Hug an Evil Wicked Tory (Redux)

by Elias Blum

So apparently a young, slick-haired besuited Tory at the party’s conference in Manchester got egged by someone in a crowd of protestors waving anarchist flags and Socialist Worker placards while shouting ‘Tory Scum!’.

Much as I understand the feeling behind such actions, I do question their value and usefulness. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost say they might have been agents provocateurs sent out to deliberately discredit anti-Tory protests. But I do know better, and I know that there are plenty of people on the left whose anger and indignation exceeds their common sense, and who would rather have the momentary pleasure of egging a Tory than actually advance, by slow and painstaking steps, the cause they claim to espouse.

Some Tories, no doubt, are just climbers, knaves, pillagers and pocket-liners, who only want to get as much wealth and power as possible. They know that aligning themselves with the party of the rich and powerful is a good way to get ahead. Those, no doubt, really are ‘scum’, and would benefit from a good egging, and more. However, shouting at Tories and egging them doesn’t do much good. It puts those of us on the left in a bad light. It doesn’t show them why they are wrong. It only confirms in them their prejudices – namely, that the ordinary people cannot be trusted, and must be kept firmly in their places by their ‘betters’.

I want to point to a better way: a way of engagement, not disengagement; of correction, not confrontation; of positive moral call, not ineffective repudiation.

This means understanding Tories. As well as the knaves and chancers, there are also Tories – especially young, earnest Tories – who do it because they believe it. They have been brought up in privilege, have swallowed the lines of the ruling establishment uncritically, and think that what Britain really needs is a Tory Government to keep things on track. As they see it, there’s an urgent need to reduce the deficit, to cut red tape for businesses, to keep the military strong and the unions weak, and to come down hard on the benefit takers and the asylum seekers. These are to them good things, and they don’t see – or don’t care about, or don’t see any way or need to avoid – the negative consequences of their actions.

This second group of people, like the first, are wrong. They are wrong in their understandings, which are immature and shallow, and they are wrong in their values, which are narrow and selfish. They are misguided and ignorant, but they are not insincere. They seek the good as they see it, but their sight is distorted.

I want to reach this second group of people. Correct that sight – deepen their understanding, and broaden their values – and their politics will move accordingly. They can be turned from the menace to society they no doubt are today, into a potential ally. To do this, it’s important to appeal to their moral nature, to point out to them why what they stand for is wrong, how much damage their policies are doing, and what the better alternatives might be. I’m not sure that shouting this at them while dangling an anarchist flag in their over-smug little faces, does much to advance such ends.

People will say it is impossible: Tories will be Tories. I disagree. They can change. How can I say this? Because at the age of 17 I was a Young Conservative in a suit and tie. I sat next to Michael Howard one time. John Redwood gave me a ride in his car. But I got over it. I read more, thought more, learned to care more, lived more – and in some ways, suffered more, and became in the process more compassionate.

So perhaps instead of egging Tories, we should hug them. The aim, surely, is not to desire the destruction the wicked, but to help them to turn, and live.