The Conservatives couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop to their 2015 party conference. Inside the Manchester convention centre, serious men and women made serious decisions. Outside, a pack of yahoos snarled and spat and shrieked. Who looked reasonable?
Leftist mobs are nothing new: they have been screaming their invective at Tory conference-goers since at least 2008. It’s always this way round, of course. You can’t imagine a gang of free-marketeers shouting “Labour scum! Labour scum!”
The lack of self-awareness among the protesters was, at times, hilarious. One elf-locked mob yowled like stricken animals, their faces contorted with loathing, beneath a banner reading “Decent people don’t belong in the Tories”. Another lot, gathered around a Unison placard, yelled “Fuck you, you Tory pigs! Fuck you! You’re all full of hate!” Ah, yes: hate.
Actually, anyone who has dipped a toe into politics will know that the hate comes disproportionately from one end of the spectrum. It’s difficult to gauge these things empirically, of course. One test would be to compare the number of people who boast of their hatred. Twitter Lefties often declare in their self-descriptions “hates capitalism” or “hates Tories”; but there are very few bios proclaiming “hates socialism”.
Another measure would be to ask in an opinion poll, as the New Statesman did earlier this year, whether you’d abandon a friend who voted the other way. More than twice as many Labour voters would drop a friend who voted Conservative as the reverse.
If you really want quantifiable evidence, though, look at the extensive results compiled by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt who has, for many years, run surveys in which people try to imagine the views of their political opponents. While Rightists are pretty good at guessing how Leftists think, the reverse is not true: conservatives are widely supposed to be sadistic, cruel and mercenary, and to translate these character failings into their political opinions.
Which brings me to a telling aspect of the Manchester événements. Several journalists were caught up in the unpleasantness: spat at, abused and – in at least one case – threatened with violence. Some of these journalists, especially those from anti-Tory papers, tried to deflect the mob by declaring what they did for a living.
Think about that for a moment. Their implication, surely, is that if they really had been Conservatives, it would have been fine to spit at them.
I mention this because these journalists are often the first to draw attention to what they regard as inappropriate language when it comes to, say, immigrants. They are constantly on their guard against “Othering”: the process by which certain groups are dehumanised through aggressive language. Yet, when it comes to Tories, plenty of educated, middle-class columnists write off millions of their fellow-countrymen as less than fully human.
Here, to pluck an example at random, is Charlie Brooker in the Guardian:
“The Conservative Party is an eternally irritating force for wrong that appeals exclusively to bigots, toffs, money-minded machine men, faded entertainers and selfish, grasping simpletons born with some essential part of their soul missing”.
If a newspaper wrote about, say, black people that way, it would be charged – not charged by public opinion, but charged in court – for inciting violence. Yet there is apparently no connection between treating conservatism as some sort of moral illness and spitting at Tory delegates.
I should stress that several Labour supporters were gratifyingly unequivocal in their condemnation of the Manchester protesters – including Jeremy Corbyn, who has never gone in for personal invective. But much of the press coverage still treats throwing eggs and the shouting abuse at conference delegates as a bit of harmless fun.
It’s not harmless. The targets are as much deserving of sympathy as anyone else. All party activists are motivated out of a sense of patriotism. Whatever their affiliations, they are all giving up their time to advance a cause they believe in. Is that such a difficult concept?