by Peter Franklin
Monday, 11
October 2021
Response
12:30

When will the Left stop telling itself fairy tales?

Contrary to claims made in The Guardian, the Tories won fair and square
by Peter Franklin
Who would like to hear more Das Kapital? Credit: Getty

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.

Join the discussion


  • 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.

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

  • 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.

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