The hate-filled mob currently besieging the Conservative Party conference in Manchester may not be representative of the wider British Left, but they are the only ones being noticed by the country, and their chosen man is now Leader of the Opposition.
Like it or not, when people think about opposition to the current Conservative government they no longer think of people like Andy Burnham or Chuka Umunna – often glib and superficial, but at least committed to the democratic process – now they think of something quite different.
Ask someone what opposition to the Conservative government looks like now, and they will conjure images of the hate filled protesters in Manchester, driven mad by electoral defeat and pathological loathing of their political opponents. They will think of young anarchists in hoodies and middle-aged women wearing pig masks in broad daylight.
This is not the kinder, gentler politics promised by Jeremy Corbyn.
Since 2010 and the arrival of a moderate centre-right coalition government, the Left have behaved as though the Tories are the barbarians at the gates.
Relatively modest attempts at fiscal restraint have been greeted as though they were a cruel and deliberate attack on the most vulnerable in our society. The definition of “vulnerable” has been deliberately, relentlessly widened to include about half of the population.
The NHS has been weaponised, with hysterical warnings that the Conservatives are about to dismantle the entire system (even though this would be political suicide). Moderate and broadly popular reforms to the welfare state have been portrayed as a virtual genocide of the sick and disabled.
When senior Labour politicians or pundits let this kind of talk go unchallenged – they effectively lend it their tacit support. When Andy Burnham stands and nods along as a Labour supporter accuses Iain Duncan Smith of behaving like a terrorist toward disabled people, he lends the imprimatur of Labour to hyperbolic statements of that kind.
When Labour’s new shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, openly speaks about “insurrection” as a legitimate course of action in the event of failure at the ballot box, that kind of fighting talk is presented as acceptable – normal even – by the grassroots.
The scenes from Manchester did not emerge from a vacuum. The seeds were planted carelessly but steadily since Labour lost power in 2010, and decided that their best route back was to act as though a supremely non-ideological Conservative-led government was actually some kind of ultra-Thatcherite coup.
Where will it end? Possibly somewhere very bad. The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership has eliminated many of the automatic stabilisers which once kept Labour outward-facing and politically viable. Just when the party needs to seriously engage with swing and Conservative voters, they are instead turning inwards and becoming introspective.
With Corbyn in charge – even though he repudiates the more egregious cases of left wing violence and intolerance from among his supporters – it is difficult to see how vast swathes of the British Left can be persuaded that the Tories are anything other than downright evil, given everything that has now been said and written. When you view your political opponents as, not just wrong, but actually morally deficient, it becomes all but impossible to engage with them in a way that persuades wavering supporters to jump ship.
No Conservative Party activist currently in Manchester – or wavering Tory voter at home – is likely to switch their allegiance back the the Labour Party after having been branded “scum”.
For a group of people who so ostentatiously claim to be progressive, compassionate, enlightened and tolerant, the modern British Left – or at least the only ones capable of attracting media attention at the moment – sure do seem have a lot of time to indulge in hatred.
Hating the billionaires, the millionaires and the “1%”. Hating the corporate fat cats. Hating moderate Labour, or the “Red Tories”. Hating people who question the benefits of uncontrolled immigration. Hating people who dare to express a patriotic thought. Hating the Tories. Hating Ukippers. Hating innocent journalists trying to do their job and cover the Conservative party conference.
Jeremy Corbyn should not have gone to Manchester to troll the Tories in the middle of their own conference – it merely cements his reputation as a lifelong professional protester rather than a potential future leader. Right now, rather than protesting Jeremy Corbyn and the whole Labour Party leadership should be huddled together, coming up with real tangible policies of their own, or at the very least some honest, fact-based rebuttals of Conservative ideas.
With every passing day that the Left allow themselves to be defined by the worst excesses of the Manchester mob and they are dragged further away from their ultimate goal of regaining power and influence.
Samuel Hooper is a journalist and blogger, passionate about politics, free markets, civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter here.
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