This shouldn’t need to be said, but here goes…
A “debate” (if you can call it that) has broken out in recent days about whether or not “right-wingers” are “evil”. The argument reached its peak yesterday a blog from Sunny Hundal, called “Are right-wingers evil? Yes”. I admire his certainty, but I just can’t agree with his argument. I can’t, don’t and won’t believe that right-wingers, Tories (or however we define our political opponents) are “evil”. Whilst it might get an easy cheer in Labour circles to repeat Nye Bevan’s old charge that the Tories are “lower than vermin”, I’m afraid I’m not willing to join the “Tories are evil” bandwagon. Are they misguided? Yes. Do some of them overlook the cruel and damaging impact of their policies? Of course. Are they fundamentally wrong about the future of Britain? Undoubtedly.
But to brand right-wingers or Tories en masse as “evil” is ridiculous. Do I believe that Tim Montgomerie or Robert Halfron, for example, are evil? No, of course not, I actually think they’re rather sensible and thoughtful people. How about IDS? Well I believe his policies are causing untold hurt and pain, sorrow and anguish. I believe that due to his cruel approach to welfare and benefits people will suffer terribly. But do I think he’s “evil”? No. No I don’t. I don’t wish to send you all running for the hills – but some of my best friends are devout right wingers and Tories, and rather than being evil, they’re actually great, kind, generous people.
With that in mind, here are a few reasons why labelling right-wingers evil is a mistake:
It devalues the term “evil” – it’s an incredibly important word in our lexicon is “evil”, providing us with a means of describing the worst kind of person and the worst kind of wrongdoing. But the importance of the word evil depends on it being used sparingly. To bandy around evil about anyone you dislike or disagree with – however wrong and damaging their actions – cheapens the term. There are a few political figures who may genuinely qualify for the term “evil” – Pol Pot, Stalin and – obviously – Hitler spring to mind. But to put all right-wingers in that bracket, to somehow equate “right-wing” with “evil” devalues the term evil and makes a nonsense of the word. (For what it’s worth, I thought the same about “The Axis of Evil”).
It cheapens the debate – Lambasting your opponents as evil also serves to cheapen the debate, and the Left rarely wins a cheapened debate. Attacking your opponents is merely adopting the reductive attack style most commonly seen on 24-hour nonsense-fest Fox News. Labelling your opponents as “evil” is like beginning a race to the bottom, but starting from the bottom. It’s ugly politics.
It ignores what they’re trying to achieve – Like it or not, Tories actually believe that their policies are good for the country and the vast majority of people in society. They believe that cutting government spending and reducing “the burden of the state” is in the common interest. The dreadful side-effects of such policies – homelessness, poverty, unemployment – are, as some Tories might put it crudely, the cost of doing business, but they don’t – as far as I can tell – set out with the explicit intention of screwing the poor. Sometimes they wilfully ignore the screwing of the poor that is happening as a direct result of their actions, but then again, the Labour Party and the Left hasn’t always been good at spotting the impacts of our own policies either.
The public find this baffling – The public don’t think in terms of “left wingers” and “right wingers” as odd as that might seen for those of a deeply political persuasion. Unlike me, the vast majority of the public don’t try and work out – without asking – who their friends, family and acquaintances vote for come election time. Moreover, the vast majority of the public do not a) bandy around words like “evil” about things they don’t like or b) decide that people are “evil” on the basis of someone’s politics. So when political types do that, people oddly enough find it off-putting and baffling. Because few people think in terms of evil or good, they think in terms of right and wrong, or what works and what doesn’t.
The reason I abhor what the Tories are doing isn’t because I think they’re evil. It’s because I think they are wrong. Damagingly, dangerously wrong about what the country needs and what the future of Britain should look like.
But they’re not evil. That’s dangerously, damagingly wrong too.