Friday, May 04, 2007

What Next?

In a timely article on how to reorientate the left, today’s Morning Star has the following article from SSP member GREGOR GALL

Gregor writes:
IN THE winter edition of Democratic Left Scotland magazine Perspectives, former Communist Party member David Purdy, now a Compass member within the Labour Party, presents a bleak and forthright analysis of politics in Britain today.

He concludes that Tony Blair has finished Margaret Thatcher's job of putting an end to labourism, with mainstream political parties now only fighting each other over minor differences on the interpretation of neoliberalism. And he finishes by saying: "No party, movement or network has developed a new policy paradigm capable of challenging the neoliberal hegemony. Or, to put it another way, there is a large hole in British politics where the democratic left ought to be."

I find much to agree with in his analysis but, at the same time, there is also much to disagree with.

Since the mid-1990s, a majority of citizens have been to the left of the Labour Party on many aspects of social policy like taxation, redistribution of wealth and spending priorities. This gap has become even more accentuated and crystallised since the Labour government is well to the right of Labour Party policy. And, since 2003, new Labour has become increasingly discredited over the way that it governs and the policy ends that it governs for. It is hard to believe that many people thought that Tony Blair walked on water in 1997 and people took seriously new Labour's use of d:ream's Things can only get better as its campaign song.

Not long ago, commentators started making the comparison of the last days of John Major with the last days of Blair as leaders of governments which had become scandalised and sullied.

The left inside and outside the Labour Party remains weak and divided. The division merely adds to the weakness and lack of credibility.

So, what we have is the left, on the one side, and the neoliberals, on the other side, with the mass of citizens standing somewhere in the middle, pretty much unconnected in any manifest sense to either.

The double-sided paradox is that the neoliberals are in power but without popular support.

Meanwhile, the views of the left have much popular support, but the left is pretty powerless and support for left views exerts no influence on society's movers and shakers. It seems that, no matter how many huge demonstrations are held and no matter how many opinion polls are conducted, the situation looks extremely unlikely to change until the next general election. This is the roadblock of politics in Britain at the moment.

It is a fundamental crisis of democracy. A body of men and women in both the Westminster Parliament and the government seem blissfully immune from the popular will and govern without an express mandate. The situation is not that much different in the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly.

The left needs to develop a "road map" to get around, through and past this "roadblock," to borrow terms more commonly used with regards the Middle East.
Values giving rise to ideas and then making up the road map will not suffice in themselves. They have to be taken up and implemented en masse in many different arenas of struggle. But the ideas need to be sufficiently attractive and credible to be deemed worthy of being taken up en masse by ordinary citizens.

Purdy, like many others, is not of the view that nothing can be done on the left. His membership of the new and relatively vibrant Compass group, among others things, indicates this. But the disagreement is over what should be done and what action is seen to be realisable in the current period.

Take the issues of Trident or the renationalisation of the railways. The weakness of the left here is that the popular, overwhelming support to scrap Trident and to renationalise the rail is atomised. So, millions support these measures, but they are not organised to do something to force these matters.

Why is this? The first point might be that these people are not sufficiently committed to these views to do something practical and concrete about them.
Let's accept that, for some, this is the case. But, for others, it is likely that they don't know how to prosecute their views or that they don't currently see any available means by which to do so.

This leads to the second point. The notion of people being currently and effectively disenfranchised is a powerful one, because most people see very little point in involving themselves in the national political process.

The same can be said for other political processes of influence like through local government or community councils. For them, these arenas are alien, inhospitable and, ultimately, frustrating.

By contrast, members of the middle class have access to influence through their jobs, professions and the countless quangos that they sit on.

So, what should the left be doing in this situation? One idea springs to mind, in addition to being active and organised in trade unions and left political parties.
Community campaigns, as opposed to just campaigning in the communities about national issues, potentially allow the left to engage with new people on issues that are manifestly important to these people. Consequently, more priority should be given to them.

Such campaigns may concern bus routes, mobile phone masts, closure of leisure facilities and the like, rather than the high ideals of socialism and the class struggle. For the left, it would provide grounding in what the concerns of ordinary people are and how the left must then seek to patiently develop people's consciousness from these.

But, most importantly, it would allow people to see the left as normal, ordinary people who happen to be socialists. This would give the left some credibility so they are not just seen as a bunch of wild-eyed paper sellers.

And, next time round, when a new campaign emerges, the patient investments of time and effort of the past will be able to pay dividends. This may contribute to stronger and more successful community campaigns which should, in turn, lead ordinary people to see that there is a point in getting organised.

• Gregor Gall is professor of industrial relations at the University of Herfordshire's Centre for Research in Employment Studies.

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