Douglas Murray

The tactics of victimhood

The tactics of victimhood
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Late last week the Labour deputy leader was the subject of a glowing profile in the Times. The piece described Angela Rayner’s alleged physical similarity to Nicole Kidman, spoke indulgently of her ‘outspokenness’ and otherwise confirmed my suspicion that most of the people who go into politics should never be allowed near the stuff.

Rayner described herself as having ‘thrived’ off the ‘chaos’ of recent years. Apparently ‘the trauma, the screaming, the unpredictability — this is my bread and butter’. She continued: ‘In fact, I think it’s strange when people are nice. I find taking compliments more difficult than taking abuse, to be honest. I’ve never had that love and affection, so I don’t crave it. That’s really sad, because I see how people can be fulfilled by those things. And I can’t.’

A matter of hours later Rayner indulged in a bit of unaffectionate Tory-bashing. Not for the first time, she described the Conservatives as ‘a bunch of scum’ and made the typically dishonest accusations that the left levels at everyone they oppose (‘racist, homophobic, misogynist’). A certain amount of backlash followed. But Rayner’s own side indulged her. Labour leader Keir Starmer simply said it was not language he would use of Her Majesty’s Government. Others, such as former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, cheerily insisted that we all get a bit overheated at times and besides how could any decent person not be angry at a government doing such unforgivable things as this one is allegedly doing?

In other words the left, as usual, rallied. The amiably wrong Zoe Williams wrote in the Guardian that the Tories were cynically deploying ‘the language of fake hurt and victimhood’ when they presumably should have either accepted the critique or chortled along as all these prominent leftists would have, had such words been used about them.

Naturally the people indulging Rayner’s fighting talk are almost all the same people who have spent recent years calling for greater civility in our public debate. Specifically, they have called for greater care with words. Just two years ago Rayner herself told the BBC that parliamentarians have a ‘responsibility to dial down our language’.

But whatever the left says, their instincts always make them behave otherwise. They cannot help themselves. Because while the right tend to think that their opponents are merely wrong-headed, the left always seem to think that their opponents are evil. This causes a great asymmetry in our politics.

Kemi Badenoch — then a newly elected MP — referenced this at the Conservative party conference in 2017 when she acted as a warm-up for Theresa May. Badenoch used the occasion to tell several important truths. One was that if there was anything you could be sure of during party conference season, it was that no Labour party member would be barracked or spat at on their way into their conference by a gang of Conservative party members. There would be no right-wing protestors or thuggish groups affiliated with the Conservative party standing outside the Labour conference. Yet the obverse is often the case. Delegates going into Conservative party conference often have to pass protests of militant leftists spitting on them and hurling insults like ‘scum’ and more.

Raise the question of why this is, and the left will always issue the same set of responses. They either deny it is the case or they say that you have to understand that people are angry when they witness a party doing [insert excuse here]. One of the current justifications for calling Conservatives ‘scum’ is that the government is making cuts to universal credit. You only have to turn this around to see how ridiculous it sounds. Imagine crowds of militant Conservatives gathered outside the Labour party conference, screaming insults at its members and, when asked why they are doing this, replying: ‘Well they keep arguing for increased levels of borrowing.’ This wouldn’t be received joshingly, would it?

But of course the left has one final trick up its sleeve which its members now deploy with great skill: the crybully tactic. Which is that after hounding their opponents without restraint or censure, they wait until somebody says something even mildly mean about them. They then throw their hands in the air, call for the sympathy of their comrades and announce that they themselves are a victim, and therefore in the right. One reason I suspect that Rayner receives such glowing press is the knowledge that the slightest criticism of her will trigger her into making accusations of misogyny and class-ism. She would use homophobia and racism if she could.

Over recent months, three of the most prominent and unpleasant leftist commentators in Britain all deployed this tactic. Having risen to prominence for virulently insulting all their opponents, they then perform this magnificent trick, which is to suddenly tell everyone that they are suffering from stress, or similar upset, because of the ‘hate’ directed against them. As though the people they direct hatred towards do not suffer, or perhaps simply deserve to suffer. Their calculation is that by being seen as a victim they also become unassailable.

It is a great tactic this, and one that no conservative would ever think of deploying. People of the right do not ask for pity, because they recognise that to do so is not just self-indulgent but also only adds to the general misery. Kemi Badenoch is a fine example. In recent months she has been the subject of repeated attacks from left-wing publications which have consistently tried to portray her as (guess what) a racist, miso-gynistic homophobe. Badenoch is quite clearly none of these things, but using doctored quotes and more, this is the critique they have pushed. I do not doubt that they have caused her upset and distress. But they do not care about this, and Badenoch does not go around pleading for sympathy, which is not just a difference between right and left, but between victims and victors. Something the left might think on, if they could.

The Road Ahead