The phrase “loony left” is one that is much beloved of the British Right. It made its first appearance in the 1980s and has remained a staple of the Tory-supporting press to the present-day.
The Tory press has a long history of ridiculing the British Left, often portraying its policies as deranged and psychopathic. If you want to denigrate your political opponent without engaging with their arguments, what better way is there than to question their mental health? But the use of such language betrays the speakers’ fundamental ignorance of mental health concerns and is the mark of a bully. The ad hominem also reveals a lack of intellect on the part of the person using the phrase “loony left”. They are incapable of discussion. But the use of this phrase was not confined to the Tory-supporting press, the liberal Guardian used it on occasion too. Even Right-wing Labour party members used it against their fellow members, thereby further damaging the party’s electoral prospects back in the 1980s. As this article from The Times (22 December 1986) tells us,
A senior member of Labour’s shadow cabinet is to urge Mr Neil Kinnock to purge the ‘loony left’ London councillors who, he believes, are bringing the Labour Party into disrepute.
The former minister is to write ‘a sharp note’ to the Labour leader calling on him to make plain that their actions were not ‘in the name of the Labour Party’.
He is also enclosing material handed out to school-children in Labour-controlled boroughs such as Haringey. These documents allegedly actively promote homosexuality, giving explicit details.
The move will embarrass the Labour leader still further when he is under pressure to divorce the party from the actions of extreme left-wing councils which he knows will lose votes.
Mr Kinnock has started the procedures which could expel Mr Tony Byrne, the new Liverpool Labour group leader, and Mr Tony Hood, the secretary, from the party.
He has attacked the ‘zealotry’ of some left-wing council leaders but could not afford to face a further party-splitting round of expulsions. Such a purge would inevitably centre on Mr Bernie Grant, the hard left leader of Haringey council, who has pursued the controversial policies on racism, sexism and the rights of homosexuals.
Mr Grant is to contest a safe Labour seat at the general election.
The former minister said his intervention came after a meeting with parents from Haringey who had complained about ‘what the Labour Party was doing in their schools’.
The above article is fairly typical and shows us how the phrase filtered its way into mainstream discourse. It is also interesting how the “senior member of the Labour party” is not named, which – given the the Tory press’s penchant for distortion – raises a few questions about the veracity of this article.
Examples of how this phrase “loony left” was deployed include the production of apocrypha like the clichéd “Baa Baa Black Sheep” story. This also tells us something about the quality of the Tory press: if it routinely fabricates stories and spreads falsehoods and lies, then it is not fit for purpose. It comes as no surprise that we find the most vociferous critics of the Leveson Inquiry are those so-called journalists who write for the Right-wing press (in other words, most British newspapers). It is they who have the most to lose from any regulation. Indeed, proper journalists have nothing to fear. The desperate cries from Right-wing hacks that Britain will “no longer enjoy a free press” ring hollow. This country does not and has never enjoyed a truly free press. Spreading lies and distortions is the business of propaganda ministries. Our newspaper industry would deny that it acts, as Chomsky would argue, as an unofficial ministry of information but this is exactly what it does.
The use of this phrase to describe certain Labour members and councils had the effect of dividing the party. The so-called ‘soft-Left’ was pitted against the so-called ‘hard-Left’. The culmination of this division and internecine strife resulted in the infamous anti-Militant witch-hunts and expulsions. Kinnock willingly jumped through hoops to please the Tory press and the Thatcher government. But I ask you this: what is so “loony” about striving for equality and social justice? I can’t see anything crazy about it.
Since the Tories were returned to power (without a mandate), they have returned to the phrase “loony left”. This tells us that the Conservatives are incapable of dealing with the present and unable to face the future; they have a constant need to relive the past – even if that past doesn’t exist in the popular memory. Referring to the Labour party as “left-wing”, which the Right often does, ignores the party’s slide to the Right under Blair. Take this article written by Bozza in February. Moonlighting as a journalist in the Daily Telegraph, he wrote,
Well isn’t that just great. Isn’t that just abso-flipping-lutely fan-blooming-tastic. Just when you thought the loony Left had reached rock bottom – with their sagacious proposals to “hang the bankers” and put taxes up to 80 per cent – they have come up with something even worse. There are so-called socialists in London who are now taking active steps to scupper young people’s chances of finding employment.
Here we are with an economy still taking ages to recover. We have more and more young people out of work, and who find themselves caught in a catch-22. They are told they can’t get a job unless they have some work experience; and they can’t get any work experience unless someone is willing to give them a job.
Unsurprisingly, such hatchet-jobs are appearing more frequently in the Tory press. The clueless Bozza can only hurl abuse at his ideological foes and repeat the spurious claim that unpaid work will set the young free. He closes with this,
The man who transformed modern Tesco didn’t arrive as an Oxbridge graduate trainee. Sir Terry Leahy began by sweeping floors.
And I’m willing to bet that Leahy was paid to sweep those floors. Today’s youngsters are expected to work for nothing.
Recently I blocked a follower on Twitter, who is a UKIP supporter. He would often retweet me using the hashtag “#loonyleft”. Debate me by all means, but don’t resort to ad hominems, it makes you look like a moron- a rabid Right-wing moron.
Gunn, S. (1986) “Kinnock is urged to expel ‘loony left'” in The Times, (22 December, 1986)
Johnson, B. (2012). “The loony left, out to destroy youngster’s hopes of a job” in The Daily Telegraph, (27 February, 2012)
Ivor Gaber (2005). “Slaying the Dragon”. In James Curran, Julian Petley, and Ivor Gaber. Culture wars: the media and the British left. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 197, 208–210