Monday, 20 April 2015

Postponed Until Further Notice? The Fight for Democracy and Social Justice

I’ve been spending rather too much of my time of late on social media, involving myself in arguments of varying degrees of ferocity and passion about the upcoming general election.

Not being involved in anybody’s campaign for once, and having no real enthusiasm for any of the leading contestants, the sensible thing for me to have done would probably have been to have put my feet up, sent off my postal vote when and if I found the time, and looked forward to watching Peter Snow, tinny in hand (me, not Peter Snow), trying to pre-empt the verdict during the counting of the votes. What I have done instead, as is my wont, has been to throw myself into endless online debates and squabbles, typically between loyal Labour voters and those generally to their left who have opted for one or other of the smaller, anti-austerity parties which have been propelled into the public gaze largely as a result of their participation in the various televised leaders’ debates.

Finding myself rather naturally on the side of the revolutionists, I have encountered opposition (sometimes civil, sometimes abusive) from Labour Party supporters who can broadly speaking be broken down into two distinctive categories – the hopeless (and often mindless) partyists for whom Labour can do no wrong and those who argue that, whatever the merits or otherwise of more deep-rooted, radical change, the urgency of the present situation requires a single-minded, “all hands on deck” approach to getting rid of David Cameron and the Conservatives. Any lingering concerns about what might be achieved when the Tories are gone, they argue, can be addressed once the deed is done.

It is fair that I should record, at this stage, that I have long-standing and ongoing quarrels of a purely local character with the Labour Party in my own backyard. Where I live the Labour Party is a vile organisation, opposed almost to the point of derangement to any kind of organisation from within the community, unless it is guided by its own hand. It matters not whether we are talking about a borough-wide tenants’ federation, a single-issue action group or a domino club at a sheltered unit for the over-60s, if the Labour Party isn’t involved in some organisational or directional sense then it has to be crushed. Where such an approach is resisted there is no restraint upon the unholy horrors that may be unleashed. Even physical violence has not proved beyond them, and it is probably only due to lack of personal courage that this has thus far been restricted to property rather than person, and then on a purely hit-and-run basis, but rather than being restrained those responsible have actually been rewarded for their efforts with senior office, telling us all we need to know about the local party on an institutional level.


Somebody close to me who is a supporter of the Labour Party has suggested that my instinctive dislike of the party may have been influenced by my local experiences. It is a fair point to make, but I don’t think it is true. My observations during this general election campaign have been inspired by what I have seen of the party at a national level, and of the approach it has taken in its quest for national office.

For the tribal herd I have nothing but contempt. In politics our duty surely is to choose, and if necessary to change, our party loyalty according to our principles, not to change our principles according to our party loyalty. One almost forms the impression that some of these types would champion the slaughter of the firstborn if it was in the manifesto. It was this kind of blind organisational obedience which landed us with Tony Blair, and which permitted a party whose leader took us into a war which led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, many of them children, on the back of a lie, to continue along afterwards almost as though nothing had happened.

Those who plead the “urgency” of the situation, on the other hand, deserve to be heard. That said, I believe their argument to be flawed on two very basic counts. The first is that it demands our righteous anger over the treatment of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society by the present government, without paying much heed as to how the lot of these people can be expected to improve when Labour replaces the Tories in office. It is not enough to be stirred by poverty and deprivation. Without a radical programme for the redistribution of wealth from those whose greed has brought the current situation to pass the indignation of the “other side” is meaningless.

Indeed, perversely, there is an argument that suggests the fortunes of the poor and hungry may actually deteriorate further under Labour. Certainly many of the food banks have been contributed to and staffed by Labour activists and supporters, whose sincere altruism will not have been lessened by the desire to drive home a political point. When a Labour government assumes office the temptation to make another point – that the food banks are no longer necessary – will certainly be present. Those finding themselves locked out, food cupboards still empty, may have cause to reflect.


The second weakness can best be summed up by the old maxim “tomorrow never comes”. If there is an urgency now to get rid of the Tories then in the event of Labour failing in that objective on May 7th that urgency will become all the greater, from the day after polling day all the way to 2020. Conversely if Labour wins the election the imperative will be to keep the Tories out. Either way the cause of working for real, meaningful, lasting, root-and-branch change will be placed yet again onto the back burner, a convenient place for it to stay in the symbiotic eyes of the major parties, both of whom stand to benefit from things remaining precisely as they are in perpetuity.

In any event the election on May 7th provides genuine radicals with an opportunity which may never again arise in our lifetimes – a likely stalemate between the two major parties coupled with the meteoric (although not necessarily permanent) rise of a real anti-austerity force, the Scottish National Party, with the potential to deliver an uneasy pact of convenience which promises (or threatens, depending on where you happen to stand) to shake up our politics forever by corrupting the ethos of the First Past The Post system in a Union of contradictions.

The decision of the SNP to discount at a very early stage any prospect of co-operation with the Conservatives and to offer instead to support a Labour Prime Minister brings in its wake a dynamic all of its own. Now, whether Scottish voters stick with Labour or jump ship to the SNP there is no net gain to be had by the Tories. In other words the Labour soundbite which would have it that a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories is revealed to any thinking person to be so much nonsense. Beyond tribal loyalty there is precisely no excuse for any Scottish elector who stands against cuts and austerity to plump for the Labour candidate in preference to the SNP one.

The permutations, and implications, of the SNP holding the balance of power at Westminster compel us to think the unthinkable. A broadly centrist pro-Union Labour Prime Minister kept in office by a left-wing anti-Union party which doesn’t even need the support or the goodwill of 90% of the voting population of the UK. Or, to consider another interesting scenario, a politically doable but almost universally unwelcome Con-Lab coalition with (probably) Alex Salmond, heading a regional party (in UK terms), as Leader of the Opposition. The mind truly boggles.

In the plans of the “urgency” advocates there is no time for change, not now or not ever. In my eyes and in those of many others, there is no time like now.

As for me, I think I’ve probably said more or less enough on this subject in the course of my many forays into the land of social media. What will be will be. But having sampled the sweet taste of opportunity that the convergence of coincidences can bring I am determined, once this election is over, to do something and to play some kind of role, tiny though in the wider scheme of things it must inevitably be, to hasten the change that some of us desire but have never until now really thought possible.