Tribalism increasingly bores me. It’s ruining debate. I’m not talking about the laugh-a-minute, knockabout, playful fun of supporting your favourite team and enjoying a friendly rivalry with your opponents. I’m talking about the overly blinkered version, where nastiness…
Oh wait, that’s the beginning of yesterday’s blog. My apologies. Today’s entry returns to the subject, with a rather nice, beefy, specific example of how it affects political discourse for actual politicians.
Please come with me to the Twitter feed of one Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham (he might want to change that profile, actually, as he’s MP of precisely nowhere for another week and a half yet). I was linked to something he wrote today by someone I follow on Twitter, a comment which was also retweeted by another 38 people. The person who linked me to it is a highly talented writer and a Labour supporter. All fine, you might think: Labour supporter, Labour MP, comment made – of course they might want to highlight it.
But the tweet from Mr MacShane was rather interesting. Here it is: “2 Tory council candidates arrested in Yorkshire as police investigate vote fraud. Same old party. No national coverage of course.” The agenda’s pretty clear when you break it down, right? That the media is all Tory. That the Tories themselves are fraudulent. It’s rather similar, actually, to the Murdoch-bashing, all-Tories-are-c***s stuff I was talking about on the blog last night. A bit of generalising spin.
While it would be easy to dismiss this as just another bit of sly electioneering, the truth of the matter is that it actually highlights the tribal nature of politics rather nicely. For while the Tories are the same old party, apparently (remember: the clear inference is that they’re fraudulent and have always been fraudulent), it took me just a few seconds on Google to bring up the election fraud that “would shame a banana republic” and the 3 Labour MPs fighting expenses prosecution using an ancient Parliamentary Privilege law and the Ecclestone Donation Scandal and Keith Vaz in general and Peter Mandelson and Peter Mandelson, and in this election campaign we’ve already had the sackings of John Cowan and Stuart MacLennan. I could go on.
Labour scandals all, some of them involving fraud, some concerning highly inappropriate behaviour – all of them not very nice. Yet strangely, I don’t remember Denis MacShane commenting on any of them. I don’t remember him calling Labour the “same old party”. He seems to have a knack for selective reading, which is the absolute hallmark of tribalism.
He does, however, have time for the frankly ludicrous: “Florist tells me she assumes Tories will put up VAT to 25 % to pay for tax cuts 4 rich. If she is saying that why aren’t the press?”, and the simply untrue: “Pure Orwell! Kent Cnty Cl Tory Leader says M Gove’s plans mean less money for state schools and then Gove says Kent Tory is a liar. Surreal.”
However, I was happy to see him say the following: “Clegg was happy to support D Tel smears against other MPs as he postured as Mr Clean. He is no better or worse than others politicians.” A bit of wisdom that Mr MacShane would do well to listen to himself, no?
I only highlight his comments in particular because they resonated with me after yesterday’s blog. I’m sure that if I went to the Twitter feeds of other MPs in different parties I’d find a lot of similar rubbish, but the above example does rather spectacularly show off the point I was making yesterday. Closed minds. Blinkered views. Not what we want to see. And nor, frankly, should we want to see people spreading it. Not even intelligent people who we happen to like.