Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret: Though you may drive out nature with a pitchfork, she will always come back; inborn character is ineradicable. Horace (65-8 BC)
The Lefty instinct hasn’t gone away: it has just mutated. Once they discovered they had lost the big economic arguments, Lefties decided there was no longer any need to own large chunks of industry. They could achieve their objectives through regulation, and the tyranny of political correctness
Lefties are fundamentally interested in coercion and control, and across British society you can see the huge progress they are now making in achieving their objectives: in the erosions of free speech and civil liberties that are taking place under this government, in the ever more elaborate regulation of the workplace, the bans on hunting, smacking, smoking, the demented rules about the numbers of children you may take in a swimming pool, the proposed plan to tag your car to see where you have been, Prescott’s mad spy satellites to see if you have built an unauthorised conservatory
Lefties have changed their tactics, but not their spots
A little while ago I was being ferried in to make a speech at a university, and my handlers warned me that things were not looking good. There was going to be a riot at the front door, they said. They couldn’t guarantee my safety. It seemed that some of the scholars took issue with my views about higher education finance, and they were armed with eggs.
“These guys are nasty,” said one of my minders. “We’re talking Seattle protester-type stuff. We’d better go in the back.” So we scooted pathetically through the kitchens, and into the venue through the fire exit, and against a background of near-continuous monkey-house screeching and pant-hooting I tried to make my speech. This proved impossible, and after someone had kindly refreshed me by pouring a pint of bitter over me, I did what all politicians do in such circumstances.
I made a bee-line to the oppo, swaying and chanting under banners saying “Bog off, Boris!” and put on my best Cecil Parkinson beam. “Hell-air!” I said, thrusting out my hand to the nearest Left-wing agitator; and to my amazement it was taken, and shaken warmly. I looked more closely at my adversaries, and under the slogans and the agitprop I saw nothing but a charming collection of basically middle-class kids, with some really rather reasonable concerns about debt.
They weren’t crusty; they didn’t have matted dreadlocks or medicine bottles stuck through their lower lips; they weren’t invoking Gramsci or spouting neo-anarcho-syndicalist slogans. They were nice, decent, hard-working bourgeois people, and in 25 years I am sure they will all be QCs or the heads of News and Current Affairs at the BBC or the next Tory leader. What, I thought to myself, has happened to the old Left? Where are the Trots? Where are the headbangers?
It was all very different in my day, I reflected; and that is a point that has occurred, perhaps unsurprisingly, to all the former crypto-communists who now run the BBC. There is a new series which started last night on BBC4 called Lefties, and it is an elegy, a lament, for a vanished species. The thesis is that the old beret-sporting Left-wingers are disappearing from these islands. They are being driven from their ancient reservations on the shop floor and in the polytechnics, and have fled to a few remote hiding-places: the odd senior common room, Parliament, the leader conferences of some of the liberal papers. They are like those poor fishermen in the Andaman Islands, overwhelmed by the 21st century, clinging to their old language and customs, but basically outmanoeuvred and humiliated by history.
One has only to think back to the 1970s or 1980s, when the landscape heaved with Lefties, to see how sudden has been their extinction. It wasn’t just Scargill: every time you turned on the TV, there would be someone using a phrase such as “the aspirations of my members”. People would listen to Eric Hobsbawm droning on about “the contradictions of capitalism”, and every member of the Labour Party carried a personal commitment in his or her wallet to the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the British economy.
They would drive around in Citroën 2 CVs with bumper stickers opposing nuclear power; they said the rich were bloodsuckers and they wanted to consign the Royal Family and other emblems of privilege to history – or herstory, as they called it, in deference to feminist dogma. Yesterday in the House of Commons a Labour MP stood up and hailed the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Parliamentary Labour Party. They all cheered and waved their order papers; and yet how utterly divorced the present lot of Labour MPs are from their pioneering predecessors.
These creatures no longer emanate from the bowels of the British workforce: they aren’t dockers or miners or fitters, or precious few of them. They are PR people, and pressure group frontpersons, and journalists. To paraphrase the Bible, they may spin, but they haven’t done much toil. All of which we on the so-called Right of the argument have taken to be a huge compliment. It is a commonplace of political analysis that Tony Blair is the ultimate creation of Margaret Thatcher, and that the Lefties of the world were ideologically incinerated in the crucible of 1980s Britain.
“We won,” say the Right. We trounced them and thrashed them and left them for dead. They believed in socialism; they believed in punitive taxation; they believed in the public ownership of industry; and all their useless ideas derived a deep unspoken legitimation from the continued existence of Soviet communism; and then that went belly-up, the Berlin Wall fell, Labour ditched Clause Four and Eric Hobsbawm has been, frankly, looking pretty idiotic ever since. That is what we Conservatives say, and in our long triumph we have become dangerously smug.
We are right; of course we are right. But you cannot destroy the Lefty instinct; you cannot defeat it by argument. As Gilbert and Sullivan point out, it is an essential part of human nature. Every little boy and girl/That’s born into this world alive/ Is either a little liberal/ Or a little conservative.
It is my firm belief that we could plot a vast binomial curve of political affinity, with the bulk of the population being somewhere in the middle, but with large numbers still on the extreme Left or Right. The Lefty instinct hasn’t gone away: it has just mutated. Once they discovered they had lost the big economic arguments, Lefties decided there was no longer any need to own large chunks of industry. They could achieve their objectives through regulation, and the tyranny of political correctness.
Lefties are fundamentally interested in coercion and control, and across British society you can see the huge progress they are now making in achieving their objectives: in the erosions of free speech and civil liberties that are taking place under this government, in the ever more elaborate regulation of the workplace, the bans on hunting, smacking, smoking, the demented rules about the numbers of children you may take in a swimming pool, the proposed plan to tag your car to see where you have been, Prescott’s mad spy satellites to see if you have built an unauthorised conservatory.
The Lefties aren’t dead, my friends; they have simply adapted brilliantly and smoothly to new circumstances. Naturam expellas furca, as we say in Henley, tamen usque recurret.