Monday, August 08, 2016


There are three very common political delusions that I see all the time.

1. Because I believe something, the majority of people believe the same.

2. Those that don't believe what I believe must be wrong (or evil).

3. What I believe is new, exciting and original. Those who don't think the same way are from a past that will disappear.

I ran into all three on social media the other day, when I was told that I was part of the problem that would be swept away by a new era. This wasn't comforting for a man in his sixties confronting mortality, but it did make me laugh.

The debate I was having was about reconstructing the Labour Party into a new social movement that would sweep it to power - eventually - after everyone else had cottoned on to the wonderful empowerment promised by a bunch of middle-class enthusiasts who like going to meetings.

Paul Mason is one of the prominent enthusiasts arguing for this. Disillusioned by Syriza and disappointed by Podemos, he has now turned to the Labour Party hoping for another Occupy moment. You see, this is the new politics that started around twenty years ago. OK, newish.
Labour could become — for the first time in its history — a mass, democratic and participatory opposition to the rule of the 1% that would be a major thing in the politics of the Western hemisphere: a social democratic husk transformed into a living, breathing counter-power...
Labour’s membership could create a new kind of politics: a more networked, more activist, and much more radical form of social democracy than has existed within Labour since the 1930s. A form of leftism rooted in the very communities where Labour is battling right wing populism, through community activism and grass roots engagement.
Except that I can't see much evidence of it. There are plenty of active social movements out there and they are creating new realities, but they aren't party political. They are setting up credit unions and LETS schemes. They are organising everything from tenants' associations, mother and toddler groups, adult education, environmental projects and the like. The growing Labour Party membership doesn't seem to be doing much of this. Nor do I see a flood of new ideas and policy initiatives coming from them. They don't even seem to do much of the hard graft of leafleting and getting out the vote. Instead they turn up to rallies and spend many hours in front of computers obsessively praising their leader and abusing his enemies. They are a noisy minority in the country, but strong in the Labour Party.

When I see what is happening now, I look back to the 1960s. There were fashionably optimistic theories knocking about then about how a one party state could be democratic if there was vigorous intra-party democracy. But most of all, I think of Richard Crossman's perceptive introduction to Bagehot's The English Constitution.
...since it could not afford ... to maintain a large army of paid party workers, the Labour Party required militants - politically conscious socialists to do the work of organising their constituencies. But since these militants tended to be 'extremists', a constitution was needed which maintained their enthusiasm by apparently creating a full party democracy while excluding them from effective power.
I am afraid nothing has changed. Sorry Momentum supporters, you are not a vehicle for a new participatory politics. Nobody is going hand power to you. You are being mobilised to maintain the power of a faction within the party, not to exercise it yourself. You are in thrall to old delusions, ones that will persist in future generations long after you have faded from the scene to pursue your own, comfortable lives.

1 comment:

roybaintonwrites said...

Bravo, oh Stout One.
Speaking as one of those 60s style extremists who has come to realise that what he once firmly 'believed' has morphed into romantic nostalgia, I see no hope for Labour in any of its planned manifestations. The people have chosen capitalism in its most rigorous and aggressive form. Throw in a nice dollop of Daily Mail style racism, stir it all up with a few spoons of bigotry and xenophobia, and June 24th provides as accurate a picture of Britain's social structure as you'd need. The richer the rich become, the more aspirational what was once known as 'the proletariat' become to ape them. Jeremy Corbyn may be important to a quarter million Labour Party members, but what is that figure when balanced against the total electorate? It's a hungry flea on an elephant's arse. The tattooed elephant is in love with his I-phone, his cardboard cup of Starbuck's Latte. Between constant texting he watches Gogglebox and Strictly Come Dancing, and when someone mentions the word 'socialism' he refers to his Daily Express and the Sun. There are pockets of 'community' activity and righteous agitation, but they will never congeal into a big enough tumour to infect the body Capital. My son and his wife have both paid £25 to join Labour so that they can vote Corbyn. That money could have bought them half a dozen bottles of decent wine and a few beers. Any sense of subsequent inebriation gained would at least be real, rather than the wafted smoke of a loosely-rolled spliff of political dreaming. So sadly I accept defeat; emotional defeat, practical defeat, romantic defeat. The flea on the elephant's arse means nothing; the elephant's skin is too thick to draw blood. Therefore in my dotage, I salute Murdoch, Trump, Dacre, the Barclay Brothers, Philp Green and Lord Northcliffe for their generosity. They gave the 'People' what they wanted, and now they have it in abundance.