The Politics of Contempt | Jake Scott

Many of us have doubtless heard the satire doing the rounds recently; that Corbyn's Labour Party is suffering from the delusion in thinking it won the General Election in June, that it views itself as a "government in waiting", and that Corbyn has a mandate from the people to pursue the promises and policies laid out throughout the campaign. Laughable, I know, but this is an expression of a deeper, more sinister current moving through the Left in modern British politics.

Consider the following: the last Labour leader to stay on after losing a General Election was Prime Minister Harold Wilson, losing in 1970 but returning to No. 10 in 1974. Before that, it was Churchill between 1945 and 1951 that held such a record, and both of whom had held power prior to electoral defeat. Those two aside, every single major party leader that has failed to lead their party into government has stepped down – even if they made gains in terms of seats. Michael Howard in 2005 closed the gap considerably between 2001 (Labour majority of 166) and 2005 (Labour majority of 67), yet still respected the message that his brand of conservatism was not appealing enough, and stepped down.

Jeremy Corbyn has not stepped down. Quite the opposite: he, and his supporters, view June as a success, and have since attempted to strengthen his position by purging detractors from the party front lines - just look at the debacle over the rebellion during the Brexit bill amendment, or the recent deselection of a Labour councillor who supported Sarah Champion. Furthermore, the party has not been consulted on this - almost certainly the Corbynista gaggle that has seized control of Momentum and the Party grassroots would keep him there, but this is simply a further expression of the malaise settling over the Left.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; old Labour leaders, including Attlee, may have been Socialists, but they were English Socialists. They respected the institutions of monarchy, parliament, Church and all the other great bastions of Britishness that stand like monoliths in a storm. Corbyn is a different beast, but a beast of his time. He seems to have no respect for such institutions, which hamstrings his own efforts in Parliament - he was derided, somewhat rightly, for taking public complaints to the dispatch box rather than hold the government to account. The dismissal of the public's having voted against him - which, let us remind ourselves, was a full 42.2% of the population, the largest Tory vote share since 1992 - is an expression of his dismissal of the convention of gracious defeat.

And I would like to believe Corbyn is alone in this, but I worry he is merely the start. John McDonnell has several times been captured on-screen demanding rioting in the streets, and a march on Parliament to demand the resignation of the (duly elected) Prime Minister; Justine Lucas has for years challenged the established customs of the House (the addressing of one another as ‘my Honourable Friend’; the addressing of one another indirectly through the Speaker; the formal yielding and speech-making of the Commons); recently an SNP MP wore a football shirt to the House of Commons in a blatant disregard for civility and, by extension, displayed her contempt for her fellow MPs (would you expect to conduct business in tracksuit bottoms?); Dianne Abbot even seems to extend a disregard for formality to the rules of mathematics.

It is emblematic of a long decline in deference in this country, but in real terms it translates to a loss of dignity in politics. Don’t get me wrong, the Conservatives are just as guilty of it – Prime Minister May’s dismissive laughter at Jeremy Corbyn’s often well-intentioned questioning comes off as callous, and all-too-many comments made in recent weeks have denigrated the image the party is attempting to detoxify. In fact in many ways the Conservative Party is just as much a facilitator of this as the Labour leadership, mostly from personal attacks on opposition leaders during election campaigns. I also don't want the Conservative grassroots to think they are not guilty of, frankly, mean and derogatory comments about a person rather than that person's beliefs. All too often we accuse the opposition of being "snowflakes" when they become incensed over political issues, a strawman that creates the assumption our ideological opponents' cares and worries are less important than ours, when they are just as equally valid. 

But the Left seems to be making a professionalisation of this phenomenon; recent reports show, for example, that male Tory candidates were by far the most likely group to receive abuse on social media. Most recently, Laura Pidcock (the newly elected MP for North Durham) has stooped to calling female Conservative MPs “the enemy”, and has “absolutely no intention of being friends with any of them”.

And then, of course, there is the shocking video Momentum released suggesting that all conservative voters are callous and uncaring (I won’t stoop to their level and make insinuations about the demographics represented here).

“If you can’t attack their policies, attack them” must be the mantra they share. But make no mistake; this isn’t merely contempt for your politics; this is contempt for you. And this rot is creeping out of politics and into our daily lives. Below is a screenshot taken of a charity’s homepage.

This is utterly contemptuous. I hope it was merely a joke run by one of the charity’s younger employees – they have since removed the slanderous banner. But the point remains – since politics has seeped out of Westminster and into daily life, facilitated by post-modern beliefs that “the personal is political”, contempt for one another has become acceptable, provided it is based on each other’s political views.

It is time we returned to not having to worry about politics getting in the way of real life. You should be able to sit around a table with friends, with family members, even with strangers, without politics spoiling the conversation, even if it is mentioned willy-nilly. You should not be afraid to mention your own beliefs, lest you be attacked personally. 

“A kinder politics” indeed, Mr. Corbyn.



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