George Marsden discusses the ‘Shy Tory’ student phenomenon
“Shy Tories” are right-wingers supposedly too coy to express their views for fear of disapprobation. Are they among us at Glasgow University, and should we be vexed if they are?
To the former the answer is almost certainly yes, and to the latter (on one level at least) probably not. It is generally conceived that students are a left-wing crowd. Even without the preaching of Marxism that passes for liberal education, students would probably still be a good yard to the left of the rest of society. Inevitably, those students sat on the opposite side of the Clegg-and-Macron-fanciers of the political spectrum should expect a pinch of discomfort when chit-chat slides into a discussion on current affairs.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Tories among us are shy. It’s the inevitable awkwardness that comes with going against the grain: the ever-present differences distinct enough to remind one he isn’t “one of us”. To alter this, you’d have to alter the human psyche. As long as they are a minority (and a slim one at that), right-wing students will remain a little cowed.
But as true as I find the above, it isn’t an entirely satisfactory account of the phenomenon. People who hold minority opinions should expect some unease, but as for conservative students on university campuses, I would argue it goes beyond that. Eschew the Corbyn fever now so ubiquitous even the GUU is sneezing, or let slip a good word for academic selection, and you’ll notice shock furrow the brows and lower the jaws of those in your company. You meet not only disagreement, but moral abhorrence as well.
There will always be opinions perceived as being beyond the pale; human nature excludes from society those whose beliefs are noxious. Neo-Nazis, chauvinists and radical Imams are often met with ridicule instead of debate. But students, by and large, stretch this concept well beyond its appropriate bounds, shrink the domains of civility and define too much territory as a barbarous zone. In short, we too often find views disgusting we should merely find mistaken.
As far as I can tell, the root of this disgust is the prevailing orthodoxy. Enlightened though we think we are compared with our squalid, knuckle-dragging ancestors of the pre-1960’s world – before John Lennon fixed it all by staying in bed and absolutely everything was unjust and horrid – we still commit the same mistakes. Then as now, we take opinions from fashion and dismiss a number of views that could shake us from complacency. Yesterday it was absolute faith in church, state and empire: today it’s political correctness.
An obvious example of orthodoxy distorting our judgment is the reaction to any anti-immigration sentiment. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that suggesting the United Kingdom has had too much immigration is outside the realm of polite conversation. For most students, it offends moral sense. But that this reaction is unfair can be, I humbly propose, readily demonstrated. Simply put, if you don’t want 100% open borders, then you’re already on the same page as the people who want immigration limited this instant. You may reasonably believe that immigration should not be limited this instant, but if you don’t want the doing away of all checks and limitations on foreigners crossing the border, then you tacitly admit that there is a situation where you would want it limited. Although a hypothetical situation, it’s a very probable one; what separates you and the man who wants to see fewer migrants now are the different tenses of the same verb. Because of this, treating as a monster everyone who disagrees that immigration is mostly positive does not stand to reason. Of course, plenty of unsavoury types want immigration reduced, but not all of its proponents belong to the same camp, as the most basic research will show.
For the record, if you do want 100% open borders then you can justly treat the suggestion we limit immigration with abhorrence, but I don’t think that position has much in the way of intellectual respectability. Open border supporters belong to the same category as flat-earthers and UFO spotters.
Similar conclusions can be reached when arguments for leaving the EU, against abortion and for the death penalty, are coolly examined, without assuming those who believe them to be jackbooted troglodytes. But as long as we do, “shy Tories” will continue to be a symptom of a student body beholden to prejudice and numb to new ideas.