Ok, so we need to talk about left-wing violence. Not of course that violence is intrinsically left-wing, nor that all left-wingers are violent. Both of those statements are nonsense. But there is a definite trend, across the Western world, for a section of the left to either engage in, or tolerate, low level political violence. And this really isn’t acceptable.
I’m not going to waste your time by providing a full itinerary of recent incidents. There have been far too many for that to be viable. But I would draw your attention to a few examples. Last Saturday a pro-Trump rally in Berkley, California, was attacked by counter-protestors leading to a mass brawl involving hundreds of people. That’s the same Berkley, California, where right-wing contrarian and hair gel enthusiast Milo Yiannopoulos was stopped from addressing students at the University of California last month by a left-wing riot. Similarly Trump’s inauguration was marked by violent disorder in Washington D.C., with Trump supporters attacked and property damaged, whilst Trump’s election itself triggered small scale rioting in several American cities.
The picture is similar on this side of the Atlantic. The Conservative election victory of 2015 prompted violent ‘protests’ outside Downing Street and UKIP’s sole MP was targeted by a left-wing mob outside Parliament. Go back a little further and you can find more serious examples, such as when the building housing the Conservative Party headquarters was trashed in 2010 during a protest over tuition fees. I’ve seen this sort of thing first-hand. The 2015 Conservative Party Conference in Manchester was at times virtually besieged by protestors, some of them masked, abusing and at times attacking delegates. I saw a suited man, who turned out be a journalist, being spat on and surrounded by protestors, whilst protestors wearing masks and dressed all in black confronted the police. At the time I was working for a Tory MP involved in healthcare, and several of the people we met, who had come to discuss the likes of mental health provision, had been repeatedly abused on the way in.
You may well not like Trump, in which case I concur. He’s a dangerous authoritarian almost devoid of redeeming features. But this doesn’t justify attacking his supporters. Indeed its worth remembering, when we consider the accusations levelled at his supporters, that Trump was the only presidential nominee who had a rally physically shutdown by his opponents. Some Trump supporters have certainly engaged in violence, often against protestors at his rallies, but this rarely compares to the organised mob attacks which have been carried out by the left. For what it’s worth I suspect that the violence has been almost entirely counter-productive. Neither middle-America, nor middle-Britain, cares much for violent thugs.
It’s worth contrasting this behaviour with that of the right. In contemporary Western societies right-wing riots are rare, and conservative riots virtually non-existent. If we exclude various nationalist-authoritarian movements, the likes of the EDL and Pegida, it’s very rare for any group which could reasonably be described as ‘right-wing’ to take to the streets. During Labour’s last period in Government, from 1997 to 2010, the vast majority of street disorder came from the left. And don’t think this was because conservatives weren’t livid. Plenty were, over a range of issues encompassing taxation and the surrender of powers to the EU, but very few took to the streets. But with the sole major exception of disturbances in Parliament Square over fox hunting, the right didn’t resort to fists and bottles. Similarly in America under Obama whilst much of the right was angry, and some at times went a little nuts, I can’t think of any significant episode of right-wing street disorder.
In short the left, and to some extent this includes the centre-left, needs to accept that it has a problem and take some kind of action. We shouldn’t tolerate a situation where violent behaviour from a section of the left is accepted, as appears to be the case, as part of the mood music of British politics. At present a level of left-wing violence, along with some Tories insisting on wearing tweet and UKIP candidates periodically posting silly things on Twitter, has become part of ‘normal’ British politics. But this is a mistake, and one that can be rectified. The left, including the Labour Party leadership, has a duty to speak out against violence and intimidation without exemption, and with the same vigour that conservatives have done. If the political right was as keen on street protests and confrontation as the left British politics would have been a good deal bloodier in recent decades. We should aim for a situation where nobody, even in as intellectually oppressive environments as the student unions of British universities, feels unable to express their politics freely.