Nick Cohen

Fear has triumphed over loathing this general election

Fear has triumphed over loathing this general election
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This election is a war between disgust and fear: disgust at the miserable inadequates who represent 'your side'; fear of what your enemies may do to you. It looks as if fear is winning. No country can fight two extremist movements at once. Fear of one side drives voters into the arms of the other, however much it disgusts them.

Boris Johnson’s dismal approval ratings reflect the widespread belief that he lies to everyone from the Queen downwards, and doesn’t have the faintest idea of how to lead the country or smallest concern about where he is taking it.

The moralising conservatism that once dominated the party may be dead as far as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph are concerned, but just because they have fallen silent does not mean that millions are not worried about a man who uses and discards wives and mistresses as easily as he changes shirts. Women voters in particular are rarely impressed by men who cannot answer the question: how many children do you have?

Johnson ought to have disenfranchised the moderate conservatives I grew up among in the south Manchester suburbs. Ever since childhood, I’ve been given self-satisfied lectures on how conservatives are sensible men and women who have immunised themselves against dangerous fantasies. Brexit fatally wounded that notion. Johnson’s decision to purge his party of moderate conservatives finished it off. Intelligent conservatives must know the suffering austerity promoted has been in vain. Despite the descent into decrepitude of the criminal justice system and social services, the impoverishment of schools, the hounding of the poor and disabled, the national debt has kept on growing.

Yet most will still vote for Johnson for fear of Corbyn.

Millions of Labour voters, meanwhile, know conspiratorial creeps lead Labour. Adulation of Jeremy Corbyn, which was everywhere in 2017, has disappeared – except among the hardcore socialism addicts who will never kick the habit.

Disgust has driven many away. If you have half an hour, watch Forced Out a video full of pathos, which was released today.

Lifelong Jewish socialists describe the glee with which Labour members and officials turned on them. It reminds you of how, when racial and religious hatred is authorised from above, people who consider themselves free of prejudice enjoy reviving and revelling in ancient prejudices. The glee, the mocking malice, the release of pent-up superstitions lends a carnival atmosphere to Labour's racism. It was captured in Brighton where Labour members mocked up cartoons of leading Jewish members as rabbis dancing and jerking to Israel’s tune.

Forget all that, colleagues on the centre left tell me. Islamophobia infects the Tories as antisemitism infects Labour. Labour may have driven Jewish MPs out of the party because they were Jews but the Tories made their party a hostile environment for Muslims and presided over the gross denial of rights to the Windrush generation. Fair enough, I reply, so you are saying we should not vote Labour or Tory but Liberal Democrat? No that is not what they mean, that is not what they mean at all. They use whataboutery to confuse rather than clarify; to persuade you to make your peace with the rancid left for fear of the rancid right.

Many will. The only way to stop the Brexit catastrophe is to return another hung Parliament and in many constituencies that means voting Labour. If the effort fails and the Tories gain a majority, my friends and comrades will have hard questions to answer, although I don’t doubt they will try to duck them. Why did they allow the patriotic Remain cause to be led by a man who has never defended the best interests of his country? Why did they make the battle to retain EU membership dependent on a man who has opposed the EU all his life? Why, to ask the brutally pragmatic question, did they tie themselves to the most unpopular opposition leader since records began, and then hope to win a popular vote?

In the North and Midlands Labour MPs are fighting door by door, street by street, trying to convince former supporters who backed Brexit and loathe Corbyn that they need a Labour government that will not abandon them and their families. If there is a Labour defeat, we can ask why the cause of building a better, gentler country was tied to the far-left, of all ignorant and cruel movements?

But those questions are for the future. If the Tories lose, they may never need to be asked. For the present, the impossibility of fighting two extremisms at once drives a sullen and dissatisfied electorate into line. The centre-left votes Labour because fear of Johnson outweighs disgust about Corbyn (and vice versa).

People wonder why the Liberal Democrats, independent ex-Conservatives, Welsh nationalists and Greens are not doing better. The best way to limit the damage Johnson or Corbyn can cause is to get as many of them into Parliament, is it not? Perhaps we will be surprised next week and these candidates will prove the pollsters wrong. (Being wrong is hardly a novel experience for pollsters, after all.)

But for the moment it looks as if the extremes are feeding off each other and the food they feed on is fear.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

Topics in this articlePolitics