I have friends across the political spectrum; I know that is rather strange, given how left and right are supposed to viscerally hate each other these days, but it’s true. I can quite happily have a beer with some people from left and right. We can have robust discussions on policy and the way of the world and disagree as adults and then move on to how each other’s families are or what’s on at the cinema that we quite fancy watching. I don’t think this is, or should be, that strange.
And so, I have been quite shocked at the reactions and views of some my self-styled “progressive and liberal” friends and the wider left on social and traditional media to the Farage story.
Obviously, the story has been rather circuitous but the views of most of those on the left have been unchanging – just plain happy that Farage has suffered. I have seen the narrative evolving from “this isn’t political” to “Haha Farage is too poor to have a posh bank account” to “well maybe it was political, but I don’t care because I HATE Farage…” but the underlying sentiment that whatever has happened is ok because it has happened to someone from a different tribe to me is clear.
That’s not the way I remember the left 25 years ago at the start of my political career. I remember being a young 24-year-old councillor, on the verge of becoming a council leader for the first time, attending an IDEA Leadership Academy, which was my biggest introduction to people my age from other political backgrounds; and whilst the attendees from Labour and Lib Dems may have had vastly different political and policy views, we all aligned on free speech. The quote often misattributed to Voltaire “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” was living through our interactions.
I would have thought that those on the left would be obviously worried about the precedent of such actions against Farage, that in the future if the global narrative shifted heavily against them, or if there was greater state control of the banks by a vengeful right of centre government the bank accounts of those with their political views could be subject to the same action.
I for one would hate to see such action, for surely we live in a country where access to banks, just like access to healthcare or the law should be without fear or favour, access regardless of our political views, just as it should be regardless of our religious views.
But the world has become a lot more tribal in the last decade. The politics of hatred has insinuated itself into our system insidiously. To a degree I blame the Americanisation of our political system. It is evident to me that increasing tribalism and polarisation in politics is damaging the fabric of our society and I yearn for the polite political interactions of yesteryear.
I saw the same tribal hatred the morning after the Brexit vote. Yes I was on the Brexit side of the debate, but again I have friends and colleagues that were on both sides. The morning after, whilst I was half awake having watched the results all night on TV I received a phone call from a friend, a chap I had been to school for 7 years with and had been friends for the 20 years after. He spat venom down the phone at me, accusing me of destroying his life, told me he didn’t want to have anything to do with me ever again except for him to know when I died, but only so that he could defecate on my grave. I was hurt beyond belief.
It seems to me now that far from a diverse perspective being vital for a thriving democracy we have reached a junction where yah boo sucks has replaced robust debate and the total destruction of our political “enemies” is all.
I hope that those on the left, “the progressives” as they call themselves will take a few minutes to stop and consider their sentiments towards Nigel Farage’s plight, regardless of their personal feelings towards him, and consider the concerns about the future of our democracy and the potential consequences of such actions to us all.