As us political anoraks stayed up to observe the peaceful transfer of power on election night, one of the most moving aspects was the considerable dignity with which losing candidates handled their defeats. Most of the best-known defeated Liberal Democrats struck the right tone with courteous speeches at their counts, while even Ed Balls, an often boorish, bruising character, was gentlemanly, humble and even good-humoured on the night, and indeed in the weeks that followed.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of a small, but noisy crowd from the comfortably-off, bohemian Left: Trade union leaders, fashionable comedians, university lecturers, and the Islington set, as well as all their hangers on in the Twittersphere. Within seconds of confirmation that the Conservatives had won an outright majority, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were cluttered with mostly middle class, self-righteous Labour supporters who didn’t like the outcome, who instead of looking inwards to see where their party had gone wrong, decided that the nation needed a good telling off for daring to reach a different conclusion from theirs as to who should govern the country.
This, in itself, tells us a lot about their mindset. As far as they are concerned, they know what’s right, and everybody else needs to know what’s good for them and do as they’re told by their intellectual superiors. This was epitomised on election day itself when one friend of mine, a 20-something, professional young woman who takes a sufficient interest in politics, answered her front door to find three Labour activists aggressively telling her that she ‘should’ vote Labour. Other parties simply don’t behave like that. Fortunately, the lady in question is more than capable of standing up to bullies and of making up her own mind.
There is a failure among the fashionable Left to accept that they lost the argument and look for something, anything, to blame, however irrational. One favourite target is the ‘right wing’ press, which they accuse of frightening and brainwashing their readers. The truth is that all newspapers have an ever-declining, ageing circulation and ever-declining influence. It may have been ‘The Sun Wot Won It’ in 1992, but today, very few people under the age of 40 buy a daily newspaper, and all age groups are increasingly obtaining their news from other sources. This argument also ignores the fact that for every Sun front page poking fun at Miliband, the Mirror produced something similar against Cameron, not to mention the broadly sympathetic coverage the Labour campaign received from the far more widely-consumed BBC in the weeks before polling day.
Yet there is another, even more disturbing side to the fashionable Left’s reaction to the Labour Party’s defeat – their sheer hatred of their opponents, which is venomous and holds no boundaries. The warning signs were there in the aftermath of Baroness Thatcher’s death in 2013, when the hate-filled left-wing mob took to Twitter to make spiteful, undignified comments, and helped ‘Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead’ climb the charts, though their small numbers became apparent when it fell well short of their ambition to make it number one.
They were behaving as though this was a time for celebrating the demise of a brutal military dictator rather than for mourning a democratically-elected Prime Minister who won three general elections in a row, obtaining more votes in her third election than her first. Shamefully, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party did not distance itself from this display of hatred and contempt for the democratic will of the people. Just a few months before Thatcher’s death, Labour selected the alleged comedian John O’Farrell as its candidate at the Eastleigh by-election.
In 1998, O’Farrell, already in his mid-30s and old enough to take responsibility for his actions, wrote a book in which he graphically stated his wish that Thatcher had died in the 1984 Brighton Bomb. The vile mob was back out in force the moment it became clear that the Conservatives had won a majority. The phrase ‘Tory scum’ quickly became a cliché on Twitter and in the small, but vocal protests that took place in a few town centres the Saturday after the election.
Of those protests, the one that received the most media attention took place in Cardiff, thanks largely to the presence of multi-millionaire singer Charlotte Church. In reality, just a few hundred people were there - bearded, heavily-pierced types with pink and green hair, Socialist Worker newspaper sellers, and students who will grow out of it in a few years. They gathered around the statue of Aneurin Bevan and made a lot of noise. Comically, Church held up a cardboard placard that read: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”
Take what, exactly, Charlotte? Democracy? The fact that the majority of voters don’t share your view? Where were you during the election campaign, anyway? I don’t recall you being at many Labour campaign events. Some of us with longer memories recall Miss Church’s appearances as guest host on ‘Have I Got News For You’ where she appeared hopeless at identifying prominent political figures, and only seemed at ease when talking about characters from the celebrity gossip pages. She’s possibility not the best person to ask for a sensible analysis of contemporary politics. Looking at my own Twitter feed, the mindset of Labour supporters was that anyone who voted Tory was ‘greedy’ or ‘selfish’ and lacked care for the disabled, the unemployed, and the less well-off.
These offensive, unsubstantiated claims have no basis in logic or reason. They conveniently overlooked the fact that the Tories have committed to spending £11 billion per year in foreign aid, £111 billion a year on welfare and an extra £8 billion a year on the NHS in England. This hatred is rarely reciprocated by those of us on the right towards our opponents.
As a right-winger, I had little in common with Tony Benn politically, but following his passing last year, I, and many others of my persuasion, took to social media to pay tribute to his oratory skills and his political conviction, while our condolences to his family were heartfelt and sincere. When the former Labour MP Roy Mason died just a few weeks ago, I paid tribute to him as a man from a humble background who achieved high office and became the greatest Northern Ireland Secretary this country has ever seen. And I meant it.
Why can’t the modern Left behave with more dignity towards their opponents? Their hate-filled rants, whether against Thatcher or the ordinary family from the modest suburb who voted Tory does their cause no favours at all, and tells us a lot about their character. It’s as though they are totally incapable of grasping the fact that a person reaching a different conclusion from theirs isn’t automatically bad.
Perhaps the millions of ‘shy Tories’ rather liked the fact that George Osborne massively increased the personal allowance during the last five years, or they approve of Iain Duncan Smith’s efforts to bring welfare spending under control. Or perhaps, in many cases, people voted Tory not out of great enthusiasm for David Cameron, but pragmatically because they feared the alternative put forward by Ed Miliband. This was a harsh truth the mob would do anything to avoid facing.
Here comes the reality check: Ed Miliband’s campaign was insipid and uninspiring. He didn’t seem to be on the side of the small business owner, the budding entrepreneur, the person who puts the hours in at work to give their family a better house, a better car, and better holidays. Miliband and Ed Balls failed to address and apologise for the legacy of the last Labour Government in which they served, that grossly overspent and made the recession far worse than it needed to be. They never really offered a credible, alternative plan to bringing the deficit under control and eventually reduce the huge mountain of public debt. Their whole economic policy appeared to be largely based on shouting ‘it’s not fair’ and wishing they had far more money to spend than they actually do.
Labour refused to offer the British people a referendum on EU membership, or to properly address public concerns about mass immigration. These were major issues for millions of ordinary voters, but Labour preferred to ignore them as often as possible. Yet, when push comes to shove, this undignified behaviour from the Left and high-minded pomposity counts for absolutely nothing. The vast majority of people in this country aren’t especially interested in party politics, and many aren’t even on Twitter.
Out there in real Britain, people in their millions take a pragmatic, stoical and realistic approach to life. They saw the alternative vision proposed by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party and they didn’t like it. The Left should have the good grace to accept and respect the decision of the electorate.