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8 March 2016

You know something’s up with the left when your friends are calling Peter Tatchell a racist transphobe

What the hell has happened to my friend ——’s brains, and heart, that she can put her name to a screed that implies he is a wicked bigot?

By Nicholas Lezard

I’m in the upstairs attic study of my old home. I’m not looking for any book in particular, just rummaging around the shelves. There are so many! I’d forgotten how many books I had; and they are all crackers, from the three-foot leatherbound volumes of Ficino to my childhood copy of The Lord of the Rings.

I pick up a biography of Stendhal and muse how useful that would have been when writing that review of a new edition of La Chartreuse de Parme. I notice an ancient bindle of some unidentified drug and taste a little bit: all its virtue has gone and there is no effect at all; just an unpleasant, gritty, inert chemical taste in a powder the consistency of brick dust.

I pass round the stacks – they seem, strangely, to be multiplying in number – and run into the respected writer and critic Sarah Churchwell, whom I was not expecting to see here; but it is, as always, a delight to bump into her, even if she makes me feel a little plain and gauche.

We swap a few words.

“I’d forgotten how many really good books I have,” I say. “I’ve seen worse,” she replies.

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I move on. I’m wondering where my desktop computer is. No matter; soon, I’ll be having to box up all these books; the wife is throwing me out in a week or so.

When I wake, it’s 9.30 in the evening and there’s a nasty taste in my mouth.

The body clock has become seriously skewed. Frankly, I have plenty of reasons to be depressed. I’ve had precisely £5.50 in coins to live off for four days. I recently scanned the list of signatories to the letter denouncing Peter Tatchell as a racist transphobe and recognised the name of at least one person I considered a friend, and so had it brought profoundly home to me that the left is fragmenting into tiny, useless pieces. And the light in the kitchen has blown because someone has been using the upstairs bathroom sink again (don’t ask).

I can’t buy a new bulb, because if I did I’d be unable to buy a potato to bake for dinner – but then going out to buy this will involve doing something about my wildly disarranged hair and scraping four days’ worth of stubble from my face. An actual all-over shower will have to wait.

I am owed a vast sum of money, four figures not beginning with a one, or even a two, but if some of that is not paid by tomorrow, then I will have to borrow some money so that I can cook calf’s liver, as requested, for my daughter and her mother when they come round tomorrow.

I’ve also not made a start on my tax return, and can’t afford an accountant to do the heavy lifting for me, and the taxman is drumming his fingers menacingly. It’s all absolutely dandy at the Hovel.

Let’s stick with the Tatchell business. I know this is meant to be, sort of, a politics-free zone, but the personal is political and I’m taking the backlash against Tatchell a bit personally. I met him once, at a party, many years ago, at the height of his renown. I wasn’t talking to anyone and for a moment he wasn’t, either, so we fell into conversation.

I think I was a bit worried that he might militantly denounce me for not being gay, or disdain me, the way some celebrities do when you are of considerably less note than they are (hello, Stephen Fry), but he was utterly, utterly charming and I came away with the impression, which has not diminished over the years, that here was a thoroughly decent human being, modest, intelligent, honest and brave.

What the hell has happened to my friend ——’s brains, and heart, that she can put her name to a screed that implies he is a wicked bigot?

We used to chat on the Hovel’s terrace together, cooking up plans to give the Occupy movement a little extra conceptualising.

There is an ugliness abroad, infecting the left above all. I am not immune. I recall, with a shudder, that lately I stated on social media that I consider anyone who favours Brexit to be a bonehead – which means that although I may have offended a few people whose opinions I don’t worry about, I may well have offended a couple of good friends whose opinions I do. And then there is the whole Corbyn business.

I dimly recall a line from The Lord of the Rings in which it is pointed out that the only reaction to the mutual distrust among the Free Peoples of Middle-earth will be the laughter of Mordor. I cannot give you chapter and verse, as my copy of the book exists only on a bookshelf in my dreams. 

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This article appears in the 02 Mar 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Germany's migrant crisis