Dear political hacks: please be more normal

Maybe it’s because it’s election time, but politics really annoys me these days where it used to inspire me.

It seems to have such a humanity deficit, and often as a starting point, as an accepted norm. There is so little respect for others or behaviour which reflects it. And maybe I’m not cut out for this.

I get so sick of people lacking fundamental human respect for each other, seeing just allies or opponents, looking to use, dismiss or discredit all the time.

There are people stuck entirely in their own bubble, happy not to genuinely engage with anyone else, to deal with the realities of others, to give them the benefit of the doubt, treat them respectfully, or generally credit them with some value.

At senior levels on the left there are terrible employers, and people who other far worse than would be accepted in most of the private sector. This is not to mention the bullying and the sexual harassment.

I know that’s what it’s like. But that’s a shame. Why not do your bit to make it better? Go to the pub. Have friends, political and non. Have other interests. Refer to the real world when you make decisions, and when you’re dealing with other people.

People active in politics should have at least the compassion and decency of those outside hackdom in the ‘real world’ – and they shouldn’t be divorced from it in the first place. This is not to say that my own personality or behaviour are awesome, but basically there is a lot that could be lots better, very easily.

We need to talk about solidarity

This looks like a massively important piece of work.
One of the chief reasons that the left has spent so long on the back foot has been the retreat among many working class people of values of solidarity – partcularly but not only among workers who are white. Usually in these cases, it has been replaced by resentment, or distrust.

In my view this is often because of the loss of community and workplace insitutions that fostered ideas of solidarity, and the confluent loss of the idea of working class self-education. But the lack of those things stops us building any movement or party able to get them back. Catch 22.

People in pubs and social clubs used to agitate over pints for a welfare state. Now they are far more likely to agitate against health and safety, or working class people who are browner or younger than them.

There are reasons for that loss of ‘solidarity’ and the loss of other left-wing concepts among the people the left are supposed to represent. We need to understand why it has often been replaced by resentment culture. Our bosses and their journalists have been extraordinarily succesful at getting the least well off to find enemies in each other. How, and why?

Labour: ‘grow the offer’!

Some of the coverage of the recent letter from think tanks and others to Ed Miliband has been typically opportunistic press nonsense.

I’m not sure that the timing of the letter was superb, and the technocratic language feels like hitting yourself with a frying pan. That said, the letter made good constructive proposals, and the general feeling that we should be saying more, and that it should be bold in content.

But there is one very obvious person that it was at least an oblique attack on. Gordon Brown.

Against Brownism

Gordon Brown is a figure who evokes mixed feelings within the Labour Party, and whose legacy is not even considered, bearing in mind the groaning weight of Tony Blair.

Blairites hate him. And a lot of the reason for that, given his behaviour as Chancellor, is understandable. At the same time though, what else would they expect from someone who from was immediately positioned as a leader in waiting.

The left of the party feels a lot more mixed. Many from the soft left in particular were seduced by Gordon as Chancellor, always happy to play to the Polly Toynbee gallery as that slightly-more-left-wing alternative to Blair. Whilst I knew Brown as leader would never be all I wanted, I can’t claim to have been immune to this. It’s what happens when you haven’t had a look in when it comes to policy or personnel for over a decade.

For the whole of the left, the enormity of his moves after tha banking crisis, his initial opposition to all cuts, and his moves to make sure that some of the burden fell upon the richest meant that he still gets a much kinder view . He wasn’t posh, and had been a genuine socialist long before he was elected to Parliament. Less uncomfrotable with attacking the left as a tactic to shore up his support, he was always seen as ‘one of us’ in a way that Blair was not.

The problem is, that has made him harder to encapsulate and deal with in legacy terms, and is has made it difficult to come to conclusions on his supporters. His lack of definition has made it difficult to tell who those people even are, and the bitterness of the split with Blair combined with election defeat in 2010 has made it very difficult to have a debate about style.

That needs to be done. Gordon Brown was not left wing. But he was a centralist.

The standard Gordon Brown response to a problem of public policy was to promise to ban it – carbon emissions are an example of this – but this is nothing more than a glorified target.

The best policies Brownism has brought us were forced on it. But the default mode was ‘centralist and banal’, as was the style. And the style, at least, survives.

Brown’s policies promised were leftward facing but timid as hell and usually boring. You could tell that the inspiration was heavily filtered through the civil service, to the point that it did not relflect real life. Pet Asbos. The ‘right to request’ flexible working (as if there is not right to have a conversation with your bos already).

Gordon, I love and miss you, but I would rather be rid of this.

What about Ed?

One of the areas where Labour needs to do better at the moment is that we seem to rely on announcing the same thing over and over again. The opposition discipline of not forcing your hand does encourage this – but by the same token, we need some equivalents to ideas like ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’.

Part of the issue is that some of the manifesto  process seems tied into the same logic, when actually, as the letter writers state, we should be putting out a load of stuff that is eye grabbing and able to inspire.

What kind of Labour government are we proposing?

I’m a decentralist sort of socialist and I’m keen on seeing this approach taken. More can be done by local councils, and in the economy by trade unions. The NGO and charity sector can be used to save money in the public sector (as one small example, we could save vast amounts of money to the NHS by imrpoving care for Schizophrenia, as outlined by expert charities in the area).

But there is one key point missing from the letter and what Miliband has generated so far, which I think illuminates the key to making the next Labour government (and our offer before it) really radical.

We’ve talked about what Miliband should be offering on htee public sector, but little about what a decentralising approach would look like in the private sector and the ‘real economy’.

Firstly, in the state, how does this match up with things like transport infrastructure and health? What will be done about the aging population or the mounting political injustices experienced by young people? And do we need to seriously refinance local government, perhaps introducing a needs-based model of taxation to fund it? How about returning local control over local schools and health provision?

Secondly, if we’re talking about decentralist socialism, how about freeing up trade unions and putting in place national protocals to help them engage in bargaining with private sector bosses? A great way to redistribute wealth and power if you’re not relying on Government departments.

How about looking at some ways in which government can assist them in recruiting?

What about education for low-paid workers and people in depressed areas of the country? Active citizenship in schools?

For some reason, we only seem to be talking about what happens in the state, rather than the world outside it. The letter is a good start, but without covering half of the economy it cannot fully grasp just how transformative our offer to the public can and will need to be.

Let’s talk about transforming the world of work. Let’s talk about how our population is changing and the new pressures it is subject to. Let’s talk about rebuilding the movement that Labour sits on top of. About control, and ownership. About the rewards we get for being productive, and how the private sector treats us both at work and as consumers.  Let’s talk about how we want the place to look by 2050, not just how we dampen cuts now.

In policy terms, all of the challenges above require us to substantially grow the offer – not to shrink it. And to get noticed against a Government with this many friends in the media, we have to.

America’s insurgent ‘centre-left’?

Among some centrist Democrats, the response to the rise of the insurgent centre-left has been sputtering rage. In a widely-discussed op-ed published in the conservative Wall Street Journal, the leaders of the neoliberal think tank Third Way (whose very name is a reference to the “Third Way” movement of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair) denounced de Blasio and Warren and warned that “populism” would lead the Democratic party back into the electoral wilderness. But while these sentiments find strong support among Democratic donors in the financial industry and the think tanks they fund, Democratic activists and voters are shifting to the relative left. Like the neoconservatives on the right, the neoliberals on the left may end up as an elite sect, a group that has funding and spokespeople but little or no voter support.

Well, Amen to that.

Reform of Labour Students elections is long overdue. It is right to campaign to change it.

What’s good enough for the Labour leader (as well as the Fabians and the bulk of Young Labour) is “sexist” according to the Labour Students’ paid officers. To the extent that they will break their own constitution to avoid debating it.

In any event, roles are already gender balanced by the constitution.

That’s the definition of a questionable motivation and a silly and undemocratic reason to break the organisation. An accountable and contestable leadership is a serious deficiency which makes an alternative organisation worth considering.

Given how their arguments against the same system to be used to elect the Party leader are clearly disingenuous, and actually arguments *for* room packing, the status quo, might it be that there are reasons they might not want members to vote directly on who runs them?

Room-packing elections should be a thing of the past and are bad for developing young people. They are not worth being ‘neutral’ on. Good on this lot for fighting and not being shoved into swallowing it.

Solidarity and political violence

The ethics of solidarity are an interesting thing when it comes to violence. It’s weird enough that I come to it from the position of ethics rather than dried out economic relationships, which immediately cuts against more vulgar elements of Marxist thinking about the term. I think this is important however, because we’re talking about something which is strategic and needs to appear to have ethics as a precondition for building political support for the oppressed.

Let me set a counter-factual scene and reach for a European analogy.

Britain sleeps whilst the Spanish Civil War wages. Eventually, its government donates money to Franco. Facing defeat on the home front, Spanish republicans decide to bomb a series of pubs and civillian offices in London and Glasgow.

There are those on the British left who would say that their comrades were duty bound to support these actions. It is often applied to things like the conflict in Northern Ireland and hte background of discrimination against catholic republicans.

The basis for justifying this would be that it advances struggle and speeds up emancipatory developments. It is also a core principle that it is up to the movement in Spain (or independence fighters in the North of Ireland) to decide what to do without external advice, despite them wanting solidarity from Brits with a decision that the British part of the left has no say in.

The second part of the justification is what seals this. It is pithily summed up in one phrase:

The violence of the oppressed is not the same as the violence of the oppressor.

It’s easy to identify with some of the logic of this. If you are Nelson Mandela, and are deliberatly shut out of the democratic process, what else can you do but disrupt everything? And when this is met with massacres or beatings, what can you do but arm yourself and get violent?

Likewise in Northern Ireland, when a militia is intent on burning down your whole street, are you not justified in filling it with sub machine guns?

Here is the ethical problem. In Northern Ireland there was a clear political relationship where one side oppressed the other and manipulated democracy to stop them being fairly represented as part of this strategy.

But there is also an oppressed/oppressor relationship between someone who is armed, trained and supported and someone who is not. There is also a big difference between whether you are carrying out the business of an oppressive state or non-state actor, or simply happened by grace of god to be born on the ‘side’ they claim to support – expecially if your position is as a regular worker and you are not particularly grand or powerful yourself.

What if you are bombed for going to the pub? Should your human value be dimished because you are protestant, or not a Spanish Republican?

Luckily in those days the left didn’t go around justifying attacks against ‘neutral’ and powerless civillians because their bosses backed the opponents of the left.

Now, there is often a mentality of ‘fair game’ if you happen to be, say, Israeli. And Maoists don’t even see there as being a working class in developed countries, which makes organisations like the Shining Path practically immune to the humanity of their victims.

I want to suggest an alternative principle based on the relationship between oppressed and oppressor:

“Violence against the oppresser is not the same as violence against the oppressed”.

That would mean a completely different approach to solidarity and political violence, based on the vitims of violence rather than those who carry it out. It means a less nationalist approach and one based a little more on the class relationship between people rather than the class relationship between the governments of states.

It means the left testing their views on what actions do or intend to do in practice rather than simply who carries them out, which I think is always a strange way to viewany kind of action. It encourages people to think about how political violence affects others, to be careful about it for human reasons, and to be more careful about doing it in a way which is more likely to get political support. It’s more ethical, more popular, and more class-based.

Unlike the ealier maxim, it can be applied to both oppressed states and individuals, is open to adaption even by those who are under occupation by ‘civillians’, but it means both a more morally and politically solid response.

It avoids blaming civillians for the politics of their rulers, and in doing so gives them a bigger weight in how the ethics of violence are considered.

It’s a much easier principle to sell if support for justified and emancipatory political violence is to be the aim. And let’s not forget, the solidarity of the past has plenty of good examples to offer.

Stuart Hall

He was not interested in the sterile opposition to Thatcherism and its ideological cousins but in formulating the kind of response that could actually defeat it.

Not only did he remain faithful to principles of equality, humanism and social justice. He held them so dear he did not want to see them sacrificed at the altar of cheap rhetoric. He was not interested in the kind of formulaic “left” responses that offered solace but no solution. “If we are correct about the depth of the rightward turn, then our interventions need to be pertinent, decisive and effective. Whistling in the dark is an occupational hazard not altogether unknown to the British left.

– Gary Younge

I was a revolutionary socialist in my teenage years (wasn’t everyone?). Given my innate distate for street hangings and labour camps, by the time I went to University, I decided I was a Bennite. I’ve never been the kind of person that never likes to change, and I like myself to be open to influence.

Stuart Hall was a Marxist, and a massive influence on me. He believed in a Marxism that was fluid, dynamic, rooted in the real world and the politics which took place there rather than abstractions in books, or economic gospels and dogmas.

Although an intellectual enemy of ‘Marxists’ who are so sure of themselves that they politically ignore others, he was a virulent critic of the culture of the right-wing press, and the cutural currency they so succesfully pour into our everyday conversations. In particular, his work on race and perceptions of it is absolutely masterful.

The main thing that influenced that was conversations in pubs, and doorsteps doing Labour campaigning, or with my family.

Like Hall, this long evolving personal experience emphasised the pressure that Thatcherism and its supporters had put on society, and how this had fundamentally changed the culture of working class people at both the lower and upper end of that designation. The way people debate. What they joined, or didn’t. How they like graphic design, or conversational style. What they wanted from their own life, and how that related to their communities.

The Left’s resistance to cultural change is reflected in our everyday practices and languages. The style of propaganda, party political broadcasts, of much educational and agitational material locks us into very traditional and backward-looking associations. Our political imagery is even worse in this respect. We virtually fought the 1983 election on the 1945 political programme.

I am not suggesting that the Left can survive without a sense of history. Our own people know too little, not too much history. But developing a real popular historical consciousness on the Left is not the same thing as thinking the present in the language and imagery of the past.

Reading Hall gave language to the years I had experienced, what I had heard from people, and what I expected from them.

It gave me an understanding that understanding that thinking in this fashion was one of many key preconditions for succesful political activists, movements, or intellectuals. You shouldn’t have to explain to socialists the importance of listening to and recognising popular sentiments and how they evolve, but sadly I was in need of that, and many more are.

Hall made me completely rethink my position on what kind of left I believed in. This thinking does not just apply to the Labour Party, but to the style of the left as a whole. It is sad that I still have to speak about its applicability in the present tense and that he wasn’t simply universally heeded.

He appealed to the Marxist core which remained in my thinking as a Labour Party member (and still remains, albeit altered by Stuart Hall). His work and that of those who inspired him (Poulantzas, Althusser) appeals just as much to people who are members of the SWP, for example.

To someone who was a Bennite, being open to his thinking meant departure, opening one’s mind, and to embrace something a lot less solid and comforting: a vision of the left that actually recognised changing culture around itself, and was willing to adapt to it (whilst still remaining solid against neoliberalism). We might not be able to rely on tradition, on past policies, on unchanging styles and organisation forms, or historical determinism as some kind of faith-demanding prophecy. In fact, to do so neglects our duty to people who work or are socially oppressed under capitalism.

Since I was about 20, Hall’s blend of leftist principle and rooted, practical application has defined my politics, and I haven’t moved since. I am glad I believe in something I  think about and that takes into account other people and the world I am in, rather than simply following something I feel without thinking, and as a divorced individual rather than as part of society or real life.

But I can’t thank Stuart Hall for things I learned myself from complex, changing webs of those around me, or how I choose to pass that on. I suppose that’s exactly what he would have wanted.

You can read two of Stuart Hall’s most influential pieces here and here.

Planning objection to plans to close the Queensury pub

I and my Labour colleagues campaigning in Willesden Green ward, Bernard Collier and Cllr Lesley Jones, are strongly opposing the demolition of a local pub, the Queensbury. You can find out more about the campaign to save it here.

Let’s face it folks. If I’m objecting to the demolition of a Conservative Club, I must have a good reason!

My formal objection to the proposals is below.

I oppose the demolition of the current building and plans to replace it for the following reasons:

1) This is an Asset of Community Value which warrants protection. The pub is used by local community organisations that have no alternative venue.

2) It currently houses one of the safest and most welcoming pubs in the area and is a positive draw. It raises the socio-economic profile of the area. There is a continuing risk that the developer will downgrade from A4 to A3 use and we end up with yet another coffee shop, knocking out the local balance in the area.

3) The building that stands is a local landmark, and a positive one.

4) The current building is in fitting with surrounding styles, whereas that proposed is not, and is furthermore out of fitting with the adjacent Mapesbury Conservation Area.

5) The car parking area behind the present building provides plenty of room for housing – us of the whole site is not necessary either commercially or socially.

6) In my view, there is not sufficient social or affordable housing within the proposed development. This makes arguments around provision of housing need far less valid, as does the refusal to build in the car park but allow the pub to stand.

7) The development is too high for the local area.

8) The Willesden area including both the High Road and Walm Lane are undergoing some degree of private sector led regeneration. But constructing flats over the site of a key local pull factor for young professionals actually represents a backward move from this  trend rather than a forward one.

I believe that the loss of local amenity will actually impede efforts to diversify the tenancy profile in the area and create a more mixed profile. This will mean the denial of economic benefits in the area in terms of both new tenants and also to the surrounding food establishments and shops, and as a whole will have a negative economic impact for the area, whereas the main positive impact will be to the developers.

The development is a backwards step and is actively anti-social, in this respect.

8) There is a general negative trend of the removal of social spaces in our society. The closure of pubs nationwide is part of this negative trend, of which these plans are an example. Councillors should pay attention to the social as well as purely economic impacts when deciding to allow demolition of institutions such as these.

The decision to replace a rare local example of a well kept pub with the plans considered means a development that is out of place for our area, has a negative impact in both a social and economic sense, damages local identity, counters regeneration by making it unbalanced, and removes a vital asset from the local community.

This is my objection in full, thank you for taking the time to read it.

Why not be a capitalist?

Sensible socialists often have to compromise with or even harness capitalism. Yet unlike Chuka Umunna, I am not happy to call myself a capitalist.

I neither believe in nor benefit from supporting the class system. Which however much we bang on about ‘mobility’, remains what capitalism is. Some people can only aspire to become wealth creators. A smaller number of other people get to be their bosses. And so are born Two Nations.

I’m not even sure that’s what Chuka Umunna was agreeing with when he said we are all capitalists, which is part of what makes his throwaway comments highly questionable if you remove the context. So I think that’s what I’ll do. After all, it is funny how in British politics the slightly left-of-centre are often so happy to use ‘capitalism’ to mean ‘everything I like about capitalism’. But what does it really mean?

Capitalism is now an international system based on centralised control of wealth (capital) and political power by an economic class. Ugly stuff.

To sustain itself, it normally has some element of democratic management or involvement built into it as a pressure valve. If that hadn’t evolved, it would have been history by 1860.

In states where elite tolerance with a well supported and confident left has worn thin (think South America, civil war Spain, the Weimar Republic or South Africa) events have shown that this doesn’t always ring true. Capitalism and democracy are far from the same thing.

At a more fundamental level, the whole thing is built on the idea of people signing away or being forced out of the right to make their own decisions for 8-12 hours a day, and feeling vulnerable enough to do it.

And most people in the world don’t get much back for that. Capitalism is, like all social systems before it, an unjust system. It’s also not very stable or efficient. Again, like all social systems before it, no matter how permanent things seem or how little you see your own life changing, capitalism is also quite possibly a temporary system.

Things in our world change fast, and it often doesn’t take much time for what seems normal to seem weird – “all that is solid melts into air”.

It comes with convulsions, booms, busts, threats, wars and a tide of other horrors. Consider how people must have felt during feudalism, or mass slavery, and how ridiculous it would have been to them to imagine the world we live in now.

I would not argue that profit or competition are always wrong. What they are used for is important. But who is in charge of the economy and how it is influenced both control that.

The idea of a softly steered capitalism that is relatively democratic and delivers for those who work within it belongs in the Crosland era – the late 1950s and the 60s – a period which followed capitalism destroying all the wealth it had built up, along with millions of people, and a social revolution which followed. It was also exclusively western, and doesn’t reflect the experience of those in Africa, Asia and South America, for whom capitalism has actually usually meant war or long standing police states.

Liberal capitalism itself has a list of atrocities at least as long as its far more forthright Stalinist and Fascist cousins. Liberals and conservatives in Europe and the US love to pretend that Pinochet, who they politically and economically supported, is completely distant from them. But even as we speak, those people have plans to cream off money from thousands of Chinese sweatshop workers, and will defend this on the basis that we get the vote and the right to strike in MEDCs.

Workers in the west have also taken a beating to keep the white goods cheap. For a start the jobs they had are now in China. But that’s to do with the political defeat of their own parties and movements.

Yet I am an optimist. Even after globalisation, in my own view there is hope to be found of reforming capitalism back, and re-extending social power over greed and irresponsibility. It won’t be done by Parliaments acting without pressure from outside, and unlike the last time social democracy advanced, this time it won’t be done by single states acting on their own. But most people on the left understand this.

So if we would like capitalism to be more restricted by the public interest, I question how the left can reform back something that is regressive by declaring faith in it.

Whether your system is a ‘workers capitalism’ like Venezuela, welfarism like the 50s (or Sweden), or outright fascism, the same themes of concentrated wealth and power with those who own stakes in companies continues to perpetuate. And that part of any political settlement is never about working for the wider social good.

Yes, in the immediate term we need to make capitalism work better – to tame it, stabilise it, diffuse its proceeds, and diffuse power over it. In this sense, Stewart Wood, Ed Miliband et al are dead on. What is even more rare is that what they want is both better for short-term competition, and for people who have to work for a living. A win-win.

But it’s not so much that everyone is a capitalist now.

It’s more that we need to be honest about how much of a hold it has on our culture and our economy, how poorly organised the left is, and how difficult this can make it to flog people anything that looks marginal, impossible, or completely alien to their existing belief system.

Slamming capitalism is politically irrelevant at best. But pledging allegiance to it is self-defeating and naive about what the class power of the well monied actually means.

What we need to do is concentrate on is resisting the worst of it, on changing wider political culture, and organising the insecure majority of people against all that is wrong with capitalism – whatever they want to call themselves.

The economic crisis from 2008-2012 having become a crisis of both finance and working class living standards, we continue to be in a ‘war of position‘, as has been true in developed economies since the late 1970s.

I have developed a political tolerance for capitalism, because it’s better to build ourselves something constructive rather than getting pasted in newspapers every day without changing anyone’s minds. I feel OK about that.

All of this said, I’d rather just be honest. It’s ridiculous to have a moral belief in capitalism – not least as a self-described socialist.

Capitalism has no moral desires of its own to believe in.

When we support the morality of capitalism, there are only those fleeting ethics of the social group who organise its diary. In other words, those in charge of the businesses, and the political structures beneath them.

To believe in capitalism is to believe that a small number of highly advantaged people should be left alone to make the bulk of the decisions.

The labour movement might have to tolerate or employ this economic system to its own ends, but why should it actively promote it in its own ranks?

In the immediate future it’s good for Labour to concentrate on building a private sector which is more sustainable and enduring, and democratic enough to give away more of its proceeds. Nobody is opposing that.

But what about the principle? The big question?

It will almost certainly never happen in our lifetimes, but wouldn’t it be great to see capitalism superseded by a stage of history which is more democratic, international, and more focused on serving the bulk of people who aren’t already sorted?

We could call that democratic socialism, and we could call the bits on the way social democracy. We could even put it on the back of Labour membership cards.

Council cuts and Labour – some frank but friendly words

I have an interest in this as I’m running for Brent Council in Willesden Green. But that means the public have an interest in it too, so I’m dumping a quick thought here which outlines how I feel about cuts. Might as well clear my chest at this early stage.

Firstly, the bottom line stuff. I am committed to the Labour Party as once necessary vehicle for democratic socialism, and I will follow its rules as decided by conference, including by following collective group responsibility with any colleagues I am elected alongside at a local Government level. I wouldn’t feel the same about being elected to Parliament for a host of reasons, but they are long and irrelevant.

The flip side – though this gives me a duty to support group decisions, it also gives me an obligation to fight for my own values and for my local residents in campaigns, when candidates are selected within the party, and then within the Labour group if I am elected as a Councillor.

So there’s my caveat paragraphs. What are those values and beliefs?

While I am prepared to admit that some cuts are stupider than others, I am also fundamentally opposed to the economics of the cuts, which are the right’s ideological project and economic solution all wrapped up in one neat package. Firstly this package is unjust and misses why we have economics at all – improving quality of life. Secondly, it is also a package which has failed in its own terms repeatedly across Europe.

Ignored by campaigners: cuts are part of a right-wing political project

But despite all this context, many local anti-cuts campaigners are blaming their Councils for cuts which are centrally decided and then deliberately and carefully outsourced to Labour Councils to avoid accountability nationally. Local campaigners, understandably angry about their own local losses, repeatedly take the bait.

While I support anti-cuts and have marched many times with anti-cuts groups, I think there are several areas of strategic weakness, and despite the encouraging start of the (poorly named) People’s Assembly, the movement as a whole frustrates me.

Where the localised anti-cuts movement is going wrong

It is fragmented, has poor language, has abysmal understanding of the law & finance, and is content to abandon realism in its strategy in the hope that setting a deficit budget in tooting will begin a great global uprising against neoliberalism that is necessary to undo the cuts. While I applaud their defensive work and awareness raising, the sense of strategy is mind-numbingly parochial. It is also so distant from the scale and depth of the task ahead that it is content to sit around biting the local veins of one of the key organisations in overturning the consensus at a national level, the Labour Party.

Why? Well, as stated above, taking losses locally touches more than a nerve, and the Government have sorted the swaparoo in finance so that Councils have to be the public face of the cuts they never wanted.

But I also think as well as the good intentions, it can all go a bit conspiracy theory at times, and the underlying current is sometimes disingenuous – note, for example, how few local anti-cuts campaigners are prepared to put their own solutions before the electorate either as Labour candidates, or for other parties.

On the conspiracy point, hatred for Blairism understandably runs deep throughout the left, parliamentary and external. I know this – marching against Iraq and opposing various privatisations were some of my earliest political actions, and I stand by them. But it’s not always relevant or the way to decent strategy.

Some more radical parts of the left seem happy to abandon materialism in favour of emotionalising this hatred, and apply it more widely against Labour. They are waiting all the time for someone to step into the betrayal zone, which rests on the assumption that nobody from the Labour Party is in the same movement or moral universe as them. Actually, that’s completely untrue.

I repeatedly see people who I know have made quite left-wing decisions in private being heckled by people who barely know them at meetings for being right-wing, or involved in some plot that the accuser cant even put their finger on (but of course, if they have been elected to an Executive Committee, there must be dastardly plots – one example of where the paranoia creeps in, and people respond to it by shouting at someone innocent, whilst lacking the guts to stand for their position themselves).

One recent manifestation was someone from the left echoing the Tory line exactly by suggesting that Labour Councils were cutting harder to ‘teach people not to vote Tory’. This involves some level of self-deception, and can really only be based on an emotional refusal to give the matter any actual thought.

It’s this that bothers me, because it stops even the best within Labour and the wider left working well together.

Views on policy may or may not be legit, but the style and underlying assumptions are empty and sectarian.

Let’s be sensible?

Labour Councillors that have been elected all depend on Labour voters from last time round, not Tory ones. These people are also disproportionately hit by cuts. It would be bizarre even for a careerist to choose to hurt them in this way.

If you can’t see this and appreciate that it means that Labour Councils are not necessarily in bad faith, I don’t think there’s much point in me or anyone else trying to have a political conversation with you, because logic on the points under debate is clearly not what matters.

My local Council has been told it has to find tens of millions worth of spending to get rid of over the next year.

If it’s about showing anyone anything, it’s about Labour Councils trying to find ways to avoid this costing lives, and using it as an example. Tory Councils are not being cut, and won’t have to even bother trying.

Focus: a ‘pragmatic’ left approach to Labour locally

If I am elected as a Labour Councillor, I won’t be promising a Poplar rates rebellion (a legal relic), or to hand over my budget to DCLG (the legal present), which will hurt the vulnerable, but without remotely stoking up any kind of dissent on a national level.

Instead, I will be pushing for Labour’s economic policy nationally and internationally not to concede to the cuts agenda, and pushing within the Labour Party for the Council to find ways of innovating out of cuts (a similar strategy to that used by that pragmatist Ken Livingstone and the GLC, rather than that pushed at the time by John McDonnell and Ted Knight).

I will undoubtedly take part in political demonstrations and perhaps non-violent direct action.

I will push to build a national anti-cuts movement.

I will fight at a community level so concerns about priorities are born out and people are at least listened to, even if they don’t get what they are after.

And to make all of that a relevant possibility, I will be ignoring the poorly reasoned ‘Blairophobia’ and fighting for a Labour government.

That’s better than letting former coalition Minister Sarah Teather off the hook for voting for cuts to our Council budget, which is something that in my view our scattered anti-cuts campaigners in my Borough and others allow to happen far too easily.

Tony Blair is gone, and those of us to the left of him have new challenges altogether to deal with. Let’s stem the bleed locally, get this lot out nationally, and make sure we replace the whole lot with something more participative, more democratic, more egalitarian, and more sustainable.

If I want my Borough to look more like that, I need a new government as an absolute minimum, and I see the fight against the cuts in that context.