t one. Smoothly he escaped all but a mild bit of turbulence, with no question of him being dragged from his desk by the mob. In fact he’s become a hero, and any hint of bias casually snorted at by pointing out, I kid you not, that ‘Snow is free to say what he likes because he works for a private company not a public service broadcaster’ (which isn’t true).
Other journalists have not been so lucky. When Emma Barnett interviewed Jeremy Corbyn on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, she spent days afterwards in the firing line, being jeered and threatened by Jez’s social media following. For doing her job, holding Jez to account over a simple policy-funding memory lapse, Barnett became fair game in the eyes of everyone from the anonymous trolls to Paul Mason, for a hysterical, sexist, anti-Semitic (sorry, anti-Zionist) onslaught – intensified, of course, because she’s a woman, and Jewish.
Putting these two incidents together, can any serious person honestly say that there aren’t double standards, or intimidating tendencies, in left-wing politics? It takes an extraordinary level of intellectual dishonesty, or self-delusion, to be able to justify one and not the other. And yet another level, of malevolence, to meter out such brutal punishment on one and not the other.
It would be funny, if it didn’t point to an incredibly sinister energy at work. And a culture that so readily permits double-standards, casual sexism and anti-Semitism as means of discourse, while furiously censoring even a hint of criticism of one man.
One man who has had a disinhibiting effect on all the most negative elements of the hard left. Not least, a tendency towards sheer intellectual dishonesty. The sort of useful dishonesty you need in this age of unreason.
Not since Joseph Smith has one man’s word been taken so unquestioningly and uncritically by his followers. As a Labour friend of mine grumbled over a pint the other day, “Corbyn could suggest putting up a statue of Jimmy Savile in every town in Britain, they would find a way to tell you why he was right”.
The only criteria of a Labour MP that matters now is whether they are with Jeremy Corbyn or not; every judgement is made through the prism of whether it will help or hinder Jeremy Corbyn; and anyone who doesn’t “get on board” is asked to explain why by way of inquisition. (After a Corbyn rally in Nottingham last year, I was asked, brusquely, ‘Have you been converted yet?’ Which seemed like a decent way of putting it).
To this end, we have allowed some truly shameful habits to pass into the blind spot and actually compromised on a raft of hard-left and liberal policies.
Every Labour party member and voter should have shuddered at the results of a poll by the Jewish Chronicle during the campaign, which revealed that British Jews see Labour has having a worse record on anti-Semitism than UKIP. Just let that sink in. Only 13% of British Jews were planning to vote Labour as a result. But this was all blithely explained away with a weary roll of the eye – fake polls, Zionists, plotters, etc. In fact, the whole debate has been largely censored, dismissed as a shabby attempt to undermine the leader.
But as a wiser man once said, I class myself as a prisoner to that knowledge. I can’t un-know it. I’m surprised that so many have forgotten it, so quickly and so wilfully. It has been brushed away because the need to protect Jeremy Corbyn has taken priority over everything else – although in the case of anti-Semitism, it does come frighteningly naturally to many.
It helps having hybrid campaigner-journalists fighting your corner. A helpfully skewed version of reality is available from ‘independent’ media outlets such as the Canary, Novara Media, Evolve Politics, and others, and is lapped up as journalistic truth. And then there are the enforcers and intimidators in the media. Paul Mason, for one, will happily bellow down elected Labour MPs live on TV if he has to, and offer sinister threats to anyone not in full compliance.
When Gary Lineker tweeted that he felt “politically homeless” without a centrist party, and repulsed by the jeering and the abuse, he became the subject of…jeering and abuse. (The uniquely leftist, sanctimonious version of abuse which goes something like: ‘I’m RIGHT you’re WRONG so I’m allowed to call you a cunt’). Aaron Bastani made no less than two videos of himself fuming, in that affected street style, about why the ex-footballer was wrong and should be taken down a few pegs – tagging Lineker in the tweet so that an enraged hunting crowd could do the rest.
And there is a particularly pernicious strain and tone of hatred reserved exclusively for women. Lisa Nandy’s call for balance and clear-headed debate provoked a furious response, and rancour, from the very people to whom she was trying to appeal. Gloria de Piero became the subject of a two-minute hate when she was reappointed to the shadow cabinet, because the memory of her heresy last year still rankles.
For writing that she was “sick to death of the vitriol”, Yvette Cooper was photographed against her will sitting alone on a train, accompanied by the tweet “Face it, Yvette’s a bellend and a busted flush, you’re a cunt and we’re in charge forever”. And Luciana Berger, who gets a double dose because she’s also Jewish, was summoned to grovel before her local executive committee for daring to cross the dear leader. All of the above was excused and explained away.
If we hadn’t spent two years behaving like this – reporting, reading and spreading half-truths, touting cheap syllogisms, hysterically shouting down all opposition voices, bullying as a bigot or a racist or a fascist anyone who disagreed with us – we might not have become so hateful. We might not have done ourselves and the left-wing movement so much harm. We might have won the election, given how abject the Tories were.
Let’s not allow emotion to blind us from the fact that the Tories increased their share of the vote, to its highest level since 1983. This stat, also, has been erased from the debate. If we’re going to learn from this latest election, we need to look at facts objectively. Of course, the pro-Corbyn camp propounds the view that this ‘victory’ was a rejection of neo-liberalism and austerity. But if we’re not going to be guilty of adapting evidence to suit arguments, instead of arguments to suit evidence, we should ask ourselves whether this is really the case.
But then this is the age of unreason. Reality doesn’t come into it. As a party we exist now entirely to keep one man going, and nothing else matters.
It doesn’t matter that British Jews see Labour as being more anti-Semitic than UKIP. It doesn’t matter that Labour would have kept Trident. It doesn’t matter that Labour would have gone along with the majority of the Tories’ welfare cuts, and the current welfare cap, and said nothing about relieving the poorest people from council tax arrears – an absolute bugbear of poverty charities and campaigners. Nor that our immigration policy during this election was harder-right than Ed Miliband’s in 2015, described by Momentum treasurer Michael Chessum as “the biggest expansion of border controls in decades”.
It doesn’t matter that Labour’s spending pledge for the NHS would still leave the service grossly underfunded. As a contact in healthcare campaigning told me the other day, “Labour would still be underfunding the NHS. I don’t understand why nobody’s bothered about that”. It doesn’t matter that Labour didn’t include a pledge to reinstate the Independent Living Fund (ILF), described by campaign group Where’s the Benefit? as one of the “unforgivable omissions” of the manifesto.
But these little murmurs of unrest exist, and could turn into waves. There is growing resentment, from the single-issue activists and hard-lefties who feel sold short over Trident, immigration, welfare and the NHS. And how the revolutionary socialists, Anarchists and Trots are getting on squaring their streets-of-fire-and-shattered-glass ideals with a solidly parliamentary, often positively centrist, government-in-waiting, I simply don’t know.
For now they are still being drowned out by bright-eyed crowds singing ‘Ooooh Jeremy Corbyn’, in that slightly hypnotised way. But sectarianism dies hard on the hard left; and those who try to make the activists and campaigners compromise one too many times are never forgiven or forgotten.
Unquestioning, uncritical praise is fine when you’re the head of a church. Or on stage at Glastonbury. You might even get national treasure newsreaders helping you out with a “Fuck the Tories” here and there, and an influx of celebs who have suddenly got in touch with their political side.
It’s intoxicating, I’m sure. But it has no place in serious politics. Even in the age of unreason.