As the Conservative Party Conference draws to a close, we have been treated to some of the worst displays of political intolerance by the British New Left since the riots which followed the General Election. However, as Conservatives, we must not allow ourselves to be intimidated, nor to simply consider such behaviour an "occupational hazard" of being right-wing in Britain today.
I was unable to attend Conference myself (because, unlike what certain "Class Warriors" may have you believe, not all Conservatives have enough money to pay £100 for a student conference pass, plus train tickets, plus accommodation for the week, still less to start their days with a bottle of Bollinger accompanied by cocaine and orphan tears). However, the reports coming out of Conference have been as consistent as they are concerning. On at least the first night, what appeared to be anti-Tory patrols were set up at night, "demonstrating" outside pubs where the delegates congregated, and intimidating anyone who "looked Tory" (whatever that means) on the streets. Then we have the myriad assaults on both delegates and journalists, from spitting, to egging, to one Tory councillor being beaten up. And last but not least, we have the incessant verbal abuse being thrown at delegates, from chants of "Tory Scum"; to rape threats; and, most shockingly of all, a Jewish delegate being told to "get back to Auschwitz". A "new, kinder politics" indeed.
Yet, sadly, such activities by the "New Left", as the mob is sometimes known, are unsurprising to me, not least because this is exactly how they behaved after the General Election; the news that more working-class areas of the country such as Leeds decided to return Tory MPs, rather than the Labour ones that the metropolitan, self-appointed "Class Warriors" would rather they returned, was met not with any kind of dignified respect for one's loss in a free and fair election, but with riots on the streets of London. In Oxford, too, a Conservative friend of mine was attacked in the street for singing I Vow to Thee My Country several weeks after the election also. And, lest we forget, a lecturer from Oxford published a piece suggesting that all Tories are morally compromised, and that voting Tory should be considered as bad as being openly racist. In such an atmosphere, it should be unsurprising that the New Left now also feel it appropriate to behave in the manner they have done towards the Conference of a legitimately elected government, with a voting system on which we had a referendum and chose not to change.
However, the consideration by the New Left of their opponents as morally compromised clearly does not end at an ill-advised, fallacious blog post from Oxford. When interviewed by the Telegraph, for instance, a protestor claimed that it was justifiable to consider all Tories to be sociopathic, and (unsurprisingly), Tory delegates were also slandered with the label of "murderers" (which they are not; that is a statement of fact) by protestors. Perhaps most disgraceful has been the reaction by many commenters to an interview between Owen Jones and Liverpool-born Daniel Freeman, where commenters - among other nasty comments - made fun of his accent and suggested that, simply because he didn't sound like a "typical Scouser", he was in fact ashamed of his upbringing. This is, of course, nonsense, but it doesn't matter; the "Class War" politics of certain sections of the New Left simply does not allow for anyone who is not upper-middle class to rationally come to the decision to vote Conservative.
It must also be asked, however: how did we end up with this kind of behaviour this year, as opposed to previous years? While the fact that the Conservatives managed to (legitimately) win a majority clearly has something to do with it (I refer you once again to the violence visited upon London after the New Left discovered that the public didn't agree with them, either in seats or vote share - with 51% of votes going to right-wing parties), I don't think we can escape the idea that the changes in the Labour leadership have had something to do with it. The entire campaign around Jeremy Corbyn, for instance, was characterised by breathtaking intolerance even against other Labour members, who were branded as "Tories" purely for not supporting Corbyn and journalists reporting facts about Corbyn's connections were dismissed as producing "right wing smears", and said people got their man onto the front benches in a stunning victory. More troubling still is that at the right hand of the new leader sits John McDonnell, a man who has made his own contempt for democracy (when he loses, of course) quite evident. With such people now at the top of the Party, it should be no wonder that the mob besieging Conference seems to feel more justified than ever in its tactics.
Regardless of how representative or not you consider such people, we cannot escape the fact, however, that Corbyn has shown a startling lack of leadership when it comes to how to properly treat your opponents. At his own Party Conference, he even hugged a delegate that disgustingly and slanderously compared the policies of Iain Duncan Smith to the gas chambers of Nazi Germany; when he endorses rhetoric such as this (why else would he have acted the way he did?), then of course it will be considered more legitimate the hurl slanders of "murderer" at ordinary people who do the unthinkable and support another party. Nor has his conduct during the Conservative Conference been helpful either; his condemnation of spitting at journalists, for instance, did not extend to spitting at Tories. Moreover, his speaking to the "People's Assembly" that has created the scenes we see outside each day of the Conference, was hardly going to encourage them to be more respectful, but instead to embolden them with the impression that their leader is behind them, so everything is still permitted. When put against this, his prior warnings to be respectful (which have hardly been followed up) look pitiful.
It must be asked, however: what on Earth are these people trying to achieve? Nobody is going to be convinced to change their voting preferences by being called "scum" or "murderer", or by being spat on or assaulted or pelted with balls. Nor are the army of non-voters some Corbynistas seem to think will now come crawling out of the woodwork likely to be convinced by a hate mob screaming outside a conference as opposed to the policies being discussed inside said conference. Moreover, the mob is increasingly abandoning as much ground as possible in its quest for ideological purity; issues such as FGM, mental health, and rehabilitating prisoners all featured in David Cameron's speech (leading Dan Hodges to declare that he now leads the British Left), and the answer to Cameron spelling out ideas with increasingly broad support is not - assuming the New Left actually wants to win an election - to keep broadening the category of people to be branded "Tory scum".
It would be remiss of me to conclude, however, without my criticism of the Conservatives' leadership on the Conference issues too: namely, that they told their supporters to hide their conference passes and avoid wearing suits so that they would be less likely to be targeted. Such pleas seem to suggest that it a Conservative should hide their politics (or change their dress sense), rather than instead encouraging Conservatives to be proud of their ideology and making it clear that it is not the job of a Conservative to avoid "provoking" the New Left protestors (which they do by existing), but for the protestor not to spit on someone purely for the act of disagreement. While it is now often considered an "occupational hazard" of being right-wing to suffer verbal or even physical attacks from the New Left, we must stop thinking like that; such attacks are not some kind of inevitable and morally neutral result of disagreement, but reprehensible conduct that needs to be condemned lest it become normalised.
A far better example was set by Johnny Mercer, who replied to a protestor that he was indeed "a f**king Tory" and challenged him to do something about it. Mercer's example is one we should emulate; we should be proud to wear our Conservatism on our sleeves, and not tacitly legitimise the idea that it is acceptable to spit at, slander, or assault people purely because they vote for another party. And sending out such a message starts with us holding our heads high; it certainly won't be set by some kind of Road to Damascus moment by the New Left, not least because until we do make clear that we won't be intimidated, they will continue to think that their tactics are working.