Monday, 15 November 2010

Tom Harris takes on Laurie Penny - good job

I have been planning to write something about Laurie Penny lately, but the sheer number of ways in which she is wrong makes it so very difficult. Tom Harris has got there first, in a much-needed denunciation of 'the kind of self-delusional, self-indulgent, easily-dismissable nonsense which succeeds only in convincing the wider electorate that the Left is, at root, unfit to to be trusted with government.'

Tom Harris rightly points out that the main thing that is wrong with this particular article - and there are many other subsidiary elements of wrongness which later blog posts will address - is its fundamental misunderstanding of democracy. According to Penny, today's students are exactly the same as suffragettes in the early part of the 20th century, because even though students now have the vote,

Feeling that they no longer have a voice or a stake in the political process, that their votes are worthless if the parties who they supported instantly break their manifesto pledges, they took to the streets in their thousands and launched a furious attack on Tory HQ.

Priyamvada Gopal made exactly the same point in a similarly absurd article on Comment is Free:

politicians such as Nick Gibb, the education minister, insist[ed] that a largely peaceful protest by tens of thousands of students will not change the government's planned course of action in the slightest.

Does she or Penny really really think that the government should change its mind whenever 50,000 people protest, violently or non-violently? Are they aware that there are 40 million voters in the UK? I once worked at a school in an area where I am pretty certain there were 50,000 people who would have marched to deport all immigrants. The BNP polled half a million at the last election - suppose they could get a tenth of that on the streets of London, should we listen to them? Would Penny and Gopal support that? Because that's what sort of a precedent this would create.

Ultimately, Penny and Gopal's argument rest on a fundamental misunderstanding of British democracy. We don't have delegates as MPs, we have representatives. On top of that, because we have a coalition, there will inevitably have to be compromises and negotiations. As a famous Liberal said, 'when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?' Chuck fire extinguishers off the top of tall buildings, it would seem.

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