Until recently, the rules on political labelling were clear. If you voted Labour, supported Remain and expressed how much you cared about refugees on Facebook, you were left wing and therefore a good person.
If you voted Tory, supported Leave or failed to signal your virtue on social media with the required frequency, you were right wing and therefore bad.
Today, however, this system for dividing society into good and evil is crumbling under the weight of its own oversimplifications.
It turns out that plenty of traditional Labour voters supported Leave, while many Tories went for Remain. The emergent Brexit Party has a broad range of candidates from both sides of the political spectrum. How complicating and how frustrating.
On social issues, the Left positions itself as a champion of the downtrodden, the victim groups at the foot of the oppression pyramid. How then to square the circle of feminists like Germaine Greer, who have fought for women’s equality their entire lives being at loggerheads with the trans-rights lobby, and gay rights advocates like Peter Tatchell defending free speech? The answer, it turns out, is simple: ban them from speaking and call them bigots.
We’ve seen the power and reach of this mentality expand in recent months. In January, police interrogated a middle-aged man from Humberside for retweeting a transphobic limerick and advised him to ‘check his thinking’. A month later, a mother was arrested in front of her autistic daughter and baby son, allegedly for misgendering a trans activist on social media.
The state, it seems, is becoming the enforcer of our new ‘liberal’ speech codes.
Inexplicably, even free speech has become a right-wing issue. When I refused to sign a ‘behavioural agreement’ form (a title invented by students who mistook George Orwell’s 1984 for an instruction manual) in order to perform comedy at the School of Oriental and African Studies just before Christmas, I was immediately called ‘alt-Right’ on national radio. When I tried to explain that I’m a Remainer with liberal and centrist views who has only voted Lib Dem or Labour, I was told ‘that’s what the alt-Right always say’.
I wonder how my Jewish great-grandfather, who died fighting Nazis in WWII, would feel about my transformation into a far-right extremist. As is customary in these cases, I was accused of being funded by murky billionaires like the Koch brothers. If I had a pound for every time this allegation was made, I wouldn’t need the Koch brothers’ money (which, to be clear, I’ve never been given).
I am, of course, not alone: Tom Walker, the man behind the character of Jonathan Pie and a life-long Labour voter has been repeatedly smeared as ‘right wing’ because he dares to ridicule both sides of the political divide. And we well remember Anna Soubry, the pro-European Tory MP, being called a ‘Nazi’ outside parliament in January for the sin of being a Remainer.
More recently, Andrew Doyle, the satirist behind Titania McGrath has been targeted by online hate mobs for daring to mock the ridiculousness of intersectional dogma. The accusations didn’t take long: another ‘right wing’, ‘straight white male’ failing to check his privilege. What the critics didn’t seem to know or care about is that Andrew is a committed leftie and, as he told me with his customary wit, most of the men he has slept with have been gay.
In an age where we are free to choose our gender, the one decision that is increasingly made for us by others is how we identify politically.
The range of contraventions which render a person ‘right wing’ will only grow over the years to come. Belief in democracy itself might well become a right-wing dog whistle since it delivers ‘problematic’ outcomes like Brexit and Donald Trump. Refusing to go vegan will likely land you on the far right by 2020, while a failure to develop lactose intolerance could soon out you as a white supremacist – milk is white after all.
As we increasingly walk on eggshells to appease a vocal minority of hyper-vigilant do-gooders, the sense that we are under arrest, where everything we say can and will be used against us in the court of public opinion, will continue to grow.
As the left slips further and further into the madness of identity politics and the right battles its extremist fringe, those of us who believe in civil discourse, freedom of expression and the idea that good people on both sides can have divergent views and still get along will have to hope that something more liberal emerges from the breakdown of the current political system.
I have a dream that one day we may judge each other by the values and ideas we believe in, not the colour of our skin, our gender or our sexual orientation. I have a dream that little woke children will one day play with little Jacob Rees-Mogg lookalikes in the virtual playgrounds of the future. Above all, I have a dream that one day, we will lighten up and learn to laugh at ourselves again. But then I would say that – I am right wing after all.
Konstantin Kisin is a Russian-British comedian. He will be performing his debut hour, ‘Orwell That Ends Well’, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. For tickets, visit the Gilded Balloon website.