In place of hate

Politics is personal. Those who claim otherwise appear to have chilled their private prejudices to a sangfroid that approaches absolute zero. Accordingly the personal is emotional, but the emotion that has become the signature of contemporary political debate is arguably that of hatred – from the rhetoric of the current denizen of the White House to the average exchange on twitter dot com.

It is tempting to lay the current animosity in our politics at the door of social media. Yet political invective – both the arguably constructive and the indefensibly destructive – have long been a part of the political and social sphere.
It would be remiss not to emphasise that one of the most virulent strains of hatred devoid of any redeeming feature relates to the anti-Semitic bile that will invariably ensue if a Twitter user is Jewish. Regardless of the topic, regardless of their stance, regardless of whether the person is on the right or left of the political spectrum with a tedious inevitability anti-Semitic abuse will follow.

Christopher Hitchens asserted that rather than his first love he would always remember his “first hate”, and that “hatred though it provides often rather junkie energy is a terrific way of getting you out of bed in the morning”. However “junkie energy” is the apposite term as hate proves to be both addictive and a provider of ever diminishing returns. This pseudo-constructive hatred is something which I alas recognise in my own style of debate and one which I recognise in at least one figure I hold in high respect.

Now would be an appropriate time to mention that Nye Bevan quote:

“That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.”

A variant of that quote (fashioned into rodent form) adorns one of my favourite shirts. Indeed I was wearing it the first time I met Jeremy Corbyn in his first leadership run and can be found on my twitter page. I will happily acknowledge that at first glance its sentiment is not entirely in keeping with the “kinder, gentler politics” espoused by

At first it appears to be just another piece of political rhetoric; albeit with a degree of flair for those that like that sort of thing (side note: in the interests of full disclosure I do like that sort of thing – I once received an essay back on which my lecturer had scrawled the words “nothing but flourishes of rhetoric and impressionistic hyperbole”. Once I’d looked up hyperbole it was hard to disagree…).

However in the context of the speech as a whole it appears less and less to be a calculated barb for political gain but a heartfelt response to the economic duress Bevan had previously endured. Nye spoke of his family’s former financial hardships which he laid at the foot of Tory policy and those who devised it. With a sincerity which we ostensibly desire in our elected representatives Nye naturally condemned the architects of his previous poverty. What can seem to some to be a merely facile hatred is in fact saturated with political meaning.

Even at the time Bevan’s quote was seized upon as being somehow representative of the Labour view of all those who had voted Conservative. In a very Clement Attlee manner, Bevan was hauled over the coals. Clem informed Bevan the intervention had “without doing any good, it has drawn attention away from the excellent work you have done over the Health Bill. Please be a bit more careful in your own interest”. My affection for Aneurin Bevan as a politician and a man of history is well established, but even I can see the political pitfalls of his choice of language.

If you see value in self-awareness, witnessing conflicts between emotional and its intended effect can be a trigger for some useful introspection.

I am keenly aware of my own penchant for emotive language e.g. my previous assertion at one political event that it was our duty to inform the Tories that “We’re going to nationalise the f*** out of everything they love”.

This statement, as an example, was aimed at rallying people and connecting them to a set of values an beliefs around economic democracy, but it was somewhat lacking in nuance (and not entirely accurate). Nevertheless, politics is still there, and it is still difficult for me not to continue to stand by the general thrust of the point.

Hatred and anger cannot be bandied about as a term or driving force lightly. Nor can someone’s emotional attachment to a belief be the sole reason for its discrediting (though it may be a contributory factor). I have no desire to remove the emotion from politics, but I am keen to see that where it is cited it accompanies and informs constructive policy. What it does is important.

The language we use has more justification when it is derived from our personal experiences and it serves the purpose of realising positive change. Some fire is desirable, but the ends need to be good ones.

So in all likelihood I will still be wearing my Nye Bevan shirt with that quote recognising its roots in Bevan’s personal experience. However I will also be more mindful of my discourse (which has not been immune to a degree of passionate invective) in order to bring about the political change I seek. We need to ensure that our rhetoric, our emotion, and our policies are in lockstep with one another.

Perhaps the words of Clem Attlee should be borne in mind every time we attempt to distil our political philosophies into 280 characters or fewer: “Please be a bit more careful in your own interest”. Not in so selfish a way as our own personal interest but in the interest of the politics we espouse and are borne out of love. Otherwise we run the risk of succumbing to the phenomena that Hazlitt depicts for: “Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal” and that’s not going to have the same galvanising effect on a shirt as that quote from Nye.

David Hamblin is an Open Labour & Trade Union activist – and a convinced Bevanite

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