I genuinely can‘t remember if this was funny to start with or not. But if in the mists of time it ever was, it has long since ceased to be.
I am talking about the suddenly omnipresent tendency to call anyone within the Labour Party — or, indeed, the left in general — with whom you disagree a “Tory”.
The logic goes, you see, that if you disagree with somebody, then they can’t be “left wing”. If they aren’t “left wing” then they must be Tory. It’s a pretty black and white way to view the world. Not to mention fantastically thin-skinned and short-sighted.
Primarily it seems to have been aimed at Liz Kendall, in the Labour leadership race, so far. Now, bear in mind I say this as someone who is not a Kendall supporter — but really, can we get a grip? Liz Kendall is not a Tory.
In fact, I’m pretty certain none of the leadership candidates are Tories.
This all feels very McCarthyist to me, but I’m minded to lay the blame for the beginnings of this particular bout of nonsense at the door of the SNP. Or, more accurately, their band of semi-feral online supporters who conduct themselves with decorum more befitting a gang of 1990s football hooligans than political activists. They mostly seem to be referred to as “cybernats”.
Throughout the Scottish independence referendum and the 2015 general election, anyone in Labour colours was branded a “red Tory”. That was quickly taken up by other non-Labour parties of the Left, such as the Green Party.
Now, it seems, we’re using it against each other.
My first problem is that it oscillates between being terribly unimaginative and more than a little stupid. If at any stage you found it impossible to distinguish between what Labour were offering and what the Tories were offering, then you are either not paying attention or you are lying to serve your own purposes.
Now, that’s not to say that you had to agree with the Labour policies. But if you can’t disagree with two separate things without branding them identical and decrying them as the boogeyman, then I fear for the future of a democracy based on your vote.
So I stand by that Liz Kendall isn’t a Tory. What seems to have precipitated the accusations is that she’s taken a line that when it comes to some things, maybe the Tories had a point. Well, given that they just won a majority in a general election, I’d suggest that rather a few of the public thought so as well.
Liz’s argument, as I see it, is that the public didn’t trust us on the economy, and that’s why we lost. Until that changes, we will keep losing. And if we keep losing, then we will never be able effect any of the changes we want to.
It isn’t, actually, an argument I disagree with, even if I do disagree with her prescription of how we regain that trust. It’s also not an argument that’s entirely unique to her. But it is an argument that needs to be heard, regardless of your view on it.
Now, I’m not a Liz Kendall supporter, I said that already. But the Labour Party has always been a broad church, and there has to be room for Kendall and Corbyn supporters, both. I, actually, called for Corbyn to be nominated to allow a wider debate. I’m not going to vote for him, and there are a great many of his ideas I’m not keen on, but we need to have the widest possible debate, and that means listening to views and opinions that we may not agree with.
What attitudes like “Liz Kendall is a Tory” does is poison the debate. We’ve seen from George Osborne’s latest budget the disruptive effect that appropriating some of your opponents’ best ideas can have. We’ve seen from the recent election what appealing to too narrow a section of the electorate can do.
We need to produce not only the best leadership team, but the best ideas from this election. That’s not going to happen if we’re more interested as a movement in calling each other Tories than in building a Labour Party that can win power and build the better country that we so want.