When I joined Twitter, I knew that I would be witness to arguments and name-calling on a regular basis. It is only when I started becoming more active in my writing and networking, that I realised the rather disturbing level to which people’s views are stubbornly entrenched.
Political ideology has never been respectfully administered, but the advent of social media has transformed debate into an ugly and mocking situation. The shadowed nature of online debate is dehumanising political ideology entirely, replacing traditional vehicles for politics with more subtle activism.
The most revealing debate that British politics is living through is the conflict between a vocal socialism and a disorganised far-right conservatism. This has been fuelled by the successes and failures of political parties, and their public profiles. Ideology has always existed yes, but after years of bubbling tension it has returned to its roots on the political spectrum.
This culture of ideology that Britain is experiencing is not new or ground-breaking. Despite what many activists would argue, both left and right-wing politics have been previously supported by grassroots movements and activism. Their motivations are as distinct as their policies, but their popularity often depends on the political climate or the failings of an opposing ideological force.
In today’s case, Jeremy Corbyn’s democratic socialism has undoubtedly burst forth due to a stagnant Labour party. The New Labour message had dwindled after Ed Miliband’s loss at the 2015 general election. Perhaps it was opportunism or anger that fuelled Corbyn’s rise to power. Nevertheless, his position as leader is firmly guarded by activists and fanatical supporters. This fanatical nature was revealed to me when I was pounced upon by a small horde of Twitter users when defending a post by the Labour MP Jess Phillips. I was amazed at the speed and strength of their following.
One Twitter user commented a fairly ordinary retort to a previous argument; it was deafeningly praised and retweeted despite the fact that it was a fairly ordinary comment without a substantial argument. Gazing upon the comments on any Corbyn-sceptic Labour MP is disturbing and difficult to witness. Any potential Corbyn-sceptics are pounced upon at every opportunity. I have a great respect for the Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy who has championed women’s rights and anti-discrimination since her assent to Parliament. Any potential avenue for harassment is seized by opponents, and the criticism does not let up.
Such is the experience of the moderate politician, it seems. In the Conservative arena, the atmosphere is less dense with vitriol. However, the Brexit negotiations and any related political discourse have been subject to very similar experiences. Anti-Brexit MPs such as Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, or Justine Greening, have all been subjected to horrendous streams of abuse from party members and activists.
The growth of a vocal far-right has poisoned the debate with a rhetoric of hate precipitated by the far-right. Brexit has been an outstanding vehicle for hatred. The whole policy was developed on a xenophobic message that has since been used to spread nationalism and neo-liberal economics.
The official Brexiters are indelibly tied to the far-right support for the policy. UKIP’s undying influence is the infusion of British politics with an isolationist nationalism that was previously denounced by official Conservatives. It is difficult to see how the Conservative party will recover from this far-right stain. Though the strength of far-right conservatism is so strong, it may be simply ignored or even apprenticed.
What drives the passionate and dedicated beliefs of these two opposing forces is the prospect of a better Britain. Corbyn’s cronies are convinced that Keynesian approaches to the economy will revitalise a much-beleaguered public sector. Through this charge, more trust will be placed in the political system though there are doubts that this simplistic method will work. It must be said that the Corbyn message is a definite socialist model, but there are more political issues to consider other than economics. But after years of austerity, this model must be appealing to tired voters who have suffered harshly at the hands of Tory Britain.
The message of the far-right is also linked inextricably to the instances of Tory Britain. It must be said that without Brexit, the vehicle for far-right expansionism is destroyed and so their message would lose traction. Brexit’s message to the far-right has been the danger of Europe and outside influences.
I am certain that in a few years academics and scholars will be pumping out books and articles on the reasons for Brexit. But like Corbyn’s following, the far-right is saluting a single based concept that will, in their eyes, ultimately solve the world’s problems.
That, then, is the surprising similarity between Corbyn and the far-right. Both followings have simple conceptual messages that spurn swathes of different policies, that are ultimately achieved by the success of the movement. Even the rhetoric of both groups is similar in its motions and methods. Browsing the Twitter profiles of #JC9 and #StandUp4Brexit followers are undoubtedly opposed in what they represent. Though the language and activism of both groups is strikingly similar. Both are thuggish and confrontational and are mocking of the other group.
But what is different about this comparison to moderate politics, is the lack of respect and acceptance to each other. In parliamentary politics, there is a sense of respect and candour surrounding the attitudes of representatives. In the more extremist setting, respect is fired from a cannon through the doors of the House of Commons. I suspect that once this stressful and maniacal period of politics is over, a Restoration must occur to reconstruct public trust.
In short, the ideological differences of Parliament have always existed whether it be through economic or societal issues. The current wave of seemingly endless political tension is building to a flashpoint that will determine the politics of post-Brexit. You can feel the malaise and strain in the air, or even as you walk into a local town. Something’s not quite right, and people are turning to the ideological opposites for answers. If Rousseau’s ‘general will’ is anything to go by, all it will take is for a spark to ignite, then the whole damn thing comes crumbling to the ground.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)