2017 will bring political chaos: the left must capture it
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
So goes the quote from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen-Eighty-Four. It reminds me of a time which feels like ancient history now, of boring politicians like David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg – people you could almost set your watch to they were so reliably dull. In the Coalition years this motley band of politicians from the mainstream left and the mainstream right of politics, along with their counter-parts across Europe were busy sowing the seeds of chaos by implementing harsh and counter-productive “austerity measures” and making the people pay for the mistakes of the super-rich. It felt like the boot of oppression was not so much being stamped as pressed down, slowly, on our necks. To the point that most people had long since lost sight of the people responsible for our malaise while the absence of a mainstream left willing to stand up to the status quo meant that when, according to the principles of human nature, enough people got sick of being stamped on and decided to try and fight back, there were only the agents of chaos take up their banner: Donald Trump and Nigel Farage.
2016 saw the final destruction of the oppressive status quo that once existed in 2013. Though the manner in which it has come about seems anything but a liberation, we should not see the collapse of the old order as a complete disaster: for years, economic equality has been a side-lined priority in mainstream politics, and it has objectively led us to the point we are now. Sadly, those same people who endorsed or tacitly propped up the neo-liberal system now seem to be telling us to capitulate to the hopeless and counter-productive demands of the far-right.
Let’s say it loud and clear: feeding the crocodile in the hope that it eats you last is not an option. If we are to get out of this mess, it is time we started working together to put it back at the top of the agenda, or else everything which has been gained over the past few decades (gay liberation, anti-discrimination laws, movement towards equal pay, the right to choose and so on) will disappear under the neo-fascist boot. If you care about these things, then it is your duty to defend them. You have a clear choice; either step up and do so, or try to keep your head down and watch as society collapses around you, as your friends and family fall into poverty and as people face daily discrimination and persecution because of who they are. That is the future a lot of us now face – and you will not be immune. It’s time to fight back.
You do not have to do it alone- this isn’t about self-reliance. Any experienced activist will tell you that a successful campaign requires a broad, grassroots coalition; you will need the support of others to share the workload, develop ideas and most importantly enable you to survive emotionally and physically. At the end of the day going to rallies and handing out political leaflets will not feed you – and there are going to be days when it feels like nothing is happening and you want to pack it in. But giving up means handing more victories to the likes of Trump and Theresa May, and we cannot allow that to happen. It is going to be a difficult road, but if you support others, others will support you. Get out into your community, help others in need, and show people that the world isn’t just full of self-centred arseholes. Show them that there is an alternative to fight for and some of them will come to our side: they will make your task much easier and victories over the far-right easier to attain.
This does not diminish the importance of party politics, of course, and eventually, if an alternative, progressive future is to be forged, the right and the far-right will have to be defeated at the ballot box. Over the next few years the Labour Party will be central to this effort; it has the greatest resources, the greatest manpower and is – financially and organisationally speaking, at least – by far the best prepared for a General Election. But turning the tide against the neo-fascists will take more than just one progressive “vanguard”. We need to build that broad-based coalition based on common ground upon which the new progressive consensus can be built. Here are a few suggestions:
For Labour people, the priority is to mobilise communities and getting more people who understand what life is like living under threat of losing your job and your home – or working on poverty wages just to prevent both – into positions of influence and power up to and including Parliament. This is what the Labour Party was born to do. We need to be prepared to deal with the unstoppable march of automation and the disappearance of most traditional jobs, and that will be impossible if the corridors of power are haunted by people who believe in leaving our fates to “market forces”. Rather than leaving the machines in the hands of the rich, we must have people in power to implement policies which embrace this New Scientific Revolution and make sure we have control of the machines through public and community ownership, co-operatives and mutuals, just as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has advocated.
We will utilise our reputation for having built the NHS and put it back under full public control, not just from an ethical perspective, but from a financial one too. Back-door privatisation has made the NHS horrendously inefficient and wasteful, people must be told that not only is their health at risk, but that it is being put at risk deliberately while wasting your taxes at the same time. Nothing works better than a pitch aimed at both heart AND wallet.
If you are a Green, your task is clear: keep us Frack-free and make the case for an entirely renewable energy policy. Cast out the old hippies that try to pretend you can protect the environment without social justice. It isn’t going to happen, but don’t let green policies fall off the agenda either: ultimately, we are going to need those more in the long-run than anything else.
For most Liberal Democrats, the priority is Europe. If this is the case the best thing you can do now is hold Labour’s feet to the fire over getting the best out of the negotiations. If you think that is a wasted effort, just take a look at UKIP. This is exactly what they have been doing (and continue to do) to the Tories for years, albeit in the opposite direction – and despite having only one MP it has worked, brilliantly! It is time pro-EU people did the same. But if you are a Lib Dem, one small request: please stop Tim Farron speculating on national television about going into bed with the Tories again. Nobody wants that, Tim: that was pretty much made clear in 2015. If the right and the far-right is to be defeated, there must be no question of parts of the left being willing to sign up to a right-wing agenda for a shot at power. Our aim must be to rebuild trust in politicians while building a new progressive consensus, whatever our differences, maintaining that effort must remain a priority for the whole of the left.
The good times are not over, they are yet to come. Chaos is inevitable after a long period of stagnation but it is time we embraced it. Let’s make it ours and maybe, just maybe, we will come out of this better off than when we started.