This article appeared in the Daily Mail on 12 December 2019. Click HERE.
Last weekend I found myself sleeping rough in Trafalgar Square after Dame Helen Mirren had read me a bedtime story.
That's not a sentence I ever imagined I'd be writing, but let me explain.
A few months ago, I had another dame whom I greatly admire as a guest on my LBC Radio Show. Dame Louise Casey is a government official advising on social welfare and a long-standing campaigner on homelessness.
We were talking about the exponential rise in the numbers of rough sleepers, and she mentioned a forthcoming mass charity 'sleep out'.
Before I knew it, I'd committed to joining the World's Big Sleep Out on Saturday night, a global initiative founded three years ago to raise awareness and funds, and which this year saw 60,000 people from 50 countries taking part.
I've always hated camping, and have not spent a night under the stars for more than 35 years.
And after my experience at the weekend, I would happily never do so again. But it wasn't my lack of stoicism, or the cold winds and heavy rain that drenched us from midnight onwards as we cowered under orange plastic sheets that have put me off.
Instead, it was the torrent of foul-mouthed, mean-spirited and often demented abuse that my participation unleashed on social media, most of which cannot be reprinted here.
In the past few days, I've been forced to block hundreds of people on Twitter because of the level of vitriol directed at me.
My 'mistake' was to publicise my night in Trafalgar Square via my LBC show and my own social media feed.
The point of the exercise was, after all, to raise awareness and money and, through my job, I am lucky enough to have a platform that enables me to reach hundreds of thousands of people.
But because I don't fit the hard Left's notion of a social activist — I am of a small 'c' conservative persuasion and once stood unsuccessfully for the Tory Party although I haven't supported them on the last three occasions I voted — I am regarded as beyond the pale. Among the milder comments are the observations that I'm a 'self-serving egotistical git', a 'parasite' and having a 'charitable laugh at the austerity homeless'.
I was dismissed by one Twitter antagonist as the 'sneering face of the Right who want the homeless to have to beg for charity'.
Well, I wasn't expecting a peer-age or a Nobel Peace Prize for my small, personal gesture of solidarity with the thousands of men and women forced to sleep rough on the streets of our cities and market towns. But I did want to know more about the experience of the anonymous rough sleepers I hurry past on my way to Charing Cross station each night.
I am all too aware that each will have their own, deeply human story about what has brought them to this point. That, however, was never going to protect me from contemptuous abuse, and I have learned a lot about the hard, Corbynite Left in the past three days — many of them self-identified their allegiance with the hashtag #JC4PM (Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister) — as I've trawled through the sewage on my Twitter feed.
Hard Leftists appear to think they are on the side of the angels, but social media amplifies their obsessions and shows them to be intolerant and vile.
They share a deep-rooted loathing of Tories (or those who might be assumed to be such); they also despise charities and the human impulse of private charitable giving, believing only in the miraculous powers of the Big State to deliver everything.
The other strikingly common theme in this river of hatred is the total absence of interest or empathy with people on the streets. For the hard Left, the homeless — whether they be rough sleepers or young families billeted in squalid bedsits — have their place only as the faceless, de-humanised victims of savage Tory austerity.
Jeremy Corbyn recently let it be known that he likes to visit a homeless shelter on Christmas Day, and good for him for doing so.
But why does the Left assume in him the purest of motives while subjecting people like me to vile abuse for also highlighting a social scourge? It is strange to be accused of the basest of motives by people I have never met and who know nothing about me.
Is it not possible for anyone on the centre Right to entertain the same human empathy and compassion as people on the Left? Give me a break.
It is, though, a tactic used frequently by the Corbynistas. Decent Labour MPs who speak about anti-Semitism that has been allowed to take its poisonous hold in the Labour Party are denounced as closet Tories, 'Blairites', or worse still, 'Zionists' in the pay of the Jewish lobby.
As a result, social media has become an open sewer filled with the detritus of a binary debate in which everything is black or white, and nothing nuanced or shaded grey. I happen to agree with the Left that the rise and rise over the past decade in the number of homeless people is a stain on our nation.
I also agree there is no doubt that Tory austerity has exacerbated the problem, though I would say there is blame all around, in national and local government.
Money that could have been spent on more housing or homeless shelters has been spent elsewhere — to govern is to choose, as the old maxim goes.
What astonishes me is the superficial confidence of the Left in their own virtue.
Take, for example, Laura Pidcock, standing to re-elected Labour MP for North West Durham and tipped by many as Jeremy Corbyn's successor should things go wrong for the party today, who proudly declares that she couldn't possibly be friends with a Conservative.
I simply cannot understand the line of thought that defines your political opponents as your bitter enemies.
And the longer I work in broadcasting, talking to those who call into my show and hearing about their problems with housing or Universal Credit, the more nuanced the world seems to me, and the less tribal my politics become. But however depressing it has been to read the abuse I've been subjected to online, I refuse to become as cynical as my critics and the trolls.
Most of us in this country still believe in the power of the individual doing good things, and in the charitable impulse.
We know that it is the individual who should exercise power over the State, not the other way around.
'Have a laugh at the haters,' someone Tweeted even before I joined the Sleep Out in Trafalgar Square, 'it will keep you warm'.
And so it did — and more importantly, it has created a backlash among the quiet battalions of the generous, open-minded people who have pushed my fundraising above my wildest dreams with donations topping £32,000, and still rising last night.
Iain Dale's fee for this article is being donated to #TheWorldsBigSleepout. To donate, click HERE.