The only time I met the late trade union leader Bob Crow was when we appeared together on BBC Any Questions.
Before the show I researched what I thought would be the killer point which would floor him completely: the fact that this man of the left was paid by the workers of his union – the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) – a whopping £145,000 salary, while living courtesy of the taxpayer in a council house.
But when I raised the subject it was me, not Crow who got booed by the audience.
One reason, no doubt, is that that audience – like most of the BBC’s supposedly balanced studio audiences – swung much more left than right.
Maybe another reason, though, is the one suggested in this astute analysis by Brendan O’Neill. Crow was liked because he represented a nostalgia-inducing throwback to a bygone age: the era when people on the left still actually believed in the rights of the working man.
Today, being on the Left means wringing one’s hands over consumerism,over the little people’s lust for bling, over a disease calledmaterial things that they become mentally ill.
Way back when, though, right v left was a much more straightforward battle between capital and labour. It’s probably why we righties tend to get on so much better with leftists of the old school like Bob Crow than we do with the slippery progressives of the Occupy crowd and the green and feminist movements.
Old school lefties like Crow may be wrong and they may be greedy – out to screw as much money as they can from the taxpayer by holding the government to ransom with strike threats in those public services which most of us are obliged to use whether we like it or not – but at least they’re honest about it. Unlike the modern left, they don’t try to dress up their motives as concern for the planet, or the plight of women, or racial equality. Their approach is a much more straightforward: you, the rich have got money; we, the workers want a bigger slice of the pizza pie.
I never much liked Bob Crow but I’ll say one point in his favour: unlike pretty much anyone else on the left I’ve ever met, he never tried to claim the moral high ground.