David Wright, the Labour MP for Telford, should get out more, he should be more inclusive. I have attended many Conservative party conferences and mingled late at night with the delegates, and I have to say it always seemed to me that the party was composed almost exclusively of scum-sucking pigs. Sometimes I would go to these conferences with the notion, maybe at the back of my mind, that perhaps next time an election came around I might vote Conservative, given the state of the country and the Iraq war and Harriet Harman and what have you. But the scum-sucking pig stuff cured me of that within four days.
But then attending a conference for a few days is not really good enough. It is like visiting Marrakech on a weekend mini-break, as I did recently, and concluding that all Arabs are sexually repressed criminals — which is fine colloquially, the sort of casual observation you might share with friends over a glass of wine but which might not, if we’re honest, stand up to the closest of scrutinies. An ill-conceived generalisation, in other words. What about Edward Said, for example? Or Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze chief who kept us all entertained a couple of decades back with his intransigence and sense of principle? Or Anwar Sadat? You see there are literally tens of Arabs I could name right now who disprove that cheap and rather insulting derogation.
Likewise with the Conservative party. They are not all public-school-educated money-grubbing snobs and bores. There are several grammar-school-educated money-grubbing snobs and bores too. And there are nice people as well. I know of six Conservative party members whom I am proud to call friends and they include, for example, the former editor of this magazine, the soi disant dissident David Davies, the rather lovely Julie Kirkbride, the charming and decent Patrick Mercer MP… hell, one could go on and on. Well, actually, not on and on. On for a very short while, in fact. But you take my point; what David Wright should have said, had he intended his tweet (yep, that’s what it was, a comment left on the stupid bloody Twitter site) to be a carefully considered policy statement rather than a spasm of loathing, was this: ‘I’ve never voted Tory in my life cos you can put lipstick on a scum-sucking pig but it’s still a scum-sucking pig. Or is in almost all cases.’
You see, it’s those last six words which make all the difference. He should have qualified his observation. They are not all scum-sucking pigs. Only the overwhelming majority are scum-sucking pigs. Some of them are not even pigs at all.
What are we to do about tweets and twitters and facebooks and emails and Myspace and all the rest of the electronic media which promises immediate access for publicity-starved MPs to the electorate, which is something they like very much, but also, as a sort of quid pro quo, is a kind of Islamic justice of immediate nemesis when they speak like ordinary human beings instead of central office munchkins? I ought to point out that David Wright has denied writing the tweet that was deemed offensive and for which he was forced to apologise. Or at least, he has claimed that he wrote only part of it — he said the tweet was somehow doctored to appear more offensive than his original post.
I am not sufficiently technically proficient to agree or disagree with him; my guess is he is suggesting that someone added the words ‘scum-sucking’ to his choice of the noun ‘pig’, but I might well be wrong about this too. If he didn’t write any of it then he has no reason to apologise; indeed, I would argue that he has nothing wrong to apologise for anyway, regardless. I’ve mentioned here before that we need to distinguish between these different types of discourse, the ones which are put out as official policy statements — which in this particular case might be headed ‘a large majority of the Conservative party are scum-sucking pigs’ — and those which are made in unguarded moments but which still have their value, and their point.
My suspicion is that the immediacy of these new electronic media will be in the end constrained by officialdom, that we will no longer feel free to give vent to our true feelings because, let’s be honest, true feelings are sometimes visceral, they are not thought through, they are casually tossed off as part of a debate or argument and can be very easily taken out of context. You will remember the case quite recently of a Labour activist who posted an electronic message on the website of the Tory MP Andrew Rosindell to the effect that the Queen is a ‘parasite’. As a consequence he suffered the most outrageous vilification and was sacked. But nobody I know within the Labour party thinks that the Queen is anything other than an irrelevance or a parasite, so why not say so?
David Cameron has recently ordered all of his prospective parliamentary candidates to clear their tweets with central office before they are posted. I suppose you can give him credit for realising the electoral damage which freedom of speech might occasion. And he knows, of course, that this stricture robs such Tweets of their humanity, of their essence, of their point. It might stop some backwoodsman tweeting ‘burn the homos!’ but it is a fundamentally undemocratic development. Even for those of you who, like me, find Twitter a narcissistic and fatuous medium.
Does it matter that a Labour MP thinks Tories are ‘scum-sucking pigs’? My guess is that at least half of them do too, and it is probably the half of the party which I would be more inclined to trust with my vote at the next election. Rather than those other MPs who see Conservatives as essentially the same as themselves, just people who happen to have joined a different political party, perhaps by chance, perhaps for reasons of pragmatism. That visceral dislike is rooted in principle — it has its basis not in the carefully modulated shibboleths shoved out from party headquarters, but in a genuinely felt dislike for the ideology of the opponent. I would far rather that than the chloroform of the present debate.