Who the hell is demonstrating in favour of the normal, moderate, people these days?
So, there they all were on Saturday. Ten thousand ‘lockdown deniers’ in Trafalgar Square. And, what a bunch. Anti-vaxxers! The British Union of Fascists! David Icke! And… Piers Corbyn!
What a raggle-taggle soup of extremist loonies. And yet, from completely opposite political credos. Surely, they would rather knife each other than share a ‘platform’? Which got me thinking. Who the hell is demonstrating in favour of the normal, moderate, people these days? Why are we just left to watch in unrepresented despair?
I guess my befuddlement all started with the Brexit debate. Suffering ill-health in the mid 2010s, I had missed much of the new politics. And when I finally ‘came round’ in early 2019, I had no idea what the hell was going on. All over the papers was Boris Johnson – Zipwire Boris – the jolly host of Have I Got News For You?, and the London mayor whom I had briefly met at a drunken evening for magazine editors in 2010. He was about to become leader of the Conservative party?
Weird in an entirely different way – and far more disappointing – was the fact that the Labour Party was now being run by a Marxist cult. I had voted Labour for my entire adult life. So I was particularly upset by sight of the word ‘antisemitism’ linked to the Momentum leadership, a concept I hadn’t seen or thought about since my teens, and was very lucky not to have suffered.
I was watching the coverage of the Tory leadership vote in June 2019, thinking ahead to a possible general election. Feeling a little mischievous after a glass of wine, I tweeted out the following:
‘Please help. Labour voter since 1987. Am Jewish. Obviously am not going to vote Labour now. Do I vote Tory? Do I endorse Boris? Do I just waste my voting privilege that women died for? Please advise.’
What was I thinking? I had to take cover under my desk. Because without giving me pause for breath, the Momentum trolls dived in. Immediately the subject got on to Israel, the ‘war crime regime’.
My journalistic integrity was impugned several times over. Someone asked me if I had ever ‘written anything worthwhile’. ‘Who is she? Who cares?’ asked someone else. ‘Do’t (sic) let the door hit you on the arse on the way out,’ wrote a delightful left-wing antisemite, who wanted me to go ‘home’.
Proceedings then took a more encouraging turn, when politicised Jews joined the fray. These were closely followed by supportive tweets from reasonable people across the political divide, from Conservatives to Lib Dems to moderate Labour party members, and the excellent centre-left columnist, Nick Cohen.
(One of these supportive people was a Jewish American writer who is now my boyfriend. I feel more Jewish than at any point in the last 30 years. Unintended consequences. Bite on that, b*tches.)
After this baptism of fire, I soon got used to the weird, polarised nature of it all. I had came of age in late 80s’ Britain, and spent a year at Manchester University, before transferring down to London. Like me, many of my peers had benefited from private education. But, in 1986 – when I turned 18 – you simply did not vote Tory. It was the party that had destroyed the miners, that was to introduce the Poll Tax. We sang: ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie -out, out, out!’ at student union bashes. I marched against the introduction of student loans in 1988.
Young Conservatives wore Barbour jackets with upturned collars and listened to Eric Clapton, who had spoken out in favour of Enoch Powell. We wore DMs and red-stitched Levis, and listened to the Smiths.
I didn’t think much about politics in my 20s, to be honest. I was too busy with boyfriends and my incipient career in women’s magazines. But I was perfectly happy in 1997 when Tony Blair and New Labour were voted in. They seemed a reasonable fit with my (pretty uninformed) life philosophy. Success was rewarded, rich people were taxed more, the NHS deserved more money, Liam Gallagher turned up at your parties.
Fast forward to the late 20-teens, and Labour is run by Trade Unionists and anti-Zionists. I have never been particularly interested in the minutiae of Israeli politics, but I will damn right defend the right of the only Jewish state on the planet to exist. I encounter for the first time the ugly, ungrammatical use of the word ‘woke’ to represent a new brand of humourless political correctness. I puzzle over an article about an actor where the pronouns suddenly go awry – the word ‘they’ is used, instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. At first, I think that the sub-editor is having a stroke. Then I realise that it’s a new way of referring to a ‘non-binary’ person.
Earlier this year, my American boyfriend tells me that a certain academic has been ‘cancelled’. What? I cry, horrified. What is this term? A person can be deleted? Like a hair-dressing appointment or a train? Don’t be silly. Then I see the term start to pop up in British media, most notably about JK Rowling, for making a common-sense remark about only women having uteruses, and lecturers who discuss the ambiguities of the British Empire.
Then I have my own (very small) experience of all this. From last summer, I was a member of a journalists’ Facebook group with 800 members. For, gossip and contact-sharing, it was great fun. But during one heated discussion – and, oh! there were many of those – I upset the Corbyn-supporting friend of one of the administrators.
Feeling that life was too short, I left the group. A month or so later, I missed the chat, and asked to be let back in (you had to ‘apply’). There was a deafening silence of several days while the admins ‘considered’ my reapplication. Channelling my own version of Groucho Marx, I told the most moderate of the four that I have changed my mind: if it is taking this long for them to decide, I didn’t really want to rejoin the group after all. ‘Phew!’ She said. ’You have saved us a difficult conversation.’
I had been cancelled.
This was just journalistic ‘handbags’ (and, after a brief sting, really didn’t spoil my day). But the point here, I think, is that the censorious left had prevailed in shutting up a voice they didn’t much agree with. The constant mutterings about ‘right wing media owners’ hadn’t sat that well with me, either. They were dangerously close to left-wing tropes about Jewish /Rothschilds/ bankers’ conspiracies to take over the world. A bit uncomfortably reminiscent of that antisemitic mural by Mear One, which Jeremy Corbyn had famously and so pointedly refused to criticise.
Maybe I’m wondering off the point here. But what was interesting to me was the way several silent members of this Facebook group wrote to me after I had departed. ‘We support you,’ they said. ‘But we are too frightened to say anything.’ And: ‘Just by being in the middle, we are seen as Tory – and we are not.’
‘Centrist’, I have recently been astonished to learn, has now become a dirty word in some leftist circles. Almost akin to ‘racist’.
Apologies, for I have rambled. And here, finally, is the point. We are a microcosm of educated society, but hundreds of professional writers in this Facebook group felt we were not represented. We are – like many in the wider world – (sorry to use the cliché, but it’s accurate) ‘politically homeless’. No-one speaks for us. We are the quiet majority who reluctantly voted Conservative in December. Or not at all.
And so, what of the future? Keir Starmer looks promising, but he has a way to go to regain the confidence of many moderate voters. Not least, the many Jews who question the deep-seated antisemitism that still exists within the Labour party, whatever platitudes are spun out from time to time.
Meanwhile, Boris and co have the Brexit omni-shambles to sort out, and trundle ever more to the right.
Which leaves the rest of us – those of us who like to laugh, debate, throw their hat to the left or to the right depending on the issue, who believe that trans people should be allowed to live as whichever sex they choose, but also that women have uteruses and should be allowed to get them smeared – without a political place to call their own.
Who will march for us in Trafalgar Square?