The Guardian has achieved the not inconsiderable feat of whipping up sympathy for David Cameron. A leader column written for Monday’s edition of the paper, and posted online on Sunday, contained this bilious burp:
‘Mr Cameron has known pain and failure in his life but it has always been limited failure and privileged pain. The miseries of boarding school at seven are entirely real and for some people emotionally crippling but they come with an assurance that only important people can suffer that way. Even his experience of the NHS, which looked after his severely disabled son, has been that of the better functioning and better funded parts of the system. Had he been forced to wrestle with the understaffed and over-managed hospitals of much of England, or had he been trying to get the system to look after a dying parent rather than a dying child, he might have understood a little of the damage that his policies have done.’
Losing his six-year-old son wasn’t enough; the Guardian regrets that it wasn’t a teachable moment too. Cameron’s ‘privileged pain’ — the notion of anyone at the Guardian calling someone else privileged is the only amusing aspect of this grim scuffle — extends to his harsh schooling experience. True, cold baths and corporal punishment were hardly uncommon in 1970s boarding schools but a scared little boy crying himself to sleep at night is still a scared little boy, however wealthy his father is and whatever unfair advantages his education will give him in life. Progressives can see victimhood in almost anyone as long as they don’t support raising the threshold on the inheritance tax.
The paper amended, then retracted, the editorial before apologising.
Kirsten Johnson, the Liberal Democrat candidate for North Devon, gave us another glimpse into the left’s empathy vacuum when she went on Radio Four and described her would-be constituency as:
‘Demographically it’s 98 per cent white. We don’t have a lot of ethnic minorities living in North Devon. People aren’t exposed to people from other countries. They don’t travel a lot...’
A not insignificant chunk of Brexit-blockers sincerely believe their opponents, and most especially their opponents’ voters, to be racist and thick. Once you start to think in these terms — to think yours are the only humane politics and everyone who disagrees is hostis humani generis — you are on the fast-track to speaking in such terms too.
Progressives, as distinct from socialists and social democrats, are more concerned with attitudinal leftism rather than its more mundane economic cousin. Policy is always broad, untroubled by detail and judged by how successfully it provokes the other side (considerations of impact and efficacy come later). Opponents are not just ideological opposites but cultural enemies too — those with the wrong tastes, instincts and assumptions — and drenching them in dehumanising, derisive language is de rigueur. Fellow progressives who express queasiness about personal attacks are scolded for their weakness: don’t you know these bastards deserve it?
Because modern progressivism is a clique driven by fashion and ever-shifting yet fiercely asserted concepts of virtue, it cannot help but be snide and angry towards those who fail to conform — or fail to know there’s something they should be conforming to. All this is underpinned by the unshakeable conviction that they are the moral elect and those who dissent heartless reprobates with a near-demonic enthusiasm for injustice and cruelty. It’s the bitter sentimentalism of people who got their politics, and not just their entertainment, from binge-watching Our Friends in the North.
Why do they hate you? You are a boomer who shares hoary memes on Facebook, a gammon who listens to Mike Graham, a Centrist Dad who doesn’t use the correct pronouns. You voted Leave, or, worse, voted Remain but accept the result. You vote Tory or long for the return of New Labour, you absolute weapon. You wear a poppy, you reckon Michael McIntyre is funny, you think the Handmaid's Tale is fiction, you didn’t cry when Trump won and you still can’t work out this privilege you’re supposed to be enjoying. They are the enforcers of a cultural code you are blissfully unaware of — or consciously flout. This is why they hate you.
The right is by no means immune to superiority complexes and passing fads in prejudice and haughty contempt. How often have you seen climate protestors dismissed for being middle-class without their arguments once being engaged? Or how about the Tory noses hoist heavenwards at the very mention of welfare recipients, single mums and sink estates? There is an entire sub-genre of (mainstream) right-wing social media that professes proud callousness at reports of anti-Muslim prejudice, all the while piling on some more in the comments. At least the right’s superiority complex guarantees a laugh: how else are you supposed to respond to people who pride themselves on their Blitz spirit but want the Army brought in whenever Tube drivers go on strike?
David Cameron was a terrible Prime Minister, some of his policies were destructive, and he is largely responsible for the present mess over Brexit. (Don’t blame me, I voted for chaos with Ed Miliband.) But neither his views nor his character warrant a once respectable newspaper taunting him over the death of his son. Cameron is a rich man born into privilege and too many advantages accrue to people like that but invincibility is not one of them. Pain is the great leveller, a state of perfect equality where no privilege allows you to escape human frailty. The knowledge of pain breeds an empathy deeper and more enduring than political fashion.