Getting what you want. Consumer speak?

There’s an awful lot of “I” and “me” in food blogger Jack Monroe’s plaintive response to hostile reactions to her decision to join the Greens (Jack Monroe [20 03 2015] ‘I didn’t leave the Labour Party. It left me’. The Guardian.)

Democratic rights and responsibilities.
She protests “my democratic right to vote for whoever the hell I like”. Yes but, that’s not the full picture is it? In the 2010 UK European elections some people on the Left in the northwest stayed away because there was no ‘perfect’ candidate for them, in particular given their refusal to vote Labour. Nick Griffin, the BNP (British National Party) leader, got in by a handful of votes. So venting anger at the Labour Party can have dire (unintended) consequences for a lot of people. We had to wait 5 years, but we have since rectified this situation and now have a strong team of local Labour MEPs in the northwest that encompasses Labour’s diversity. So voting is not simply an ‘individual’ act, or an act of ‘freedom’ to do whatever the hell you like, though our consumer economy would have us believe otherwise.

Monroe complains (rightly) that it is “easier to launch personal attacks than political arguments”. But what are her political arguments? Where’s her political analysis?

“I voted Labour last time. I got Tories. There are no guarantees in a first-past-the-post system that we will get a government that represents us.”

Hers is a victim statement, a personal gripe about not getting what she wants, rather than a political argument or analysis. Collectively, not getting what we want is a feature we have to bear; it’s called democracy. As individuals, proportional representation will still not give some people what they want. But the urge for democracy to rule is not individualistic; progressive politics is crucially about power and power relations, about adjusting structural disadvantage and exploitation, for example, beyond the individual self. Unlike shopping, it’s not just about the ‘me’.[i]

David Cameron, Tory leader and Prime Minister, has been trying to make out he takes the Greens seriously and cares about the environment. Anyone who has been paying attention over the course of this Tory-led government knows different: that it’s just about Tory electoral advantage via damaging the Labour vote. Cameron knows the Greens are very unlikely to take Tory votes: along with the Tories and UKIP and the SNP, for example, it’s Labour votes they are after. They all know their real political enemy. The Tories don’t need our help, they need our concerted, organized opposition. In other words, we need to vote together strategically to achieve this change.[ii]

“Vote Green and you’ll get Tories!” Monroe’s new critics have “shrieked” at her, she complains. But her complaint is also denial. And this denial undermines the ethical credibility of the Greens as we approach this election. Monroe’s complaint tells us that she has other priorities: that, for example, the NHS is not one of these; nor is the plight of those most affected by the Tory welfare cuts or cuts to education spending; or bringing in changes in policies and practices regarding violence against women and girls.

But I suspect it’s also about not wanting to feel personally uncomfortable. Well, having voted in more elections than Monroe has had hot dinners (probably), I can tell her that feeling personally uncomfortable is the least of our worries at a general election, where too often we cannot identify our perfect candidate or a political party that fulfills all our dreams and aspirations. Retail therapy is so much easier, more comfortable and comforting.

Denial, damage limitation and democracy.
With no publicly funded NHS, democracy itself is fatally undermined, and dare I say it? The environment will be an irrelevance in a political environment that allows poverty, social divisions, inequalities, conflict and violence to rule untrammelled and unregulated. Health, dignity and education, the ability to participate, socially, culturally and politically, will fall away as deregulated turbo capitalism further ravages our society and people’s lives. This is already happening.

The NHS is not just a service, but a foundational set of values that have distinguished British society since 1945. Fought for, hard won, and the target for the rich and powerful, who never needed these services in the first place, and certainly do not approve their underlying values or power analysis. This history teaches us who we are, how we have got to where we are, and what it will take to stop the people from being further pushed off the cliff edge of our society.[iii]

The Green Party, even while it voices the environmental concerns of some/many Labour voters, apparently finds it easy to ignore this political history. So Green denial includes the fact that a Green vote will help the Tories get back for another 5 years. Caroline Lucas, in the recent Guardian interview that made such an impression on Monroe, is open about her desire to see Labour lose, as she thinks it would greatly advantage the Greens. Monroe’s Green denial also brushes aside the fact that it is the Labour Party who, as a party of government, will be tasked with rescuing and sustaining the NHS, for example. So Green denial shows several discernible faces, and these contradictions suggest an identity / ethical dilemma with potential national consequences:

  • Green votes will be a good thing because they will take votes from Labour and so help stop Labour from forming a government.
  • Green votes will not allow the Tories through.
  • If that happens, it doesn’t matter: Greens are not responsible for the social, economic and political consequences of our electoral actions.
  • As Greens we don’t care about the consequences of a further five years of Tory-led government for the people and the environment. We have other, party political, priorities.
  • Our priority is the long-term electoral future of the Green party.

There must be an order of electoral priorities and action that enable a Labour government to get elected, in order then to tackle environmental issues and sustainability as essential components of the transformation of our society and economy, hopefully supported by MPs from other political parties.[iv]

Does Monroe think there is any other party likely to achieve the required majority to form a government, which would tackle issues of sustainability and a low carbon economy any time soon? I suggest this is part of her denial.

Nor is damage limitation, which is where a Labour-led government would have to start, a mere negative, a feeble effort. Ask those most severely affected by this government’s slash-and-burn policies. Ask those in communities and local government currently struggling to limit Tory damage to budgets and services. Similarly, while we may not be able to “get what we want” at a stroke, we do know for certain what a second term Tory government has in store for society, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. It’s a truly terrifying prospect.

Part of democratic competence is the ability and willingness to identify the real enemy (of the people and the environment), as opposed to the source of our personal/political discontent. Then refuse as far as possible to (knowingly) aid and abet the enemy. It is clear that progressive politics does not resemble, but has to compete with, retail therapy, and what we have all internalised about ‘choice’.

Monroe’s sense that you have a right to get what you want when you vote, sidelines the importance of making sure (as far as possible) that you don’t get what you and society really really don’t want: a second term Tory-led government.

  • So first identify the enduring source of your political fear and loathing.  
  • Second, vote strategically.
  • Third, pile on collective political pressure after the election.

As award-winning British singer, Paloma Faith, has recommended: “Vote first. Then complain!”[v]

val walsh / 22 03 2015

[i] [i] See Harry Leslie Smith (2014) Harry’s Last Stand. How the word my generation built is falling down, and what we can do about it.

[ii] SeeFriends, comrades, strangers: especially those feeling apathetic, cynical, confused, disillusioned and/or angry. Pre-election reflections as May 2015 looms’ . In category ‘Essays 2015’, togetherfornow.wordpress.com

[iii] See, for example, Paul Mason (2008) Live Working or Die Fighting. How the working class went global, and Selina Todd (2015) The People. The rise and fall of the working class.

[iv] See Val Walsh (09 08 2014) submission to Mayor of Liverpool’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability: ‘Reflections on climate change, sustainability and democracy: prioritizing renewal, equity and justice in the Liverpool city region’. In category ‘Conference papers 2014’, togetherfornow.wordpress.com

[v] See ‘Food blogger Jack Monroe joins the Greens’. Unpublished letter to The Guardian (20 03 2015). togetherfornow.wordpress.com

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