On class and the anti-cuts movement
The class war has spread to the ‘anti-cuts’ movement. I suppose it was inevitable. After decades of watching wages stagnate, and economic inequality widen, the chickens are now coming home to roost. Blue Labour are washing their hands of any responsibility to address the economic inequality they perpetuated, safe in the knowledge that the coalition of our remaining main political parties have done most of the dirty work for them. The welfare state that hid some of that inequality is being rolled back.
People are finding out that their gender, their disability, illness, or the town in which they were born ensure they may be denied the ability to ever keep their head above water. Denied a home. Denied the support they need to care for their relatives or participate in a world where they are already at the bottom. Denied the right to political representation. The cuts that did this passed with little fanfare or outcry from the anti-cuts movement. Class was going to raise its ugly head sooner or later.
I was mildly surprised when shots were fired by Toby Young, and that well known ‘trot’ paper the Daily Mail. Adam Ramsay and Laurie Penny are to be despised! UkUncut? A bunch of ‘poshos’ trying to hijack a march by decent working class Labour members. Defence of Laurie or Adam is not needed. They are open (and unnecessarily apologetic) about the privilege they have experienced and its effect- and I can’t see how a posh accent detracts from the truth of what they say. But those shots have been fired, and whether we like it or not they are early shots in a discussion that is long overdue.
For a long time being a ‘lefty’ has been a matter of choice for some. You pick whether you are a ‘lefty’ or on the right, adopt soundbites which will easily identify you to other members of your tribe. Adopt a few liberal values and get navel gazing about what the ‘left’ should do about this that or the other. Read a bit of Marx, a Labour party manifesto and enjoy the smug self satisfaction that comes with knowing you are a politically active ‘liberal’ concerned with ‘the poor’. Maybe you grow out of it.
Toby Young’s rant and the Daily Mail’s smear were effective because they hit on truths which ‘the left’ do not acknowledge. The picture the left has of itself is as false as the caricatures of the working classes it tosses around in lieu of political debate. The self identifying ‘left’ is a male dominated, middle class dominated, elitist social network which until the reality of the financial crisis hit existed mainly to keep itself occupied. With a ‘left wing’ new media working smart to gain access to a world of mainstream politics, blissfully unaware of how the gap between reality and political rhetoric plays out in the ‘real world’. British disaffection with mainstream politics has allowed it to be something of a minority sport for those who accept childish misogyny and the swapping of fairy stories as political debate. The attacks on Laurie and Adam were ridiculous, but they struck at the heart of one of ‘the left’s’ biggest weaknesses.
We are about to see a split in the self identifying left’ of magnificent proportions. This split will be sold as a clash between liberal values and the pursuit of equality. Without the pursuit of equality, liberalism is pointless. What we are actually about to see is what happens when politics ceases to be a minority sport.
The welfare cuts and cuts to the social care departments have happened. Those affected by them have to learn to live with them, for some fighting is the only option left available. That fight is going to demand real economic and social policy analysis. Party politics is irrelevant to it, and it is going to involve people being heard, the stakes are so high that people will fight to be heard. The reason they are so marginalised in the ‘movement’ that represents them is going to be discussed. A ‘lefty’ new media who have long dined out on exposing the inequality and self interest of the right wing, may soon wish they had been more careful to apply the same standards to themselves. To effectively respond to attacks like those made by Toby Young and the Mail, ‘the left’ is going to have get it’s house in order.
After squeezing every bit of ‘lefty’ kudos from their sob stories, our politically affiliated new media are going to have to argue that their preferred political party is right to wash it’s hands of those not represented in their Westminster bubble. The mothers, disabled people, carers, looked after children, the ill, people on low wages, the half of ALL families with children who rely on tax credits, disabled children, and the people in working class towns whose industry was already sacrificed for our economic system. They are going to have to argue this with people directly affected, and do logical hula hoops to explain how this tallies with the positions they are so proud of taking. While condemning the Coalition for doing the same.
The split we are about to see is not a split between liberal values, and the pursuit of equality or squirmish about where people are on a meaningless ‘left/right’ spectrum. It is between those for whom politics is about trying to affect real change in a world that affects them, and those for whom politics is a career choice or hobby that exists in a vacuum.
In order for our politically affiliated new media to continue to dominate the anti-cuts movement, and retain the position in the mainstream media they have worked so hard for, voices are going to have to be marginalised. The attacks on UkUncut, Laurie and Adam are a demonstration of how our main political parties do this. The blogosphere hanging on their coat tails will follow suit. Those affected by the cuts are going to have to be discredited and dismissed as unable to participate in debate if they cannot accept the premise that they are disposable. Blogs will have to fill their pages without giving room to debates which raise questions about the party they support. The friendship groups which form our ‘non-hierarchical’ anti-cuts movement are going to have to close in to exclude those wishing to question the status quo. Those who wish to address issues bigger than the minor differences in party manifestos will need to be shouted down as extreme radicals rejecting democracy itself. Noone wants to be the kind of person who does this, so it will be dressed up in all sorts of ways.
In an argy bargy of smears flying, distorted debates, and political parties skilfully playing to our worst instincts- those who consider themselves to be ‘on the left’ are going to have to critically engage. The people who are waking up to reality of what the cuts mean to their lives will continue to fight. They don’t have to debate their existence or the effect of what has happened. The choice for those who consider themselves to be ‘on the left’ is whether they are just another another obstacle for those people to overcome.
This post first appeared on Lisa’s blog