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14th April 2022

Keeping the many out of the few: Intolerance on the UK Left

Do we need a more centre-left approach to politics in order to address the intolerance of opinion espoused by the Labour party?
Keeping the many out of the few: Intolerance on the UK Left
Photo: Jeremy Corbyn @ Flickr

“Stupid decisions lead to stupid consequences don’t they”, “Is she thick, naïve?”, “I’ve got no sympathy”.

Where do you think I found these comments? Such hateful and unfeeling dialogue surely wouldn’t rear its ugly head on the left, would it? Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

I found this on a popular UK fact-checking Instagram page which posts a lot of overtly left-wing opinions. I have no problem with this, in fact from my other Tory-slating pieces I don’t think it’s hard to find where I would place myself on the political spectrum. However, I find it disgusting that this sort of discourse is espoused and accepted by people whom I would normally consider to be politically correct.

My feelings about this are derived not just from the belief that promoting hateful comments is wrong. I would hope I don’t need to convince anyone on that. Rather, I find this to be a core reason for the dire political landscape we currently find ourselves in.

It is easy enough to blame the 2019 Tory landslide on the media, on the (let’s be honest, brilliant) campaign slogan “Get Brexit Done”.  It simultaneously expressed both everything and nothing of what the current government planned to do, or even the indecisiveness of the Labour Party to show which way on Brexit they swung. However, I believe the uncompassionate left should take at least as much of the blame as these other contenders.

What the Labour party need to understand is that fundamentally, the UK is not a left-wing country, at least not at this time. Britain has a history of aligning itself with the centre-right, which perhaps explains why the Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful political parties there has ever been, not just in the UK but across the world. With that in mind, Labour must accept that it is not going to win on its ideology alone.

No, Labour needs to restructure itself in a way in which it has “contempt for the conmen and compassion for the conned” as James O’Brien puts it. For too long it has taken its moral high stance for granted without reflecting on why people may disagree with its beliefs.

Without taking this into account, the left fails to assess why people disagree. Instead, it starts a blame game for why Labour has been out of power for over a decade.

Empathy should be a de facto characteristic of left-wing politics. After all, the leftist birth institutions such as the NHS, founded the Human Rights Act in 1998 and created the foundations for minimum wage. It champions the improvement of the welfare state, securing further workers’ rights, and providing an environment that works ‘for the many, not the few.’

However, at some point in time the Labour party lost its affinity for improving people’s lives. Instead, it now finds its members are obsessed with trying to one-up each other, with the ongoing debate on whether to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour MP being just one of many examples.

This is a huge problem. How can the left expect to convince anyone they’re in the right (no irony intended) when they lack the basic human decency to show grace and kindness to those who disagree?

No one has ever, nor will ever, be convinced by being shouted at over any slight disagreement. I found this myself not too many weeks ago when having a conversation with members of the left. I was blatantly ostracised for having one, yes one, minor disagreement.

If I am made to feel this way by those whose opinions I (mostly) agree with, then how is Labour ever going to win over those who disagree on more fundamental issues?

I want to preface that this is not an issue with the entirety of the left in the UK. To be fair, it is probably a small minority too fickle to realise the damage they’re doing. But this minority is very vocal, and the damage they’re doing for political representation is great.

I do believe it is more of an issue with the online left; there is a subsection of these keyboard warriors in comment sections, particularly on the Instagram page described above, who feel empowered to be volatile and outright disrespectful to others.

In an age where much political campaigning is fought online, I think it’s important to make the left appear accepting on this front. Failing this fundamental task will keep those with otherwise politically progressive views from gaining the power it wants and needs to implement those view usefully.

The left needs to address this problem face-on if it wants to have any hope of reclaiming power. The Labour Party especially is craving unity and a departure from its current publicly visible division; one only has to look at the deep tension at the most recent Labour Party conference to see this on full display.

History has shown us that united parties win elections, and for all the words you could use to describe the Labour Party, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would now use united.

For now, highlighting these issues will hopefully be enough. Calling this out is necessary to start the change the left needs to become more tolerant of opinions that don’t perfectly align with their own. We shall see at the next election whether they’ve learnt their lesson.

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