Misguided abuse at Conservative conference lacked purpose

Image: Lucy Wegerif

Image: Lucy Wegerif

Last week, the Conservative party held their annual conference in Manchester.

As is usual when a governing party holds their conference, it was met with angry marches and protests. Inevitably, there are always those in any protest who will turn violent, and this was no exception.

Tory attendees were warned to remove their lanyards upon leaving the conference venue in case they  were targeted, and one poor young lad was hit square in the forehead by an egg while standing behind a police barricade.

It is true that the vast majority of those present were peacefully protesting the Conservative government, and were doing nothing other than exercising their legal right to protest and voice dissatisfaction. It is a great shame that the media overlooked these people in favour of exposing the minority of extremists, but that is what the media is wont to do.

It is quite difficult to understand what anyone expects to achieve by shouting ‘Scum!’ at another group, or by throwing eggs, or by marching around in pig masks.

To be sure, it’s very difficult to imagine that any Tory at a Tory conference taking place the year of the greatest Tory election performance in 23 years is going to be converted, but what is clear is that rudely protesting doesn’t go far.

People have died due to benefit sanctions. People have been deported to unsafe countries and murdered as a result of our asylum laws. People have been forced into bankruptcy through the cutting of legal aid, and the government has created a financial incentive for people to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. Homelessness continues to rise, as does food bank usage, while real wages and social mobility remain stagnant.
These are very real, very important points that must be addressed, and they will never be addressed unless they’re raised in a manner that gives the government and its supporters an opportunity to connect with them.

Those on the streets shouting ‘Tory scum!’ and ‘Not welcome!’ allow the Conservative party to write off their opponents as the great unwashed, and encourages them to view themselves as the only bastion of common sense and decency in a country that’s full of people who are fundamentally stupid.

I don’t believe that the latter idea is true for a second, but I cannot blame anybody for feeling a little bit attacked when their only interaction with the other side is to be told that they’re heartless, evil, or, to quote a British left-wing hero, “lower than vermin”.
So it may feel good, and you may feel part of an exciting counter-cultural movement if you stomp your feet and shout as loudly as you can, but ultimately, this sort of self-indulgent tribalism is incredibly harmful.

The Conservative party will be defeated by convincing non-affiliated, floating voters that there is a credible alternative. Until those protesting realise that they’re only alienating would-be supporters, the anti-austerity rhetoric will only become further discredited.

 

One comment

  1. Very good article, think “So it may feel good, and you may feel part of an exciting counter-cultural movement if you stomp your feet and shout as loudly as you can, but ultimately, this sort of self-indulgent tribalism is incredibly harmful” sums everything up nicely.

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