Illustration by Miles Cole
THERE ARE NO frontier posts on the Left of politics, no pale to go beyond. You can move further and further away from the centre, move so far, in fact, that you turn the circle and join the fascists and it still doesn’t matter. Whatever you do, your “leftist” credentials will protect you from criticism, as surely as a Foreign Office passport protected British colonists in the age of empire.
The borders of politics’ right flank are better policed. When David Cameron allied himself with nativist Polish and Latvian parties which were not fascist but possessors of Eastern Europe’s traditional difficulties with Jews, liberal journalists, your correspondent included, pounded him. If he had gone further and spoken at a conference that featured prominent neo-Nazis, we would have destroyed him. Honourable critics would not say that Cameron was a neo-Nazi. We would allege instead that he was indifferent to racial conspiracy theories, misogyny and homophobia and the damage they wrought — a self-interested, small-minded politician who could not see that some ideologies were so poisonous that society must confront and quarantine them. Think what you will about Cameron, but he is never going to go that far. One of the most cheering developments in British politics has been the emergence of conservative anti-fascism in Britain led by Nothing British about the BNP and the Centre for Social Cohesion. Conservatives and liberals alike police the pale of right-wing politics while the Left remains an unguarded land wide open to invasion.
The Conservatives’ main complaint about the borderless Left used to be that it allowed huge double standards. Polite society embraced ex- or actual communists and Trotskyists and treated them with a consideration they would have never extended to ex- or actual Nazis. (The Mosleys are the one exception I can think of to this rule. Mainly for snobbish reasons forelock-tugging biographers and television producers hailed Sir Oswald as a Keynesian avant la lettre and Lady Diana as a brilliant star in that ever-twinkling constellation of Mitford sisters.) The old hypocrisy about left-wing totalitarianism irritates many but no longer matters, because communism died in the 1980s. The refusal of 21st-century left-wing and liberal opinion to separate itself from radical Islam is, however, a living disgrace with disastrous consequences for Europe.
You can see them everywhere if you are willing to look. In January, for instance, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband attended a “Progressive London” conference packed with the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which believes in the establishment of a totalitarian theocracy. George Galloway, who saluted the courage of Saddam Hussein, was there too, inevitably, as was Tariq Ramadan, the shifty academic who thinks there should only be a “moratorium” on the stoning to death of adulterous women rather than an outright ban. Imagine the fuss if, say, William Hague and Michael Gove had gone to a conference on the future of right-wing politics in London and joined members of the BNP, a far-right politician who had saluted the courage of Augusto Pinochet and an academic who argued for a “moratorium” on black immigration to Britain. The BBC would have exploded. It, along with everyone else, kept quiet, of course, about Harman and Miliband because they were from the Left and therefore could never be beyond the pale.
Nominally left-wing politicians’ appeasement of religious reactionaries is so routine that it takes a convulsive event to reveal the extent of liberal perfidy. The reaction of University College London to the news that its alumnus Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day should have provided the shock therapy. The connection between British-bred extremism and mass murder was there for all to see, except that the authorities did not want to look.