After a recent announcement on welfare reform, I saw a tweet to Iain Duncan Smith which accused him of “deliberately fermenting hatred and division”.
Now, arguments for or against his proposals are all part of the cut and thrust of democratic debate, but how likely is it, really, that having attained Cabinet office, anyone at all would decide to “ferment hatred and division”?
This becomes even less likely when you consider that the individual in this case is not going any higher. Iain Duncan Smith already holds the highest office he could possibly hold, given that he is an ex-Party Leader. So why, precisely, would he decide to spend his time deliberately dividing up the place and causing hatred?
Here is the thing: the tweeter concerned would no doubt be the first person to (claim to) oppose sectarian, racist or xenophobic ignorance and hatred; and probably the first person to demand evidence-based policy making. Yet she herself exposed her own ignorance and hatred by pre-determining, not just without evidence but in fact contrary to all evidence, that Iain Duncan Smith would decide to spend his hours in office “fermenting hatred and division” because he’s a Tory. (Let us be honest: that was why she reached that conclusion, wasn’t it?)
It is the tweeter’s own blind ignorance and hatred which is causing a complete meltdown on the Left, and in fact a broader democratic meltdown. By being guilty of all she claimed to oppose, she gave away the most alarming point of all: she was not willing to engage in debate.
After losing the Conservative Party leadership without even getting to fight an election (that does and sometimes should happen, those on the Left should note…), Iain Duncan Smith did not decide to disappear from politics, even though he could no doubt have earned a lucrative living on the circuit as others do. On the contrary, he decided to set up a think tank, partly with his own money, to investigate the causes of poverty and propose solutions which may work. He spent a lot of time on estates, notably Easterhouse in Glasgow where he is still well respected, trying to determine what drove poverty and social exclusion and to come up with alternatives to the failed policies which caused such exclusion to come about. Upon the return of a Conservative-led government six years after the think tank’s establishment, he then sought to reform the welfare system largely in line with what that detailed, on-the-ground research had determined.
You may disagree with some of the outcomes; I do, as it happens – after all, no matter what the quality of our research, we all ultimately have our pre-determined biases. It also so happens that Iain Duncan Smith is a hard man to like, privately or publicly (although he is easy to respect, once seen in action). However, let us be very clear: his actions were hardly those of someone who had decided to “ferment hatred and division”!
By merely dismissing him as a hater and divider, in complete opposition to the evidence, the tweeter (sadly representative of too many involved in what passes for “political debate” these days) was doing a fundamental disservice to democracy and to those in whom she implicitly claimed to have an interest. Like so many, far from engaging in debate, she chose to shirk one; far from seeking solutions for others, her focus was merely on feeling good about herself.
This is a nasty development, rendered more obvious by social media and absolutely evident in the work of many friends of the new Labour leadership, among others. It is in fact itself borne of ignorance and hatred, and it is fermenting division. It is causing a democratic meltdown which, though it applies currently predominantly on the Left, will serve none of us well.
For reference for linguistic pedants (self-described…), the tweet did say “ferment”…