Politics and Antagonism 2: Why the Left is so self-righteous (and I should know. I’m a Leftie!)

The long and uninterrupted tradition of political antagonism has also led both left and right to assume that their portfolios of contradictory ideas have the coherence of a systematic ideology. In truth, they are just pick-and-mix bags of emotional responses to each other that they’ve collected over the years. Jeremy Corbyn, for example, has said that opposing war and violence has been “the whole purpose of his life” (“Are You a Pacifist? Labour Leader Speaks to Sky” Sky News, 25th September 2015), yet maintains a position on Irish Republicanism that is basically an endorsement of violence and of people prepared to use it against their contrary neighbours to promote their own interests. As long as his positions are all anti-establishment, Mr Corbyn thinks he has a political philosophy. 

This has always been a particular problem for the Left. Left wing groups are reformist social movements. They aim to change the world: the whole of society’s thinking and attitudes as well as its legislation. Left-wing parliamentary parties tend to be adjuncts of wider grass-roots organisations, which have much more ambitious social aims and aspirations than merely forming a 4 year administration.

In contrast, the British Conservative party is more akin to a lobby group (I realise this characterisation doesn’t work for right-wing parliamentary parties world-wide.) They first came together to defend the principles and mechanisms of inequality against what they saw as reckless social experimentation. They have handed down that sacred duty to each successive political generation, through different iterations of privilege. They are therefore much more focussed on parliamentary procedure and the maintenance of legislation than their leftist counterparts, because that is how they restrain change, and their rank and file voters seem motivated by feeling, rather than theory: patriotism and tribal loyalty, and antipathy towards the left who they see as attacking them. A conservative friend of mine recently told me that the main difference between Labour and Conservative voters was that most Conservative voters weren’t very interested in politics. 

Labourites accuse Conservative politicians of cynical self-interest and corruption; Conservatives accuse Labour politicians of self-righteous naivety or hypocrisy and corruption. Both have their point. 

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