The Blog

A Post-Election Call to Arms Against Simplism

Let's start this by challenging the simplism of the debates about the next Labour leader to go beyond what seems to be the only question currently being asked, whether the party should be more or less 'New' Labour. It's simple, who's with me?

Do you remember when George W Bush declared that "You're either with us or against us"?

Stressing there could be no neutrality in the 'war on terror', not only did his statement effectively shut down any opportunity for challenge but so too did he mask an extremely complex and dangerous situation behind a façade of overt simplism. Impressive.

In the intervening years, it seems that a whole host of other issues have been similarly masked; a façade of simplism now appearing to be part and parcel of much of our everyday understanding.

This has been especially pronounced since last week's General Election. Having gained a majority of MPs in Parliament - significantly different to a majority of votes from those eligible to do so - the past week has been marked by 'no longer shy' and increasingly belligerent Tory supporters falling over themselves to tell those of us on the left to just put up and shut up. For some on social media, merely expressing disappointment at Labour's capitulation is evidence that we're enemies of democracy. Some even inferred that Labour voters need to accept collective responsibility for the idiot who decided to deface the Women of World War II memorial in Whitehall.

All this was particularly harsh given that all I did was change my profile picture to a badge stating 'I didn't vote Tory' and tried to capture my disappointment in 140 characters. It was also unfair because once the Human Rights Act is scrapped and the new counter-terror measures are introduced, it'll be unlikely that any of us will have the right to either free speech or peaceful protest.

On a separate note, wasn't it only this year that Cameron marched with millions of others in defence of free speech in France?

Much the same can be seen in the diatribes of those attacking Charlotte Church as a hypocrite and 'champagne socialist' just because she criticised the Conservatives' austerity measures. Given that for every Charlotte Church there are plenty more Gary Barlow's, I found her comments to be a breath of fresh air. For her critics however, many struggled with how someone with substantial wealth could even have, let alone voice concern for the 'have nots'?

Simplism therefore requires us to uncritically see and understand the world through conventions and norms that have either been imposed or agreed upon but which have undoubtedly become become taken for granted. For celebrities like Charlotte Church then, their wealth and status is taken for granted as making them happier, more attractive and sexier than the rest of us. Being a celebrity and having (controversial?) political opinions therefore broke with convention and so she had to be either dismissed or denigrated.

True also of Russell Brand after lending his support to the New Era housing estate tenant's protests last year. Although Brand himself appears to have recently succumbed to simplism having begun the recent election campaign stating that there was no point voting, before encouraging others to vote Labour only to then withdraw his endorsement once it became clear they had failed to emerge as victors. Simplistically, Brand put his u-turns down to getting caught up in the moment.

By reducing extremely complex issues down overly simplistic and simplified black or white, yes or no, good or bad dualisms, so the grey that exists between the two - the complexity and nuance, the questions and uncertainties - not only becomes rendered irrelevant but can so too be completely ignored. So for Cameron and George Osborne's mantra of 'we're all in this together', it's far easier to present the public with simple either/or choices than it is presenting and subsequently defending the true facts about debt, deficit, cuts and so on.

Far from being criticised or questioned, simplism is increasingly valued and celebrated evident in the popularity of those such as Katie Hopkins. Unlike Charlotte Church and her articulation of coherent and considered arguments, Hopkins thrives by perpetuating overly simplistic and superficial inaccuracies and misrepresentations at the same time as framing herself as one of the few to 'see it as it is' by baulking against political correctness 'gone mad'.

As the example of Hopkins shows, simplism makes it easier to position yourself as right, true and correct without the need for any valid justification or explanation whatsoever. Similarly, it also makes it easier to dismiss everyone who disagrees with you, again without the need for valid justification or explanation. Maybe this is what Nick Clegg meant when he said that the popularity of 'us-versus-them' politics does little except provide a "false comfort of grievance".

Here then begins my campaign against simplism. I demand that more questions are asked; that accepted conventions, norms and discourses are routinely challenged and interrogated; and that greater complexity and nuance are embraced, noting that this is likely to create as much uncertainty and confusion as indeed provide clarity and answers.

And let's start this by challenging the simplism of the debates about the next Labour leader to go beyond what seems to be the only question currently being asked, whether the party should be more or less 'New' Labour.

It's simple, who's with me?