Green Contempt and the Moral High Ground: Letting the Mask Slip in Bootle

A hustings was held at Firwood Bootle Cricket Club on Wednesday, 29 April between 7 00pm and 9 00pm. The panel comprised the new Labour Party candidate, Peter Dowd; TUSC (Trade Union & Socialist Coalition) candidate, Peter Glover; and the Green candidate, Lisa Tallis. Jade Marsden (Conservative), David Newman (Lib Dem) and Paul Nuttall (UKIP) were expected but did not attend. The event was chaired by former Labour Party member, James Reardon, one of the organisers. Here I focus on the Green candidate’s contribution on the night.

The generic Green Party leaflet available on the night carried this message. Out and about in the Smithdown Road area of Liverpool the following Sunday, I noticed this slogan was a major Green theme. I will return to this statement, which at first sight suggests that normal electoral routine and/or opportunities deny us that option, or that voters routinely vote for what they don’t believe in.

Lisa Tallis’s own A5 leaflet devoted one side to its key, capitalized, exhortation:  WAKE UP BOOTLE. I turned to the experienced LP activist next to me, showed him the leaflet and asked: “Do you think this is patronizing?” He took one look, snorted and replied: “Yes, definitely!” Let’s look at the connotations of this exhortation to the residents of Bootle.

“Wake up Bootle!” insinuates (I use insinuate instead of implies or suggests, as much of what Lisa Tallis said at the hustings amounted to insinuation) that Bootle residents / voters have been variously slumbering, not paying attention, been inactive or apathetic, and/or have just been misguided in their allegiance to the Labour Party since 1945, and should know better! Even at the level of political strategy, this stance looks like a revealing blunder: conveying an outsider’s arrogance, an attitude of we will now put you right. It immediately conjured the notorious (and insightful) parent/child construct of Transactional Analysis, where authority is vested in one side of an unequal relationship, and power gets wielded against the other.

Tallis continued in this vein when she spoke. She made highly derogatory remarks about the previous Labour MP of 25 years. Critique is one thing, an important feature of political discussion and debate. Gratuitously slagging someone off is something else, not least in the absence of the person being derided: “Good riddens!” It seemed cheap and nasty, and did nothing to further her cause as a suitable, thoughtful and humane candidate to represent the constituency. It was simply a way of slagging off the Labour Party itself and its historic link with the area.

Dropping local LP leaflets on behalf of Peter Dowd, into a sheltered residential block of apartments in Crosby this Sunday morning, an elderly gentleman offered to take a bunch of leaflets and hand them out. He added, “There’s only one way to vote to get the Tories out, and that’s to vote Labour, always.” We agreed on that!

Walking back home after leafletting, I passed several guys (of different ages) who gave me a smile and the thumbs up when they spotted my rosette. Later that afternoon, as I got up to leave the delightful Evil Eye café in Smithdown Road, Liverpool, after a tasty burrito with my son and his friend, a guy spotted my LP rosette and beckoned me over to shake my hand, share a few words and say thanks.

Tallis seems to imply that the consistently high majority of the previous Labour MP was in fact evidence of the people of Bootle lacking initiative and political awareness, and/or being susceptible to being ‘conned’; and now they had the chance to “vote for what you believe in” by voting for her. However, her aggressive slagging off was more akin to the language and style of the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, UKIP and the Tories. It didn’t seem to represent a new and better way of doing politics, which is, after all, another Green mantra. I’m thinking conversation and dialogue!

Referring to politicians as “all the same”, apart from being patently untrue, is contemptuous of LP MPs and councilors, as well as LP voters, who are not just “the better of two evils”. Again, like the Tory media, this seems to locate political debate securely in the gutter

Tallis revealed her unsavoury personal and political underbelly when recounting her own professional trajectory, from university lecturing, to Further Education, followed by retraining as a primary school teacher. She referred to FE as “where university lecturers go to die”. She meant this to be funny, to get a laugh. But it made me gasp, at the nastiness of the remark (its seeming disdain, even contempt for a whole education sector, notable for its historical relevance to working class students in particular, and those who work in it) and her ignorance (in both senses). I recounted her words over the phone to a friend on the Left later, who worked for years in the university sector. I heard her gasp in disbelief and disgust. Another own goal I reckon.

Finally, let’s briefly examine what the Greens might mean by describing themselves as the party “for the common good” in 2015, and whether that claim holds up under scrutiny. To do this,  first a reminder of what has happened to our society since the Tory-led coalition embarked on its wrecking-ball social and political agenda, as this will provide a glimpse of just what is at stake if we fail comprehensively to remove the Tories as a party of government on 7th May 2015.

The seriousness of the changes in UK society is well evoked in David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu’s extensive research since 2007 (together with other collaborators), now available in paperback (2014) as The Body Economic. Eight experiments in economic recovery, from Iceland to Greece, and described by Noam Chomsky as “Truly outstanding”.  They found that:

The dangers of austerity are as consistent as they are profound. In history, and decades of research, the price of austerity has been recorded in death statistics and body counts.[i]

Stuckler & Basu examine and compare societies that chose austerity and those who chose stimulus. In Iceland, for example:

The government bailed out the people and imprisoned the banksters – the opposite of what North America and the rest of Europe did.[ii]

And:

Iceland’s social benefits were safeguarded because its political leaders made democracy a priority, and its people voted for social protection programmes, which in turn bolstered a strong society.[iii]

In the UK, perhaps nothing represents and embodies “the common good” better than the NHS, for half a century “the world’s strongest model of a universal health care system”.[iv]  Since 2010, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Lib Dems in coalition, have systematically attacked these core values, which underpin the very idea and shape of our postwar society, and have enthusiastically worked to  “transfer large swaths of healthcare provision to private contractors”.[v]  Stuckler & Basu, as public health researchers, deal with data, and the evidence provided by data about the relation between economic policies (austerity) and health. By contrast:

The Tories position was not based on evidence but ideology – the idea that markets, competition, and profits would always be better than government intervention.[vi]

As a society we have been subjected to a major and unrelenting PR exercise to shift the culture and values of our postwar society towards individualism and private profiteering as measures of ‘success’. Nye Bevan, founder of the NHS, posed the moral imperative in 1948, which is still relevant today:

We ought to take pride in the fact that, despite our financial and economic anxieties, we are still able to do the most civilizing thing in the world – put the welfare of the sick in front of every other consideration.[vii] Emphasis added.

This core value goes beyond the NHS to embrace the impact of homelessness and poor housing on health and (mental) wellbeing, for example. The Tory ‘solution’ is to advocate the selling off of housing association stock, echoing Thatcher’s selling off of council housing without replenishing the stock of social housing. Result: a catastrophic housing shortage, alongside too many unaffordable homes. The marketization of housing produces lack (quantity and quality) not abundance: profits for the few; misery for the many.

This has combined with the Tories’ benefit caps and restrictions to produce a pathway from rent arrears, eviction, poverty and homelessness. [viii]

The coalition government has presided over the worst five-year period for living standards since modern records began more than half a century ago.[ix]

“After 2010 a historic assault on the ideal of social security gradually emerged”[x] and the language of Beveridge, of social insurance and social protection, has been replaced by US-style talk of “welfare handouts”. Meanwhile, more extensive cuts to benefits are planned.[xi]  And:

Experts warn that the household benefit cap will leave some children in London being raised on 62p a day . . . .  and this is at odds with the UN convention on the rights of the child.[xii]

 Local services, so vital to individuals, communities and the environment, have been systematically decimated. For example:

An audit of cuts in England published today by the trade union Unison lists 578 closed children’s centres, 467 libraries and 361 police stations.[xiii]

No wonder so many people are repeating across the country: “We cannot afford another five years of this”, as we face the prospect of the Tories’ £12bn benefit cuts adding to growing poverty, with all its consequences for (mental) health, well being, communities, the environment, the economy and peace in our country.[xiv] And:

One could argue that shame and humiliation are not just by-products of poverty, but have been actively employed as a tactic by the Tory-led coalition. [xv]

Similarly:

Cameron knows the risks of nationalism. And he doesn’t care. . . . . His stoking of English grievance forces us to choose between our various identities. That’s unforgivable.[xvi]

Tory politics is a grandiose PR exercise on behalf of personal and vested class interests, with little if any serious attention paid to the issues that matter to the wider society, including the union itself. For example, “Scaremongering about the SNP is an attempt to divert attention from Britain’s fundamental choice”. [xvii]

James Meek asks this question, pointing to privatization as the key to this election.[xviii] He cites the importance of the universal services set up in the postwar period (the water network, education network, health network, postal network, welfare network, transport network, energy network) as central to a just and fair cohesive society and sustainable environment.[xix] Is this what you believe in?

The abbreviated glimpses of the destructive consequences of the last five years of Tory and Lib Dem values touched on here, are the evidence-based arguments for the urgency of ridding our society of a government dominated by economic and political predators, who see personal profit as the only guiding star. [xx] Is this what you believe in?  As Seumas Milne concludes, “Cameron wants to make austerity permanent. The only alternative is a Miliband government.” [xxi]

I suggest that the refusal of the Greens to adhere to Nye Bevan’s call, and to vote this Thursday to protect and salvage the NHS from further privatization and fragmentation, is evidence of their priorities, which lie elsewhere and are sectarian. It also shows that their rhetoric about the importance of the NHS, and their opposition to the bedroom tax, etc., is just that: rhetoric that puts the Green Party first, even if, by helping to keep the Tories in government (which is what a Green vote will do, as it will never take votes from the Tories, from UKIP, etc., but only from Labour), they condemn swaths of innocent people to the horror of another five years (but worse) of Tory cuts and privatization: the further dismantling of the postwar welfare consensus and public service values, from which we are unlikely to ever recover. Is that what you believe in? [xxii] Will your (Green) vote reward and condone the Tories and the Lib Dems for their deceit and treachery? And their sense of their own entitlement to rule.

val walsh / 06 05 2015

[i] David Stuckler & Sanjay Basu (2014) The Body Economic. Eight experiments in economic recovery, from Iceland to Greece: xv.

[ii] Iceland’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, cited Stuckler & Basu: 74.

[iii] Ibid: 75.

[iv] Ibid.: 105.

[v] Ibid.: 106.

[vi] Ibid.: 105.

[vii] Cited Stuckler & Basu: 108.

[viii] See Patrick Butler (22 04 2015) ‘Ultra Tories aim to push poor people out of Barnet’. The Guardian.

[ix] TUC report based on analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics. Cited Larry Elliott, Economics editor (28 04 2015) ‘Worst five-year period for living standards since 1960, says TUC.’ The Guardian.

[x] Tom Clark (24 04 2015) ‘Three ways to stop the war on welfare”. The Guardian. See also Tom Clark (2014) Hard Times: Inequality, Recession, Aftermath.

[xi] See Patrick Wintour, Political editor (30 04 2015) ‘Revealed: Tory plan to slash £8bn benefits’. The Guardian.

[xii] David Brindle, public service editor (06 05 2015) ‘This five year coalition has taken us to the brink’. The Guardian

[xiii] Brindle (06 05 2015). See also Polly Toynbee & David Walker (2015) Cameron’s coup. How the Tories took Britain to the brink.

[xiv] See Stuckler & Basu (2014). Also The Guardian letters page (06 05 2015) ‘The Tories’ £12bn benfit cuts will add to growing poverty’.

[xv] Clare Allan (06 05 2015) Less austerity will reduce mental distress’. The Guardian.

[xvi] Rafael Behr (29 04 2015) ‘Cameron knows the risks of nationalism. And he doesn’t care.’ The Guardian. And Behr speaks as someone whose parents were born in South Africa, and their parents were born in what was then the Russian empire.

[xvii] Seumas Milne (23 04 2015) Playing the anti-Scotland card is a desperate last resort’. The Guardian.

[xviii] See James Meek (28 04 2015) ‘What is government for? Does it protect, provide, shelter, guide, build? If not, what’s left? Why privatization is the key to this election.’ See also his brilliant book, now in paperback (2014) Private Island. Why Britain belongs to someone else.

[xix] See Meek (28 04 2015).

[xx] See Kerry-Anne Mendoza (2015) Austerity: The Demolition of the welfare state and the rise of the zombie economy.

[xxi] Ibid..

[xxii] See also Val Walsh (2015) Friends, comrades, strangers. Pre election reflections. At togetherfornow.wordpress.com

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One thought on “Green Contempt and the Moral High Ground: Letting the Mask Slip in Bootle

  1. Very insightful Val wish I had read this before the election and could have forwarded to a few young people who were voting Green. Not sure what the Greens have been saying to engage the young, the people I am talking about it is their first time of voting and seemed to be political aware and until recently were going to vote labour. Now the error of their ways has landed us with the tories for another five years and if Cameron gets away with his proposed boundary changes it is difficult to see how we are going to get rid of them ever.

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