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?