Facebook recently threw open the floodgates for the ‘political views’ listing, which had hitherto been restricted to a bland spectrum from liberalism to conservatism, but can now be anything a user’s heart desires to display to the world on his or her profile. I settled on ‘optimistic liberal’ in the end, not wanting to launch into a fully fledged speech with about the same number of characters to use as a single text message. Andrew – a kindred spirit from Peterhouse – kindly asked me to elaborate, allowing me to set out my stall brimming with optimistic spirit about how far humanity has come, and how far we might be able to go, despite all the challenges, all the setbacks, and all the ugly realities. And in general, I fully believe it.
But there are moments.
On Wednesday I spent the early part of my evening stood outside King’s Cross tube station, handing out election fliers for Ken Livingstone to anyone who might mistake it for a freebie paper. The occasional nutter was pleasantly mild, and I was rather fond of the elderly avuncular Tory – and I’m making an assumption he was a Tory out of a very strong sense of instinct – who merrily put his arm around me and declared that he was awfully sorry but had already declared for another man. As a reward for my brief moments of sacrifice, I was given a free ticket to the Time Out mayoral hustings by the two Ken organisers, who were, incidentally, the kind of blokes you know are decent, hard-working and thoroughly good people within a fraction of a second.
Boris was skipping the hustings, so it was left to Ken, Brian and Siân (for the Greens) to produce a panel essentially united around progressive politics. So not terribly good argument, but uplifting all the same. If these are the people running, you can’t go wrong, right? Well wrong, of course, because of the looming figure of Boris. But y’know, it’s not even bloody Boris which dents my optimism. Nor even the swarm of loud-mouthed supporters who hung around outside in matching Back Boris shirts chanting various pieces of nonsense. No, because it’s a democracy and they represent a legitimate viewpoint, so let them have their piece. The depressing thing is knowing that Lynton Crosby is hanging around backstage, managing it all, out of sight and out of mind to most of us.
But even this pales into insignificance when I come home to read of the BNP’s candidate forced to withdraw after writing that rape is “simply sex” and “cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal”. This man was second in line in London: if the BNP won two Assembly seats, he’d have been there, drawing a salary from us as a spokesman for London. I think I can be forgiven for letting that dent my optimism just a little bit – though, on the other hand, it heartens the spirit to see the Boris folk singing from the same hymn-sheet as us when it comes to the BNP.
Having said that, I cannot ignore the people who are “not racist” and “not sexist” and “appalled” and “shocked” and “sickened” and all the rest of it, yet spout regressive beliefs as if it were a natural reflex. Lynton Crosby plays the politics of fear and division to put people into power: for every hardening of people’s attitudes towards ‘others’, he should feel ashamed, though of course he never will. Columnists from Richard Littlejohn to Peter Hitchens attack the BNP, yet all the time make it more and more likely that people will turn to them. And to you, JF, to you who casually sneer at the ‘feminist left’ and blog in what I can’t quite decide is mock or real ignorance: be honest with yourself, for you could so easily have been the one to write – without thinking, but with a casually different contextual spin – “I’ve never understood why so many men have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the feminazi myth”.
I’ll calm down now Sincere apologies to my sister who sensibly wrote that “I way prefer bullet points of what you’ve done then long theoretical debates or Ken propaganda!”