The left must stand up to abuse

It’s time for the tolerant, open and compassionate left to stand up to vilification and abuse when it is practised by sections of the left.

The left should not be defined by political aggression, intolerance and bullying; it should be defined by decency, inclusion, ideas and respect for people.

Exhibit A: Martyn Bradbury of the Daily Blog denounced ‘three broadcasters of the apocalypse’, after the announcement that Guyon Espiner will host Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report.  He called Guyon ‘a hard right neo-liberal white rich male acolyte’ - and me a ‘Fox News democrat’. 

I’ve had enough of this. This is abuse substituting for argument. Anyway it is absurd to conflate Guyon Espiner, a journalist respected on all sides, with Paul Henry’s history of raving racism.

Unless abuse is confronted it begins to define others on the left. 

When Helen Kelly welcomed Espiner’s appointment, commentator Fran O’Sullivan expressed surprise. She had assumed from Martyn Bradbury’s outburst that a broader swathe of the left have a problem with Guyon. Fortunately Helen Kelly stressed the broadcaster’s professionalism.

Martyn Bradbury’s unreasonable aggression has produced a truckload of ugly incidents lately, but the pattern of reprehensible abuse and aggression is not restricted to him.

Check out the tone of comments on The Standard nearly any given day. 

I have no problem with argument - it’s why we are here. The contest of ideas is vital to progress and the only way we can tell good sense from bad.  So therefore it is important to distinguish argument from bullying, from hatred and denunciation, and from the politics of exclusion.

There is something wrong with a version of the left that despises people. The fundamental principle of the left is our compassion, our belief that no matter where you come from, or who you are, you deserve the same opportunities as anyone else. Ours is the politics of redemption, forgiveness and humanity.

But what Martyn Bradbury and the demonisers are attempting is ex-communication. Their conduct is anti-ideas because, confronted with someone who has a different idea, they don’t engage. They vilify. Those who question their political statements are right wingers - and right wingers of the ‘apocalypse’ at that (as if there were no respectable or humane individuals among our opponents.)

I am often struck that pro-Labour commentators are outnumbered by pundits to our left and right at the moment. But it is no coincidence there are so few pro-Labour women with a profile. Bullies are so often men, whether abusers on the left, or the curmudgeonly old reactionaries on the right. 

It’s easier to keep your head down than to enter the contest of ideas. That might be better for some individual careers but it is worse for the left as a movement.

And therefore it is in the interests of the broad left that unnecessary aggression, bullying, abuse and vilification is called out when it occurs. Silence in the presence of abuse infects us all. 

Our politics need to be better than that.