The left must break out its safe space | Robbie Travers

Is it not interesting that often those who purport to be the most fervent critics of prejudice on UK university campuses today seem to wish to avoid directly confronting prejudiced views?

One would think that an anti-racist wouldn’t need a safe space from racism. Anti-racists, by their titular expertise, are surely experts in tackling supposedly racist views and biases, are they not? As these paragons of virtue should be so adept at combating racist views, with both a strength of argument and ability to persuade, surely it would be in their interests to expose racism and other prejudices and combat them? If one is indeed so inherently virtuous, surely one can lead others by showing them how their views are morally wrong? If one is indeed anti-racist, and if one attests to being zealously so at every possible opportunity, surely we are not in need of censoring ideas, surely the input of the anti-racist would be to tackle racism with rigour and strength, rather than not to tackle it but exist in a space that will never challenge assumptions or wrongly held views.

Yes, these individuals would be welcome to argue that since minorities face oppression everyday, that it would be pleasant for them to not to have to face such oppression within University spaces. A nice sentiment, however surely the better way to deal with this oppression would be to categorically rebut it both on and off campus through logical and reasoned argument. Surely using the strength of anti-racist expertise and knowledge to transform the space and then campaign to influence society into an outward looking, prejudice tackling, and ultimately tolerant sphere is in the interests of students to ensure that we can tackle these prejudices through wider society.

If the student left continues to refuse to do this, it becomes a massive political opportunity for the political right both on and off campus. The political right can become the progressive side, making political arguments for using free speech to tackle prejudice, for championing the rights of ridiculous views to be heard so they can be challenged, and for tackling discrimination and prejudice through promoting individual rights.

Surely, with so many students who are so capable of deconstructing the ideology of prejudice on UK campuses, we shouldn’t need a safe space to be confident that prejudices are being tackled? If the right can demonstrate that it is their side of the political argument that is determined to enshrine rights to discourse whilst tackling prejudice, the left appear neither to be serious about the rights of the individual or the rights to free speech. Essentially, if the political left are going to argue neither for freedom, and prevent themselves engaging in wider discourse, it is for Conservatives to begin to take over this debate.

Let’s also be realistic about the ongoing activities in politics: increasingly the left’s perfect facade of being the decent side of politics is cracking. With a Labour Party which sees its Jewish representatives receive over 25,000 threats and death threats in 24 hours for being Jewish, with an NUS leader criticised for anti-semitism by the Home Affairs Select Committee and who continues to promote violence against Israel, and a Labour leader who attends rallies with groups associated with a culture of misogyny and whitewashing sexual assault. Conservatism is on a relative high, but it could rise to even greater heights if not only does it talk the talk of the left, but it walks their walk competently.

Sadly, advocates from groups like women, the LGBT+, and ethnic minorities have squandered the opportunity to use their ability to challenge others using free speech. This is the most worrying development of all, as these groups have thrived in climates with discourse that is open and has allowed them to develop equal rights. Standing against the very abilities and rights to argue that allowed these oppressed groups to open a dialogue and convince entire nations to change their agenda and become more progressive than ever before is not only shameful, it is an abandonment of principles that have successfully shaped our society for the better. Social progress is enabled by economic and political freedoms, not least the freedom to challenge prejudice and inequality. If the left does not understand this, it cannot be trusted to govern in the interests of all.

Now many of you may will ask why I am writing for a Conservative outlet using what is traditionally the language and arguments of the left? If a Conservative leader was to use the language I used above, there would be nothing but a husk of a Labour Party remaining. The clear benefit for the Conservative sphere of thought is apparent, both in Parliament and in the wider debate. But I am also writing for a Conservative outlet because largely the wider left and Labour Party seems to be determined to exist within the boundaries of its favourite echo chambers, the North Islington Vietnamese restaurants, the Student Union liberation groups politically correct disco nights and their Pro-EU vigils held by middle class Corbynites complete with funeral atmosphere: I have given up on shaping the wider discourse on the left because it has become irrational, hateful and prejudiced.

And, importantly, it should not and cannot be allowed near the UK Government in its current state.

Something most people in political parties, especially on the left, tend not to be aware of is that voters float. Many individuals approach an election without an in depth knowledge of every policy dispute, and will simply look to see who proposes the best policy platform that is relevant to them. It is, sadly, now the Conservative side of the debate which now ironically back the aforementioned freedom that has allowed progressive social development in terms of societal views and policies to thrive.

What is more worrying is that the left seems to have largely abandoned the field of actually arguing with those it disagrees with. Rather than trying to understand why people voted Leave, the backlash began immediately. Those who voted Leave were told they were racists, intolerant and had destroyed the country. No attempt was made to understand people’s feelings, instead they were castigated as pariahs for their opinions. A camarilla of the left’s commentariat began spinning the hyperbolic nonsense that hatred had won, and spuriously argued that hate crimes had increased, and the Britain had become a racist state overnight. The left became even further more enraged, with young people suggesting a Logan’s Run like limit on age for voting, and that their future had been stolen by racists.

Controlling who votes based on their ages and views? The start of authoritarianism that should be rejected by any decent thinker across the political spectrum.

Why the rage? Not necessarily because the left felt strongly on the EU, but because the left has to have something to be angry about, be it Israel, be it the leave vote – the left largely works in attempts to combat prevalent injustices. So when the political Conservatism becomes progressive, offers answers to questions and attempts to tackle prejudice, the left must manufacture outrage to systematically undermine the other side.

But no-one is listening to much of the political left any longer: much like the boy who cried wolf, the left now suffers from the Left who cried racist. Because so many people are accused of being racist, or furthering racism, it has become meaningless. People no longer believe or trust the left as the arbiter of what is socially progressive. For example, look to when people on the left branded Mitt Romney a xenophobe for his wider anti-Russian stances, which turned out to be prescient, and a racist for his wider policy agenda. Romney is a decent and principled politician, though I do often disagree with him, but Trump and the far right are rising precisely because people no longer believing the left’s warnings.

Much like the boy who cried wolf, the left now suffers from the Left who cried racist.

Warnings don’t become warnings when they are as frequent as Tube stop announcements. The allegations of racism, misogyny, homophobia and fascism are accusations that should be taken seriously. Is it any wonder that whilst the left uses them practically as punctuation, no-one takes their protests seriously?

Instead, the student left now tries to find prejudices that mean they do not need to engage with the proposal and proponent. Hence it has become apparent that much of the left of the political discourse has been shocked of recent. Brexit shocked much of the left when they finally discovered that shutting down points of view on immigration, trade, or British identity that they would brand are undesirable became dominant. This is what occurs when you become so comfortable, and no longer argue with those who disagree. You become unchallenged. The left, ironically much of which raised oppositions to Europe due it’s teachings of Portugal and Greece, suddenly backed the EU due to the “racism” of the opposition, with individuals saying that it would be wrong to back the right course of action because of who they would be agreeing with? Does this not show the decay of political thought? Those on the left not willing to back a course of action they believe in, or even know to be morally and politically right, because it would mean agreeing with those who also promote this action, but for the wrong reasons?

A final note to conclude on would be this: this is why much of the left is proving to be out of touch with a modern Britain, whether it be on University campuses, in the Labour Party, or the wider world. The desire not to have to understand motivations behind unsavoury views, or comprehensively tackle them has led to the Left becoming irrelevant. Because when the Left won’t provide an answer to questions, the right and far right will. Currently, the political right are not afraid to answer questions on identity, on immigration and on changing demographics in society. The left must be able to replicate this, because otherwise it risks not being able to talk about what voters feel strongest about. There is not point in having a Labour Party or wider left that is convinced by it’s own moral piousness, but those outside the echo chamber are not convinced.

Robbie Travers is a student of Law, at the University of Edinburgh. He tweets @RobbieTravers


21 thoughts on “The left must break out its safe space | Robbie Travers”

    1. Key-word: “Personally”.
      Is it really surprising to find a rational person disgusted by an (explicitly literal) ideology that preaches for homosexuals to be murdered, while so little of its adherents promote or engage in change in interpretation of these commands?
      Much like the other Abrahamic religions, Islam, when analysed and contrasted against any sort of reasoned and progressive rhetoric of the modern age, really doesn’t hold any water. It’s odd that it seems to get the free pass against Christianity and Judaism (likely due to the inherently racist conflation of Middle-Eastern racial identity and Islam), despite the latter two making much more of an effort to prevent sexism and homophobia from proliferating.

      Do yourself a favor and attempt to make a legitimate point next time – Ad Hominem doesn’t look good on you.



  1. You only have to look at the comments section of a typical Guardian article on refugees or the EU to know that Left-wing ideas are becoming less popular. Where this new energy is directed is yet unknown, it was the driving force of Brexit but any political party could utilise it to win elections.

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