Across the English Channel, there’s a political party that has been doing rather well. They are fiercely anti-austerity, love protectionism, hate free markets, and believe in top-down, big-government control of health, transport and energy.
You may think they sound like a bunch of ghastly leftists, and you’d be right. Except the party in question is Marine Le Pen’s Front National. Pick up a newspaper, turn on your TV and you will be told that the Front National are “far-right”. Apparently suffering from an outbreak of an obscure but very specific form of Tourette’s, our media are incapable of saying “Le Pen” or “Front National” without first spluttering out the prefix “far-right”. A party with left-wing policies is billed not just as right-wing, but “far-right”. To borrow a phrase from our American cousins; what gives?
The left/right political divide became established in the 20th Century, and by the 1990s the left had lost, and lost big. All the political and economic arguments went the way of the right-thinking right. Free markets lifted billions out of poverty. Capitalism soundly thrashed socialism. Labour had to lurch rightwards to become electable. However, the defeated left had a sting in their tail. They lost the rational arguments, but they won the cultural debate; they managed to seize control of the political and cultural agenda and even of the language we use.
Front National have become generally accepted as “far-right” not because they have right-wing policies, many are left-wing, but because they have a history of racism. The intention is to smear right-wing politics by association; if you are right-wing you are closely related to the Front National racists. If you are left-wing you are a much nicer person, as far away as possible on the political spectrum from the nasty far-right racists. This is nonsense. Racism is not a left or right issue. There are plenty of left-wing racists; see the despicable anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour. Nonetheless the left have largely succeeded in toxifying the political right, to the point where any racist group is automatically labelled far-right, regardless of their political leanings.
The same tactic of misappropriating our language was used to win millions of votes for Remain in the EU referendum. The EU, we are told, is progressive, forward looking and internationalist. To be against the EU is regressive and isolationist. Remainers are using these words precisely, deliberately, backwards. On the observable facts, the EU is the diametric opposite of progressive, forward looking or internationalist. It is a regional, protectionist customs union dreamed up in the 1950s to solve the problems of the 1930s and to put a wall of regulations, tariffs and quotas up against the rest of the world. The EU is demonstrably incapable of meeting any of the challenges of the 21st Century, and is in fact causing some of them. But facts don’t matter, all that matters is the ownership of the language in the debate.
Words are twisted out of all recognition to the point where they lose all meaning. Take the left-wing chorus bemoaning the government’s “austerity”. A government that has more than doubled the national debt in just 6 years, and is still spending £70billion a year more than it takes in eye-wateringly high levels of taxation cannot reasonably be described as “austere”. George “austerity” Osborne managed to cut government spending by a mere 0.5% a year. That’s a rounding error, not austerity.
And then we have the Liberal Democrats. Neither liberal in their tolerance of other’s views nor democratic in their desire to overturn a national referendum result and remain in the anti-democratic EU. Two thirds of the Liberal “Democrats” front bench are unelected peers.
The list goes on. “Racist” now seems to mean anyone who does not enthusiastically support open borders. “Populist” is used as a pejorative. We’re told multiculturalism is “tolerant” and “inclusive”, when it is nothing more than state-sponsored apartheid demonstrably breeding intolerance and division. “Fascist” seems to mean, well, anything really.
This Orwellian doublespeak is highly successful. Twisting the meaning of words allows those defending the indefensible to claim the moral high ground. Hurling abuse, however baseless and inappropriate, is easily done and shuts down debates that the left would otherwise lose. It also has a huge chilling effect; people are frightened to say what they think for fear of being labelled racist. Put simply, it’s bullying.
So how do we fight back? Perhaps we shouldn’t. We will never wrest back control of words like liberal or progressive. We are perhaps guilty of wasting too much energy fighting the “liberal” left on their own ground. It’s very easy to throw out an accusation of racism. It takes much more time and effort to refute that accusation, time that could be spent getting our own message out. We believe that by responding with facts we will eventually win the argument, but we never will while our opponents are immune to facts and their own hypocrisy.
Perhaps the answer is to refuse to engage. Just do our own thing. And never, ever back down or apologise. The moment we apologise for using the “wrong” word or for telling an inconvenient truth, we hand them their victory.
The “liberal” left have almost total control of the debate. They set the agenda. Their views and language define what is acceptable and unacceptable. But their grip is too tight, cracks are appearing, and they have no plan B. They have cried wolf on racism, fascism and bigotry so often and for so long that the insults are losing their power. The “liberal” elite’s cultural and political views have held sway for so long that they are now the establishment. And establishments always fall.
The political labels of left and right are unhelpful as we enter 2017. The political left/right divide closed with the 20th Century; parties of left and right effectively merged into one, globalist, “liberal” elite, having more in common with each other than with the public they are supposed to represent. People are increasingly waking up to the fact that the rosettes may be different, but the politicians’ views and track records on everything from the economy to immigration are identical.
The battle ahead is between two different ideologies. People of left or right can find themselves on either side of the new political landscape. On the one hand we have establishment authoritarians who wish to shut down free speech and continue on a path to a new world order of limited democracy, open borders and crony corporatism. On the other, we have populist, libertarian defenders of free speech, who wish to see nation state democracies reinvigorated and power wielded as closely to the people as possible. 2016 may go down as the year that the worm turned.