Why we should all resist the Tory art of distraction
The General Election has entered familiar and predicable territory. The Tories, struggling to resurrect a failing campaign, devoid of policy and, well, any campaigning, have opted to distract and smear instead. It’s a sign that they are terrified and ultimately a backhanded compliment for Labour.
However it is important we challenge their attempts to pull the wool over our eyes. Their obsession with dredging up long lost quotes and comments and their desire to distort for their own ends, is worrying. If it’s not challenged, politics could become a sterile exercise, with people terrified to voice opinions for fear of falling outside the ‘mainstream’.
I’m nearly fifty now. It actually pains me to write that. Not that I’m ashamed of my age. It’s just, well, I really don’t know how it happened. Like many of you reading this, it feels like one minute I was 17, then I blinked and suddenly I’m an adult with kids and responsibility.
I guess that’s just the human experience. Time races on, you evolve, you grow. When I think about who I was back in my late teens, it’s like thinking about another person. Well not exactly. The younger me was actually just an angrier, more certain and less tolerant version of who I am now. I’m sure I’m not alone.
I’d left school at 16, in 1984 and, in Liverpool. I hated Thatcher, I despised the Tories. In fact, my loathing of them and everything they stood for was such that I couldn’t conceive of being friends with anyone who supported them.
I didn’t like the country I lived in and was ashamed of it’s behaviour on the world stage. I hated that our Prime Minister invited Apartheid leaders to Downing Street and I wanted nothing to do with the jingoism associated with the Falklands Conflict and Britain’s military campaign in Northern Ireland.
When the IRA bombed the Tory conference in Brighton, part of me was afraid that a war was coming and worried about what that might mean for me and my family. Another part of me hoped it would bring about an end to a government that was ruining my life.
In truth I didn’t feel British at all. I know many of my friends felt the same way. We were different. Scouse not English. I even dreamed that one day Liverpool would declare its self a republic.
I modified these views after I spent a day in Scotland. I remember joining an anti-poll tax march in Glasgow in the late 80s. Thatcher had introduced her flagship policy there, a year before a planned roll out in England. It was a huge miscalculation.
I remember standing on a rainy street amongst thousands of other people. The air was filled with banners and political slogans. The colour of defiance was all around me.
I was also surrounded by Scottish accents and strangely I was a little nervous. So much so, I tried to lower my voice when talking to a friend who’d come with me. Despite this, a guy in front of us seemed to overhear.
He was huge and looked down on me as he said “You’re from Liverpool.” Was that an accusation? I wasn’t sure, but I nodded and said “yeah” as cockily as I could.
He thrust out his hand and said “It’s always a pleasure to meet someone from Liverpool.” I don’t think I’d heard that from anyone outside my city before.
Now I realise that the Scots felt just like we did, ignored, disenfranchised and bloody angry. They could identify with us. I realised we weren’t alone.
In the years since, I have come to understand that most of us have more in common than divides us. I believe that struggling in isolation is futile and unity is strength. My views have evolved. I have grown.
I remain angry. I am fiercely committed to change and my outlook is defiantly socialist. However, I no longer hate people who don’t share my views. I’d rather debate with them.
The certainty of my youth has been replaced by an understanding that the world is filled with nuance and doubt is good. I am now comfortable enough to say “I don’t know,” when faced with a challenging question. The younger me couldn’t have done that.
There’s nothing unusual about this story. I’m sure many of you will identify. People change, opinions mellow and although we are all shaped by our experiences and prejudices, the way we view the world in youth is often refined by the passage of time and the accumulation of knowledge.
The fact that the younger me would barely recognise its flabbier and permanently exhausted future self, even if they crashed into each other in the street, tells its own story. Should I forever be held hostage by that enraged youth, who dreamed of insurrection and longed for the day Liverpool broke away from the rest of the country? Actually, should he have tempered his views, out of respect for the man he would later become? Not at all.
It’s all part of the dance. We are not hostages to our past views and actions any more than our future ones. We make the decisions we make, based on our best guess of reality. If we are lucky and sensible we modify our approach, based on experience.
But for all of that, I’d much rather have been that young man, furious at the injustice of the world, than to have acquiesced to it. No matter how extreme my views back then, my heart was firmly in the right place.
It’s principles and values, as well as a curious mind, that lead you to truth, in my view. I’m interested in what people believe and do now, as much as the journey that got them here.
So, when I see journalists dredging up long forgotten statements from decades ago, in order to discredit politicians desperate for a better world, I see it for the distraction it is.
A simple internet search will reveal that many politicians on the right held very strident views in the past and spoke openly about them. Some argued that Nelson Mandela should be hung, for example. It’s strange that the media’s desire to delve into the past attitudes and beliefs of politicians only applies to those on the left.
None of this has any bearing on the problems we face today. Jeremy Corbyn speaking to Sinn Fein about peace in the 1990s, Diane Abbott’s dislike of the British state 34 years ago, means little to people about to lose their homes, jobs or pensions.
People living on food banks are interested in solutions to today’s problems. If you’re going to talk about the past actions of politicians, at least mention they also helped to secure peace in Northern Ireland.
Such conversations only tell us that Corbyn and Abbott have long been anti-establishment and pro peace and justice. Meanwhile many on the right have devoted their lives to preserving the status-quo and resisting fairness and equality. Neither facts are particularly surprising.
In their attempts to smear Corbyn and divert attention from today’s issues, the Tory Party and their friends in the media are dong you and your family a great disservice. Don’t be fooled. There’s a world to change and none of us are getting any younger.