Friday, April 21, 2006

Is the UK moving to the right?

I've never been to Question Time before so it was quite a learning experience to go to my first one earlier today in Cambridge. I'd raced back from Colchester where I'd been helping out with leafletting for some socialists standing as independents in the local elections and was a bit tired, but none the less I'll write a few notes on how it went.

The first thing I noticed is that the panel line up was unremittingly right wing. Charles Clarke, Shadow Chancellor and Cameron clone Osborne, Vince Cable - pro-privatisation co-author of the Orange Book and new Lib Dem deputy leader and some journalist who has just left the Telegraph cos it was too liberal (Janet Daley, I had to look it up again).

Usually there is at least one person who is bearable but there didn't seem to be any ray of light here. Not a good sign, but then the programme began and I have to say I thought the audience leant to the right as well, which was really disappointing.

A precis of the views from the floor

The NHS - all those greedy workers sucking up wages are a real problem.
That bloody Chameleon advert - it's a bit of a laugh isn't it.
Law and Order - rehabilitation? We must lock up 'criminals' to be safe in our beds
The BNP - they've got a bit of a point haven't they?
The Monarchy - a rousing chorus of God Save the Queen

I expected the panel to be bad but when 90% of the audience burst into applause over how great the Queen is... jeeez!

Counting those that I know there were about ten progressive activists in the audience all with their hands up - none of them called for their questions or comments during debate unfortunately (although I'm not suggesting conspiracy on the latter at least)

Incidently before it began that nice old chap Dimbleby told us they never cut anything from the show - well they did! There was a juicy bit of slander they chopped out... man I'm used to being lied to but it still hurts. It was over negative campaigning and a mad UKIP woman in the audience attacked the Tory for Cameron's anti-UKIP rant the other day. Osbourne said, but you are closet racists and the UKIP founder, Alan Sked, agrees. She then replied something like "he's a warped, twisted and bitter little man." But that outburst did not make it onto the show, cut out, expunged, eradicated... shame - it's nice to see these eccentric spittle flecked maniacs flap at each other.

But my main worry is that in a liberal town like Cambridge, where racism and homophobia are notably lower than many places, it was the right that dominated the floor. With a socialist political alternative never further away, with the mass public sector strikes a flop, with the anti-war movement running out of steam, ideas and utterly directionless is the UK moving to the right?


Liam Mac Uaid said...

What's the point of having a blog if you aren't going to suggest conspiracies?

Jim Jay said...

Ah Liam, you're right - but my current conspiracy theory is that the US want everyone to think they are going to attack Iran even though they have no intention of doing so in order to destabilise the regime and ensure everyone stays focused on the Middle East while they do what they like elsewhere...

It was strange though that Dimbleby told us all at the start that they never cut bits out and then they blatently did (not that that was a conspiracy against the left of course)

My recommendation if you ever go to Question Time where a hat or have a strange jumper on or something so you get noticed when he looks round to call people and can identify you easily - I regret wearing the ordinary white shirt now.

Snowball said...

'The anti-war movement running out of steam, ideas and utterly directionless' - hmm, I agree it needs to be urgently relaunched with a war on Iran looking likely but I think you are way out here to be honest.

The Stop the War Coalition's last national demo on March 19th was by all accounts bigger and livelier and younger than many recent national anti-war demos - and plus we have Labour's support in meltdown - mired by sleaze and lies.

However, a lot rests on whether Respect can make another breakthrough in East London on the scale of Galloway's victory last year. If Respect takes control of a council - won't that kind of force some sort of rethink among the pessimistic (sorry, 'realistic') wing of the SUN? How would that fit in with the idea that the UK is moving to the Right?

However, Respect's success in East London and elsewhere clearly depends on how good the local campaigns are - wouldn't those SUN members and supporters who are not already involved in campaigning for Respect be better off getting involved in their local campaign to try and ensure it is Respect and the Left rather than the BNP who benefit from New Labour's collapse in support?

Or is Janet Daley's appearance on fucking Question Time really proof that everyone should just abandon all hope?

badmatthew said...

Well I've spent the day singing 'Anarchy in the Uk' at the radio and wishing a minor member of the British royal family would follow the Nepalese example from a few years back. One bad Question Time doesn't mean a general shift right, Jim knows this, but we should let him get over the trauma in his own time without Snowball's moralism. We can't all have that level of religious certainty, I mean optimism! Let's see, Jim did say he'd been out leafletting. Let's hope Respect does well in East London and Preston and Birmingham and i'm pretty sure they'll win seats. But if they don't win control over the council (and Dave Osler pointed out that the great John Rees seems tpo talking more about Respect meaning abour loses overall control - again good), but if they don't is Snowball going to be depressed as well; and even if they do quite well what is the evidence - beyond what the optimists say to each other - that there will be much generalisation. It's only the local elections after all!
PS I'm with the panel - I like that chameleon, it's cute and sweet.

Snowball said...

The fact that we can even talk of the possibility of Respect taking control of a council surely gives the lie to Jim's line that 'a socialist political alternative [is] never further away'. When was there ever talk of taking a council with the Socialist Alliance? When we got one SA councillor that was a tremendous victory in itself!

And as for the possibility of generalisation from a few local areas outwards, lets not forget how the Labour Party grew - unevenly but eventually into a mass party.

I personally will not be 'depressed' if Respect does not win a council - providing we can be sure that Respect mobilised its full potential into trying to win it. Surely it is only if after we give something our best efforts that we can come to any judgement on it. I do not see how this 'empiricist' view has anything to do with 'religious certainty'.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks for the comments snowball, unfortunately I'm massively hung over and can't give them a proper response today... ugh...

I'll give one point a go though.

If Respect take control of a council will it cause a rethink in the pessimistic SUN people?

I personally believe that taking control of a council will cause Respect a lot of problems and might even lead to its demise because the looseness of the formation will not withstand the firestorm that victory will bring.

If you take community leaders from outside the socialist tradition and get defectors from the Tories or Lib Dems you cannot expect them to be as hard politically as the Liverpool Militant councillors were - and the SWP criticism of them at the time was that they were not politically hard enough to follow through the job.

I think the best lesson from Respect has been this willingness to prioritise rooted community activists over strict socialist dogmatists - although unfortunately not all Respect groups do this. But with the strength of this approach comes weaknesses.

Respect is a progressive party not a socialist one and I supported the setting up of Respect because of this position, I'm leafletting for the Greens in my ward on this understanding and have done various campaigning work for friends during this camapign not one of them so far with the words "Socialist" in their leaflets and or electoral title.

That is why I say that a socialist alternative has never been further away, because the development of Respect whilst having many positives has resulted in massive disunity on the left and commited socialists within Respect spend a large amount of time arguing against down the line socialist politics.

I think the Rubicon moment for me was when SW printed a piece supporting the government's incitement to religious hatred bill. It was evidence that the turn outward had damaged them politically.

It was very upsetting to see a socialist party support legislation that will inevitably lead to the locking up of Muslims on the basis of pleasing their friends rather than political analysis.

So whilst I am genuinely happy when Respect and the Greens do well in elections (far far better than the SA ever could have) I don't for a moment try to kid myself these have created a socialist alternative.

Seeing as I already believe Respect can do well at these elections, in selected areas, if they do well it's unlikely to cause me to rethink...

badmatthew said...

I've got lots of differences with Snowball and the hungover JimJay (celebrating her majesties glorious birthday no doubt).

Start with JimJay as he is too negative about Respect (although understandably given the history of how the comrades treated him). If Respect do win a council off Labour the first reaction must be joy and celebration. It's going to the left. Of course there are going to be problems and politics is a messy business, but I've already seen too many predictions of the imminent demise of Respect to go along with the idea as a certainty. Respect has got legs and success in these elections will keep it going. BTW I thought Weekly Worker had told us that in Bethnal Green 'socialist dogmatists' were being prioritised over community activists. JimJay's strict delineatino of socialist and progressive doesn't work for me: Respect has a got a lot of socialists in it, the central themes look socialist; reformist yet, but we have to think about the political direction here. For the SWP it might mean a shift to the right, but they can certainly pull back in different circumstances (and see their approach to the pensions struggle as an example of organisation that does focus on the need for rank and file union organisation)and the project looks to me like something aimed at pulling larger numbers of people to the left. Sounds good to me. The religious hatred bill needs more space, but at a basic level, giving the same protections to muslims that sikhs and others get, in a political context with signs of a rising antimuslim racism just seems like fairness to me!

AN said...

Snowball is using a bit of hyperbole when he says that the last stop the war demo was "By ALL accounts" bigger, better, younger, etc.
At least one account (mine) didn't say that:

Also clearly Labour support is not (as Snowball puts it)in "meltdown" but in gradual long term decline, which is also not unambiguoulsy a good thing by the way. I know that blog type discussion tends to lack nuance, but I think the idea of "meltdown" is a completely misleading one.

I also want Respect to win in as many seats as possible, and I support all Respect candidates (In a passive way, as I more actively suppporting my own candidature as a socialist for Swindon Borough Council). As I will argue in a short to be published piece, any significant Respect group on the council could make a very significant contribution to reviving the left if they can pose a socialist alternative over the challenge of the Council's budget and the Council Tax next year.

But where Snowball is wrong is in believing that Respect's model can be generalised out natioanaly, it is already too late for Respect to win over the rest of the left, it has less purchase in the trade unions than the SA had, and the specific composition of the respepct vote where they have done well is not typical of most of Britain.

However, if Respect has hard left councilors who lead a fight, then that is a basis of practical collaboration with the rest of the left that could allow us to build something better. And can inspire a hopeful allternative instead of the BNP being the big political issue on everyone's lips.

And although the SWP are IMO wrong on the religious hatred bill, I don't find the idea of the SWP "moving to the right" very useful. If as a result of engagement with electoral politics they are forced to be less propagandist, then that can only be a good thing.

Jim Jay said...

Who are you quoting saying the SWP are "moving to the right" AN?

Jim Jay said...

Bad argues that I'm too negative about Respect - but I don't think I'm particularly negative about them.

I said they are progressive not socialist and that is a GOOD thing.

"Respect has a got a lot of socialists in it, the central themes look socialist; reformist yet, but we have to think about the political direction here."

Yeah - the political direction is forwards and not reactionary. That's not a negative analysis is it?

But if you asked all the Newham and Tower Hamlets candidates if they are a socialist how many would say they are socialist on the doorstep? 3/4? 1/2? 1/3? I don't think it would be honest to describe Respect as a down the line socialist organisation and that is why I used to positive term progressive rather than socialist.

If they win the council it will be amazing and I'll be pleased but it wont have me dancing round the living room the way Galloway's victory did.

Whilst Galloway's victory was a victory for the entire anti-war movement winning a council will have a number of negative effects and create a number of problems.

i) as I said before the cllrs wont cope with running the council.

ii) it will mean some people will become even more convinced that a political model that doesn't work outside of certain areas of England is the only thing the left are allowed to do all across the world and it will entrench their sectarianism.

iii) additionally it will encourage some to think that votes are more important than anything else.

Oh yeah - and before I forget - I can't support the relious hatred bill because ultimately it is going to be used against muslims and simply gives powers to the state to pursue their "anti-terror" agenda - we could have a bet if you like, I wager that over the first five years of the act coming in more than 3/4 of those prosecuted will be Muslims. Tenner?

badger said...

i agree that respect will have problems if it wins control of a council, i suspect they think councillors with more experience from other parties may cross the floor.
i also think that it is time for the left in respect to re-think its posistion in it espically with galloways comments on immigration recently.
and of course the SWP is moving to the right its support of the religious hatred bill is a great example of this cos the SWP would not have supported this when cliff was in charge or the party wasnt in respect.

Ed said...

Interesting discussion. I'm afraid I've cooled on Respect quite a lot over the past year or so and I let my membership lapse recently. I have problems with the religious hatred bill (mentioned above) and I don't like Respect's position on the Iraqi resistance (a watered down version of the SWP's - which I just can't support). However, I suppose I would echo many of the above comments in that a Respect victories in the local elections would be very welcome.

Like many of the commenters above though I see problems. There are inevitably problems when socialists enter government bodies - it's the classic problem of incorporation, reformism etc. But I think the problems may be especially acute for Respect given the nature of some of their recent converts. I spoke to a Tower Hamlets activist (a few months ago admittedly) who seemed a little troubled that some of those political activists and notables coming over to Respect from the local Labour party were jumping onto a bandwagon to save their own necks rather than through real commitment. The local political structures are quite corrupt, I think, and I wonder how Respect are going to guard against this and against careerist bandwagon jumpers on the council, who after all, are unlikey to be principled socialists.

AN said...

Jim Jay asks: who I am quoting about the SWP moving to the right.

The previus post from mattehew said: "For the SWP it might mean a shift to the right, but they can certainly pull back in different circumstances"

I interpreted the "but" in "but they can pull back" as implying the shift to the right was negative.

Bt I can be over analytical!!!

AN said...

Two other things:

Brighton are also likely to have a very large Green group elected, possible even the largest on the council. Which will pose similar questions to the ones facing Respect in east London, and National Spokesman Keith Taylor is in Brighton, and is a relatively conservative figure in the Green party.

If Respect do lead a fight over council tax, this will be a real test for the Brighton greens.

The other point is about these people switching to respect. In Swindon we have always stood on the position that if elected we would pay our whole allowance into a trust to be used for campaigning. If Respect were to do similar then that would prevent opportunist defections. (even if you allowed defecting councillors to keep their allowance until theri re-election, as soon as they stood for re-election the rule would apply to them as well.)

Jim Jay said...

Ah-ha! I see it now - it had me puzzled cos I couldn't see who'd said it... although in fairness to Matthew he was saying it was a possibility for the future I think not that they had already necessarily.

Rereading it also reminded me he had said "BTW I thought Weekly Worker had told us that in Bethnal Green 'socialist dogmatists' were being prioritised over community activists." Well, I read that article too and it was a well written and entertaining piece but it was also misleading.

It gave the impression that the choice on offer was John Rees or someone from the local community to stand in the area and the local bloke got snubbed purely for the needs of the SWP.

Unfortunately although there may be elements of truth to this what the article does not mention is that there are three candidates per ward so the guy who was rejected as a candidate for that ward actually came forth under Rees and two people who live in the area... so he was clearly not that rooted and respected an activist.

Two local activists and a national organiser is not a terrible combination. Although I'm not sure I'd class Rees specifically as a 'socialist dogmatist'... seems a bit unfair on him

AN said...

What sort of dogamtist would you descriibe him as then???

Jim Jay said...

I thought I'd leave that as an open question :)