Zadie Smith’s point is a good one. Left and Right should make more of an effort to meet
Though I can’t say for sure, I suspect that the unsmiling novelist Zadie Smith may be more Left-wing than Right. This suspicion is prompted by something she said the other day: “I would love to meet a nice, reasonable, intelligent Conservative who’s a lovely person, but where are they?”
Has she not heard of Matthew Parris? That is what he is for. As a matter of urgency the man must be rushed, preferably with a police escort, from his riverside flat in Docklands to Zadie’s house for a nice cup of tea and a chat. I imagine she lives in Islington. Probably has a few cats. They could talk about them. And llamas, which is what Mr Parris keeps instead of cats, though not in Docklands, obviously. She would soon see that Labour doesn’t have a monopoly on reason, intelligence and loveliness. Meanwhile, what worries me more is that she, who you would imagine is adept at social observation, doesn’t seem to have noticed that the Left has taken over from the Right when it comes to nastiness.
Those T-shirts celebrating the eventual death of Baroness Thatcher on sale at the TUC conference might have given her a hint. “A generation of trade unionists will dance on Thatcher’s grave” according to one slogan. Nice.
The Left likes to pretend it is motivated by compassion, when it is actually fuelled by hatred. Look at Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, fine haters both. Demented by their hatred, indeed. Would Damian McBride, Brown’s well- poisoner in chief, have dared to smear senior Conservatives, including Samantha Cameron, with false rumours about their private lives, if there hadn’t been a deep culture of Tory hatred in the Brown camp?
I well remember being shown around Millbank, the Labour headquarters, during the 1997 election and seeing on a poster, handwritten in large letters, two motivational words: “HATE TORIES”. It must be exhausting being them. This tradition of hatred can be traced even further back to Aneurin Bevan, who described Conservatives as “lower than vermin”. And it isn’t just the leaders. Lily Allen summed up Left-wing attitudes to the Right in song: “We hate what you do and we hate your whole crew”. And what about the crowd who booed George Osborne at the Paralympics (and with him the Paralympian to whom he was presenting a medal)? Might they have been a bit Left-wing, too?
To be fair to Zadie Smith, I imagine there is much peer pressure to be on the Left if you are a novelist. A few, such as Ian McEwan and Irvine Welsh, have broken ranks in recent years, prompted by a revulsion of Islamofascism and the comforts of capitalism respectively. And while it is true that the greatest British novelist of the 20th century (Evelyn Waugh) and the greatest poet (Philip Larkin) were both on the Right, most literary figures do still follow the Left-wing orthodoxy established by Jean-Paul Sartre, who went on apologising for communism long after he knew about the Stalinist purges and the gulags. Again, nice.
But I think Zadie Smith’s broader point is a good one. Left and Right should make more of an effort to meet. As I was writing this, I happened to be in an email exchange with my friend Giles. I asked him if he had any Left-wing friends. This is what he replied: “I don’t think you really get Left-wing people any more, do you? Last time I met some was at Manchester in the 1980s. And they were students so that doesn’t really count. Like public school homosexuality.”