Munroe Bergdorf has resigned as Labour’s LGBT adviser after just one week in the job. Her appointment looked quite promising until it emerged she had deployed ‘butch lezza’ as an insult, joked that she’d like to ‘gay bash’ a TV character, and described gay Tory men as ‘a special kind of dickhead’. ‘Ever find that sometimes you’re just NOT in the mood for a gay and their flapping arms,’ she once mused on Twitter. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest gay rights advocacy isn’t the career for her.
She has quit, citing ‘attacks on my character by the conservative right wing press’. Of course, there is no need to attack Bergdorf when you can simply quote her. Last year, she was dropped as L’Oreal’s first trans model for telling white people they are ‘the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth’ and their ‘entire existence is drenched in racism’. Yeah but she doesn’t mean ALL white people, right? ‘Yes ALL white people.’ Ah. Well, she’s a trans woman and it’s 100 years since the franchise began to be equalised. She must at least rate the Suffra.. ‘The Suffragettes were white supremacists,’ she tweeted. What, even those nice singing ones from Mary Poppins?
Here my inner liberal gets all squishy. Identity politics is a counsel of despair but left and right alike are now firmly in the grip of sectarianism and probably will be for some time. To anyone under 40 unfortunate enough to hold an arts or social sciences degree, Bergdorf’s worldview is a bit oversimplified but uncontroversial. If you add phrases like ‘discourse analysis’ and ‘androcentric paradigms’ at random most of her statements read like the abstract of a peer reviewed journal article. But – and I can’t emphasise this enough – please can we stop getting people fired for saying things we don’t like?
Incidentally, you’ll notice those feisty foes of bigotry on the Labour benches who clamoured for (and got) Toby Young’s scalp were very quiet on this one. I argued at the time that he had written stupid and objectionable things but that shouldn’t prevent him bringing his educational experience to bear as a board member at the Office for Students. But, no, he had to go. So forgive me if I don’t join the gloating over Bergdorf’s downfall. Not even by flapping my arms. What is obnoxious is not her views – she’s not entirely wrong about structural racism or the legacies of colonialism and slavery – but her towering, mesmeric moral superiority complex. Challenged on her homophobic remarks, she offered this by way of mitigation:
‘I do continue to be confused by how somebody who identifies as a gay male can actively support a political party such as the Conservatives.’
Moral exceptionalism has a distinguished pedigree in Labour politics. When Morgan Phillips, general secretary in the 1940s and ’50s, ventured that Labour owed more to Methodism than Marxism, he was correctly tracing the party’s roots to dissenting Christianity and liberal gradualism rather than Leninist theoretics. But he was also fingering the religious zeal that animated British socialism. Poverty, unemployment, and slum housing were not mere economic or social problems but moral abominations – sins against natural justice in a Creation of equality in the likeness of God. Christ died for our transgressions; Labour legislated for them.
From the theological radicals of the Labour Church to Gordon Brown’s Samaritan social democracy, socialism was organic to the Christian ethic. Even nonbelievers shared the conviction that Labourism was, in part, the bringing of moral conscience to bear on an unjust world. Socialism was next to godliness.
As time passed and Labour left Scripture behind in favour of sociology, that righteous fury remained, but for some its expression became an assertion of moral supremacy. Labour is good and decent and cares about people, so its trespasses can be forgiven. The Tories are evil and cruel and despise the downtrodden; they may occasionally stumble onto the right answer but they are inherently wicked. Labour’s moral supremacists revere Nye Bevan’s ‘lower than vermin’ speech – a phrase with grisly echoes in 1948 and justly rebuked by Clement Attlee. But just as devoutly they hold the inverse belief: that they sit above fallen man, the centrists and the floating voters and the Tories who have not accepted Jeremy as their personal saviour. Their Labour Party owes more to messianism than Methodism.
Ethical chauvinism absolves you of the inconvenient burdens of virtue. You can excuse the failings of your side because you are already the elect. You can lecture others on racism while championing a party that is institutionally hostile to Jews. You can idolise a ‘friend’ of homicidal homophobes and a paid guest for the propaganda arm of a regime that hangs gay men then berate those who have forgiven the Tories for Section 28 and ‘an inalienable right to be gay’. You can demand the right for everyone to identify as what they want as long as they don’t espouse the wrong politics while doing so. You can do all this because you have a monopoly on morality, something Labour will continue to claim after Munroe Bergdorf has packed up her grievance suitcase and headed for the door.