Nick Cohen

J. K. Rowling and the curse of the left

J. K. Rowling and the curse of the left
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How people who want a fairer society should vote at this election is causing agonies across the liberal-left. It is easy to mock the torn activists. Why do they bother? One vote is worth next to nothing under a PR system. Under first past the post there are hundreds of safe seats where there’s no point in voting, let alone worrying about how you vote.

The number of safe Tory seats is likely to grow after this election. Indeed, if you believe the opinion polls, it is likely to rocket. The futility of casting a token anti-Tory vote is more apparent than ever.

For all that, those who laugh at conscientious leftists are laughing at democracy. How can you justify it unless voters care about who they vote for? Would you rather live in a county where the public did not care or where they did not vote at all?

With these questions in mind Sarah Ditum of the New Statesman addressed Labour supporters  who like her, found Corbyn a morally unconscionable man. She gave the sensible advice that, if they could not bring themselves to campaign for him and his allies, they should not give up on politics or support another party, but go to Labour seats where moderate MPs need all the help they could get in these ominous times

J.K. Rowling tweeted a link to the piece, which merely repeated its headline, ‘Election 2017: what should you do if you support Labour but can't stand Jeremy Corbyn? That was all.

The abuse which followed showed not only why Labour will go down in a historic defeat, but why Labour’s problems may not end afterwards. Unless hundreds of thousands of Corbyn supporters show a capacity for self-criticism that has been entirely absent from their lives, there will be no conclusive break with the disastrous experiment with pseudo-leftism.

You would think that, as they wait to be crushed by a Tory landslide they have brought down on themselves (and their country) Corbyn’s supporters would be grateful for anyone lining up to back Labour, however half-heartedly.

It’s not as if there is much of a queue.

Instead, they ran Twitter polls in which they listed the ways in which they hated Rowling. ‘What’s worse about J.K. Rowling,' asked one guffawing oaf. ‘Using an audience of millions to attack Corbyn or Harry Potter politics?’ In other words, she writes children’s books so she must be politically stupid. And, millions follow her, so by implication, they must be stupid too.

He was joined by the to my mind sinister American journalist Glenn Greenwald.  Sinister because he and the Corbyn/Mélenchon left  indulge Russia and Iran and have little beyond mealy words about Trump, Farage and Le Pen. As the French left has shown, when faced with a choice between neo-liberalism and neo-fascism they denounce the former and brush aside the latter.

Remember that Corbyn has voted against the Labour whip hundreds of times. Remember that he welcomed the victory of George Galloway, an opponent of the Labour party and an admirer of and apologist for some of the greatest monsters of our age. Remember, too, that Ditum and Rowling were not saying do not vote Labour. They merely said that disillusioned Labour supporters should campaign for Labour candidates who shared their views.

Both are women of the left. Sarah Ditum is a fine and often brave feminist writer, while Rowling’s novels are infused with a leftish sensibility. If, like me, you are too old to have read Harry Potter, look at her underrated work for adults. The know-nothing right, which is just as opposed to intellectual freedom as the politically correct left, gave her Casual Vacancy a backhanded compliment when it denounced Rowling for failing to portray middle England in the approved Tory style.

You get a sense of her subtlety, if you read the latest book in her Strike crime series. I read it alongside a clunking political satire by an acclaimed literary-left novelist. Naturally, discerning critics loved and reviewed him while mentioning Rowling in passing. Yet, as well as handling character and location better than her supposed superior, Rowling manged, within a genuinely frightening thriller, to paint a political picture, without sounding strained or preachy. Almost as an afterthought, she can put more into a handful of sentences than more overtly political writers can fit into a skip-full of agitprop. Here she is in Career of Evil on the uniquely humiliating nature of poverty in wealthy cities.

Nobody who had not lived there would ever understand that London was a country unto itself. They might resent it for the fact that it held more power and money than any other British city, but they could not understand that poverty carried its own flavour there, where everything cost more, where the relentless distinctions between those who had succeeded and those who had not were constantly, painfully visible. The distance between Elin's vanilla-columned flat in Clarence Terrace and the filthy Whitechapel squat where his mother had died could not be measured in mere miles. They were separated by infinite disparities, by the lotteries of birth and chance, by faults of judgement and lucky breaks.

You do not forget writers who are as exact as that. If you call yourself left wing, why would you want to push them away? The answer, which everyone who has been caught up in left-wing politics in our time knows, is that if you are not with Corbyn, if you point out as Rowling has done that he is leading the left to disaster, you are in a state of sin.

Do not think that religious ways of thinking died with the death of formal religion. There was always a historical link between non-conformity and left-wing British politics, and we are now witnessing a modern variant of Calvinist theology.

There are the elect and the damned. The elect see the light and dwell in righteousness. The damned are cursed.  In political as in Protestant sects, adherents are comfortable with the idea that the vast majority of their fellow citizens can never be saved. They rather enjoy it, indeed, for it makes them seem special.

Corbyn’s supporters do not want to convert the heathen or ally with heretics. Their standard reply to their critics of ‘you’re a Tory’ makes no sense politically because it encourages doubters to go over to the Conservative party. As theology, it makes perfect sense, however. You cannot be a grudging ally of Corbyn's Labour party just as you cannot accept a part of the way and the truth and the light. You must believe the whole creed or you are a Tory. Or worse than a Tory. Tories at least are honest in their wickedness. ‘Neo-liberals’ and ‘Blairites,’ by which they mean anyone does not agree with them, are more diabolical because they fool the masses by posing as an alternative to the Conservatives.

His supporters must believe that the millions who won’t vote for Corbyn or who follow J.K. Rowling are stupid. Providence has cursed them, and however hard they struggle they are unlikely to be redeemed.

We will see what happens at the election, but the treatment of Ditum and Rowling suggests to me that three consequences will flow from Calvinist Corbynism.

Many among the hundreds of thousands who joined Labour to support Corbyn will not campaign to help Labour MPs defend their seats against a formidable Tory attack. As they see every Labour politician who refuses to see the light as a Tory or worse than the Tories, why should they? Already Labour MPs are already telling me that Momentum activists are noticeable by their absence from the campaign.

Talk of a ‘progressive alliance’ is wholly understandable. In the years to come voters will need to be flexible to stop an apparently unstoppable Tory party betraying this country’s best interests. But alliances are impossible as long as the far left controls the Labour party. It cannot compromise with others, because it believes that anyone who is not wholly with them is utterly against them.

Finally, as I have said before, Corbyn and the far left will not willingly relinquish their grip on the Labour party after they lead it to defeat. They will continue to purge Labour until it becomes a true church. This is religion not politics, and Corbyn’s supporters are the elect. Why should they respect the judgement of a damned electorate?