Wednesday, 8 January 2014

When a liberal is honest enough to admit they’ve been mugged by reality, right-wingers should rejoice, not crow

A very dear left-wing friend of mine returned from a bout of voluntary work in an appallingly impoverished Muslim country last year and startled me by declaring that she would never give another penny to charity as long as she lived. From what she’d witnessed, it had struck her that most of the money donated to overseas charities is spent on shielding charity workers from the hardships experienced by the objects of their compassion: consequently, many no doubt well-meaning and good-hearted charity folk return home with little understanding of the people they were supposed to help and not a clue as to whether the projects they’ve funded have alleviated suffering in a sustainable fashion, or, indeed, whether the money allocated to those projects will be used for its intended purposes or will simply disappear into the bank accounts of corrupt local officials.

I managed not to crow about my friend’s volte-face. First, unlike many salaried charity workers, she had made absolutely no attempt to escape the privations suffered by the people she was trying to help. Her diet and living conditions were evidently hellish (I’d love to give you details, but I don’t wish to reveal her identity, as this was a private conversation). Second, the extremely hands-on work she was doing must have been of immediate benefit to the people she was working with: her activities had nothing to do with signing cheques and enjoying self-congratulatory dinners in Westernised hotels with fellow compassion-mongers and besuited kleptopcats. Third, it must be jolly hard to admit that something you’ve previously believed in simply doesn’t work - and admitting your change of heart to someone who didn’t share your earlier attitudes (even a close friend), reveals a degree of intellectual honesty I certainly don’t possess.

This all got me wondering whether I’ve ever changed my mind about something and then had the courage to admit it. I’m not sure I have. Obviously, I’ve changed my mind about plenty of things: while visiting a wind-farm for the first time I remember commenting that it looked very impressive and seemed to blend well with the surrounding countryside; during a short-lived greenie phase I proclaimed that there was something inherently sinister about nuclear power; there was that dinner party where I defended Robert Maxwell against charges of defalcating employees’ pension funds; when the Taliban grabbed control of Afghanistan after the Russians slunk off, I remember rather liking the puritanical cut of their jib; I was convinced Iain Duncan-Smith would make a surprisingly effective leader of the Tory Party; I thought the Iraqi people would welcome allied troops as liberators; for one deranged moment I wondered whether Gordon Brown might not make a decentish prime minister; and I refused to get on the property ladder in the early 1980s because I was convinced house prices were about to fall of a cliff.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Although I’m (almost) relaxed about revealing these mistakes now, I did my best to gloss over them at the time. Male pride, I suppose – low-grade right-mannishness. Anyway, I salute my friend’s courage, and will do my best to emulate it the next time I find myself mugged by reality.


  1. Inspector Kemp said that apostasy was an un ugly "thingk" because it led to "blutsheet"

  2. And he was an excellent darts player, though suspected of cheating.