Over the last few years I have been trying to educate myself on ideas and philosophies and current events that I had views on, but only passing understanding of. I have been guilty of opinionizing without truly understanding what I am talking about, I have had strong ideas on events and social programmes without really doing much research. I was, and in many respects still am, guilty of reading a headline and not the article. In this time, I have found that my views on certain things have solidified. I believe even more venomously that the Conservative Party are a behemoth of intolerance, xenophobia and stroking the flames of these issues for personal gain. I am even more convinced that Brexit had some sort of foreign influence. (Why the media were happy to accept Farage saying that he forgot why he went to visit the Ecuadorian embassy on the morning of Brexit I will never know.)
However, there are issues that I have less understanding of by reading into them more. The Arab-Israeli conflict I had always taken as something that was primarily the fault of Israel and that movements such as the BDS were a wholly good thing. But after reading about and around this subject it seems so much more complicated than leftist rhetoric would have had me believe. This is not an article on this issue for the reason that I personally do not feel like I have a stance on this conflict. In spite of reading thousands of pages on the past and present debates around Israel and Palestine I cannot for the life of me figure where I stand on the issue. But this is an article on reassessing and re-evaluating. At looking at my own views and the parties that I feel reflect them.
The rise of identity politics is something that has been extrapolated through social media. Increasingly there seems to be a tribalism, an unequivocal need to align yourself with issues and ideals as part of your identity or self. The idea of being unsure or confused is assimilated with passivity, with the idea that in not outwardly or vocally opposing something that you are in favour of the opposite. I don’t know where I stand on many issues, my personal perceived complexity of the sex/gender debate is one that I have particular issue with, but in not opposing certain points of view I can be accused of facilitating or even believing points of view which I find confusing, if not something I completely object to. This need to categorise wholeheartedly on a side of a debate has resulted in a politics that is increasingly extreme. Brexit gave the country a polarised question and created a polarised society. There is no space in the debate for any form of middle ground, it is as simple as ‘In’ or ‘Out’ with extremities in these camps, but even the most moderate and consensual on both sides are still opposites, they still both want opposite things with similar consequences.
Anecdotal though it may be, I went to an event with Owen Jones immediately after the antisemitism row first appeared in mainstream media. (Read Deborah Lipstadt’s Antisemitism for an explanation about the differences in spellings and their meanings of antisemitism, absolutely fascinating.) Members of the party, some of whom I recognised, used the Q+A session to air grievances about their feelings that this was yet more smearing of Corbyn and was the work of ‘the Jewish Lobby’ who were scared of a Corbyn government. Although this in itself is antisemitic it was harrowing for these issues to all be seen as conspiracies against the leadership rather than legitimate concerns. I quote Lipstadt again in her view that Corbyn is not necessarily an antisemite himself but does enable these issues within his party. Links with Hamas and appearances in media that has outwardly both hardcore and softcore denied the Holocaust may not have much of a resonance with those who sympathise to the Palestinian cause. But to those Jews who are both Jewish in their identity and critical of Palestine, Corbyn comes across not as an ally but someone who is allying with radical extremists who call for the destruction of the Jewish race. Although Corbyn himself may be merely anti-Zionist or critical of the Israeli government the same cannot be said for the originator of the BDS movement who in their guidelines calls for the dissolving of the Jewish race or leaders of Hamas who are not only critical of Israel but have a long and complex history of their own attacks on civilians.
No-one I ever talk to about Labour would try and convince me that they are a perfect party, just that they are just better than the Tories and that we should be pushing them because it will be better for almost everyone. I have no doubt that is the case, however tis self-righteousness comes with its own issues. In the current Labour party, in spite of the actual worst government that the UK has ever seen, there is still an uphill battle against almost everyone. The party seems to find opposition within the media, its own moderates and people who have previously been in support of the party. But half of the issue here is the inability, or at least unwillingness, to critique the left’s own radicals. The cult like following by some aspects of the party is almost Mao like, with people seemingly believing that Corbyn is the only path to socialism and that any attempt to oust him is an attempt to oust Socialism. Issues with his inability to lead, his divisive nature within his own party are similarly dismissed as smears. Obviously, this is all anecdotal as giving hard evidence would involve delving into the toxic twitter conversations that take place on a daily basis. But through my experiences I have seen that to some Corbyn is beyond critique and that any concerns or criticisms are seen as attacks on the concept of socialism itself. This is not to say that there are not those who harness this to try and rebuild Labour as the Blairite party it once was and return it to the centre. But dismissing all criticism as Blairite or Red Tory is both dangerous and counterproductive.
The point I am trying to make I guess is that polarisation of politics is coming from both sides. I maintain that there are truly evil people and regimes in place at the moment that need protesting and rallying against. Trump is doing is utmost to split and divide the world like never before, creating a level of partisanship that I have never seen in my lifetime. But the fact that these evils are so evil does not make use that oppose them some sort of benevolent good. The UK Labour party has issues that are rooted in its own inability to self-reflect. There is a tendency for campaigns to lose their meaning, for an anti-austerity campaign to simultaneously become one that is linked with the BDS movement, campaigns against other foreign governments and a multitude of other issues. The idea of solidarity is one that Labour embraces as part of its identity. However, the issue with this is that it offers such a complete view of what the party stands for that it can be alienating to those on the fringes of the party who would like to get involved more, like me. I believe in certain aspects of the party and most of the core principles, but there are a lot of things about the party that worry me but are on the fringes yet embraced by the leadership.
Of course, I will still vote Labour, I think my local MP is exceptional and that in a FPTP system they are the only logical and reasonable choice. I still will campaign against a party that has caused deaths through its cuts to services and continues to follow a financial plan that is devastating almost every aspect of society. However, I do so less for the current state of the Labour party and instead against the Conservative party. Labour is more like the party that I wish it had been for years, but the toxicity and disturbing history that has come along with its current leadership is something which makes my support waver.
The tribalism that has plagued the country since Brexit is creating further divisions and debates with seemingly no end. Many will argue that I am projecting, that the tribalism I am arguing is because I personally am seeing vocal minorities. But with a media that puts emphasis on vocal minorities constantly, on both sides of the spectrum I must add, it increases the argument of totalised society. In Labour I feel the increasing need that if you are not left enough you are not welcome. The attempt to dilute Tom Watson’s role as Deputy Leader by instating a second deputy leader was argued as a way of increasing diversity as the new leader would be female. Projecting I may be, but the current efforts of changes to selection policies and such make me worry that this shift to the left is continuous and without end. That this tribalism is being enforced by both sides, that you are either with the party wholeheartedly, or against it completely and a voice that needs to go. Hatred of politicians such as David Miliband may be based on fears of a return to a Blairite government, but they are ultimately allying against Conservative governments and voices worth enabling. They may be critical but the ability to be self-critical is crucial to a healthy and working democracy. Tribalism from all sides of the political spectrum is what is the biggest threat to democracy as a whole. In order for the left to thrive, we need to be able to criticise ourselves and look at what is working and what isn’t within our own beliefs and structures. We need not criticise and demonise because someone is not left enough and feel they are a threat. Rather than ideological purity and fringe issues with incredibly complex histories we should be uniting, rather than accusing those who criticise as undermining. Because just being for or against something is worthless without understanding why you are but also why others might not be. Sometimes it is better to just try and understand why there is opposition without projecting your own easy answer.