While launching her campaign to be returned as MP for North West Durham, Laura Pidcock revealed the barmy self-righteousness that has taken over the Labour party. This is how she wrapped up her speech:
‘I know it has been a long time coming, but we are on the path to justice. And because people know that it is perfectly possible that Jeremy Corbyn could be our prime minister, you can be sure that absolutely everything, absolutely everything, is going to be thrown at us in the next few weeks. People will say some of the most hurtful things about our people and our communities and our political representatives. Please forgive them, please forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
The first three sentences are normal enough. Our political opponents will malign us because of our bold policies – they will call our radicalism extremism. The normal next step would be to say either, ‘Let’s do some straight-talking of our own’, or ‘Let’s not sink to their level’. Either of these options would be perfectly sane. But to quote Jesus is rather less so.
Jesus’ words are famous and some of them are catchy, so I can see that it must be really tempting for a certain sort of politician to quote them. But it’s seldom a brilliant idea. They tend not to fit too well into political speeches.
In this case there are two problems. The first problem is that it makes her sound insincere. Does she really advocate a political version of peace? The Labour party under Corbyn has made a serious bid to be ‘the nasty party’, so claims to be virtuous just sound creepy.
The second problem is not simply self-righteousness – progressives always imply that they have the moral high-ground, and often use semi-religious imagery. They can’t really avoid doing so because – in a way they don’t tend to grasp – progressive politics is inextricable from secularised Christianity (they know not what they do, you could say).
But Pidcock’s little foray into such rhetoric is a step further. This is a sort of apocalyptic self-righteousness. It goes beyond the normal sort of preachiness, which belongs to the realm of normal moral discourse and suggests all decent people can be persuaded by the case for progressive policies.
Instead, this little flourish announces a total gulf between the children of light and the children of darkness. It is futile to try to enlighten these benighted enemies. They have their pre-ordained role to play in the cosmic drama that is now unfolding. Her words, you could say, are an extremist’s version of ‘passive aggressive’.