As day protracts into itself and the eventual dusk sees the sky coloured with the hues of lilac and indigo, a student works in his room at Cambridge. The warm amber glow of a lamp bathes the pine desk of this aspiring young undergraduate.
He sits quietly at his laptop - only the soft cadence of keys is heard as he pours out vitriolic contempt for Venezuelan corruption in his latest essay. His attention jolts, as it so often does, and he opens a readily-available Facebook tab.
One perfectly formed, pearl-like tear falls down his cheek as he reads odious social network news streams telling him that Tories “literally kill people”. Unable to respond for sheer terror, his face finds comfort in the dark recess of his palms. Poor, poor shy Tory; rendered voiceless in this monstrous abyss.
The phone rings.
The shrill reverberations send shivers down his spine. Worst luck. It’s a pollster.
How could he be impassioned enough to respond honestly? The oppression bit with the venomous sting of the Stalinist left. ‘Lib Dem’, he muttered briskly before he slammed down the phone.
It doesn’t take much to realise the idea of a pervasive clan of “shy Tories” determining the results of our election is an inane, ridiculous, rambling pile of vacuous claptrap, though shrewdly convenient to an anti-left agenda.
The Tories are, curiously, not the only group to be subject to stereotypes. Greens are idealistic, pacifistic hippies who never gave up getting stoned in the 1960s; a wet rag would be a better MP than a wet, opinionless Lib Dem, and UKIP are ignorant, racist nutters littering the fringes of society (ergo coastal towns).
And what for Labour? The right are constantly deriding the left as idealistic, infantalized and incapable of thinking pragmatically. If the left disputes the virtue and morality of the Conservative Party, the right doubt any trace of intellectual integrity in Labour. An aspiring young socialist in Rochester is likely to be “shy leftie” to their UKIP parents, while an ardent Tory in Liverpool is unlikely to tell his Trotskyite Geography teacher he’d like five more years of austerity. Step outside of the student-led social media bubble for a moment and it becomes apparent that you are challenged or face contempt for your political views no matter how you choose to vote.
But the polls couldn’t predict anything like a Tory majority, the right retort. Surely there must have been an inconspicuous clan of ‘shy Tories’ whose only saviour was the secret ballot. I wonder whether the proponents of such a view have considered that the result of this election might not be based entirely around their own ideological predilections.
The polling industry suspect a late swing in favour of the Conservative Party, offering an explanation for a much more accurate exit poll (participating in which involves speaking to someone in person, rather than on the phone) on the evening of the election day. Other pundits have looked to a low turnout among groups Labour targeted. The swing to the right might be explained as the failure of Labour to run a positive campaign, simply opposing the positive pledges of the Tories. Widespread grievances about Ed Miliband’s leadership might explain more, contextualising a hurried last-minute decision to vote Tory. The fear of an SNP-Tory coalition might have corroborated the sense of unease mobilising last-minute voters. We could be having a decent conversation about this, getting to grips with why people really voted why they did.
But no. The first thing we hear about why the polls before the election were so misleading is that the sanctimonious leftist schoolyard bullies silenced a quivering minority of sensible and sagacious Tories. The whole narrative is hypocritical and distortive - it is sheer ill-natured dishonesty, an unjustifiable simplification.
Let’s move past this discourse. My response to Ted Loveday, that we should be angry about politics, has been misinterpreted. I don’t want to blame Tory voters, slam the electorate, or mock people who genuinely feel as if they can’t talk about politics. I want everyone to care and talk about politics. I want people to get angry at institutions and ideas they disagree with – from either side of the spectrum. I want people to engage in a real debate rather than constructing bizarre stereotypes. That doesn’t mean calling anyone evil or hating them. It certainly doesn’t mean justifying your own cause by contriving a heroine caricature of the dutiful electorate.
It just means having an honest political discourse. One that doesn’t involve constantly invoking caricatures of a sanctimonious and moralising left against a sensible right. Just as it doesn’t involve invoking caricatures of a compassionate left against a hateful and selfish right. The righteous, moralising tone of the right’s “Shy Tory” rhetoric has indulged in the belittling and infantilising of the left. The left’s genuine anger and concern is undermined through fashioning them as juvenile and belligerent whiners who can’t deal with losing. The left’s impassioned retaliation can only confirm the stereotype. Quibbling over which side is worse achieves nothing, alienates those genuinely interested and detaches politics from reality.
We just need to talk. Properly. Sometimes angrily, but at ideas, not people. We have to discuss real issues and break down stereotypes for everyone – left and right. So let’s cut the “shy Tory” shit and talk about what matters.