Friday, 12 May 2017

Nice Guy Syndrome

The Nice Guys Finish Last trope is widespread in popular culture, and I've come to realise it applies to the Labour party.

In this trope, women go for the arrogant bastards instead of unsexy nice guys. Sometimes the "nice guys" in question become angry, bitter, and in fact not nice at all, as illustrated by XKCD:

Source: XKCD
Labour is clearly entering the "angry and bitter" stage of Nice Guy Syndrome.


Back in the 2015 election, Ed Miliband seemed like a fairly nice chap, but not Prime Minister material. His attempt at a Clint Eastwood growl of "hell yes, I'm tough enough" was not convincing. Now we have Jeremy Corbyn, who makes Ed Miliband look like Genghis Khan.

Even Corbyn's many detractors acknowledge his niceness. In his personal habits, he is modest, even ascetic. He is a teetotal, bicycle-riding vegetarian. He says sympathetic things about the plight of the less fortunate. He supports nuclear disarmament. He is opposed to war and violence practiced by the British state, and extended sympathy and friendship to the IRA long before it committed to peace. All of it is nice, nice, nice. It's so nice it goes full circle into its own form of nasty.

Be that as it may, it's hard to imagine Corbyn controlling a class of unruly schoolchildren. He certainly can't control the Parliamentary Labour Party. How can we expect him to lead a country?

The clear answer from opinion polls is, "We don't".

Source: Electoral Calculus, 11 May 2017. (Click to embiggen. A majority of 190 would be a post-1945 record. It would eclipse the 179 won by Tony Blair in 1997; and Blair's majority was in a larger Parliament with 72 Scottish seats instead of 56.)

In response, Labour doubles down on its claims of niceness. Look at our policies, they say: More money for teachers, nurses, students, and pensioners; more protection for the environment; a foreign policy based on "peace and justice", which happens to be a motto of the Jedi knights. Who could possibly be opposed to such nice things?

Not me. Don't get me wrong, there are good and sensible policies in Labour's list of ten pledges and leaked draft manifesto. However, we face problems which can't be solved by simply being nice.

Most obviously, Brexit and its consequences require hard and complex choices. At a lower level, day in and day out, any government has to make decisions which are not as simple as taking money from the filthy rich and giving it to the deserving. I do not trust Corbyn's leadership or judgement on these matters, nor that of most of the Shadow Cabinet.

Here's where the Nice Guys really get angry.

There many long-winded articles explaining it's the duty of all right-thinking people to vote Labour, but the basic mindset is summed up in this tweet:



There's a lot of wrongness to unpack here. First of all, there were exactly two candidates in the French presidential runoff. This is not so in the UK; we are electing a parliament, not a president. As I have said before, I will be voting Liberal Democrat with a clear conscience.

Furthermore, the Conservatives are not fascists. I don't like them, I don't agree with them, but they are not modern-day fascists in the pattern of Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump. They are a centre-right party operating within the norms of democracy. For instance, while they are undoubtedly anti-immigration, they are not racist, Islamophobic, or anti-Semitic. This distinction matters.

What if this was a national emergency, such that it was a moral necessity for all non-Conservative parties to unite and stop the blue menace? Labour could put its money where its mouth was. To begin with, it could stand down candidates in seats held by Lib Dems, Greens or nationalists. Of course it is doing nothing of the kind.

The fact is, the election is being contested in a normal way by democratic political parties. Brexit makes it unusually important, but the structures of democracy and the rule of law are not in peril here. This doesn't stop some Labour supporters from manifesting an ugly sense of entitlement. A call for unity and a demand for submission are two very different things.

Labour does not own my vote and is not entitled to it, any more than a Nice Guy is entitled to the company of any woman he happens to fancy.

The implication is that Labour can be as feckless, incoherent, and divided as it wants; it can harbour deranged anti-Semites like Ken Livingstone; it can have no meaningful direction on Brexit, the most important issue of our time; but we must overlook all this, because they are a Nice Party and Not The Tories. It is the worst kind of unthinking political tribalism.

Here is the paradox of this election: The Conservatives do not deserve to win, but Labour very much deserves to lose. Many Labour MPs are good and dedicated public servants; but the party as a whole is failing miserably in its duties as an opposition, and in no way fit to form a government.

Labour's arrogant, condescending, incompetent leadership have not been moved by a vote of no confidence from their parliamentary colleagues; dismal opinion polls; failure in local elections and the Scottish Parliament; or losing a by-election to the Tories, in a seat held by Labour since 1935. Their response has been to continue berating the electorate, telling us we are too stupid to appreciate their amazing niceness.

Perhaps the blunt instrument of landslide defeat in a general election will motivate Labour to reform itself. Even that might not work, but for now there are no other options.

I'm not worried that Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister. The polls make clear that's not a plausible outcome. I'm worried he will do just well enough to hang on as Labour leader, continue running his party into the ground, and hand the Tories unfettered power for the foreseeable future. If you believe your local Labour candidate is worth voting for, I can respect that decision; but if you think not voting Labour makes me a bad person, I am not impressed.

I do not welcome a Conservative victory. I believe it will be bad for me, bad for the country, and worst of all for the most poor and vulnerable. However, Theresa May has called this election in the first place, and is looking forward to a record-breaking majority, because Labour has failed to offer any kind of credible alternative. That is Labour's responsibility, and no amount of whining about being Nice Guys will let them escape it.

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