Thursday, 20 December 2012

Beyond Plebgate

First things first: I am not a Tory, I don't vote Tory and am unlikely to vote Tory in the future. That is because, at a very simple level, I assume the Tories represent the haves and big business, and Labour represent the have-nots and the employees. On most issues, therefore, I am likely to approve the Labour rather than the Conservative line.

In order to do so I don't necessarily have to think every Tory is 'something lower than vermin' as Nye Bevan put it, though he was strictly referring to the party itself and not individuals associated with it. Tories don't sit round plotting Evil: they want the best as they see it which may include kindliness and graciousness and a good many virtues. They probably see themselves as realists (from a certain point of view) and those who disagree with them as idealists (from a certain point of view). It is possible to think much of what they think and yet be a good person. It's just that they are wrong.

As concerns individuals I assume that being of a leftward persuasion, I am more likely to make friends among people who think and feel like myself, as indeed most people in the arts do. The arts, and probably most of humanities, are preset to the left, some a good deal further left than I am, though in some respects I would probably be approaching the red end of the spectrum rather than the faint blush in the middle. I am in other words a left-liberal with occasional bouts of passionate intensity as Yeats might have put it, though he did not intend that as praise.

However, I am not quite a paid-up member of the left-liberal group either, even among my friends, because my refugee background and intuitive responses - or so I suspect - are differently disposed.  I am without firm class and educational group credentials. My fear about the far left is that it mirrors the far right in its contempt for anyone not fully sold on its ideas, in its authoritarian instincts as regards imposing its will,  and in its absolute conviction that it is right, a conviction I severely lack. But then my fears about the left-liberal group, my own group in fact, is that we assume that we are nice and just and cleverer than anyone else and that, in short, we too suffer from a vaguely absolute conviction that we are right. About, well, pretty well everything.

So when Andrew Mitchell appears to have been framed by two policemen, I wonder how far out of line I am in feeling that Mitchell - despite being undeniably a Tory - does not deserve to be lied about.  Not even if we should persuade ourselves that the lie is probably true in some way we can't quite prove. As far as I'm concerned if people have in lied in their evidence about him they are simply wrong.

It is a question of what trumps what. I think true evidence trumps party stereotype even when a figure appears to be pretty close to stereotype. I don't imagine Mitchell is my kind of guy. I don't imagine I am his. But truth isn't about being my kind of guy or even about someone being my political opponent. It's just truth.

Odd that I should feel it necessary to say this. But somehow it does feel necessary. Not that I care deeply about Andrew Mitchell and his loss of a job. Frankly, there are many more interesting things to think about than whether Mr Mitchell should or should not be Tory Whip. Saying this feels necessary because there is something in all group feeling that is deeply disturbing. Love your friends and resist them a little. Resist kindly. Resist intelligently. Resist them lovingly, if you will. But resist. Resist the group feeling in everything.  Resist it a little but do what needs to be done.


B Wheeler said...

...aaahhh - nearly 24hrs on, no comments! Agree with what you say but gentle provocation doesn't always get a response, BW

George S said...

I have never angled for response. I try to say what I think.

Susan Greenberg said...

Yes, truth trumps group-think. But I have had similar (disappointing) experiences when I realised that not all my friends and associates thought the same way. And things have been getting nastier – the number of times I have heard of people being dismissed as 'neo-cons' for stating unpleasant truths is depressing.

Trofim said...

'Leftwing people find it very hard to get on with rightwing people, because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with leftwing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken.'
Roger Scruton.

George S said...

In this respect, if not much else, Scruton is right.

George S said...

As from Trofilm, who writes that he can't post his new comment:

A bloke called Nick Broomfield made a film called "The Leader, His Driver and the Driver's Wife" about Eugène Terre'Blanche. He was on Midweek with Libby Purves, a long time ago, but I have remembered it distinctly. He said that although Terre'Blanche's driver was a dyed-in-the-wool racist, he couldn't help liking him because he was just a nice bloke. Alastair Campbell, also on the programme, said it made him feel queesy to even imagine speaking to a racist, and it seems to me that a lot of lefties are of the same disposition - namely, that for them a person is his politics and nothing more. One can't help noticing, too, that to the left, large swathes of the population are barely more than untermensch. Notable in this respect is the Daily Mail reader, a creature so hideously repulsive, that a lefty would not even touch one while wearing clinical gloves.

George S said...

It is true that those who only know the evil of the Daily Mail don't know much about evil.

The difficulty, I suspect, is not so much political as moral-aesthetic. The Mail reader, who may not be touched with or without clinical gloves, is a notional figure, an essence not an individual person. Such essences, and they exist on all sides, populate the political imagination as the Enemy. The Enemy may be embodied in specific people but it would be hard to tell him at first meeting in the street. The point about the Mail untermensch, however, is not that he is wrong but that he is repulsive. It is his assumed morality that is aesthetically unacceptable.

I am myself a lefty, Trofilm, but I am willing to reveal a secret to you (and to anyone reading this): my father, who for most of his life had been a lefty, had in his latter days become a Daily Mail reader. Having Mail opinions meant we disagreed on a lot but he remained my essentially kindly and rational father. The fact that he couldn't stand men with pony-tails and earrings and was far from firm on other main liberal-left issues was a function of his age. Many hard-line Stalinists and Leninists of his generation felt the same about the same things.

Life is complicated and so it ought to be.