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
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“Without the pursuit of equality, liberalism is pointless.”
I’ve never heard such unshackled Thatcherite shite in my entire life. Sod compassion then; if we can’t all be Communists then the poor/disadvantaged/mentally ill can just piss off. This pile of nonsense alienated generations of people from the badge of “leftism” and quite rightly. It lead directly to the whole “f**k everyone who’s not like me” 1980s mindset that has lead us to today. You want to smash the class system? Maybe start by not just re-badging it left vs right. It’s no better than serfs vs lords/Normans vs Saxons/Tories vs Labour/franchised vs disenfranchised. It’s still divide and rule. We are never, ever going to get anywhere towards fairness when we’re still locked in this semantics-based obsession that does everything it can to avoid ever discussing the issue of personal and societal responsibility – to think, act and do. And that means for everyone.
What is this frickin horsefeathers about equality? There is and never has been no such thing; no equality of aspiration, of achievement, of education. Me, I’d say there should be equality of education, then see what you can do, but this facile childish mantra of “it’s not fair” shows about as much awareness and reality as all the Thatcherite shite about we’re all Falklanders/estate agents/not for U-turns now.
The whole left/right bunfight has done exactly what Marx predicted – caused strife, but it hasn’t brought down the class system any more than he has for the same reasons – Karl Marx’s whole mantra was “it’s not fair.” One of the first lessons of growing-up.
No, life isn’t fair. Someone’s going to be richer. Someone’s going to make better pots. Someone’s going to be able to throw a spear much better than you. Only when we start thinking away from the 150 year old shackles of “Kapital”, the fantasy book, not the reality, are we going to get anywhere worth going. We did it once, from 1945 to 1950. We’ve spent too long in the bathroom looking in the mirror since then.
As long as I see comments about disabled people where the comment sticks to only disabled people then I will see no way their situation can be improved.
If you fail to include the poor, the unemployed, the disadvantaged, the discrimminated against, then ask yourself, why will anyone in these groups acknowledge your issues?
Soon, the disabled will be no better off than the unemployed. Why is that so awful? Will you only notice the unemployed, their desperate poverty, once you are classed as one of them? Will you acknowledge that survival for this group is impossible, so impossible you are fighting to ensure you ensure you have better benefits than they? And if you don’t, why on earth would an unemployed person protest round at the local ATOS office to save your ability to pay the bills?
What about the minimum wagers? Will you acknowledge their impossible lives? Will you ask them to care for your situation while you fail to acknowledge theirs? Is that rational?
This is not about disabled people. Face it. It is about all of the people who can not survive in this country without benefits.
Once you realise that, then the fight proper for social justice will begin. It’s not one special group as opposed to another.
We really are all in this together and the sooner everyone realises that, acknowledges that, the better for our society.
And it is already happening.
From were I am sitting there does not seem to be room to fit a razor blade between the left and right wing political parties as far as Welfare Reform goes.
The problem is that whilst all major parties agree reforms are necessary there can be no debate about what sick and disabled people really need. Disabled people feel betrayed by all major parties and the charities that purport to represent them (although non of them are elected by disabled people).
What is needed is true democracy for sick and disabled people, we need a referendum that only WE vote in, otherwise the results are skewed by all kinds of irrelevant factors like the private contractors set to make millions out of us and the governments mercenary corps Atos and Unum.
I think PART of this is the fact that lots of working class people crossed over into traditionally middle class professions in the past half decade or more, taking their “lefty” beliefs with them and their children, growing up in a world of less struggle, have taken the liberal values as being more important than the bread and butter issues- the issues that the majority of the working class are concerned with. I believe this has created a huge disparity between those in the labour movementwho purport to represent us and those who lack real representation- the Milimetremilibands are a prime example of this, as was BLIAR and other labour luminaries who sought credentials behind the millionare Prescott. In some of the hardest working class areas, the extreme right, such as the BNP and EDL have moved in to exploit the fact that these people are no longer represented.
Although all of this is of course negative, we have to look at what has happened to society as a whole. In the past 50 years or so, working class people have been educated and the class system has been called in to question (the actual non-interest in street parties and the disparity of the excitement of the BBC over the Royal Wedding is some evidence towards the less adherence to the hat doffing since the Queens assenssion).
Working class education is under attack- throughout the UK. A two teir ed system is in the making- critical thinking skills etc will be the preserve of those who can afford it or afford to move in order to get their wee darlings into a good school. The chasm of class is widening and with this Conservative /Lib Dem govt and with the preseent fluffy liberal “purple book” Labour party, this will continue to happen. We need a party that represents working class people, from the working class. In Scotland, we have the SSP (and unfortunately a plethora of post Sheridan spliters) though in England there seems to be no real choice.
Good article. (just some thoughts)
This is one of the best articles I have read in some time. Thank you for writing it.