On Monday morning, I chaired a fringe at Labour conference with Stephen Kinnock and Emran Mian on the panel, talking about the Nordic model and what bits of it could be taken up by the Left and what bits probably could not. It was entitled “Alternatives to Austerity”, so I was hardly pushing some sort of Osborne-esque agenda. Nonetheless, Jack Monroe tweeted the following:
“Nick Tyrone (Mr Centre-Right) just praised Thatcher for the state of today’s unions. AT A LABOUR PARTY FRINGE.”
Now for context, what I said was pretty much the exact opposite of this, although admittedly couched in somewhat neutral language (I try and do this when I chair any event). My point was that in Sweden, trade unions are actually more powerful and thus tend to get less involved in politics with a small “p”. My mention of Thatcher was that she had weakened trade unions in Britain considerably, thus making a situation like the one in Sweden not possible at the moment. It was certainly not praise for the Iron Lady’s policies towards the unions – if anything, it was an understated insult directed towards her.
Anyhow, I only mention that for context – I was actually a little chuffed at the tweet. The idea that I would have the balls to pay outright praise to Margaret Thatcher at a Labour Party fringe was something I found complimentary. I only bring it up because it reminded me of the way the Left seems determined to lay down its arms and cede victory in the culture wars to the Right, something as far as I can see can only help the Tories.
Basically, because I do not believe in a command economy, I am now considered centre-right by a large group of people, including Jack Monroe. I don’t see how Jack cannot see that by pushing me into the column marked “centre-right”, so much so that I apparently embody such a thing, she is essentially saying everyone to the right of me is in the same category or even further to the right. Given my views on immigration (extremely pro, perhaps even illogically so), human rights, LGBT rights, women’s equality, not to mention that I worked on electoral reform for a long time (making me “uber-left” in Allister Heath’s opinion) – if I’m “Mr Centre-Right” then about 75% of the country is to the right of me, if I’m being very charitable here.
It seems to me increasingly like if you’re culturally conservative yet a bit socialist economically – the Left doesn’t want you, vote Tory. Or UKIP. If you’re like me, very socially liberal but economically liberal as well – the Left doesn’t want you, vote Tory. I mean, okay, if that’s the new norm whatever, but I just don’t see why this is a road the Left wants to go down willingly. Is the point a sort of false consciousness one – the old Marxist line that if you claw the Daily Mail out of people’s mitts and make them watch BBC 4 documentaries instead, they’ll all become socialists? I’m about as London liberal as it gets and it hasn’t worked on me, as a case in point.
There was a time when Labour were good at making everyone feel like voting Labour was the most natural thing to do in the world; that voting Tory was for the heartless or the very posh only. Now apparently, everyone’s a Tory. I know Jack left Labour a while ago so her views are not representative of said party – but one has to think that if someone who has never voted Tory in his life (okay second preference for Boris aside, but that was really only an anti-Ken thing) and has no intention of doing so any time soon is “Mr Centre-Right”, then what does that tell you about the state of the Left? Or worse, what the chances of a whopping great Tory victory in 2020 are looking like now? And for clarity I’m not saying any of that because it’s what I’m trying to will to happen. I’m saying it because I genuinely wish the Left would stop killing itself in this country, if only for the sake of democracy.