Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Sorry but I think I would have thrown that egg myself*

The problem with an old-fashioned egging is that it lacks political nuance. Last Sunday's assault on Young Conservatives in Manchester has quite rightly been greeted with universal disapproval by the media and it doesn't really matter that 60,000 people didn't hurl eggs. One chose to vent their anger in yolk form and it was wrong, not least because this act of free-range stupidity gave the Tory party the perfect story against which to define themselves at the start of their annual conference. They can now claim to be the party that doesn't hurl eggs, or, at least, not outside the context of a dining club hazing.

Conflict is hardly new when the Tories come north. Political debate in this part of the country is a snarling business but that emanating from the left often seems more snarl than substance. Jeremy Corbyn can ask for gentler politics and Topman himself from collar to cuff but the crowd at protests will usually attract some braid-wearing pert-nippled class warriors with a good arm, lucky aim and a misguided notion of free speech.

Yet amid the sham outrage and sham counter outrage, I noticed something very familiar about the video titled ‘A Tory just got EGGED!!’ when it popped up on Youtube. I recognised the scene of the 'crime'. I spent years working in an office just around that corner on the edge of Chinatown. I've stood where the Tories stood and know how tempers run hot in a city that often feels like it has more Bez tribute acts than it has Tory voters.


Because I know the corner so well, I wonder how those Young Conservatives found themselves standing at that junction of Portland Street and Oxford Road. It's the latter road that channels protest marches that routinely run out of the university precinct to the south. That corner is the closest point that protesters get to the security barriers protecting Tory attendees. You'd have to walk a few minutes back towards Central Library in order to reach the Midland Hotel and further still to reach the conference venue.

It makes it hard not to question the motives of those Young Conservatives when they picked that spot to openly wear their conference passes (against the advice of event organizers) and to wave copies of The Telegraph, conference brochures, and pictures of Margaret Thatcher. These are perfectly legal things to do, of course, but perhaps not wise in the middle of an anti-austerity march unless your intention is to provoke the other lot into proving what a despicable bunch they can be. And, as usual, somebody in that other lot was only too happy to oblige.

The result is online sniping between the hard left and hard right. The left justifiably feel they have statistics on their side because it was only one among 60,000 who committed the terrible deed. The right justifiably feel that they have morality on their side because they claim the right to dress how they like and walk the streets unmolested by egg yolk. Yet it's hardly partisan to point out that the Young Conservatives seemed delighted to have provoked that response.

Manchester has many virtues but bow ties are rare and the v-necked sweater with old-school tie is not a look that wins many friends. Seen through my eyes, at least, the Young Conservatives looked just that: very young and very Conservative. I would also argue that you don't need to be on the political left to have a visceral reaction to the smugness of youths flaunting their privilege in a context in which others are protesting genuine poverty and government policies that are leading to the deaths of vulnerable people. Given the anger, the noise, the passion of the moment, I'd have been hard pressed not to lob an egg myself. Except, sitting here coolly and rationally, I also know that I wouldn't. Or perhaps I would. That's the problem with passion. It makes reasonable people do things they would regret and often those things are far worse than throwing an egg. The bigger question is why people attend a political march carrying eggs in their pockets and it's in the premeditation that my sympathy for the protesters ends.

The difference between passion and premeditation is, I suppose, at the heart of my argument. It's the premeditation of protestors looking to hurl eggs and the premeditation of the Young Tories looking to stoke the anger of the crowds. Yet the story also expresses a deeper reality about the Tories annual pilgrimage to Manchester. That they tend to hold their annual conferences in Labour heartlands makes as much sense as Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom hosting the Last Night of the Proms. The whole thing feels like a premeditated provocation on a scale grander than either the Young Conservatives or Dim Eggthrowers could ever hope to organize. It implies a reach into cities and regions that simply doesn't exist or is overstated. In the north, the Tories are largely successful in areas of affluence, the suburbs on the outskirts of major conurbations where gardens are large and every shadow cast by leaf or Range Rover. Elsewhere they are the second, third or even fourth choice party. For a few days, they might fortify themselves inside a heavily protected compound in central Manchester but the security only highlights how removed they are from ordinary Mancunians and how much effort they need to expend to truly understand the city, the people and its culture.

And that's what the story highlights to me. Throwing an egg was unconscionable but what the Young Conservatives were throwing back was cheap, snide, and self defeating. It was a militant distain about the cares of average people who will never know or enjoy their privilege. It was a lack of compassion, consideration, or conscience that only encourages more people to take to the streets and make the divides in our society feel deeper and more wilful than we've ever known them in our lives.

Whilst the Left need to identify the anarchists and trouble makers polluting their message through violence, the Tories need to rethink their own strategy and stop countenancing the fetishism of cruelty sometimes displayed so overtly by their youth.

* The title of this article was obviously intended as 'clickbait' but that doesn't actually stop some people from thinking that I would throw an egg or I'm defending the people that do throw eggs. I wouldn't throw an egg. I've never thrown an egg and I can't conceive of a context in which I would throw an egg. I'm not saying that I'm incapable of throwing an egg. If the conditions were perfect and I lost my temper and happened to have an egg in my hand, I can't be entirely certain about my actions. But, generally, I disapprove of all egg throwing and general misbehaviour with eggs.


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