What does 'more in common' mean?
Updated: Dec 28, 2018
Below is an extract from Chapter Seven of Warring Fictions. This comes from the section of the book about the Dark Knight. It focuses on Depth, the third of four arguments against the myth.
Depth: strategy, values and morals
Complexity and circumstance get us so far. But what if somebody’s politics are inherently different – if they were born with conservative values?
The Dark Knight assumption might be that the right-winger in question has no excuse. To be more conservative is, all things being equal, to be more self-interested and malevolent. There are many examples of this view, such as the suggestion, made by Sunny Hundal in 2013, that Conservatives are “evil.”[i]
This assumption is implicit in almost everything the populist left does. It often takes the form of throwaway mischaracterisations about others’ political stances – e.g. claims that Tories ‘hate the poor’ or Blairites enjoy the prospect of Iraqis dying.[ii] These assertions silence debate and contribute to the toxic environment that British politics has become in recent years.
They lead us to the third flaw of the Dark Knight myth, which is that it fails to account for a person or group’s moral depth. The truth is that it’s possible to support ‘bad’ policies despite ‘good’ values, and to possess ‘bad’ values despite ‘good’ morals. The lack of depth within the Dark Knight myth, however, groups these things as one. It allows a relatively superficial aspect of a person (e.g. their views on school funding) to become a proxy for their basic decency.
Historically, this has always been a dangerous attitude, providing an entry point for extremists. As Hannah Arendt wrote, “One of the greatest advantages of the totalitarian elites of the twenties and thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.”
To elaborate, let’s look at two approaches to the link between politics and morality – shown in the table below. I’ve developed these myself, and believe the first is essentially how populists view the relationship, and the second is how pluralists view it.
The first is the two-tier version of political morals. This acknowledges that there’s a superficial element of ‘politics’, which relates to electability (the need to perform in public, the need to deal with media scrutiny etc). I’ve called this tier ‘image’. Sitting beneath this is a core of essential substance – the bulk of the iceberg – which combines the policies someone support, their values and even their basic morals. I’ve called this tier ‘principles’. This understanding of the relationship between politics and morality acknowledges that you need style as well as substance. But it sees everything beneath style as the same thing.[iii]
Many populists adopt the two-tier approach almost without thinking. They use it casually and occasionally cynically, to pull the debate onto the level they feel most comfortable with.[iv] Hence, cutting the welfare bill can only be done from the standpoint that you wish to see poor people die.
The second, deeper way of looking at things is the four-tier model.
‘Image’ again describes politics at its most superficial. Do we call our proposed wealth tax a “silver spoon levy” or a “strivers’ windfall”? Do we need a new logo? Is the messaging right?
‘Policy and strategy’ is as it sounds: the policy and electoral strategy by which values are into practice.
‘Political’ values describes what the core ideals look like. If you were designing the planet in a vacuum, would you want a world that was equal, liberal and community-based? Or would you want one defined by tradition, competition and personal responsibility?
‘Personal morals’ describes basic questions of the human fabric: would you take pleasure in the suffering of others; would you steal from the charity bucket; would you save a drowning stranger?
I’ll refer to these as ‘image’, ‘strategy’, ‘values’ and ‘morals’ from here on. The core idea of my four-tier, pluralist model is that a person’s opinions about strategy aren’t a straight proxy for their values, and that their values aren’t a proxy for their morals. This attributes greater depth and texture than the two-tier model is capable of.
The MP Jo Cox’s maiden speech to Parliament contained the famous lines “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”[v] After her tragic murder by a far right terrorist, the speech came to feel portentous; a source of hope in a fractured post-Brexit climate. So, how do we put Jo Cox’s words into practice, given there are political ideologies we vehemently disagree with?
The two-tier model, illustrated above, has no capacity to identify shared ground.[vi] It accepts that people have different views about how to win elections or about which leaders come across better. But it presents two Neolithic blocs once you get beneath this: left-of-centre people who are good, and right-of-centre people who are bad.
This is the consequence of the thinking we encourage when we describe the Tories as evil – or even when we blame any policy divergence on a difference in values. It’s an approach which ultimately causes the left Neolithic bloc to shrink, as ‘Blairites’, Blue Labourites and voters on the ‘right of the Labour Party’ are driven away.
By contrast, the four-tier understanding offers a route to the ‘more in common’ vision. The diagram below shows why. It suggests a right-of-centre person is no more likely to be personally immoral than a left-of-centre person; there can be shared morals, even without shared values.[vii]
And it also suggests two people from different parts of the left (or of the right) still retain the same core values – even if they disagree about policy and strategy. Being a Blairite doesn’t make you any less liberal, internationalist, egalitarian or collectivist than being a Corbynite, for example.
These are controversial claims, to some. So, let’s try to back them up. We’ll look first at how values are different from morals, and then at how strategy is different from values.
Morals run all the way across the political spectrum according to the four-tier model, whereas values are particular to the two wings of politics. But how do values and morals differ? Isn’t there a risk that this justifies the selfishness and cruelty of the right, by suggesting there’s no moral component to the difference between us and the Tories?
The first thing to clarify is that, just because morals stretch right across the spectrum, this doesn’t mean I’m saying all people have hearts of gold. I’m not actually making any claim about human nature. The argument is simply that those with good morals (e.g. those who don’t behave corruptly, or take pleasure in others’ suffering) aren’t found at one end of the spectrum more than at the other.[viii]
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for this. An example is the 2009 Expenses Scandal, which saw no obvious correlation between misconduct and political leaning. Those over-claiming came from across the ideological range – from members of the Socialist Campaign Group through to the 1922 Committee, and from every point in between.
To take this further, let’s look at psychological explanations for how people translate morals into values. How can decent individuals hold contrasting views about how to run society, with both believing their politics is an articulation of morality? A good starting point is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt sets out six ways in which people process morality, which he calls the moral ‘taste-buds’:
All six are within us all, somewhere. But Haidt says people with left-of-centre values concentrate on ‘Care/Harm’, ‘Liberty/Oppression’ and to some extent, ‘Fairness/Cheating’. Those with right-of-centre values spread themselves more thinly, across all six.
The taste-buds Haidt identifies are driven both by evolutionary psychology and culture. For example, the ‘Authority/Subversion’ taste-bud was vital at points when “protecting order and fending off chaos” was the abiding concern.[ix] In WWII the UK had a strong leader, Winston Churchill, and the war effort was based on everyone fulfilling their role in a largely unquestioning way. At that juncture, many of us would have had little time for those who sought to shake up the hierarchy. So, ‘Authority/Subversion’ is buried in us all, and has played a part in the development of most societies. It remains a powerful touchpoint – hence the hankering, among some older voters, for a simpler time (when Britain ran the world, when the man was head of the family, etc).
Thus, ‘Authority/Subversion’ is not an ‘immoral’ basis for a set of values. And even if we don’t see much modern relevance for it, we make a big mistake if we accuse those who do of lacking basic decency.[x]
The same goes for the other taste-buds which the left struggles with. The ‘Sanctity/Degradation’ taste-bud can create revulsion at homosexuality, or at other differences in how others live their lives. It stems from the concern for hygiene and the human body, which was necessary at more uncertain points in history. Culturally speaking, it leads many in divinity-based countries like India to adopt different rituals and values.[xi]
The ‘Loyalty/Betrayal’ taste-bud is the impulse that tempts even the most fair-minded people to prioritise friends and family. When it takes on a political dimension it can lead to values we’re uncomfortable with (e.g. a ‘charity begins at home’ hostility to outsiders). But anyone who’s stuck up for a friend who they knew to be in the wrong has accessed this taste-bud at some point.
Meanwhile, the ‘Fairness/Cheating’ taste-bud (which left-liberals only partially access) is the impulse that makes us angry at queue-jumpers. It manifests itself in left-wing sentiment, like anger at unearned wealth, but also in right-wing sentiment, like the ‘scrounger’ narrative. Middle-class progressives may find anger about benefits inexplicable. But think about the frustration we might feel if we were routinely doing the washing up for a housemate who didn’t return the favour.
The emphasis placed on each of Haidt’s taste-buds determines whether someone comes to hold right-wing or left-wing values. Some of the taste-buds have ceased to have much use in peaceful, secular societies. Yet their existence shows that people can arrive at different values via morals no more ‘evil’ than our own.
Another way of looking at this is the British Values Survey. Developed through polling since 1973, this combines Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with Shalom Schwartz’s 21 core human values. The model identifies three overarching values sets:
Groupish values are based on perceived threats and anxiety about change. Those with these values think in ultra-local ways. These values are more common among older people, who often seek familiarity, security and continuity. Politically, this can manifest itself in social conservatism – epitomised by support for Brexit and ‘no nonsense’ policies on crime – sometimes alongside support for redistribution.
Individualistic values are based on competition and aspiration. Those with a concentration of these values are optimistic and ambitious, driven by achievement and recognition. Individualistic values are common in young and BME communities as well as upwardly-mobile middle-class groups. They manifest themselves in economic pragmatism, alongside a focus on education and other institutions which help people ‘get on’.
Post-materialist values are based on inner-fulfilment and a desire to understand the world and behave ethically. Those with more post-materialist values are often better-off and better-educated, and seek creativity, stimulation and understanding. Politically, they tend to be socially liberal, and to prioritise universal fairness, internationalism, compassion and sustainability.
As with Haidt’s six taste-buds, we all have aspects of all three values sets within us, but are driven by one more than another. This explains why two people can see the same thing differently. For instance, deciding to send your child to an inner-city state school with poor exam results could be a sign of moral good, according to post-materialist values. But according to other values, it represents a moral failure to do the best for your family.
The key thing about the three values sets is that they stem from different needs, not different morals. And this means we shouldn’t seek to categorise their worth. Should governments aim to convert the BME ‘individualist’ to ethical self-sacrifice, or demand that the ‘groupish’ pensioner becomes a post-materialist? Is the compulsion to write a novel of ideas more moral than the compulsion to own a nice car? Are you a better person for going on a climate change march than you are if you give up your time for a neighbourhood watch scheme? I’d be loath to answer ‘yes’ to these questions. Indeed, post-materialists, with their quest for social purpose and self-realisation are seeking something no less ‘selfish’; they’re simply less concerned about money and resources, often because they have less need to be.
Beyond Haidt’s taste-buds and the British Values Survey, there are other models of how morals translate into values.[xii] But what all these have in common is that they’re not pejorative about the moral worth of different ideals. Instead, they accept that everyone’s different. Some love novelty; others dislike change. Some want to show they’re successful; others shun the finer things. Self-reliance, competence, curiosity and even emotional intelligence are not distributed equally. As long as humans are born with different capabilities, needs and preferences, there will be a diversity of values.
Isaiah Berlin, one of the biggest figures in the pluralist tradition, sums this up:[xiii]
I am not a relativist; I do not say ‘I like my coffee with milk and you like it without; I am in favour of kindness and you prefer concentration camps’… But I do believe that there is a plurality of values which men can and do seek, and that these values differ... If a man pursues one of these values, I, who do not, am able to understand why he pursues it or what it would be like, in his circumstances, for me to be induced to pursue it. Hence the possibility of human understanding.
The problem, of course, is that the fulfilment of one person’s values needs often has implications for others. The elderly traditionalist in Thanet may want security, but what if this jeopardises the needs of the elderly traditionalist in Syria, for whom UK refuge offers a much more pressing form of safety.
Karl Marx popularised the phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” a sentiment which sought to organise society so that everyone could get what they needed from it. If we pursue this logic there should be ways of fulfilling the population’s diverse values needs, without making judgements about those with different needs. Looking at the situation from Rawls’ veil of ignorance, not knowing our own values, what type of society would we devise? How would we allow for individualists’ need for achievement without undermining post-materialist egalitarianism? How would we fulfil the pro-global impulses of one values cluster without dismissing the traditionalist instincts of another?
I won’t pursue this further now. But, ultimately, much of the above comes down to tolerance and willingness to give the benefit of the doubt. Many supporters of both left and right parties would pass simple ethical tests – helping a young mum carry a pram down a flight of stairs, for instance. We should use this as our moral basis, rather than voting behaviour or political ideals.
Those with differing values may share decent morals. But how can we claim, as the four-tier model does, that different strategies and policies are rooted in shared values?
Again, it’s worth clarifying: I’m merely saying those with different strategy and policy positions from across the left have a common origin, in the form of their motivations at the ballot box or their inspirations for going into politics. Alastair Campbell and Diane Abbott, for example, are rooted in similar values – even if they disagree, on almost every point, about how to enact these values.
In the case of left-of-centre values, this means a blend of egalitarianism, internationalism, social liberalism, communitarianism or social justice. Unlike right-wingers – whose ideals comprise tradition, authority, competition, self-reliance etc[xiv] – most who describe themselves as ‘left-of-centre’ are rooted in these values.
For sure, there are differences: New Labour followers are a little more comfortable with competition; Blue Labourites are more traditionalist; the far left are historically less internationalist. But you wouldn’t describe yourself as ‘on the left’, or have joined Labour in the first place, if you didn’t have these broad goals.
The work of political psychologist George Lakoff writes that “There are moderates, but there is no ideology of the moderate.”[xv] According to Lakoff, most people frame things using an essentially left-of-centre prism or an essentially right-of-centre one – even if they sometimes borrow from the other side.
This is reflected in the fact that many of those considered ‘centrist’ have radically different roots. Left and right populists may treat Tony Blair and David Cameron as identikits. Yet Blair was initially sympathetic to Trotskyism, and first ran for parliament during Michael Foot’s 1983 campaign, whereas Cameron joined the Tories at the high noon of Thatcherism.
Values and strategy correspond with the terms ‘ends’ and ‘means’, commonly associated with Anthony Crosland’s 1956 book, The Future of Socialism. In the book, a key centre left text, Crosland uses ‘ends’ and ‘means’ to distinguish between what the left wants and how it plans to get there; between left-of-centre ideals, and a set of policy techniques. Crosland’s frustration was with those who conflated the two, in a way that meant socialist values weren’t achieved.
Crosland argued that equality is the overriding socialist ‘end’; methods like nationalisation are just the ‘means’.[xvi] He thought a property-owning, capitalist economy could be consistent with the values of socialism, if there was low inequality, high social mobility and no poverty, class hierarchy or power imbalances. This may have placed him on the ‘right of the Labour Party’ at the level of strategy and policy. But he was no less committed to social justice, community, equality, etc. He just had different ideas about how to fulfil these values.
If we take equality, we can see how people with similar values could advocate different policies. One might say we should call the bluff of mobile capital, and create a maximum wage. Another might believe ‘pre-distribution’ was a less clunky tool. A third might sacrifice a high rate of corporation tax and focus on multi-lateral approaches to global profits. A fourth might wish to cut taxes on earnings and raise them on wealth. A fifth might decide inequality is, for now, too hard to fix through taxes, and that public sector reform is our best hope of addressing it.[xvii] And all would have different views about how electorally palatable and technically doable the above policies are, even though their basic ideal is the same.
Looking at the Labour civil wars which have raged since 2015, we can see why the two-tier and four-tier models are important. Both of Corbyn’s leadership victories have been successfully framed by left populists, using the two-tier version of political morals. In both, the arguments centred around principles versus image. Corbyn was regarded as scruffy, off-message and unelectable, but as personally decent and true to Labour values and policies. Liz Kendall, by contrast, was seen as slick and palatable to middle-England, but as a betrayer of progressive values and – for some – morally bankrupt as a result.
This damaged the debate. Strategy differences were taken as a statement about the values and even the morals of Corbyn’s opponents. The choice became one of voting for a good person who couldn’t win an election, or for a bad person who could.
Critics of Corbyn hold some responsibility for letting the debate be couched like this. Polly Toynbee wrote that, “Free to dream, I’d be [to the] left of Jeremy Corbyn – but we can’t gamble the future on him,” the suggestion being that Corbyn was the only candidate of principle, but didn’t have the right image.[xviii]
Tony Blair, by contrast, admitted the issue wasn’t one of image: “I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform … even if I thought it was the route to victory.”[xix] Yet he didn’t do enough to clarify that the disagreement was down to policy, not values. So, he too operated within the two-tier model, inviting the familiar accusation that he didn’t sign up to basic Labour principles – and was not, therefore, a good man.
Only by adopting a four-tier model (which teases apart policy, values and morals) could the real point have been made – which is that Corbyn’s policies and strategies would fail to deliver left-wing goals.[xx]
An example of the ‘two-tier’ model at its worst in the 2015 contest was the accusation that those who opposed Corbyn were ‘Tory scum’. This gained currency in relation to Liz Kendall – partly thanks to her view that Labour needed to reduce the national debt. Her policy position was that it was actually left-wing to address the debt: “There’s nothing progressive about spending more on debt than on our children’s education.” It was also based on the premise that Labour lacked fiscal credibility, and wouldn’t deliver progressive goals without changing this. Kendall’s view thus reflected major differences with Corbyn’s. She saw reducing the national debt as consistent with left-of-centre values and goals. He didn’t. If she was wrong – economically or electorally – then she was wrong at the level of policy or strategy.[xxi]
Instead, Kendall’s position was interpreted as a statement about her values – leading to her dismissal as a ‘Tory’. And the two-tier model allowed this to become a statement about her morals – hence the ‘scum’ adage.
Believing the country needs to address the national debt doesn’t, in fact, make you a ‘Tory’ (John McDonnell adopted precisely the same line as Liz Kendall a few months later, proving how pointless the whole disagreement had been).[xxii] And having Tory values doesn’t make you ‘scum’. Yet the two-tier model allows these big leaps to be made with ease: debt-cutter=right-winger=scum.
The ‘Tory scum’ epithet was the preserve of keyboard warriors. However, high profile left populists fed the two-tier approach that drove it. Many mischaracterised those who didn’t support Corbyn as neo-cons, closet Tories and inequality enthusiasts, despite widespread evidence that this wasn’t their motivation at all.[xxiii] Others encouraged the idea that Corbyn-sceptics were self-interested, careerist or corrupt.[xxiv] A dog whistle politics emerged as a result, where every dispute shook down to a clash between basic decency and naked self-interest. [xxv]
For a more concrete example, let’s take intervention in Syria in 2015. This set the stage for one of the first all-out battles between the pro- and anti-Corbyn wings of Labour. Kendall backed intervention because she saw it as consistent with her internationalism. Hilary Benn’s speech in favour of intervening drew a visibly emotional response from her, not by appealing to flag-waving nationalism, but through invoking the Internationalist Brigades’ opposition to fascism.[xxvi]
Corbyn, by contrast, saw intervention as incompatible with internationalist values. He thought it would make the situation worse. Thus, differences between Kendall and Corbyn didn’t lie at the level of values. The opinions of both were built on a shared internationalism, but diverged on the question of how this should manifest itself. If Kendall shared Corbyn’s perception that intervening in Syria was an act of colonial aggression, she’d have opposed it. If Corbyn shared Kendall’s conviction that intervention would save Syrian lives, he’d support it.
Was Kendall placing too much faith in a mode of intervention debunked by Iraq? Was Corbyn seeing things through an anti-imperialist prism which became irrelevant decades ago? Thanks to the two-tier analysis, these questions barely came up. Corbyn said he was “appalled” by the “jingoism” of MPs like Kendall, pushing the debate down to the level of values.[xxvii] And for other populists it fell further and became a case of divergent morals, with those supporting intervention dubbed “murderers” by Corbyn supporters in Parliament Square. Framing the debate as a struggle between those who want peace and love and those who want violence and death didn’t get us any closer to the right outcome.
Values and morals are key to an individual’s identity. The effect of the two-tier model is the removal of depth and the creation of false divisions – and, ultimately, the reduction of everything to Manichean struggle.[xxviii] Making the argument for the four-tier model is vital if pluralists of all leanings are to rescue politics from this fate.
In a world where very few people are evil, and where most have respectable ideals, all that the conflation of strategy, values and morals does is encourage people to see the worst in others. If the left is to win arguments against the right, we must engage at the true level where differences exist.[xxix]
[i] ‘Are right-wingers evil? Yes’, Sunny Hundal, Liberal Conspiracy, July 2013. Hundal later added that claiming otherwise is naïve. Other examples – and they’re not hard to find – include George Monbiot’s view that patriotism is a moral affront equivalent to racism, and Clive Lewis’s view, in advance of the 2017 election, that those who vote Tory do so because they “don’t care about other people.”
[ii] The Iraq War is in fact a good example here (although one I’ll generally avoid in this essay). The gap between pluralists and populists on this issue isn’t really between those who still support the war and those who now oppose or always opposed it. It’s between those who felt its flaws were thanks to failures of judgement, and those who felt they were due to failures of morals. The former analysis says the war was intended to be consistent with democratic, left-of-centre values, but failed thanks to wrong information, over-confidence following previous interventions, poor planning, a narrow form of ‘sofa government’ etc (i.e. Chilcot’s view that Blair was “entitled” to rely on the evidence, but “unwise” to do so). This is different to the view, common among populists, that Iraq was ‘bloodthirsty’, ‘murderous’ and motivated by the desire to do harm. Blair himself has pointed out this aspect of modern debate: “attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgement. It is [now] not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal.”
[iii] A weakness of this which I won’t to into too much here is that it can create a dishonest attitude to democracy. Some on the left propose “moderate words” to explain radical ideas, for example – as if there’s an immovable corpus of principles beneath the surface, which require better marketing but never an adaptation. The implication is that a Trojan Horse form of politics is the way forward, varnishing what we really think with the gloss of moderation to win power. This can be troublesome. If, for instance, your pacifist principles tell you that the reduction of the defence budget to nil is the only moral policy then you cannot, in the name of image, have a veneer that suggests you take security seriously. If you do then you’ll either betray the democratic will or betray your principles. This is the electoral consequence of the ‘two-tier’ approach: each policy is invested with values and morals, so, unless the public agrees with you on literally everything then you’re forced to deceive them, to be a traitor to yourself, or to remain in opposition. Whether you pull the wool, sell out or stay true, this leaves no authentic, democratic route to victory.
[iv] Labour activist Conor Pope describes Corbyn’s rapid rhetorical shift, during the Grenfell disaster, from talking about immediate solutions to the disaster to talking about core morals. “It is an effective method to move public issues from a question of practicality to one of values,” Pope writes.
[v] ‘Labour MP Jo Cox's maiden speech to parliament in June 2015 – video’, The Guardian, June 2016.
[vi] Note that the diagram only uses the two main parties, and uses rough proxy positions (e.g. ‘Macmillanite’) for the image tier. Obviously, we could debate all the different surface-level descriptions and those missing. But the aim of the diagram is primarily about the tiers, rather than the precise definitions of particular ideological positions.
[vii] Barack Obama emphasised the importance of this in his eulogy to political opponent John McCain, writing that McCain “Did understand that some principles transcend politics, that some values transcend party… They give shape and order to our common life, even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree. John believed in honest argument and hearing other views. He understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work.”
[viii] You may believe humans are born bad and civilised by society (as Thomas Hobbes did) or you may say humans are born good and corrupted by society (as Jean-Jacques Rousseau did). Or you may sit somewhere in between. The issue is when this starts to be applied to one group of values but not another. For example, if we’re to take the view that humans are born selfish then fine, but we need to include our own political tribe within that. Likewise, if we conclude that humans are altruistic then we need to spread that across the spectrum, conceding that Ukip voters, at their core, are as decent as Green voters.
[ix] Haidt uses fieldwork in Africa to make the point that societies with a strong link between morality and authority have characteristics which “are more like those of a parent and a child than those of a dictator and fearful underlings.” This comes at the expense of autonomy, but is built on the idea of a benevolent hierarchy which benefits everyone. See The Righteous Mind, p.167-169.
[x] An example of this was ‘Sachsgate’, the 2008 incident when Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand called up an veteran actor and claimed to have had sex with his granddaughter. The event sparked a fallout between older conservatives and younger liberals. Horrified members of the former group read in The Daily Mail that the two comedians “are notorious for their use of swear words”; younger Guardian types couldn’t see what the big deal was. On one side were those using an ‘Authority/ subversion’ or ‘Sanctity/ degradation’ moral spectrum (“It’s disgusting. Jonathan Ross has got a mouth like a sewer,” complained one older woman). On the other were those operating on a ‘Liberty/ oppression’ or ‘Care/ harm’ basis, who saw a freedom of speech issue, with no damage done.
[xi] Haidt writes that, through getting his head around the ‘Sanctity/ degradation’ foundation, he “began to understand why the American culture wars involved so many battles over sacrilege.” “When an artist submerges a crucifix in a jar of his own urine, or smears elephant dung on an image of the Virgin Mary, do these works belong in art museums? Can the artist simply tell religious Christians, ‘If you don’t want to see it, don’t go to the museum’? Or does the mere existence of such works make the world dirtier, more profane and more degraded? If you can’t see anything wrong here, try reversing the politics. Imagine that a conservative artist had created these works using images of Martin Luther King Junior and Nelson Mandela rather than Jesus and Mary. Imagine that his intent was to mock the quasi-deification by the left of so many black leaders. Could such works be displayed in museums in New York or Paris without triggering angry demonstrations? Might some on the left feel that the museums were polluted by racism, even after the paintings were removed?” See The Righteous Mind, p.122-124.
[xii] See The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, Chapter Two: ‘Anywheres and Somewheres’, David Goodhart, Oxford University Press, 2017. Another model is that of the ‘big five’ personality types, sometimes known as OCEAN.
[xiv] Using these sorts of non-pejorative descriptions of right-wingers is important, helping us to identify the real differences. For instance, we might say that the left favours more internationalism even if it means less tradition – and that the right favours more tradition – even if that comes at the expense of internationalism. We could disagree with the other side about this, based on a premise both sides could accept. Too often, when asked to articulate our own values, we claim for the left ideals everyone would agree with, like ‘generosity’, whilst attributing to the right ideals which they’d firmly reject if you asked them, like ‘self-interest’.
[xv] Lakoff adds (with his primary focus on US politics) that “A moderate conservative has some progressive positions on issues, though they vary from person to person. Similarly, a moderate progressive has some conservative positions on issues... In short, moderates have both political moral worldviews, but mostly use one of them. Those two moral worldviews in general contradict each other.” ‘Why Trump?’, George Lakoff, March 2016.
[xvi] “But the worst source of confusion is the tendency to use the word [socialism] to describe, not a certain kind of society, or certain values which might be attributes of a society, but particular policies which are, or are thought to be, means to attaining this kind of society, or realising these attributes.” The Future of Socialism, p.75.
[xvii] As Blairite James Purnell puts it, “We believed in [education] reform, not least because it reduced inequality... Far from choice vying with equality, a set of reforms that included choice had reduced one of the worst causes of inequality in Britain.”
[xviii] See ‘Free to dream, I’d be left of Jeremy Corbyn’, Guardian, Polly Toybnee, August 2015. The weaknesses of this were encapsulated by another Toynbee article: “The unpalatable answer is that policies matter less than the personality, performance and persuasiveness of leaders. Credibility on the economy and security boils down to this: does he/she look like a prime minister? Snap judgments are made. Corbyn’s image may by now be sealed for ever with too many. He’s honest – but he’s no prime minister… He doesn’t fit the template and never can.” This is a profoundly ‘two-tier’ analysis, implying Corbyn is simply a bad salesman with a good product.
[xx] Blair’s subsequent article ‘In defence of Blairism’ makes this point. He sets out the values he sought to promote – “community, society, family, compassion and social justice” – but says his disagreement was with the policies and electoral strategies the left relied on, which spoke for “interests” rather than values: “Yes, we encouraged science and technology, and we celebrated London as a financial centre. But we did this because we knew that without a growing economy life would be harder for those at the bottom.” He reiterated in 2018 that his disagreement with the Labour Leadership was that he didn’t “think their policies are actually progressive” – summed up by the fact that, for example, his institute have promoted the radical policy of a Land Value Tax far more stridently than the Labour Party (who have only supported it as one of a number of options – see p.86 of their 2017 manifesto).
[xxi] See tweet. Kendall spelt this out very clearly in a Newsnight interview in July 2015, explaining that while she agreed with Corbyn on the “outcomes” – tackling inequality, for example – she had a different view on the “approach” and “way of achieving it”.
[xxiii] Blairite Liam Byrne, for instance, proposed in 2015 that Labour add a commitment to reduce inequality to the Labour constitution. Tristram Hunt meanwhile delivered a speech in which he said “The task of helping communities like Stoke-on-Trent to thrive in an era of intense global competition and rapid technological change requires a clear and unambiguous focus on reducing inequality” – a point he reiterated several times. Sadiq Khan, who had made the same point about inequality in 2014, was similarly demonised once he came out against Corbyn.
[xxiv] See, for instance, the accusation (in an ‘open letter’ to Blairites) that “When you [criticise Corbyn]… you play right into the Tories hands. Maybe that doesn’t worry you. You are rich. In many ways, a Tory government probably benefits you personally, but that’s not true for the vast majority of people in the country.” In reality, as almost every Corbyn critic made clear, it was precisely because they thought Corbyn’s leadership would result in permanent Tory government – and because they feared that his policies would harm the poorest – that they didn’t back him. Other examples of this are widespread. Left Unity campaigner Simon Hardy’s suggestion that Alan Johnson was racist because he didn’t support Corbyn is one example, as it Paul Mason’s characterisation of the centre left as “in favour of illegal war.” Meanwhile, Alison McGovern’s anger at being called a Tory by John McDonnell shows how divisive the approach is.
[xxv] See, for instance, the accusation (in an ‘open letter’ to Blairites) that “When you [criticise Corbyn]… you play right into the Tories hands. Maybe that doesn’t worry you. You are rich. In many ways, a Tory government probably benefits you personally, but that’s not true for the vast majority of people in the country.” In reality, as almost every Corbyn critic made clear, it was precisely because they thought Corbyn’s leadership would result in permanent Tory government – and because they feared that his policies would harm the poorest – that they didn’t back him. Other examples of this are widespread. Left Unity campaigner Simon Hardy’s suggestion that Alan Johnson was racist because he didn’t support Corbyn is one example, as it Paul Mason’s characterisation of the centre left as “in favour of illegal war.” Meanwhile, Alison McGovern’s anger at being called a Tory by John McDonnell shows how divisive the approach is.
[xxviii] David Miliband provides a step-by-step explanation of how it a two-tier approach leads to sectarianism: “The ‘Tory lite’ allegation starts with a fact: government involves compromise. It then fashions an explanation: that the compromise is based on bad motives. It then develops a theory: that the trajectory of our country has been unchanged by Labour government since the Thatcher years. It then creates a new version of history: there is no difference between Labour and Tory governments. This is the sectarianism that leads to the dead end of permanent opposition.” Others have suggested that the ability to sift between the tiers is a central aspect of what has come to be known as ‘centrism’. The ability to disentangle, for example, racism from opposition to immigration is a vital quality.
[xxix] The failure to sort between these levels means Labour often doesn’t persuade, but rather asserts. John Rentoul, for example, makes the point that the assumption of that opposing politicians are lying is ineffective in defeating them. Most of the time, politicians are wrong rather than deceitful; the best way to beat them is to take them at their word. Similarly Phil Collins, suggests the Labour attack line needs to be “based on the accusation that the Conservative Party has the wrong analysis of the problems that confront Britain and a poor selection of priorities among those problems it does identify.”