How the British right is suffering from virtue-signalling failure
- Credit: PA
The right try to lambast the left as calculated phonies, but fail to see the hypocrisy in their adoration of 'silently' held beliefs, argues STEVE ANGLESEY.
What do Little Mix, Fern Britton, the staff of a St Ives' Co-Op, a couple of policemen outside Downing Street and the CEO of Yorkshire Tea all have in common? They're not (yet) the latest team of 'weirdos and misfits with odd skills' hired by Dominic Cummings at No.10, but all have been vilified in the last few days after taking a knee, posting a view, sharing a meme or somehow otherwise indicating that they are not OK with the murder of George Floyd.
We snowflakes might regard a few moments taken to express disgust at the killing of yet another black American in police custody, or to register opposition to the institutional racism, social inequality and police brutality which echo worldwide, as moments well spent. So thank goodness we have Richard Littlejohn, Sarah Vine, 'Tommy Robinson' and other leading thinkers of our times on hand to explain that, rather than expressing empathy for fellow human beings in whatever small way we can simply because that just feels right, what we are actually doing is indulging ourselves in the morally repugnant act of co-opting a cause to demonstrate our perceived superiority to everyone else. Or, as it's known, virtue-signalling.
For a brief period, long ago, it was still possible to have worthwhile debates about virtue-signalling. Does a famous actor have to march for a cause to be a 'real' supporter of it, or is it enough if they merely share footage to their millions of followers? Can opponents of gun control ever be considered genuine when they send 'thoughts and prayers'' to the families of school shooting victims, even though those NRA members might be devoutly Christian?
Those nuanced days are gone, and the phrase – like 'chattering classes', 'politically correct' and 'champagne socialist' – has become another blunt instrument with which right-wingers beat the left as calculated phonies.
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It all seems to stem from a 2015 Spectator column in which future Brexit Party candidate James Bartholomew gave us a ready reckoner of what he considered genuinely virtuous ('staying in a not-wholly-perfect marriage for the sake of the children') and what mere virtue-signalling (Mishal Husain being 'particularly aggressive to Nigel Farage on the Today programme', posters in Whole Foods supermarkets, people who find Page 3 of the Sun degrading, Russell Brand).
He went on to rail against comedians who 'make use of virtue-signalling of the vituperative kind. With the right audience they can get laughs scorning the usual suspects: UKIP, the Daily Mail, Eton, bankers… The audience enjoys the caricaturing of all of these, sneering at them and, in the process, joining together as a congregation of the righteously contemptuous. What a delight to display your virtue, feel confirmed in your views, enjoy a sense of community, let off some anger and have a laugh all at the same time!' There was nothing, alas, about right-wing columnists who get laughs from scorning the usual suspects: (Mishal Husain, posters in Whole Foods supermarkets, people who don't like Page 3 of the Sun, Russell Brand) for the benefit of their own congregations.
'No-one actually has to do anything,' concluded Bartholomew, which leads you to wonder whether wearing poppies or clapping for the NHS are virtue-signalling. He's in favour instead of 'silently held beliefs' (that's why, of course, he's writing about his beliefs in a magazine column).
So when Sarah Vine explains that she won't write about race in the Daily Mail because 'virtue-signalling is pointless', but tweets her concern that 'BAME lives will now be lost as a result of 'protesters' breaking social distancing', is she then pointlessly virtue-signalling herself?
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When her colleague Littlejohn writes about police who 'never miss an opportunity to burnish their 'anti-racist' credentials… sniffing the wind, they thought they'd get their virtue-signalling in first', but then he goes on to talk about the lessons he learned about racism after visiting Detroit as a schoolboy in the wake of rioting in 1967 and 1968, is he for real or just sniffing the wind?
Questions, questions. Does the war on expressing an opinion only count for left-wing opinion, or only for celebrity left-wing opinion, or are all publicly-expressed opinions merely virtue-signalling and to be cancelled? Do we need to convene a panel of experts (dread word!) like Littlejohn, Vine, Wee Tommy and James Bartholomew to tell us what is acceptable and what is not?
Is it still OK to have opinions in public places where you might be overheard, or is it better if opinions are now only expressed by a single person in locked rooms with no means of recording them? What if the opinion is mumbled through a mask at a distance of two metres from the person who might hear it?
In short, if Dominic Cummings is walking alone in the bluebell woods of Durham when he starts ranting about metropolitan elites who don't understand anything beyond London, does he make a sound?
Now that's a joke James Bartholomew would hate but I do hope the congregation of the righteously contemptuous reading this will display your virtue, feel confirmed in your views, enjoy a sense of community, let off some anger and have a laugh all at the same time!
Brexiteers of the week
The former England goalkeeper and fervent Brexiteer tweeted: 'All you people who are not happy with a government democratically voted by the people with an 80-seat majority (and our great country) please go and live somewhere run by dictators and see where your actions (like pulling down statues) gets you!' He added: 'You wouldn't get the right to oppose or protest in some countries' - presumably the same countries he was just telling us to go to as he was sick of us protesting! Shilts went on, 'Two off my heroes are Tiger Woods and Mohamed Ali work that one out!' Well, simply naming famous black people you like isn't really a basis for claiming to understand racism. And you can't even get Muhammad Ali's name right!
The Brexit-loving former CBI chairman, briefly a trade minister in Gordon Brown's government of – ahem – 'all the talents', has relaunched the idea of spending £100 million on a new royal yacht. This would be funded by the government together with small and large businesses, all of whom, let's face it, have got lots of spare cash burning holes in their pockets at the moment.
Why on earth this, and why on earth now? Baron Jones explained: 'Because we have a damn good chance in this country and a royal yacht at this moment would be one of those good quality messages'. Conclusive stuff, and if the first voyage is to pop Prince Andrew across the Atlantic for a cosy chat with the FBI, Diggers might just swing it.
The Covid conga king is still selecting historical quotes for the Sunday Express under the title 'Jacob's weekly wisdom'. His latest, typically pompous, effort was ''England is a nation of shopkeepers' – Napoleon Bonaparte. I would not normally pick a quotation from Bonaparte but in this instance he understood our nation's entrepreneurial spirit'.
Alas for Jake, there is no credible evidence that Napoleon ever said this. French revolutionary Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac certainly did say it, but he was deriding the English for their lack of ambition.
Another triumph for the brilliant scholar whose privilege still failed to secure him a first-class history degree at Oxford!
'Boris wants to fix unfair Brexit deal' trumpeted June 7's Sunday Express, with the prime minister's men sighing of the 'defective' Withdrawal Agreement: 'We'll now have to do our best to fix it but we're starting with a clear disadvantage.'
What idiot could have prepared such a defective, disadvantageous pact in the first place?
And could he be related to the halfwit who went on to label it 'an excellent deal' before tweeting on December 11: 'We've got the deal. It's oven-ready. Vote Conservative tomorrow to get Brexit done'?
Of course, the oven-ready turkey in question was stuffed, hyped and is now being roasted by Boris Johnson.
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