Calling all liberals: it’s time to change our ways

If we don’t stop insulting our opponents and sweeping ideas we dislike under the rug, liberalism will remain the politics of the elite

Image: Liberal Democrats

Image: Liberal Democrats

This year has proven to be quite the spectacle, and one which has provided liberals in the west with crushing defeat and seeming rejection. Yet, having campaigned for a Remain vote, and lost, and then believing in a Clinton presidency, and losing again, I can’t help but feel that people haven’t rejected our values, rather we have rejected and ignored vast swathes of people.

As liberals, we hold the values of tolerance and democracy at heart. We speak of our desire to give opportunity to all and fight for a world in which all feel free and able to fulfil their potential. Yet, our image has become one of intolerance for others’ views and snobbery against many. This moral superiority that many in our cause have adopted is evident all around us. Our universities, where the phrase ‘they must have been stupid to vote Trump/Brexit’ can be found as easily as a Costa coffee cup, are a good example. Yes, liberalism has become everything it once fought against. An ideology that is increasingly seen as a preserve of the elite.

Think about it. Our attitude has become one of ‘if they aren’t with us, they are against us’. From ‘basket of deplorables’ to ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’, we have repeatedly assumed an attitude of moral authority which has encouraged us to cast a wide number of people as having unbelievable views. This is not me saying that we should not call out racism, that we should ignore a sexist comment here and a homophobic comment there. We have a duty to call people out and question them. Yet, that is not the same as telling people to shut up. It is not the same as lampoon-ing insults at our opponents. It is not the same as protesting against the democratic process when it doesn’t go our way. I don’t want to shut up homophobic, racist, sexist or nasty views. I want to understand them and change them. That’s progress.

Progress isn’t sweeping people under the carpet and ignoring their existence. That has been our fundamental flaw. We’ve spoken to those who agree with us, campaigned on the belief that if we get enough of ‘certain areas’ and ‘certain groups’ to back us we can win. At best we have been naive, at worst we have actively written certain demographics off. We have treated politics as a celebrity game, where we can rally around an individual and not a set of principles.

We seem to have forgotten that democracy, especially liberal democracy, starts with communities and individuals. It starts with people talking to one another; it is founded in opinion and debate. If we want to win again we can’t just claim to embrace diversity in our communities and cultures, and continue to pride ourselves on our tolerance of others. We need to also embrace the diversity of opinion in our societies and campaign for every individual and every mind, regardless of their starting point. We need to live by our values again.