Both left and right seek a moral purity that is illusive and destructive

by Jonathan Todd

“Football, and the Premier League’s integrity, needs Leicester to win the title,” writes Louise Taylor in the Guardian. If, therefore, you want anyone other than Leicester to win the league, you want a football sans integrity. Spurs fans must be morally debased to want their club to win the league.

Similarly, in a wonderfully detailed critique of Bernie Sanders, Robin Alperstein notes that his rhetoric seeks to convince that, “anyone who supports her (Hillary Clinton) is part of the problem. And then it becomes an act of immorality to vote for her, and a symbol of one’s own moral purity, indeed a rejection of corruption itself, to vote for Sanders”.

As Spurs fans, according to Taylor, cannot in good conscience want their club to win the league, it takes a special depravity, Sanders implies, to vote Clinton. This is tiresome and corrosive.

It has been argued that the indiscretions of Jamie Vardy make Leicester City less virtuous than other Premier League Clubs. I wouldn’t go that far. All clubs, like all collections of human beings, contain good and bad eggs. And the good eggs aren’t always good. Nor are the bad eggs always bad.

The Taylor contention, of course, is the opposite: that Leicester are more virtuous. Given the association between Vardy and racism, it is tempting to see this as the Guardian looking past this scourge. You’d think a left-wing paper would be vigilant to racism. But the paper’s readers’ editor acknowledged in 2011 that they needed to be “more vigilant” to language that might be construed as anti-Semitic.

The lines between criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism feel ever more sharply contested. The Palestinian plight is undeniable. Sympathy for them, however, can lead to attacks on Israel that go beyond the legitimate and into the anti-Semitic. As support for Sanders can be built on an unjustified equivalence between Clinton and immorality. Or desire for Leicester to win the Premier League can rest atop dubious claims about their unsurpassed integrity.

“To be conservative,” Michael Oakeshott famously observed, “is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

To be conservative, on this account, is to have common sense. No one with any sense would approach the options presented by Oakeshott and not plumb for his preferences. But sense is not common. And certainly not exclusive to the Conservative party or conservatives.

The right now rages with those who would have us opt for the untried world of Brexit over the tried of a union that cannot have served us too badly since we join in 1973, as the UK is now a much more prosperous, inclusive country, more at ease with itself, than it was then.

Whatever the EU has or hasn’t done, it hasn’t stopped us being what we are now. Which is not so awful, all things considered. If we allow ourselves, we have much more room for present laughter than our forefathers – for whom grinding poverty and dying in ditches was more prevalent. I’d rather enjoy this laughter, while seeking to eliminate the poverty and avoidable deaths that endure, than lurch after the distant perfection that Brexiters proffer.

But the perfection of Brexit – like the America of President Sanders and a Premier League with its integrity recovered by champions Leicester – so dazzles some that it shatters their judgment. They lose their bearings. They get angry, especially with those who can’t see the perfection that is to them so clear. They lash out.

“For ‘Leave’,” Nick Cohen sagely observes, “everyone in this debate is lying or corrupt or advancing a special interest: everyone, that is, except them.” Their certainty has them castigate – sometimes in bizarre, ill-founded and indefensible ways – people and institutions that deserve respect.

As firm convictions about Israel slide into anti-Semitism. And concerns about modern football elide into unfounded veneration of Leicester. And deification of Sanders subjects Clinton to ‘if she sinks then she is not, if she floats then she is’ tests that are more exacting than those to which Sanders or other, conspicuously male, candidates are put.

I’m not saying – pace Yeats – that the best must lack all conviction. Or that the passionate intensity of the worst is such that things will fall apart. At least not just yet. On balance, I still think ‘Remain’ is the most likely outcome and the rise of Donald Trump makes President Clinton more likely, while Spurs might just snatch the league.

But my point here is not really the specifics of these issues, so much as a disposition that seems to run through these, and many other, contemporary issues. It comes from the right and the left. It hankers for a moral purity that does not and cannot, in our imperfect world, exist. Its urge to straighten too much humanity’s crooked timber is magnified by social media echo chambers.

Let’s reconcile ourselves to our shared imperfections and pragmatically find the compromises that allow us all to advance in a spirit of mutual respect. Amid present laughter. Whoever wins the Premier League.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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5 Responses to “Both left and right seek a moral purity that is illusive and destructive”

  1. Matthew Moore says:


    The attribution of actually evil motives to Tories is one of the biggest problems with Labour messaging.

    Labour: ‘The Tories want the poor to suffer, children to be uneducated and the sick to die’

    Voter: ‘That does not sound very likely. Guess you are lying about the other stuff too.’

    The Tories, conversely, seek to portray Labour as simply naive or incompetent. These traits are far more common than evil, and so their attacks are more persuasive.

  2. Anne says:

    I hope that Leicester hold out for the Premier league title – really because they are the underdogs and unlike the big clubs have probably not had as much money to buy players, but also it makes a change at the top.
    The higher Trump reaches in the Republican nomination the more likely Hilary will become President.
    I don’t think as deeply as you do regarding in or out of the EU but have done a pro and con of the situation and on balance remain will be getting my vote.
    Personalities also play a part for me. I don’t think Boris has done himself any favours with his outburst – but Teresa May has done well in her assessment – if the Conservatives are looking for a new leader maybe this is the direction they should look. For Labour I think Alan Johnson and Chuka have done well. Heidi Alexander was impressive in offering a solution to the junior doctors dispute while Jeremy Hunt should have sorted this out long ago.

  3. Very perceptive article – just goes to show that common sense can indeed, as you infer, be common to right and left.

  4. John P Reid says:

    RE: Matthew mores brilliant comment, do you think the PR people running the party from Livermore Running Ed milibands campaign, advising ignore the economy go for the 35% vote, to the Semus Milne there’s a mythical radical working class vote who want Jeremy
    To Sadiqs, team of boyish enthusiasm, feel that we can actually win on this sort of Cynacism,later the EU election and party conference, I suspect a few councillors who know that national issues affect council results will be saying to themselves, we’re gonna lose our council seats in 2018′ at this rate,

  5. Tafia says:

    To Sadiqs, team of boyish enthusiasm, feel that we can actually win on this sort of Cynacism

    But he is going win. By quite a margin.

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