Right turn: why I voted Tory

Diana Beech explains why her choice at the ballot box was an act of defiance against other academics

May 21, 2015

Source: Elly Walton

We are all aware of the benefits of social media for spreading news, discussing developments and promoting causes. It is believed by many to embody a free space for comment and debate – which may explain why more and more academics are coming to inhabit the virtual arena.

With the ability to reach out to the masses in an instant, Twitter and Facebook were the first ports of call for many in the UK when campaigning in the run-up to this month’s general election. Yet the Conservative victory that was apparently so surprising to the pollsters highlights only too clearly what can go wrong when the freedom of the social realm is restricted by its very own users.

I, for one, was convinced that I was going to wake up to a Labour landslide on the morning of 8 May – not because that’s what I had voted for but because my Facebook feed had been awash for weeks with anti-Tory protests and proclamations of superiority from my left-leaning, mainly academic friends.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind a bit of partisan banter from all parts of the political spectrum. I embrace diversity and am particularly appreciative that we live in a society where we can make a political choice. I also came into this election as a “floating voter”, not particularly enamoured by the offerings from any one political party. So my vote really was out there for the picking.

Yet, instead of managing to persuade me to put a cross in the box for the Left, the relentless, self-righteous and intolerant nature of the comments I saw from colleagues on my Facebook feed only drove me away from even considering joining their cause.

Of course, I want to see fairness, equality and justice prevail in any policies governing my country. But I didn’t appreciate seeing, time and time again, posts from my peers packed full of expletives implying that I was bigoted for even doubting the Labour or the Green economic approach.

And if the swearing and cursing wasn’t enough, add to this some convoluted language for dramatic effect. “Pusillanimous” and “myopically self-interested” are just two of the terms I saw used to characterise “typical” Tory voters – language that is just another way to enhance moral superiority over the supposedly “stupid” middle classes of England, setting a syntactical challenge that very few could be bothered to win.

I am not saying that the political Right is immune from petty name-calling and self-importance. However, looking at my social media accounts alone, I lost count of the number of times I saw the words “moron” and “scum” used in reference to Conservative or Lib Dem voters. I didn’t see anything of the sort emanating from the political centre or the Right.

There has been a lot of talk of late of “shy Tories” being responsible for the electoral outcome. Is it any wonder that people had to be shy about their voting intentions when any admission of Tory solidarity would have resulted in the social media version of public stoning?

I understand that emotions run high when it comes to politics. Yet there are no excuses for the mob culture that has developed in online academic circles, which is quashing the very freedoms of speech and thought that our industry depends on and ought to be defending. The belligerence of the Left’s intelligentsia in the social media sphere – at least in my circles – left no room for the balanced, honest debate which could have ultimately brought undecided voters into the fold.

The story of the Royal Holloway, University of London philosopher Rebecca Roache, who argued that being a Tory was as “objectionable as expressing racist, sexist or homophobic views”, is a case in point (“The Week in Higher Education”, News, 14 May). While she espoused her prejudices on an official university blog, the social media musings of many of my academic acquaintances show that she is not the only one to hold such discriminatory views. You could argue that social media profiles are private, personal spaces for discussions shared only with the friends you choose. Yet nowhere in the virtual sphere is truly private – and it is worth bearing this in mind when propagating opinions in a manner that may actually serve to turn others against the cause you’re trying to promote.

After my trip to the polling station on 7 May, I felt ashamed about the pangs of pride I had experienced for casting a vote to get revenge on the social media throngs that claimed to speak for me. Never before have I thought of a vote as an act of defiance against my own colleagues, but the increasing vulgarities I witnessed online made me embarrassed to be a part of what my sector had become – a militant, pedantic, free speech-quashing hate mob.

Things are yet to calm down. The “Tory-bashing” continues and my Facebook feed is now filling up with memes of David Cameron dressed as Hitler and endorsements of a sign stipulating that all shy Tories should identify themselves for added tax discriminations. As strong as anti-Tory sentiments may be, trivialising history in this way shows a lack of tolerance and respect from, quite frankly, people that ought to – and ironically claim to – know better.

Protestations abound that such aggression is needed to counteract the influence and “evils” of the mainstream British press. But as my sole source of news this election time, my social media feeds have revealed the Left’s intellectuals to be the biased ones.

I am not just another one of those “shy Tories”. I truly care about the sector’s values and the role that academics can play in ensuring balanced and fair debate. I really hope that my outspoken peers can learn from this election and face the prospect of the European Union referendum as we all should – facilitating discussions for the public good rather than shouting down those with even the slightest doubts or disagreements.

I deeply care about the UK’s future in the EU and shudder to think of my own hard work – listening to and working with Eurosceptic communities to show them the benefits of EU membership – being undermined by the brash, haughty attitudes that ultimately lost the Left my vote. When it comes to Europe, we cannot afford to force people into a position where the only chance they have to express their reservations is at the ballot box that could ultimately take the UK out of the EU.

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Reader's comments (6)

How strange that a person should vote in any particular way out of pique, rather than out of concern for the greater good of the country.
You obviously have ruder colleagues and friends than I do, but the assumptions are similar. I guess it depends partly on the subject area and partly on the institution. Perhaps it would be equally unpleasant to be a political minority in an industry full of right-wing people. But I agree with you that this aggression and narrow-mindedness is particularly disappointing in a sector where liberals claim to be in favour of diverse, open, self-critical and civilised discourse. It's something one gets outside of election campaigns, too, and is bizarrely justified as the academy being a last bulwark against the neo-liberal hordes. Which only confirms how irrelevant that academic leftism is becoming. Oh, and I voted Labour by the way.
I agree with both commenters above - how completely bizarre to vote a certain way out of 'revenge' and you simply must have an incredibly rude set of colleagues and friends to want to use your political right to vote to get back at such people (!) Ive also bore witness to Conservative leaning people calling Labour voters 'scum' so you know, it works both ways but I would consider myself a pretty weak person if I was to abandon my political beliefs in an attempt to get back at them as opposed to voting for what I believe to be the greater good for the country. The other main thing I take from your article is that it completely smacks of blame culture - 'oh look I'll vote this way because YOU made me do it and then I won't feel guilty about or have to take responsibility for, voting in policies or a government that I don't actually agree with'. And this comment really does take the biscuit - "I deeply care about the UK’s future in the EU and shudder to think of my own hard work – listening to and working with Eurosceptic communities to show them the benefits of EU membership – being undermined by the brash, haughty attitudes that ultimately lost the Left my vote." IF you care so deeply about remaining within the EU then what on earth were you doing voting for a Tory government hell bent on having a referendum? Maybes you should have voted for things that actually matter instead of acting on some kind of whim based solely on..what exactly, personal revenge? How self absorbed, is that honestly what our vote has come to? I am pretty bored reading of 'Shy Toryism' - Shy Toryism is basically a cop out for people who are loath to admit they voted in a Conservative government they don't actually fully agree with because..well why exactly? Because they have deep rooted reservations about the Tory party policies and aren't completely certain that voting in such a government has their best interest at heart? No? No.. lets watch as the blame gets passed instead and they say things like they 'don't like to be told what to do' by more left leaning members of society. Then as witnessed above, they can sit back and blame the Left for 'making' them vote this way so they don't have to accept responsibility for their actions. How warped is that?
Perhaps you should diversify your social media feeds. If you include some young, disabled or unemployed people you can see how your pretty decision impacts them over the next five years. The peers you wanted some kind of revenge on will suffer very little. I thought Robin Ince put it best on the morning of the result: "anyone accusing me of being a bitter lefty, I will be fine under this government, I was just thinking about other people, sorry."
"mob culture that has developed in online academic circles, which is quashing the very freedoms of speech and thought that our industry depends on and ought to be defending" So quashed are your freedoms of speech and thought that you are able, without any restriction whatsoever, to disagree with your colleagues, put your disagreement into action politically, and then take to the pages of a widely circulated journal to tell everyone on Earth about it.
I am sure if other commentators could just be a bit more insulting then I am sure she will change her vote next time. All parties need to persuade people to vote them in a democracy. I heard someone point out a very simple truth, for Labour or Lib Dem supporters to say "voting Tory is voting for your self(ish) interest", is not a vote winning slogan; in fact it re-enforced the Tory message. What went wrong (IMHO) was those on the left (I include myself judged by my voting pattern and party membership) failed to convince more voters that they would be better off and happier in the long term voting left. Whilst poverty is bad for the poor, its bad for society not because its immoral (preaching wins no votes) but because if you expand an underclass it will undermine society. Unless you are super rich and super mobile, then tearing up society's contacts will adversely effect you personally when the underclass call time on the system. However educating, training and supporting those with the least will make you richer (the economy will grow), happier (less crime, less squalor) and more secure (society will be more cohesive). The relentless demonisation and de-legitimisation of the Tory voter by some of those on the Left suggests they really would rather have an authoritarian messiah rather have to persuade people who to vote for them in a democracy. (Giles Fraser made pretty much this argument).


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