BY JAMIE FOSTER
Following the new fashion for writing letters to people unlikely to ever read, understand or be persuaded by them, I address this missive to you. For the benefit of those who may wish to read it and don’t know who you are, I will introduce you.
You are the son of a hugely respected Telegraph journalist who made it to the top of his profession the hard way. His success enabled him to send you to Ampleforth, and his contacts enabled you to write a gossip column for the Daily Express. You are treated as a journalist to the extent that you have a talk show based on current affairs and a regular guest slot on Newsnight. In reality however you are a polemicist.
The premise behind your show, and the station it is aired on, is that you are somehow leading a conversation. To many of us who tune in it sounds more like you are trying to avoid one. You appear to divide your time between preaching to the choir; disparaging anyone who doesn’t agree with you; and patronising those who do. Hillary Clinton, whom you greatly admired, has her ‘basket of deplorables’; you have a ‘box of trolls’. Your central theme is the proselytisation of your schoolboy politics, which hover at the edges of what is generously called the ‘moderate left’. Your shtick is to claim that all of the problems in life are knowingly created by a fabulously wealthy elite who have conspired to trick people into blaming all of life’s problems on migrants, whilst stealing their money from them.
You have blocked me on Twitter and poured bile on me on your programme for having the temerity to suggest that Bill and Hillary Clinton were not the morally unimpeachable champions of women that your narrative required us to accept they were. Still, that’s water under the bridge (where I and the rest of your nasty ignorant trolls spend our days waiting for the clip clop of your tiny hooves). I am not writing to complain but to contribute.
You see you have inadvertently stumbled across a question that is actually worth answering. In your usual introspection-free manner you have implied that the only possible answer is yours, but I write to suggest an alternative. I do so because it may be one of the most important questions of our time and it has spawned a conversation that is finally worth having.
Your question is why is the Right now saying they want things that the Left have always wanted? Why does Trump promise a better future for workers? Why does he attack the huge corporations who control the wealth of a nation? Why does he want the rich to pay taxes rather than relocate offshore to avoid them? Or recognise that vast swathes of people have been left behind in the march to global prosperity?
To your ears this all sounds like Socialism. Your answer is immediately clear the second the aspiration has been voiced. If that is what you want, embrace Socialism. Need better lives for workers? Unions will provide. Want more people to share in the wealth? The State will remove prosperity from the greedy and redistribute it to the needy. Your segue from aspiration to solution is so seamless you are able to convince vast swathes of your listeners that the two things are one. That wanting fairness is Socialism, rather than that Socialism is a proposed method of achieving it.
This brilliant sleight of hand has two profound effects. It links the method of Socialism in the minds of the faithful with the good that they seek; and it reinforces the belief that unless you want Socialism you can’t want fairness, or justice, or prosperity for all. You have built a moral bastion from which you can cast righteous fireballs down on the heads of the unworthy. Unfortunately you have built it on sand.
The truth is when you separate out recognising the problem from proposed solutions, the left/right distinctions largely fall away. Clearly there are those on the extreme ends of the spectrum who don’t have anyone’s best interests at heart. They tend to meet in high streets and fight with each other in the pretence that they are separated by anything more than the colour of their banners. For the rest of us, wanting people to be happy and well-fed is not a surprising desire.
What is surprising is your belief that, despite its history of failure, Socialism is likely to achieve this end. What you fail to take into account is that a massive State absorbs the wealth it confiscates, rather than redistributing it to all. Chavez, Mugabe and Blair were all made massively better off as a result of their respective regimes. The poor they had promised succour to not so much.
The reality is that prosperity has always been reliant on some having more than others. Splitting a large farm into hundreds of small farms may appeal to the dreams of the Left but it doesn’t feed the bellies of the hungry.
I am in no doubt that there is a tiny percentage of the world’s population who are just too rich and too powerful. I am equally sure that the way to resolve that problem is not to create a giant bureaucracy that itself becomes too rich and too powerful.
If you have any interest at all in solutions to the problems that you use to promote yourself to the listening public with, I have a suggestion for you. Instead of labelling and demonising anyone who is concerned at the thought of Britain being the finishing line in an economic running race for the world’s poor, listen to those people’s concerns.
Resist the urge to mock or cajole the minute they say something you don’t like. Don’t lecture, preach or harangue. Talk to them about their lives with respect and empathy. You might just inspire them to copy you. You might just start a real conversation. You might even end up leading it.
Imagine how satisfying that would be.