As Christian Kerr pointed out (2 February) Andrew Bolt had an unusually
interesting column about political defectors last week. Of course Bolt
could not help slipping a bit of lefty-bashing in there, and his
proposals are unworkable, but he has a valid point that some people
choose a political side when young, and then get stuck as their views
change. If they defect they are labelled “rats” but if they push a set
of policies they no longer believe, they are hypocrites.
Bolt notes that “Almost all our prominent conservative commentators
were on the Left when young – Piers Akerman, Paddy McGuinness, Tim
Blair, Keith Windshuttle, Christopher Pearson and more.” In fact the
list is much longer than this – Paul Norton had a more comprehensive file at Online Opinion some time ago.
Bolt takes for granted that it is more common for young left-wingers to
move to the right than the other way. It’s not surprising – not only
is this his story, it is certainly the trend of history. However, it’s
my perception that Generation X may be a little different.
When at uni I took it for granted that some of my comrades (I use the
word loosely) would eventually defect to the right. Most people agreed
– the Liberal students used to tease us about it. The only real
debate was over who was less trustworthy – the most moderate
members of the Left who might just drift away, or the extremists who
might do a Windshuttle and suddenly jump to the opposite end of the
But it doesn’t seem to have happened. Fifteen-odd years later, I don’t
know of a single defecting Lefty even vaguely within my age-group and
with whom I came in contact. On the other hand, I know of several
former Young Libs who’ve seen the light (at least a little bit).
I should clarify this a bit. Plenty of the people I knew have changed
their politics. Most have moderated, and almost all have become more
subtle. Some who were once out on the edge are now well within the
mainstream of politics. But that’s not the same as changing sides.
Some people have taken up jobs they would have once despised, but they
claim to be “working to reform the system from within.” Plenty more
have dropped out of active politics, but I have yet to hear a single
former Lefty under the age of 40 admit to voting for Howard, supporting
the invasion of Iraq or mandatory detention of asylum seekers.
The comparison with those at least ten years older than me is
instructive. Without former lefties to bash their old allies the pages
of the Murdoch newspapers would be bare. It’s true that some of these
people didn’t make the jump until they were a bit older than I am now
– maybe any day I or some of my friends will wake up with a burning
desire to deny global warming, invade Iran and use words like “elite”
without irony. Still, most of those on Norton’s list were well on the
Rightward path by the time they reached my age.
Of course, it may just be that there are plenty of former Lefties my
age who’ve changed sides but have escaped my notice, but they clearly
don’t have the profile of Bolt’s mates. I’ve got some theories about
why this is, but that might have to wait to see if anyone can come up
with some counter-examples to puncture my theory.