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When will the Left stop telling itself fairy tales?

Who would like to hear more Das Kapital? Credit: Getty

October 11, 2021 - 12:30pm

Why do the Conservatives keep on winning? This is how John Harris in The Guardian presents the question:

The Tories’ opponents
 boggle at how a rightwing politics seemingly composed of stories and unlikely visions — as well as outright lies — can be so successful.
- John Harris, Guardian

In answering it Harris draws upon a 2007 book by Drew Westen, The Political Brain, which argues that, in politics, emotion trumps reason. So while those wicked Tory deceivers like Boris Johnson manipulate our emotions by telling tall tales, “liberals and leftists tend to be unduly fixated with ‘policy debates, arguments [and] statistics’.”

The irony here is that this explanation is itself pure narrative — in fact, it’s a version of that most childish of stories: the other side only won because they weren’t playing fair. 

Far from being laid low by an excess of clear-headed rationalism, the Left keeps on losing because it is lost within its own make-believe world. Of course, the Right also indulges in story-telling, spin and every conceivable shade of political BS — but there’s a special quality to the fantasies of the Left. 

That’s because they’ve been developed not just into stories, but theories — ostensibly rational (but demonstrably false) accounts of how reality works. It begins with Marx who thought he could treat history like a science and thus provide a guide to the future. Unfortunately for his disciples, history had other ideas, especially in regard to the class struggle. The Left has struggled to explain the divergence between theory and reality ever since. 

In more recent decades whole sections of the Left have switched to a different group of theories — the assortment of post-modern ideologies that fuelled the rise of woke politics.

But it’s not just the radical Left that’s taken a narrative-overdose. It’s happened in the centre-ground too — especially in regard to the interlinked issues of Europe and immigration. The liberal Left was so wrapped up in its feel-good stories about EU integration and the free movement of labour that they ignored the effect it was having on wages domestically. Brexit was the result. 

John Harris is clearly sceptical about Tory attempt to present the current supply chain crisis as an opportunity for raising wages and restructuring the economy. But to his credit, he says that the spin “draws on a few hard realities — most notably, the fact that the cracks in an exploitative labour market really have been papered over by the use of cheap labour from overseas.”

He’s correct. These are hard realities. In place of impotent rage at the Right, the Left must ask itself how it managed to ignore what was there all along.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

peterfranklin_

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

I read that article and my main thoughts were:

  1. Hmm, odd. Far from being the ones concerned with rationalism and policy debate – the Left, for me, always seem to be the ones most led by emotion and one of its most annoying relations, victimhood.
  2. When wondering about the continued buoyancy of the Tories, one may like to consider that, for some people, taking risks and a new path in the pursuit of freedom (or simply to move away from a status quo that has become untenable) can be scary because of the uncertainty on the way and in terms of outcome. But it can also be exhilarating and, in their eyes, worth a bit of discomfort and suffering in the short- to medium-term to get to a better situation afterward. In other words, these people have an entrepreneurial mindset – which seems a fairly alien concept to the writers at the Guardian and similar. And if there is no real understanding of this attitude, then it’s no wonder they’re still standing around scratching their heads and at a loss to explain why the “scum” is still so popular.
Last edited 2 years ago by Katharine Eyre
A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Spot on. Was going to comment something similar but you beat me to it.
The left has for as long as time played on the emotional. They after all are “for the poor and downtrodden” – and only a monster would be against helping them right? Nowadays it’s every real and (largely) imagined victim group that receives their blessing. Only evil bigoted scum would vote otherwise surely?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I frankly CBA to read anything in the Graun anymore, but does he just conclude that the voters are essentially thick racist b45tards? That’s usually where the left ends up. I recall that odious little twerp Kinnock saying literally that after both the 1992 and 2015 GEs.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I slogged through 5 or 6 years of paying a subscription for the Graun on the basis that I wanted ‘balance’ to my natural subscription to the Torygraph, But I had to end it a couple of years ago for the relentless Britain bashing (and obviously for the poison dripped on any of us provincial thickos that voted leave).

Raphael Bleurgh

Last edited 2 years ago by Philip Stott
Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
2 years ago

Hardly an election goes by without Labour telling us the NHS is in mortal danger should the electorate fail to return them. We’re told Boris is going to sell the NHS to Trump. Labour politicians were on TV crying because Boris described someone’s Commons speech as ‘humbug’. The Guardian constantly tries to paint the country as some dystopian wasteland where street urchins starve to death in the alleys.
That surfeit of rationality must be very well concealed behind all the hysterical cant.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

The lack of self awareness of people on the left, who are clearly intelligent, is what perplexes me. They think they are rational – and then believe a woman isn’t a human female; that defunding the police will help black people; and the biggest self-delusion of all, that high immigration of unskilled people doesn’t depress the wages for unskilled roles.
I struggle to understand how the intelligentsia of Germany allowed Hitler to come about, and often even supported him once he was established. But seeing the intelligentsia of this country who struggled to stop Brexit and support woke revisions of history and culture, I think I can see how even clever people can delude themselves.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

You echo my sentiments exactly. I wonder if it’s due to a lack of life experience rather than intelligence. Or perhaps too much media consumption? Someone once said that ‘a man who reads nothing but the news is worse off than a man who reads nothing at all.’

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Emotions. The Left rarely include Renaissance People who combine the Soldier, Poet, Courtier, Explorer, etc. It is the combination of the adventurous spirit, intellect, imagination, toughness, practical skills, appreciaton of beauty, etc which comes from a wide experince of life. They largely lack people who have had to exhibit leadership, to make life or death decsions when exhausted when in their teens or twenties. Consequently, they they lack the people who have had to shoulder responsibility.
If one looks at the Leaders of the British Labour Party post WW2 how many volunteered for combat units and saw combat in the dark days of 1940 to early 1943? Not many. For those in combat up to 1943, we were fighting for survival and it requires a certain courage to fight not that that we we would win, that we would go down fighting. Those emergency workers who entered the Twin Towers probably knew they would die but it was a case of doing their duty,
The Labour Party is now a Party controlled by white collar public sector clerks with degrees who lack the breadth of experience to enable them to have a Renaissance outlook on life.Few have had their mettle tested by adversity.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I have many “liberal-luvvie” girlfriends, all of them ostensibly intelligent and holding good jobs. One in particular – a journalist – rails constantly and consistently about Brexit voters (and if we are anywhere even slightly salubrious even now she will say “I bet they all voted Brexit” – with the implication that working class white people are all knuckle-dragging loons).
I once asked her why she is so supportive of a crony-corporate crypto-f as ci st organisation – which i would have thought was alien to everything she thinks she stands for – but several years later I still haven’t had an answer.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago

Arguing with a “progressive” is like arguing with a 3 year old as to why they can’t have a lilac unicorn.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Raiment
George Glashan
George Glashan
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Andrew please educate yourself on the trauma those who identify as purple, mono horned Equus face everyday, your words are literally killing them. 

George Glashan
George Glashan
2 years ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Also death to THERF’s – Tri-horn Exclusionary Radical Filly’s. Everyone knows those who identify as having tri horns just have a Paraphilia where as those who identify as having mono horns are just born in the wrong body and must be believed, It’s The Science.

Last edited 2 years ago by George Glashan
Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

As I asked in another comment earlier today, what does “progressive” mean?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Like the term “liberal” before it, it is starting to resemble the inverse. Regressives…

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I was discussing recently with a mate of mine how and why the word for certain things keeps changing. You can no longer say “n3gro” or “coloured people”, for example; you are required (this week) to say “people of colour” (unless you are the NAACP, of course). Likewise “liberal” has been rebadged as “progressive”, and so on.
In no case is the new label any more informative or descriptive than the old. These are simply arbitrary speech conventions, manufactured from whole cloth, so that certain people can take performative offence at any other word, like the Knights Who Say Ni when they hear the word ‘it’.
He expressed what I think is the rather sage view that this is inevitable, because the word for something is by purpose and definition associated with it. As the associations of ‘n3gro’ and ‘liberal’ are necessarily unpleasant, a new word is regularly needed so we all forget what we’re talking about here. Soon the new word is as contaminated by association as the old – and it all starts again.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It’s a form of linguistic inflation. Like countries that add noughts to their banknotes in times of hyperinflation and then in desparation change the currency’s name, leftists appropriate words and banish any vestige of original meaning from them. Then they hijack some other word in an attempt to convey the illusion of original thinking.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Bell
Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

“Regressive”, by definition, is the opposite of “progressive”, so who are the “regressives” here?

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Themselves, but they don’t realize it.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

“Progressive” means following the Left’s theories which will lead the populace into the happy, well-fed, nirvana

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Ann Ceely

As opposed to “regressive”?

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

‘Regressive’ is what actually happens: a miserable, dystopian hell-hole with constant surveillance and no food, fuel or toilet paper.

Oh, wait a minute 


Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago
Reply to  Al M

The tone of your comment sounds like an American English citizen, more crude, as opposed to a British citizen, more polished.

Oooops!
Did I just commit a hate crime against a British citizen?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

It’s always important to grap a term which puts you on the moral high ground; it doen’t need to actually mean anything, just so long as it sounds good and noble. Progressive – everyone likes progress it opposes regressives i.e. knuckle-draggers, it like right-to-lifers as opposed to no-right-to-lifers. Get your brand right and you’re half-way there.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

They believe they are progressing toward a Socialist Nirvana. Unfortunately, before that a ruddy great cliff awaits them.

George Glashan
George Glashan
2 years ago

How many times can Marxism be reheated before even the left can’t swallow it?

Eddie Johnson
Eddie Johnson
2 years ago

John Harris is probably the only journo still worth reading at the Guardian.
At least he took the trouble to travel the length and breadth of Britain to ask people why so many of them voted for Brexit.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

I agree. I bought the graun regularly for decades – I used to do a kind of round robin of broadsheets through the week, but it is now very far from the paper it once was and most of the writers there are unreadable. There are still a very small number of commentators on there worth reading, John Harris and Larry Elliott about the best of them. I have a lot of time for Harris’ journalism, but I agree with Peter Franklin, that piece was pure narrative fantasy – attempting to make unpalatable facts fit a line, seemingly because the discrepancy between peoples opinions as are as opposed to peoples opinions as should be is so maddeningly inexplicable, that there must be some ‘hidden variables’ that a sufficiently contorted left wing argument can somehow reveal. He may as well have shortened half of it to the words ‘the Tories, the Tories, the Tories’ for all the difference it would make to the meaning of the piece.

Last edited 2 years ago by Prashant Kotak
G A
G A
2 years ago
Reply to  Eddie Johnson

I used to like him a lot but he’s been sipping at the kool aid for the last couple of years. Maybe doing so is a prerequisite for staying at the G.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Leftwingers are far more obsessed with the minutiae of politics but the voters they have lost are not so obsessed and in fact are actively irritated by the incessant politicising of everything that comes from the left.

But analysts on the left completely miss this and think that the right works in the same way they do, and thus they’re always looking in the wrong place when seeking answers.

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago

The left could (and will) lose more of their voters once their process of, and, accumulation of information increases.

Thankfully, the demagoguery, bickering and the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ is helping with the education of the ignorant.

Al M
Al M
2 years ago

Where has an entire comment thread gone? Don’t recall anything untoward in it other than an exchange on defining progressive/regressive politics.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago
Reply to  Al M

I’ve just asked that question via “help and support”, perhaps hurty feelings counts as a category for flagging.

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago
Reply to  Al M

“Twitter, is that you?”

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago

Your quote: narrative — in fact, it’s a version of that most childish of stories: the other side only won because they weren’t playing fair.

… and:
the Left must ask itself how it managed to ignore what was there all along. (end quote)

The pot doesn’t recognize the kettle.

Michael James
Michael James
2 years ago

Emotion always does trump reason, which is the slave of the passions.