A shattered-looking Lord McAlpine agreed last week that he had been “consigned . . . to the lowest circle of hell” as a result of Newsnight’s grotesquely unfounded linking of him to the sexual abuse of children. What McAlpine perhaps didn’t appreciate was that as the former treasurer of the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher, he had long ago been categorised as satanic.
For many on the left it is axiomatic that anyone associated with Thatcher, or even with the Conservative party in its other less abrasive manifestations, must be wicked. Not just wrong; evil. It is perhaps that which explains why it was leading lights of the left-wing Twitterocracy, among them George Monbiot and Sally Bercow, who had delightedly anticipated Newsnight’s imaginary exposé of paedophilia in high Tory circles.
Monbiot is now properly remorseful. Yet how could someone normally so conscientious in his research have taken pleasure in the lazy assumption that Newsnight had the goods? It can be based only on the mindset, subliminal or consciously held, that a man with McAlpine’s political background should not be given the benefit of any moral doubt: that someone who raised money for the Tories is capable of any depravity.
It is hard to tell how widespread this thinking is within the BBC itself. My friends in the corporation insist that the story, while appallingly shoddy, was not motivated by any animus against the peer because he was a Tory. So treat as an aberration, if you like, the following admission by the man who was until last month the BBC World Service’s Africa editor, Martin Plaut. Given a questionnaire by his local newspaper website last week, Plaut answered “Who or what do you hate and why?” with: “Tories . . . So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.” The very recently ex-BBC man was quoting the late Nye Bevan, rather than inventing the phrase himself; still, it is quite something to hate a third of the British population with such a level of intensity.
When I mentioned this to an old BBC colleague of Plaut, she laughed and said: “Martin is no extremist. He’s just standard left-of-centre, not too bright, with all the usual stock of unexamined ideas.” That makes his remark more, rather than less, disturbing.
Can it really be “standard” that grown-up men and women, rather than just undergraduates working off adolescent rage, believe there is no moral distinction between, say, John Major and Adolf Hitler? Apparently it can: another friend, who used to be more closely aligned to the left herself (and is still no Tory), tells me that when she revealed to some of her old mates that she had friends who voted Conservative, “they recoiled with shock; it really was as if I had said that I enjoyed the company of child molesters”.
Her analysis of this phenomenon is that many people on the left “are principally concerned to feel good about themselves; the more wicked they can paint their ideological enemies, the better they themselves must be. Perhaps it’s even based on a psychological terror of their own dark side.” It’s dangerous to generalise — although enormous fun — but I don’t believe it’s standard among the right-of-centre in Britain to regard those on the left as depraved merely on account of their political opinions. We may think of them as misguided, but definitely not moral misfits.
Certainly that was the way I was brought up. My father would quite often invite Labour party figures to our home for dinner and would have regarded it as juvenile and even barbaric to allow political differences to create a social Berlin Wall. Perhaps Conservatives are more able to separate the personal from the political. This seems beyond Polly Toynbee, the former BBC correspondent who now works for The Guardian. Last week she called for the scripts of The Archers to be infused with much more political content, complaining that the characters do not “say a word about benefits . . . No mention of working tax credit to top up Ed Grundy’s pay, nor of housing benefit for their rent”.
The idea that Radio 4’s cosy, long-running soap should be a vehicle for agitprop is not, I suspect, one that would meet with approval in many homes tuning in for their dose of domestic drama. Actually, if Ambridge were recast to give voice to the political views of rural middle England, which is presumably its location, the result might appal the leader writers of The Guardian (“Here, Dad, that Nigel Farage is right: those foreigners can get back to eastern Europe, where they belong. Our lad would have got a good job if it weren’t for them” . . . dum de dum de dum de dum and fade music).
Perhaps the best-known expression of the left’s view that anyone who opposes it must be suffering from moral turpitude was Gordon Brown’s dismissal of a voter raising that very concern during the 2010 election campaign as “that bigoted woman”.
Admittedly, this description by Brown of Gillian Duffy (a Labour voter, as it happened) was said in private, but it was captured by a television microphone the prime minister had failed to detach from his jacket; indeed, it was precisely the fact that the remark was not meant for broadcast that made it so telling. Suddenly the public could see what the Labour leader really thought about those who disagreed with him; and poor Mrs Duffy was visibly shaken when it was revealed to her.
The incident also encapsulated why Brown was a much less successful politician in a democracy than his predecessor. For Brown, all Tories were indeed wicked; he would never mix with those he suspected of being connected in any way with that evil party — and as a result he was completely out of touch with a wide cross-section (both rich and poor) of the British people.
He was no hypocrite, though: in the great parliamentary expenses scandal he came out almost untainted. Yet in the past fortnight two more Labour MPs have been revealed as having falsified their expenses: Denis MacShane and (after a trial in her absence) Margaret Moran. Can it really be just a coincidence that, although there have been a couple of Tory peers sentenced, every single one of the members of the House of Commons who has been convicted was a Labour MP?
Some have suggested this is deeply paradoxical: aren’t Tories meant to be the greedy bastards, rather than men of the left such as, for example, Barnsley Central’s Eric Illsley and Bury North’s David Chaytor, who both served prison sentences for their fraud? A more psychologically compelling explanation is that there is a certain type of man of the left for whom the intrinsic moral rectitude of his public position (as he believes) allows him to preserve his sense of being on the side of the angels even while his personal conduct is corrupt.
It is a form of impenetrable moral vanity, only reinforced by the genuine outrage with which such people can continue to castigate the profit motive; and as my friend pointed out, the more they stigmatise their political opponents as wicked or even evil, the more they can retain their moral self-esteem.
The most hateful of all such opponents are those, such as the late Keith Joseph, who make the ethical case for markets. This is why that genuinely good and kind man was subjected to boycotts, vile abuse and even physical attacks when he dared to suggest that socialism destroys moral responsibility and that those who make fortunes in competitive markets (through lower prices or better products) are serving the public good more than any trade union leader. If he were alive today, Joseph would definitely be at risk of being labelled a paedophile.
As I read a report of a debate in the Commons on rules about immigration, with Mr Hattersley, the Shadow Home Secretary, in full flood and accusations of’ ‘racism’ flying about the place, a terrible thought came to mind.
What is ‘racism’ (or ‘racialism’, as it was called before it became according to liberal consensus, the one sin which may not be forgiven either in this world or the next)? If it means ‘racial discrimination’ it can be anything from the crankish theories of Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi expert on ‘racial science’, to an instinctive and general harmless human preference to one’s own kind; a belief, until recently unquestioned by the sane, that there are differences, not necessarily implying superiority or inferiority, between one race and another.
In this latter sense almost everybody in the world is a ‘racist’. My terrible thought was this: that one day, just once, as one of the periodical orgies of cant on this subject was raging, some Member of Parliament might get to his feet and say: ‘I am a racist. And so, you hypocrites, are you’.
It might be the end of the world. On the other hand, it might make everybody feel a great deal better.