ConDemed? The fightback begins
This is a guest post by Aled Fisher, also posted at his own blog.
ConDem is here, or so it seems. Either way, Labour have thrown in the towel with regards the possibility of a Lib-Lab deal, or a so-called ‘progressive’ coalition – and they would have been crazy to do anything else.
The immediate future of British politics has therefore been framed – the ConDems, or the Tories alone, will cut like crazy and it is up to the rest of us to stop them.
The definition of ‘progressive’ has taken a bit of a bashing over the past few days, and we should expect that trend to continue. The spectre of seeing arch New Labour lackeys claiming to stand up for ‘progressive’ policies against ConDem cuts will be galling – precisely because these are exactly the kind of cuts Labour was promising, just a little later than the more bloodthirsty Tories and Liberals. Labour cannot be trusted to put up any kind of ‘progressive’ bulwark to the ConDems – and it is up for other voices to expose this.
Of course, truly progressive voices are somewhat difficult to find in parliament. Caroline Lucas gets a tick, as do some of the excellent Labour Left backbenchers of McDonnell’s and Corbyn’s ilk. And it’s only fair to say that, comparatively speaking, Plaid, the SNP and the SDLP can also be counted on to fight cuts that are likely to disproportionately hurt the nations. But, go beyond that, and you really are scraping the grottiest barrel imaginable.
Parliamentary figures do have a role in fighting ConDem – I expect to see the likes of Caroline Lucas leading the charge in parliament, putting up a dignified challenge to the neoliberal agenda that many Labour MPs are likely to support in name of the ‘national interest’. But the true role for progressives in parliament is to be the loudspeakers at the tip on the iceberg that is the progressive movement – the real vehicle for making change.
That movement is weak, but nowhere near dead. The trade unions are a vital part of this movement as the collective vehicles for the workers who are going to be on the end of savage cuts. But we now need to see other progressive organisations rise up and join the fight – the environmental NGO movement, for example, and, of course, the student movement. So often these movements focus in on their own peculiar interest without reference to the wider narrative that affects all progressive issues; I have been shocked at how many Students’ Unionist refuse to protest cuts at their own institutions, even going as far as backing management and opposing industrial action. Getting organisations so accustomed to carving out whatever concessions they can to join together in action will be difficult, but it is the model that has worked in other countries and successful campaigns. Bringing Citizens UK and the other, newer community organising movements on board will be an absolute must to ensuring a truly mass movement is formed.
The biggest problem is if all of these groups, particularly the labour movement for obvious reasons, actually buy Labour’s rhetorical shift to the left. This is what many in the Union hierarchy will want and, despite recent attempts by grassroots activists to bring down these bureaucrats, there aren’t a lot of big Union leaders who are going to remind their members of what it was like under ‘Labour’ for the past 13 years.
Whatever happens, we cannot let Labour claim the banner for the movement against ConDem – they will only betray it again. Many in the Labour leadership, including its likely future leader, would be quite happy sitting on the front bench of any of the major parties. If they had won power, they would be making the cuts that we must now oppose. It would be disastrous if the progressive movement did not organise independently from Labour; we need to be ruthless about reminding people of what the Labour Party has become.
So how can Labour be usurped? It’s time for the Greens and the other true progressives to step up, and create the biggest protest movement this generation has ever seen.
The public debate just got a lot more interesting. The difficulty with challenging labour was – as Aled very rightly points out – the inconsistency between their actions and their rhetoric. They spoke of social democracy while pushing broadly neo-liberal policies.
We now have possible the most “liberal” government in Britain’s history (prob hyperbole, feel free to pull me up). Thatcher was socially illiberal and economically an idealogue. New labour was a funny mix of neo-liberal and old-school interventionist. Now we have the orange-book part of the LibDems, along with the moderate and liberal part of the Tories. Proper liberals.
We therefore need to adopt a different approach from before. Under Thatcher, we fought back hard against her brutal ideology. With Blair/Brown, we exposed lies and hypocrisy. Under the liberals, we have an intellectual debate to win. We have to show where, and how, their policies are wrong. In particular, where they are inefficient and undervalue human and environmental capital. And because these people believe in the economy, we also must engage them on economic terms.
The old tools are still useful, but they are significantly blunter than they were before. We need to sharpen them, and get new ones. The greens play a very important role. But we need far more than a “protest movement”. We need to use this time of ideological clarity to win a massive, public debate.
Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough – Labour were right to chuck in the towel yesterday when they did. But I agree that we shouldn’t revel in opposition.
The only reason it was right is perhaps Labour themselves ruled out any kind of deal with nationalists or others, other than the Liberals. That would not have been a progressive coalition, and would have failed quickly, giving the Tories an even bigger win in a quick election.
So they were right to go into opposition now rather than fluff a coalition with the Liberals that would not have been ‘progressive’ at all.
Blanco – yes, I agree we need a positive agenda for investment to build a fairer economy. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be honest about how much we need to fight these cuts. It is not being overly negative to talk about the impacts of the proposed cuts – just honest.
My concern is that everyone outside of the government will now focus purely on defining themselves in opposition to what the government is, rather than standing for something in particular. The Greens will be better than Labour at this – Labour is now purely a vehicle for power, their deliberate sabotage of the chances for a progressive coalition today proves that.
But I do find it toxic how so many of us on the left revel in opposition, as if more can be achieved without power than with it – as if, indeed, the point of progressive politics is purely to criticise the bad guys, rather than actually being the good guys (and winning).
Blanco, I realise the online medium encourages hyperbole, but I’m afraid “The blood from the cuts will be on [Aled’s] hands,” is a soundbite too far.
Aled here is not talking about what ought to have happened or not over the past week. He is talking about how best to deal with the realities of our immediate future.
During the knife-edge diplomacy of the recent interregnum, I took the view that parties on the left should put aside their differences for as long as it took to avert a Tory government, and to express them constructively thereafter.
Now Prime Minister Cameron is a reality I share Aled’s view that more radical voices than the Labour Party leadership must come to the fore if Britain is to resist, rather than adapt to, the forces of Conservatism.
We try to keep this blog pluralist and engaging, rather than a vein-popping rantfest. I’d love you to join that conversation in that spirit, if you’re willing to.
So you are happy about the Tories getting back into office, because it gives you a reason to “fight”?
“they would have been crazy to do anything else”
You mean, they would have been crazy to stop the Tories getting back in?
People like you, and Labour tribalists, destroyed any chance of an alternative to Tory government. I quote Gary Dunion:
“This mess is tremendous fun but what I’m not loving are the tribalists in both Labour and the Greens intent on putting party before country.”
and (substitute the word Labour for Green Party):
“Labour: remember saying Tories will throw millions out of work? You were right. So giving up now for “party renewal” would be desertion.”
The blood from the cuts will be on your hands.