The Case for a Politics of Tolerance

By Jack Emsley

A quick disclaimer; unlike Laura Pidock, I have a great deal of respect for those who I disagree with politically, and especially those in political parties that are not my own. It is sometimes fashionable in the age of online echo chambers to disparage those who vote a different way to us, or believe in different ideals, or propagate politicians we dislike. But the one fundamental statement that should bind us all together seems to have been forgotten. Irrespective of political party, most people interested in politics have one overarching aim: they want to see Britain become a tolerant, friendly and prosperous nation. Is that really such a disagreeable idea? Whether we want to reach that through a centrally planned economy or through radical free markets, through a strong defence or through scrapping trident, through a big state or through a small one; if we can all agree that the aim of politics should be to make Britain better for everyone in it, then there is room for us all to work together, even if we disagree on how to get there.

Politics should be about utilising our freedom of speech to stand up for every corner of society, not just those who we instinctively agree with on a policy question. So, it should follow that those who have the largest platform, the loudest voice, the widest audience, should use that to help better the most lives. Unfortunately, some of us seem to have forgotten it.

So, back to online echo chambers, and the morning of the general election result. Many of my left leaning friends spent a not inconsiderable amount of time celebrating what was, undeniably, a fantastic result for Labour. Through Facebook, they had a large platform, a wide audience, and of course (this is true of almost all politically engaged students, me more than most) a very loud voice. So if all of these things are true, why is there such a stony silence from these same people when it comes to the rise in anti-Semitism on the left? Why the dearth of Facebook statuses or Tweets condemning the misogynistic undercurrents of Momentum? Where is the sense of social outrage at the violence in Venezuela?

These are not bad people, and many of them are genuinely unaware of what is going on around them in the name of the Labour leader. I remember one occasion, during the election, where a left leaning friend of mine attacked as “fascist fake news” an article that denounced a vile anti-Semitic outburst during a Momentum rally in Bristol; when it was pointed out to her that the source of the article was the largest Jewish newspaper in the country, she was deeply apologetic. She is not a bad person for making a mistake, and certainly not anti-Semitic for being critical of news sources (if only we all could apply such discernment when reading articles from the Canary or AAR!). But that incident did highlight something deeply troubling; the instinctive, gut reaction of many of Corbyn’s supporters is to reject outright any criticism of the Momentum movement, even if this means turning a blind eye to racism, misogyny or support for foreign dictatorships.

Let me be clear, Labour isn’t the only Party with racists, misogynists and authoritarian apologists. But, to shamelessly steal Charlie Collard’s excellent line, engaging in a game of “whataboutery” does nothing to help the situation. When Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris disgracefully used a racial slur in a speech on Brexit, there could be no defence. It was not a case of “but Labour is anti-Semitic” or “Dianne Abbott was racist once too”. Her comments were condemned, her whip was withdrawn, and we’re better off for it, both as a Party and as a country. Jeremy Corbyn take note; that is how you deal with a racist.

Trying to justify intolerance, intimidation and thinly veiled threats against groups we instinctively disagree with simply has no place in British politics. It doesn’t matter if you think the other Party is worse. It doesn’t matter if you think your Party leader would make a better PM. It doesn’t matter that you agree with all the other policies. We all have a duty to stamp out intolerance, whether it comes from those on the same or opposite sides of the political fence.

It’s a damning indictment of the state of Corbyn’s “new kind of politics” that there are so many examples of nastiness in political discourse now that there was literally not enough column space to print them. But here’s my challenge to everyone who reads this article today: go outside of your echo chamber, put aside your Party loyalty and listen to what people are saying. If a Jew says they feel threatened by your Party’s policies, try to empathise rather than dismiss him as part of “that fascist conspiracy”. If a woman feels she isn’t treated equally by your Party hierarchy, try to empathise rather than dismiss her as “just another left-wing feminist”. Forget Party rhetoric, and seek out injustices wherever they may be. We will, all of us, be much better off for it.