7 Jul - 2015 - The Malaise of the Progressive Left

The 2015 election was the worst for progressives in a generation: for the first time in modern history there is no "progressive majority" in the UK. Note the three big swings over 8% in the table - the epoch-defining elections: -8.4% (1979), +8.2% (1997), -8.3% (2015).

Year Progressive Reactionary Swing
2015 48.9 51.1 -8.3
2010 57.2 42.8 -5.4
2005 62.8 37.4 -2.0
2001 64.6 35.4 0.0
1997 64.6 35.4 8.2
1992 56.4 43.6 0.1
1987 56.3 43.7 0.5
1983 55.8 44.2 1.8
1979 54.0 46.0 -8.4
1974b 62.4 37.6

There were a number of factors: Labour choosing a weak leader, the Lib Dems breaking an election pledge, and so on; but that's only part of the story - rather than go to progressive protest parties, the disillusioned went to reactionary parties. Progressives need to understand why.

Two things have shaken social discourse in the last decade: the economic crisis, and the advent of social media. The progressive left has handled both very badly.

The economic crisis has unleashed so much anger that the progressive-left has lost its temper: perpetual outrage has replaced persuasive argument. Living standards have fallen back to those of the early 2000s - hardly a collapse to an era of Victorian squalor - but progressive politics abounds with talk of today's "Dickensian Britain", and people who think it's right to balance the books ASAP are "wicked" as a result. Despite that, anti-austerity parties got just 5% of the vote in May, while "even harder austerity" parties sadly scored over 50% - an indication that the mainstream sees Dickensian Britain hyperbole as strongly discrediting of both the message and messenger.

In social media, the echo-chamber has replaced robust logical argument. The rigour of social discourse in the 90s has given way to assertion and dogma. Worse, a Manichean world-view has taken root among progressives, where people who think alternately are not just ignorant, but probably evil and therefore not to be listened to.

The Rachel Dolezal "trans-racial" episode exposed the muddles in the intellectual train-wreck that identity politics has become. Likewise, when a Goldsmiths Students' Union diversity officer made the painfully naive assertion that she cannot be racist or sexist to white men because she is an ethnic minority woman, the progressive blogosphere jumped up to defend this logic - ditching yet more credibility (after the elections, fortunately). Weak and inconsistent philosophies like these are not challenged from within because a preference for back-slapping over critical debate. Indeed, progressive rebuttal of charges of inconsistency and double standards in these philosophies mostly consists of "No, that's different, coz look at all my re-tweets and likes!" Both political correctness and identity politics have mutated into horrible creatures - out of control and consuming all in their path. A convention that that sincerely-held beliefs and world-views of minorities shouldn't be criticised or challenged is increasingly the norm in universities; while the progressive blogosphere is increasingly just a tangle of the professionally offended and their virtue-signalling.

Worse, mainstream progressive organisations are being seduced by this trendy kind of fundamentalism. Take Amnesty International, who spent years working with CAGE, a group of apologists for mass-murder and mediaevalism. Even the usually impeccably sensible BBC has been getting seduced by relativism. Recently, a father who had attended an Islamist rally and burned flags actually blamed the police when his children decided to act out his own hateful rhetoric by joining ISIS. Astonishingly, the BBC gave him - and others - several days of sympathetic coverage to promote this perverse opinion. Would an EDL-supporting father of a lad who went to fight for murderous neo-Nazis have been given such corporate sympathy by the BBC?

The sight of wannabe PM Ed Miliband attempting to court the support of trendy nihilist comedian Russell Brand repelled mainstream voters. As does the eagerness of the progressive left to sneer at any patriotism (but, perversely, to embrace nationalism elsewhere). Back in the 1940s, legendary progressive George Orwell wrote "In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution". Again in 2015 we have a progressive movement that hates Englishness, considers that anyone who thinks of Britain as a great country is deluded, and anyone who displays the national flag is a closet-racist.

Am I just having a rant or is there significance to all this? Individually these might seem gripes, but collectively they give to the public the impression of a political movement that is in the grip of its own fundamentalists and is increasingly detached from reality. When floating voters looked at the progressive left in 2015 they saw an incoherent, shouty, self-indulgent noise... and they voted elsewhere. By allowing its fringes to dominate the message, the progressive left is failing the people who need it the most.

Dr Mark Wright

(This article was submitted to LibDemVoice but rejected on grounds of content)


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