A Sweary Rant About Political Discussion

I posted a link to Tim Farron’s rather good speech on Tumblr yesterday. Someone who’d been following me there for a few weeks posted Standard Aggressive Rant Number Five in response (take the couple of lines saying Thatcher wasn’t utterly evil out of the context of a speech that says she was wrong about everything important, in damaging, harmful ways that will take decades to fix, and use that to “prove” that Lib Dems are “really” evil, heartless bastards who deserve to be shot). I posted this in response, and thought it worth posting here too:

As a general note, if you’re going to reply to one of my political posts by calling me “hateful”, “on the side of evil”, and say I deserve to be shot, and your reason for this is that a single paragraph near the beginning of a speech I link to says some mildly positive things about Thatcher while the entire rest of the speech says things like:

Her economic solutions were wrong and have had a lasting and damaging impact – handing control over our major utilities to foreign investors and poorly regulated oligopolies, abdicating responsibility for managing our economy at all, weakening the infrastructure that underpins our economy and weakening and dividing our society.

My argument is that the post 1979 consensus should now be considered dead. It doesn’t need an FDP-style rebrand, it needs a decent burial.

Beveridge’s consensus was ambitious, the consensus of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron is unambitious. It says that government cannot make the difference, it says that all we can do to help business is to back out – that all that businesses need is the free for all of Beecroft, that all our economy needs is another inflated south east housing boom, that our infrastructure needs will be met by unaccountable monopolies doing it in their own good time.

That consensus has failed, utterly.

The Thatcher / Reagan economic experiment surely should have died at the collapse of the banks in 2008, yet somehow that corpse is still twitching. The financial crisis was the clear physical proof that the economic experiment that supplanted the Beveridge consensus had failed utterly.

But don’t misunderstand me, the Thatcherite consensus that Cameron sustains and Miliband has no answer to, has been demonstrated to have failed not just in the crash of 2008 and the poverty, misery and inequality it has inflicted, but also in the absence of so much of the infrastructure we need to plan for the future. Lets just be honest and acknowledge that we still have pathetic rail links, a massive housing shortage, a massive skills shortage, laughable broadband connectivity, an appalling energy crisis and the ultimate crisis of climate change. The Thatcherite consensus has damaged our society and it has weakened our economy. Conservatives have often talked about their admiration of Victorian values – if only they really did admire those values, because Victorian values included ambition to build an infrastructure, to create a transport, communications and logistics backbone to our economy, to make a difference, to see a problem and not worry about whether fixing it would fit with your ideology, but to just get on and fix it.

And where the whole piece is about how Thatcher and her ideological successors were completely, utterly, wrong, then you can just fuck off.

I have spent much of the last four years dealing with abuse and, in several cases, actual death threats, from people with whom I would agree on at least 80% of individual political issues, because the way I choose to fight for those issues is in a party that works within the system and has to compromise (and yes, to my mind, compromises far too much and too often). I note that the “revolutionaries” and “progressives” who do this never do so to supporters of the Labour party, a party that for much of my adult life was led by actual war criminals and still has many on its front benches, or to supporters of the SWP, a party full of rape apologists.

Everyone working for political change has to make compromises, and it is entirely right to question those compromises, to debate them, to argue over them, and to say that others have compromised too much. It is utterly wrong to use abuse and threats to try and silence those who’ve made different compromises.

And even if it would have me, I’d want no part of a revolution that was so committed to ideological purity that anyone who disagreed with it was called “evil” and told they’d be “put up against the wall”. Should there ever be the danger of such a revolution, in fact, I would be proud to volunteer to be the very first up against the wall, because I wouldn’t want to live in a world which didn’t tolerate honest disagreement.

So fuck you if you want to use abuse and threats as the first recourse in political discussion. Fuck you if you want to kill me and people like me, or even people who disagree with me in every way. Fuck you if you put ideological purity ahead of making a real difference in people’s lives.

When my revolution comes, you’ll be given a far worse punishment than being put up against the wall. You’ll be given complete freedom of speech, but so will people you disagree with, and there’ll be nothing you can do about it.

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12 Responses to A Sweary Rant About Political Discussion

  1. Three cheers! I look forward to your revolution.

  2. TAD says:

    You’re wrong when you blame the banking collapse of 2008 on Reagan policies. It was more of a Bill Clinton/George W. Bush thing……..it was their administrations that pushed banks into giving out housing loans to high-risk applicants. It’s a case of the government meddling in banking, to ill effect. Not Reagan’s fault, by any means.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I wasn’t blaming that, that’s from the speech by Tim Farron. That said, both Clinton and Bush basically continued Reagan’s economic policies.

      • TAD says:

        Fair enough, then.

        I think Clinton could be considered an economic extension of Reagan (especially after 1994), in that he cut the size of government. GW Bush governed more like a Democratic President, in that he oversaw a large growth of government during his 8 years.

  3. Not that I’m defending any of this behaviour, but I am curious as to where it came from – or more accurately when it started. Was it with the coalition, or before then?

    I’m wondering if the Liberals become tainted by association, Mini-Me Tories in people’s minds? Evens have perhaps somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Tories see them as holding back “necessary” reforms, while over on the other side people are effectively saying “and we expected so much better of you”. There’s also the factor that Britain is so unused to coalition politics. (I doubt there’s many who remember the Lib-Lab pact. I can barely remember it myself and I’m semi-geriatric!)
    “it was their administrations that pushed banks into giving out housing loans to high-risk applicants.”
    While I love the image of controlling governments wickedly forcing financial institutions to lend money (perhaps by dangling them over pools of piranha fish) this is not just patently absurd but a complete reversal of what actually happened. We’re talking about a period of heavy de-regulation, occasioned by intense lobbying by finance capital. They were the ones doing the pushing!

    The inevitable results were like successively eroding the speed limits and drink driving laws, then acting all surprised when the motorway pile-up happened. Even the government’s own Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission had to concede:
    “the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk”

    Plus the same article’s timeline of deregulation notably cites acts passed by Reagan, and in fact starts before him with Carter.

    Furthermore, insofar as I remember the crisis was global. The banks that had to be bailed out over here, did Dubya “push” them as well? Pretty long reach for a guy who normally had trouble eating a pretzel.
    Farron (who for a mainstream politician can sometimes say surprisingly sensible things) is pretty much right here. We’re talking about a broken system, which is currently being propped up by squeezing the poor still harder. But when something’s broken you either fix it or chuck it out.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yes, it’s entirely post-coalition, usually coming from people who believed that the Lib Dems were “really” “on the same side” as Labour, so we get people like the bastard who spent the best part of two years stalking me online (and I believe is still doing so, but who I’ve effectively blocked everywhere possible) calling me a “traitor” and a “member of the Vichy regime”.
      All of the hatred directed at me or anyone I know has been from ostensible leftists — usually those with no coherent political views of their own but a general “Tories are the ultimate evil” viewpoint. I’ve had none from Tories myself, but that may be because my own social circle skews so left — I only knowingly know two Tories personally, and they’re both of the liberalish, Ken Clarke, type rather than the hang-the-gays-and-invade-Poland type, so they’re not especially unhappy with the Lib Dem influence on the government.
      One thing I find particularly funny about these people is that they fall into two groups — either ostensible revolutionaries who talk about “full communism” and having people shot but whose actual idea of the society they want seems to be the post-war Keynesian consensus, making them the most conservative revolutionaries ever, or people who are angry at the Lib Dems “betraying” them and say “I’ll never vote Lib Dem again”, but who turn out when pressed to never have voted Lib Dem in the first place.
      (That’s not to say there are no people who *did* vote Lib Dem who are angry — of course there are. Even a substantial proportion of the party’s membership is, let alone people who’ve stopped voting for us. But very, very few *actual* ex-LD voters call for the death of leftish Lib Dems like Farron or myself…)

      • gavinburrows says:

        ”…ostensible revolutionaries who talk about “full communism” and having people shot but whose actual idea of the society they want seems to be the post-war Keynesian consensus, making them the most conservative revolutionaries ever…”

        Yeah, I’ve often come across that. (Well, skipping the shooting part, thankfully.) While I certainly wouldn’t want to defend it, I think its explicable to a degree.

        The world of the post-war consensus, the world I spent the majority of my life in to date, is now so frequently described as a hopelessly impossible dream that to talk about what used to be the norm now virtually makes you a revolutionary. Added to which, the right are constantly trying to associate the two, such as with their absurd ‘Red Ed’ rhetoric. Like if you’re opposed to cuts in legal aid it must surely mean you’re a Stalinist or something.

        Which certainly wasn’t the way it was seen at the inception of that world. The two were then very distinct. Atlee himself claimed “communists find opportunity wherever poverty prevails. We are trying to remove such conditions.”

        But the main problem with reacting the way you’re intended to, with saying “okay if it’s revolutionary to be against the Bedroom Tax, I’ll be a revolutionary” is it ignores the moment of truth inside the rightist rhetoric. Society doesn’t stand still. And things have moved on from the Fordist production model of the post-war years, of which the welfare state was the political analogue. Which does make much of the Keynesian consensus outdated.

        But the point where I disagree is I don’t think that leaves the free market model as the only show in town, where the rich get progressively richer while the poor can’t afford to heat their houses, if they even have one. Communism doesn’t mean rigid adherence to some outdated five year plan. To my mind at least, it means the very opposite.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Oh absolutely. Which of course is basically Tim’s point in that speech (except of course that he wants a Liberal rather than a Communist society). If you gave me a choice between the post-war economic consensus and the current one I’d choose the post-war one every time, but I’d choose a system based around mutuals rather than corporations, taxes on wealth rather than income, and a citizen’s income in view of the fact that automation is increasingly replacing traditional jobs over either.

          • gavinburrows says:

            Perhaps its understandable for those born into the post-war consensus to have seen it as the ‘new normal’, a permanent fixture on the landscape. Once something like old age meant penury for the majority of people, then it didn’t. Why would anyone ever want to reverse that?

            But it was never the best of all possible worlds, it was more the result of a class truce. Truces tend to be temporary, and this turns out to have been one of them. As the Atlee quote I’ve already used suggests, he had to appease the boss class on one hand that these concessions were necessary to perpetuate business as usual, and steal the thunder from more radical elements among the working classes on the other. The Beveridge Report would more properly have been called the Beveridge Uneasy Compromise.

            Talking about it now as a kind of Jerusalem that must be rebuilt tends to play into the right’s hands – particularly when their favourite lie is that they are now the progressives and we’re the reactionaries. When what they really want is a return to the wealth gaps and impoverished labour force of the Nineteenth Century, with a bit of wireless connectivity thrown in.

            Certainly I wouldn’t want to see a return to the grand, lumbering institutions of old. (Even if the idea was viable, which it isn’t.) A more localised, decentralised way of doing things does indeed seem more appealing to me. I’d call it necessary rather than in itself sufficient, if you follow, but appealing even so.

  4. gavinburrows says:

    Hmm, somehow managed to garble the first line of the second para there. Make that “Events have perhaps put the Liberals somewhere between a rock and a hard place.”

  5. Pingback: Weekend Links, 20/07/14: Critique, culture + compromise

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