It seems to be a bit of a running theme amongst right-wing commentators of a certain inclination that the left is ‘nasty’. Not so long ago I was writing about (and apparently winding up) Daniel Hannan, who was apoplectic at my withering dismissal of his political career and seemed to think that the left’s hatred of the right was in some way analogous to racism and sexism. A self-evidently absurd proposition.
And now another Telegraph columnist, Nigel Farndale, has regaled us with his views on the subject.
His specific beef is that the pinko author Zadie Smith recently said (although I can’t find any other evidence online aside from his article):
“I would love to meet a nice, reasonable, intelligent Conservative who’s a lovely person, but where are they?”
It’s a fair question actually. One doesn’t normally associate Conservatism with loveliness, for very good reasons. Most of them are bigots, reactionaries and the ones who aren’t (and there are a few, to be fair) appear content for large swathes of the population to live in poverty and economic insecurity, apparently the necessary victims of the free market and its institutionalised inequalities. They may claim otherwise but when the consequences of their policies are clear for all to see, it’s difficult to know how they able to do so without quite breath-taking feats of cognitive dissonance.
But yet a constant theme of a lot of Tory journalism discussing their opponents is how the left are very nasty too or often the only nasty ones. It’s the right who love the human race. We on the left are the ones full of hate, jealousy, envy.
Farndale uses a few examples to back up the argument, specifically the now routinely cited Thatcher T-shirts, Gordon Brown, Aneurin Bevan and most incongruously the booing of George Osborne at the Paralympics.
I think these particular choices raise a couple of points.
Firstly, it is entirely fair to say that Aneurin Bevan despised and Gordon Brown despises the Conservative Party.
But the contempt was and is perfectly rational, and not based on ‘nastiness’.
Visit one of the communities which was devastated by Thatcher’s economic ‘reforms’ in the 1980s and still hasn’t fully recovered.
Or in Bevan’s case he probably noted that the Tories opposed his plans to create the NHS tooth and nail, amongst other things. Tories thought (and most of them continue to think) that people should be left to fend for themselves.
When the consequences of such selfish thinking are so obvious and predictable, is it any wonder that so many of us react with such fury at the proponents of those ideas?
Gordon Brown is an interesting example actually. He remains a hate figure on the Tory right for a couple of reasons: he was a lot smarter than they are and he loathed them back. They labelled him “tribal”, which is usually a code for “uncompromising”.
He wasn’t as cuddly, smug or overtly sympathetic to Toryism as Tony Blair obviously was. He was in politics for specific reasons (however much I might have disagreed with his approach and philosophy). Something similar applies to Ed Balls. Again, I think his approach is hopelessly flawed. But he possesses a deep and unrelenting hatred of the Conservative Party that is perfectly healthy and well-founded. It is based on the actions of the Conservatives in office and the interests that they so obviously represent.
Which leads me onto my second point. There is a distinction to be drawn between hatred and nastiness. They aren’t the same thing. It’s a shame that I even have to explain this to be honest, but one can hate injustice without being nasty.
I hate sandwiches when the bread isn’t buttered. That doesn’t make me a nasty person. Just a passionate believer in the virtues of butter and margarine and a lover of correct sandwich etiquette. Hatred can be positive and used for positive ends. As Zack De La Rocha once pithily observed:
“anger is a gift”
And this is the point. Serious left-wingers scare the right silly. It’s why they had to slaughter Tony Benn in the media in the 80s. It’s why there was day after day of Gordon Brown’s sanity being questioned before when he became PM. It’s why Salvador Allende was violently overthrown in 1973. They get nervous at the thought of people who mean business standing up to right-wingers, the sensible ones, know that the social and intellectual edifice they defend could collapse very quickly.
An illustrative example to finish with.
I would like Kelvin MacKenzie to be held down and choked to death on an edition of the Sun that lied about Hillsborough.
That is nastiness.
Loathing MacKenzie for the lies he quite deliberately told as a loyal footsoldier of the status quo is not nastiness.
People on the right who complain about people on the left being “nasty” to them don’t understand what it is they are dealing with. And the fact that they don’t understand it is normally why they are on the right in the first place.