You’re a bloody rotten audience whilst I am very good
If brains were made of oak and ash then you’d have balsa wood
I’m ethnic and authentic and I’m really full of class
While you’re ignorant, you’re cultureless, you’re philistines en masse. Eric Bogle
So this troll turned up in my twitter mentions yesterday. For the sake of this blog, I’m going to call him Brimir because this is not about attacking him. It’s about the experience of engagement.
Brimir arrived in my mentions because I was engaged in a discussion about Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of UK’s Labour Party. To say that Jeremy is a divisive figure within the higher echelons of Labour is to slightly understate the problem. As Brimir had previously worked within these hallowed heights, his tweeted views reflected this and as someone who has recently rejoined the Labour Party precisely because Jeremy had been elected, we were destined to disagree… vehemently. We are both people with very strong opinions.
Brimir’s opinion is that Corbyn is an unelectable disaster who will destroy the Labour Party. Over the course of the day he informed several of us engaging with him that we were ‘anachronisms’, ‘deluded sect members’, ‘off with the fairies’, ‘£3 tinpot Trots’, members of ‘the fruitcake permanent opposition party’ who were better expelled and, in my own case, ‘a deeply sad individual destined to be disappointed’. In his favour, however, the worst he imagined for us was Labour losing the election in 2020, which is probably why I continued the conversation. Usually trolls imagine far worse than that, especially if we happen to be women. Nevertheless, there were other reasons why I continued engaging.
Jeremy Corbyn has made it very clear, in both word and deed, that he views the Labour Party as inclusive, a broad church, encompassing a wide range of very different views. As someone who joined because he is leader, I feel a personal responsibility to contain my engagement within these inclusive principles. Why? Because I have more than enough personal experience of being excluded, silenced, vilified and exiled from social discourse. I do no service to either society or the Labour Party by promptly stamping down on opinions I don’t like the moment my ‘team’ ‘wins’. Labour did that to its membership in the 1980’s and continued the same policy of ‘silencing the left’ over the following decades right up until Jeremy’s election. To repeat this process in reverse is to reinforce this division internally in an already deeply divisive political environment. So I had political reasons to continue engaging Brimir but I also had personal ones.
For reasons I cannot fully explain, Brimir touched my compassion. Here is a man whose personal history had dedicated 30 years of activism to the Labour Party. He has advised its leaders; has worked very hard to ensure the party would win elections and now he is faced with his worst nightmare. Everything his political narrative had told him to avoid at all costs has suddenly and unexpectedly resurrected, supported by the thousands of new members joining the party he regards has his. In human terms, it is neither reasonable nor fair to expect him to ‘get over it’ easily or quickly. The tone of yesterday’s tweets carries the emotional charge of someone whose world has just turned upside down in the worst possible way. As someone who knows what it is to have all my beliefs upended into nightmare, I can empathise with his difficulty even if I disagree with his analyses. Throughout the day, I found myself reflecting on him and still willing to engage, despite the sharp and sometimes hurtful edges of what I think of as his ill-informed stereotypical opinions.
There’s nothing wrong with being ill-informed – everyone is. There are always subjects we know well but the universe is a very big place and only the single narrative ever claims to have all the answers. Communities are far better served by multiple narratives, where we can collectively draw upon the knowledge and wisdom of many individuals. It is this knowledge that leads me to agree with Jeremy about the need for Labour to be inclusive, including Brimir and those who might feel the same way he does. In the multiple narratives Jeremy is now generating within the Labour Party, acknowledging and respecting Brimir’s opinion no longer requires me to disrespect or stifle my own. Nevertheless my narrative about Labour has been profoundly different from his. I have my own equally powerful feelings about how Labour has treated folk like me particularly in opposition and I’m not alone in feeling this way.
At present, the political gulf between us is so wide as to appear unbridgeable. Certainly it seems that way to Brimir, judging from his unhappier tweets about Corbyn’s Labour. Despite engagement, his feelings are largely unchanged and I could have been tempted to buy into his analysis and abandon him to his misery but for one thing. At the end of a very tiring day of sometimes bitter exchanges, he said something that completely floored me. He said he liked me. Given the way my compassion continued to be triggered, I suspect I might like him too. If that isn’t a first rope across the political chasm, then I don’t know what is.
There are other possible areas of agreement too. Brimir wants Labour to win the next general election in 2020. So do I. What we disagree on is the how… but then we have four years to build bridges of understanding across the gulf of the last forty years. In that time, the shock of change will have softened and, I hope for everyone’s sake, we will have enabled more opportunities to establish a much deeper mutual understanding of the social problems such a Labour government will be facing, together with potential solutions we may not like but are willing to try.
So here’s to the Brimir’s of the Labour Party capable of making a human connection with Corbynites they regard as a pain in the flipping arse. No worries lovelies, we’re inclined to think the same about you which, oddly enough, places us on the first level playing field in British politics I’ve seen in over forty years.