14th March 2016
What if we are wrong? What if the haters win?
In recent months I have spent a lot of time travelling in England, mainly on trains but also on buses, occasional taxis and trams. Being me, one of life’s chatterboxes, I usually find someone to talk to, often three or four someones. Contrary to popular belief people do like chatting. OK, there are a few who move away or shuffle uncomfortably but my experience is that people chat and at the end of a long journey pleasant goodbyes are exchanged. But don’t offer cookies to strangers (a story for another time perhaps).
Topics, not all chosen by me, have ranged from the weather, TV (generally about programmes aired the night before), delays to the journey, the weather (again), cancer (provoked by a Daily Mail article). The general ‘pub rule’ of never talk about politics, sex or religion appeared to apply to public transport chatter. Until this morning (last Monday If you really want to know) a bloke who appeared to be in his 30s who I had spoken to on a previous journey, asked about Trump. We were two tables of four and I looked at the others. Mary (she wore her employer’s name badge with pride) offered up the first comment “he is awful but he does make me laugh.” As we approached Oxford an elderly bloke suggested that “politicians are all the same these days. Saying stuff to shock. Creating content for the Internet”. I got the impression that he probably blamed the Internet for a lot of things.
The young bloke (Dave I found out later) looked at me and said, “you are quiet today, what do you think?”
In my mind I thought about an answer that explained how I thought politics was in crisis, almost broken but instead I said, “I don’t understand it. A bit like I don’t understand the attraction of Corbyn.” I continued to explain that maybe it was that they are offering something different and maybe that is all people wanted – something a bit different.
By this time we had reached Oxford and as usual the train had arrived early so we had a wait. No-one spoke. It was weird. Then Mary said “Corbyn, I don’t know much about him. He seems a bit boring.” The elderly gent spoke again “Corbyn might be boring but he is thoughtful and isn’t afraid to say what he thinks – I like that in a person. But I couldn’t vote for him. I simply couldn’t”. I asked why. The response came quickly: “if you were in trouble you wouldn’t want him to lead your team – and I want a prime minister I can trust, someone who can lead.”
Dave (quite excitedly) said, “But Trump as President and Corbyn as Prime Minister, can you imagine that?” Our group of eight looked at one another, newspapers were shuffled and eventually the woman in the green coat sitting opposite me said “it won’t happen.” No-one spoke until Dave said, “but if it did it would be crazy.” I responded that I thought both lacked the broad appeal required to win an election. I was talking about Trump; but I had shocked myself.
The train pulled into Hanborough and the elderly gent said a cheery farewell and the rest of us sat and stared at one another. The conversation changed to the weather. The cloudless blue skies, hedgerows and lush green grass seemed comforting. I guess this is the much talked about middle England.
The train, almost lazily it seemed, trundled into Charlbury and the woman in the green coat stood up, smiled and said, “cheer up it won’t happen.” I managed what I hope was a polite goodbye but I was distracted by my thoughts. The remaining members of the group continued to chat but I wasn’t really listening.
What if we (by ‘we’ I mean the woman in the green coat and I) are wrong? I had stopped thinking about Trump. I was thinking about Corbyn. What if it does happen? What then?
Some or all of the above happened on the 06:52 Paddington to Great Malvern and bits were pulled in from various journeys to places I can’t remember or am trying to forget.
My journeys across England have taken me to places I hadn’t previously visited and I am in a place politically that I never expected to be.
One way or another I have been politically active – yes I am one of those activist types – for as long as I can remember. But at the moment there is a lot about politics I don’t like. Maybe I don’t understand it.
Across the Atlantic we hear Trump talking about wanting to “punch people in the face” and encouraging his supporters to remember the olden days when “protesters would be roughed up and carried away on stretchers”. If you are interested in seeing how deliberate his endorsement of violence is then spend 10 minutes watching this.
In the UK our own politics is also in a strange place. We have local elections looming, a referendum on our future in Europe and a Conservative government with large leads in the polls busily undoing everything the New Labour government put in place to make life better and easier for many. In Scotland the SNP surge shows little if any sign of slowing down and rumours from Wales suggest that support for UKIP is rising.
The Labour Party is in turmoil with Ken Livingstone doing his best to be more offensive than Bernard Manning. His latest outburst trivialised the crimes of a vile paedophile by comparing a legal donation to Dan Jarvis MP to Jimmy Savile running a children’s club. If you missed it this was in a bizarre interview with Iain Dale on LBC (you can listen to it here) and it earned him a rebuke from the loyal and hardworking NEC member Johanna Baxter.
We also have an internal Labour Party enquiry into anti-semitism in our student wing.
And if you think I am exaggerating the problem look at this hate served up to Labour MP Luciana Berger.
But it isn’t just the Labour Party. All of this is part of a growing trend. Politics is in danger of being about hate and not about ideas or policy. Not just in the UK but throughout the world and I don’t like it. I understand anger. I understand how hate works. But I don’t understand how politics is drifting towards accepting hate as the norm.
But back to the woman in the green coat. What if she and I are wrong? What if the haters win?
Corbyn was swept to victory in the Labour leadership elections promising a “new kind of politics”and the upcoming elections will be the first real electoral test of his appeal. But beyond that I am not sure that what is happening to our politics is what he had in mind. But as sure as Trump threatening to unleash his supporters on rivals encourages a lynch mob, Corbyn’s lack of action against the haters is giving them the nod to continue.
Updated 15 March
Well, they say a week is a long time in politics but for Labour it seems ten minutes is the longest they can last before another scandal breaks. I don’t doubt for a second that our friends at Guido Fawkes have a whole back catalogue of screen grabs and embarrassing photographs but we can’t complain about that. If the evidence is there it needs to be held up for all to see. As the latest revelations around former parliamentary candidate for Woking Vicki Kirby show, it seems that Labour really does have a hate problem.
But let me be clear, while the current outrage over Kirby’s repugnant views is justified it wasn’t a Corbyn-led Labour Party that allowed her membership to continue with just a warning placed on her file. No, for that we can blame Ed Miliband. Maybe it was panic with an election looming and the need to ditch a candidate with repugnant views; maybe it was a deal – step down without a fuss and we won’t expel you. Whatever the reasons they were wrong. You cannot strike a deal with racists.
For those behind the news on this one, this is a collection of her tweets from 2014 (courtesy of Guido Fawkes)
Surely no place in the Labour Party for that I hear you shout. But you are wrong. Labour simply says that “if new evidence came to light” they would consider it. And with that statement Kirby remains a member of the Party and decent members are left wondering what you have to do to get expelled these days. Anti- Semite? No problem, slap on the wrist and why not become vice-chair of your local Party? Joke about mental health and Jimmy Savile? Sure Ken, have a seat on the NEC and help us review our foreign policy.
Up and down the country members are asking what the heck is going on. And as sure as night follows day up pops a Momentum cheerleader to tell us:
Of course Max has no truck with the comments made by Kirby and he soon told us that there was no place in the Labour Party for people who hold such views. But of course before he said that he was thinking about who leaked the information. Full purge ahead Max?
For the record I don’t really care who is leaking what but I do care if Labour is becoming a safe haven for racists and bigots.
Let me be clear: hate speech has no place in the Labour Party (I really can’t believe that I have to say that, but I do). Kirby doesn’t represent Labour values and neither does anyone who seeks to defend her. But this one cannot be blamed on Corbyn. Labour has a hate problem and we need to deal with it.
I will leave the last words to a tweet from Labour MP Anna Turley which sums it up rather nicely.
At noon on Tuesday 15 March the Labour Party announced the suspension of Vicki Kirby.
By Tim Carter