In the debate surrounding the European Union, a point that I have made several times is that the import tariffs imposed by the EU against countries outside of Europe is immoral; it protects European labourers to the detriment of the workers of poorer countries, especially in Africa, but also in Asia and in South America. Surprisingly, even when talking to people who would consider themselves to be left-wing, and who almost certainly vote for Labour or even the Greens, often the response has been one of total apathy.
You can provoke a similar reaction if you criticise the treatment of Greece and Portugal by the European Union; I have often given an analogy wherein Britain elects Jeremy Corbyn, and the British electorate are promptly given notice by Angela Merkel that Corbyn’s economic platform is incompatible with that of the European Union’s, and he shall quickly be disposed of. When I offer up this analogy, the response is always the same: “We are Britain, not Greece or Portugal”, I am told, “We are too powerful a nation to be bullied by the EU, and remaining in it does not entail kowtowing to it”. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, because the purpose of the analogy is not to incite fear that this will happen in the United Kingdom, it is to show how outrageous the way that Greece and Portugal have been treated is. For some reason, those who declare themselves to be pro-EU on the grounds that it is right and proper to work together with other European countries have no issues when those other European countries are trampled upon by Germany and the EU institutions.
This is not an article I am writing to take a jab at those who are left-wing and support the European Union - there are many people who criticise the import tariffs that the EU uses to hurt poor countries, or who criticise the EU’s treatment of Greece and Portugal, while also believing that the best way to encourage progress is by remaining in a union of European countries, and this is a completely fair position. Rather, it is an article to note the growing number of people who will happily go to the polls and vote Labour, and who will declare themselves to be left-wing, while also lacking the basic compassion that being on the left or centre-left necessitates.
A quite disturbing example of this is the recent declarations from many on the left, or many Labour voters, against the government’s decision to take more refugees. It is not merely that they are content with the measly number of refugees the Conservative government is taking, it is that they are actively calling for Britain to take fewer or no refugees. This is occasionally made in conjunction with critical comments about Muslims. Recently, it has become a trend among academic and other left-wingers to criticise the ‘regressive left’, in other words, those who believe that we should be tolerant of Islam and be accepting towards Muslim attitudes. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris especially have been actively writing and speaking out against Islam, and against those who ‘enable’ Islam.
The problem with their criticisms is that they often fail to adequately distinguish between ordinary Muslims and their beliefs, and religious extremists. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of Islam to be made, and indeed I often make them. You will struggle to find many on the left who will not immediately condemn, for example, Islamic attitudes towards homosexuality, or the treatment of women by some Islamic countries.
But it would be a mistake to think that either ordinary Muslims should take any blame for any actions that are not their own, or that these misgivings are exclusive to Islamic countries. As an example, Female Genital Mutilation is often cited in evidence that Islam is inherently oppressive towards women, but there is never any thought given to the fact that FGM is not particularly a Muslim problem at all, and in fact is largely a Central African problem: Eritrea, a Christian country, has the highest rate of FGM in the world. Similarly, although the persecution of homosexuals takes place in many Islamic countries, it is also illegal to be gay in many Christian African countries. It has become common for people to be intellectually lazy and attribute to Islam a problem that actually has cultural roots that cannot be boiled down to a single cause.
In the George Orwell essay Antisemitism in Britain, he talks about a Labour MP’s reluctance to take in Jewish refugees who are fleeing the Nazis, who says “We never asked these people to come to this country. If they choose to come here, let them take the consequences”. This sentiment is identical to that of many on the left who are growingly reluctant to accept more Syrian refugees, and to me it seems clear that we will look back upon those who want to accept no more Syrian refugees who are fleeing either Bashar Al-Assad or the Islamic State in the same way that we see those who argued that we should take either fewer or no Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Nazis. It is quite shocking how someone can who professes to care about the homeless and poor in his own country has no interest in those who are suffering in the squalid conditions in Calais, or those in Syria whose lives are being destroyed by carnage and war.
The growing lack of compassion amongst many on the left, I suspect, was the reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s emphatic victory in the Labour leadership election. Many have guessed that his ‘anti-establishment’ status gave him an advantage, but my belief is that the fact that Corbyn, despite any other faults, clearly genuinely cares about the refugees in Calais, or clearly cares about people in Britain living in poverty, or clearly cares about those who are being murdered abroad with arms supplied by the British, was the reason for his sweeping victory. The Labour membership did not want to be given a seventeen-point plan on how Labour can win in 2020, they wanted someone who, in contrast to New Labour or even Ed Miliband, could make an impassioned case for compassionate politics, possibly even if it meant more Tory government and more austerity.