Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Reflections on a bad few days

It’s been some time now since I posted onto my blog site. This has been for four main reason: a well deserved holiday in Venice (with some friends -great time by the way!), campaigning both in local elections for Independent candidate Jacqui Norton in a by-election for Wellingborough Council (who got a very creditable 10% at the first time of trying), campaigning against the BNP in both County Council and the Euro elections (with some mixed results) and simple laziness in keeping my blog up-to-date (it seemed a bit of an indulgence when there was so much more going on)!

Now that all the frenzied activity has subsided for the time being its time for some serious reflection on the state of the world in general and politics (nationally, locally and in Europe) more specifically.

The recent local and Euro elections have been a disaster for the Labour Party. At one level I take no pleasure in this (although I know some on the Left will) – although my distain for the Labour Party and Labour government (but not individual Labour Party members) knows no bounds. The Labour Party and recent governments, under both Brown and Blair, have badly let us down – after showing so much promise in the early years. However, I continue to have admiration for Labour Party members who, through thick and thin, have remained loyal to the “the Party”. But I fear that such loyalty is badly misplaced although I respect their position. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that what British politics badly needs are political openings on the progressive, green, democratic, left of the Labour Party that can coherently and credibly offer alternatives. The monopoly of the centre-left/left in British politics (in England at least) by the Labour Party needs to be broken – because it is bad for the Labour Party (monopolies tend to ossify and become corrupt and self-serving) and bad for democracy in general.

For too long all our political “eggs” have been largely in “one basket” and rested on the success of the Labour Party. This has enabled the Labour Party to threaten us with arguments about “back us or the Right wins - and we will then blame you if we loose”. This form of coercion is no longer a way of doing politics in the 21st century that I want any part in. I want to be able to exercise positive choices on the Left, and not be forced to support anyone – just because we may “let” the Right in.

But I also fear that the multitude of groupings, "socialist" parties, community based campaign groups, trade unions etc., who could make up a new Left are currently incapable of seizing such opportunities in a way that could attract the kind of support that similar groups (that exist in other European countries) currently enjoy. In Germany, Die Linke (The Left) and Die Gruene (the Greens) are now getting votes in the region of 10-20% and are increasing co-operating with one another in opposition to SDP/CDU/CSU goverment. The fascist far-right are miniscule and almost non-existant.

This shows the potential for the UK but the reality of achieving unity of this kind that is emerging in Germany seems far away. However, there are some “green shoots” that such possibilities are there for the taking and over the next period these may beginning to flourish. But this requires the whole of the diverse “Left/Greens” in the UK to throw away sectarian attitudes to each other, to recognise that progress can only be achieved by co-operation rather than competition (particularly at a local level), through honest dialogue and engendering a commitment to compromise around tactical political interventions, if not on ideologies.

Are these diverse “Left/Green” groupings up to it? Or is our current demise (based on current attitudes and ways of working) to continue? Are we condemning ourselves to a period in which politics is dominated by the Right and where we are more likely to be depressed - fighting defensive and scattered skirmishes - than positively engaging in politics because we are inspired about the possibility of progressive advance and achievements?

The successes of the BNP in the Euro-elections also requires some reflection and thought. Whilst it was no doubt related to the low turnouts (for which demoralisation with Labour can take most of the blame), there is nonetheless a real problem that would still exist even if the BNP had not won any Council or Euro seats. It now seems that the BNP are regularly attracting between 6 and 10% of those who vote, almost irrespective of actual turn-out. This situation needs to be tackled “head-on” with a national wake-up call to challenge this rise in support and the racism/xenphobia/Islamaphobia that underlies it. I don’t go with the argument that we need to “understand” those who vote for the BNP. It is clear that they knew exactly what they are doing and voted BNP because they signed up to their broadly racist/nationalistic agenda. If they wanted to simply "protest", they could have voted for some alternatives (even UKIP!), but they didn't - they voted for the BNP knowing (in most cases) precisely what they stood for.

We also don’t need to "understand" such BNP voters more, or respond "sympathitically" to their bogus, lie- induced, anxieties. What we do need to do is continually expose these lies, the racism, the prejudice that is being espoused and point to the kind of society that would logically follow from this if the BNP got within anything like a spitting distance of political power. We need to stop appeasing these bogus anxieties (as the Labour “community cohesion” agenda has done), and return to very simple but powerful concepts of racial equality, fairness for all and social and economic justice for all based on evidence not lies.

There is also a heavy responsibility on all political groups and parties to at least argue for inclusive alternatives to the problems that we face as a society, which are not based on scapegoating, hatred, prejudice and xenophobia. The Labour and Conservative parties, as well as the populist media, need to know that the rise of the BNP is directly linked to their flirtation with an appeasement and scape-goating agenda. They must stop doing it!! If they don’t, they must be held complicit in the eventual outcome(s). There could have been nothing more damaging to the fight against the BNP than, firstly, a Labour Prime Minister talking about “British Jobs for British Workers” - which clearly had racist/xenophobic connotations (and the slogan was subsequently adopted by the BNP). And, secondly, Conservative Party campaigns against local housing developments by citing the bogus threat of “migrant workers” - pandering yet again to a xenophobic agenda that has subsequently been exploited by the BNP.

We also need to stop endorsing, or showing any kind of sympathy or empathy, with notions that the new, marginalised, discriminated, group is now the so-called “White working class”. There is no evidence whatsoever that they are faring any worse than working people across the board. Indeed there is continuing and clear evidence that working class people from Black and minority ethnic groups are doing considerably worse, across the whole range of social inequality variables, than the so-called (and newly discover?) “White working class”.

What is worth acknowledging, however, is that consecutive governments, over many years, have failed to make any real inroads into reducing inequality and poverty in our society and, after 13 years of Labour government, we still have the most socially divided society in Europe – and the divisions are widening – with the rich getting richer, even in the midst of a recession. Some areas of our inner cities and out of town housing estates have been deserted by both Labour and Conservatives (in a rush to privatise social housing and public services and so-called "concerns" around "increased taxation").
Such neglect needs to be part of an alternative programme that rejects the Labour/Conservative concensus around public expendicture and taxation.

We desperately need a society that is comfortable with itself, is socially and economically just, and where problems are there to be overcome, together, collectively and in co-operation. There is a real need to articulate a diverse but united left alternative - both to current and future government policies (irrespective of whether they are Labour or Conservative) - and to challenge the racist agenda of the far-right, which will merely divide people and do absolutely nothing to create such a fairer society.

Can we raise ourselves to these challenges?


  1. There are some factors that should be mentioned here:

    1. The BNP, while ignorant, evil peddlers of hate, have been extremely successful in disguising this - making out that the leopard has indeed changed its spots. I've argued with potential BNP voters recently, and their stance has been "Well, the BNP want 'British Jobs For British People'" - an argument which is very persuasive in the current economic climate. When it's explained and pointed out that the BNP have, in fact, only one policy, and that can be boiled down to "Wogs Out" (see below), they tend to change their minds. If you don't get to them in time, those voters think that they're registering a protest vote, when in fact they're registering affirmation for racism.

    BNP Manifesto:
    * How do we improve the economy? Wogs out.
    * How do we improve the employment figures? Wogs out
    * How do we improve the housing crisis? Wogs out.
    * How do we improve literacy and education standards? Wogs out.
    * How do we improve the NHS? Wogs out.

    Easy, isn't it? Read any of the BNP "literature" (or "vile filth") that comes through your door with this in mind...

    2. The Green party should never be taken seriously, given the contradiction in their professed stance ("We want to use science to improve the planet") and their policies (Ban animal experimentation, ban GM research, ban stem cell research, all on the basis of unquantifiable and unknown dangers). They're not a "left" group at all - their views are far more akin to the luddites - but not for economic / class reasons, simply because they are anti-science. Bit like that moron we have for an MP.

    I'm seriously considering founding my own political party - the "Right Thinking British People's Party".

    We'll have one policy to start with, and that's that anyone who's a racist, a fascist or a head-in-the-clouds-moron will be forcibly repatriated to a square foot of Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles west of Rockall.

  2. Just got your blog and can only agree with your analysis. However I did vote labour and urged others to do the same, if only to help the survival of the Labour Party, though I am well aware that it was that same Labour party, with its espousing of neoliberalism, has left the progressive agenda leaderless and demoralised.

    On Monday, just after mauling over the BNP triumph, I attended a play called Collaboration, which narrate the relationship between Strauss & Stefan Zweig in the 30s, which only added to my despondency. Just to think that I am witnessing the rise of fascism again, though this one is much more insidious than Pinochet's crude antipolitic banner.

    I am not very optimistic and can visualise how mainstream politics will try even harder to pander to this racist onslaught. The BNP today represent the frustration of a much disenfranchised working class, which has been brow beaten into submission by Thatcher, Blair and Brown. And this is not just an English phenomenon, but a pan European historical process.


  3. You are probably right in thinking that those who have voted BNP are doing so out of a racist and nationalist motive. The fact that they did not increase their vote in many places probably shows that their attempts to put on a mask of respectability is not working but some people still believe their lies. This continues to make the task of exposing what the BNP really are a necessity. What also seems urgent is the need to make clear that all injustice in our society is a common task and that tackling deprivation is not about small groups competing for handouts but about justice for all within a different economic and democratic framework. I was hoping that the current situation might pose those questions more sharply but the push to get back to an unsustainable growth agenda and trickle down economics is as strong as ever.

    You might look at the Ekklesia web site who have had some interesting articles on the churches rhetoric feeding into the hands of the right the language of Christian Britain, though I did notice that the BNP’s picture of Jesus was remarkably non-jewish!

    Rev. David Wiseman

  4. Excellent post Paul, but may I offer one small correction?

    The appalling slogan "British Jobs for British Workers" was not coined by Gordon Brown and then adopted by the BNP. It's worse than that. It was in fact a National Front slogan in the 1970s, which at his age and with the extent of his involvement in politics he must surely have known.

    Racist arguments can only be defeated by better arguments, not by meeting them half way.

  5. Good post, Paul. Although I think Red/Green alliances may prove hard to achieve. There are a number of reasons for this:

    1. How much common political ground is there between socialists and greens? Is there any more common ground than there is between greens and Tories or liberals?

    2. What or who exactly would we be asking greens to ally themselves to? The formation of socialist and left alliances in recent years is an abject lesson in political ineptitude and sectarianism, usually ending in acrimonious failure.

    I'd welcome a Green/Red alliance but I'd prefer a party that was committed to social justice, equality and the environment, and had a coherent policy with regards these issues.

  6. There certainly is a lot of common ground between the Greens and the left but part of the difficulty is that the left is so fragmented it is difficult for the Greens to negotiate with a coherent voice that remains stable for more than a year or so.

    The best chances are for local arrangements rather than national coalitions simply because the left doesn't have anything with real weight at a national level for the Greens to do business with - in local areas this is often very different.