If the Leveson Inquiry does nothing else, then it has at least provided a useful guide to the British Left for those of us on the saliva-speckled wastelands of British conservatism.
Political tribes are complex but occasionally one issue will neatly divide a movement into easily identifiable clans, of which press regulation is one. And on one side you have one part of the British Left, the liberal tradition that values the liberty of all as a starting principle, and on the other the radical tradition that sees press freedom as a way for the rich to monopolise power.
We might call them ‘The Decent Left’ and ‘The Idiots’; and while it’s not a clear-cut test, and there may be some Idiots against regulation and some Decents in favour, as a rule of thumb it works. Here is a rough taxonomic guide to finding out how is a Decent and who is an Idiot:
Do they see their opponents as evil, and with malignant motives? Do they start from the premise that their opponents have darker motives, and that this is start of some appalling slaughter of the innocents?
Are their politics motivated by hate? So much of the vitriol against the Daily Mail is pretty weird, all these people shouting about how hateful the paper is and yet so full of hate themselves. If you hate your opponents it becomes much easier to deny them the right to speak or to force them to work in the fields where the shock of manual labour would probably kill my effete, bourgeois body.
Moral equivalence. Virginia Woolf was the grandmummy, equating Nazi Germany with the parliamentary democracy in which she was allowed to wallow in self-pity. The modern version is equating the crimes of Britain, Israel and the US (of which there are many) with fundamentally awful and violent organisations like the Taliban and Ba’ath Party. The Iraq War was a fairly good (although not perfect) test of Decents v Idiots, although in that case the Idiots were probably right in the outcome (sometimes the worst people turn out to be right).
Do the ends justify the means? If you think that lying and cheating and character assassinations are necessary for the greater good, your greater good will probably turn out to be somewhere with a lot of lying and cheating and assassinations (maybe real ones).
Power. For the Decent Left, the aim is to make society freer, fairer or kinder; for the Idiots it’s about power, which is why Leveson appeals.
Which leads us to freedom of speech. Do you respect your opponent’s right to a fair platform for his opinion, or do you define it as ‘hate speech’ to be vilified and ultimately criminalised?
Recently some leftist bloggers have been discussing the issue of political intolerance, some good reasons for which are given here, although I would add the powerful effect of political correctness in academia; plus the fact that politics has now taken on the same function as religion for many people, along with the righteousness and sectarianism that characterises believers.
We also forget that living peacefully with people possessed of vastly different opinions and worldviews is pretty unnatural (which is why the internet winds people up) and takes a great deal of effort. In most of the world it’s not tolerated, and that it is here took a lot of spilling of blood to achieve.
Man’s natural desire is to his crush his enemies, see them driven before him and to hear the lamentation of their women. That is good! Having to endlessly debate them is just annoying. And however much the Decent Left dislike the shrieking, unpleasant, perverse and contrary voices of our side, they appreciate that freedom isn’t the sound of butterflies in the field but the less pleasant but equally necessary drone of your opponent’s voices.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.