The UK general election result (06 2017): Labour as a progressive alliance.

Labour MP, Clive Lewis and Green MP, Caroline Lucas, have made no secret of their hostility to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour project; Lewis forecast “’an existential crisis” if [Labour] failed to embrace progressive alliances” (Matthew Weaver, ‘Tactical voting: Corbyn could have become PM in landslide’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017). But who are the (“frustrated”) “progressive voters” of which they speak in their most recent joint statement? And does the “best placed left-of-centre candidate” referred to by Compass, in its push for tactical voting and a progressive alliance, mean every candidate or voter who is not Tory-inclined can be identified as “progressive”?

Based on recent historical evidence, many do not see the Lib Dems, the SNP or the Greens as progressive, left-of-centre parties. And the GE result has brought a diminution of political heft and influence for all three. But certainly these small parties are all infinitely preferable political allies to the DUP, even given playwright James Graham’s cautionary reflections on what a hung parliament is likely to mean (‘A hung parliament? It’ll be the 70s again, and people will die’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017).

However, tactical voting in this GE did not find favour or success, as seen in Wells, Somerset (Steven Morris, ‘People went for security in the end’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017). Suddenly, across the country, people saw Labour as the most compelling and realistic repository of anti Austerity values. Conversations on doorsteps, street corners, trains and buses, in families, at political meetings and open air rallies, gave expression to this rejection of more of the same punitive authoritarianism, and a burgeoning desire to do better, be better together. Old and young discovered common ground. Confidence was forged. What followed – increased voter registration and turnout, and the size of the Labour vote in ‘unexpected’ places – was a form of civil and political disobedience.

At the same time, those of us venturing out beyond our own constituencies, to support Labour campaigns in seats identified by Momentum as Labour or Tory marginals, became aware that there were candidates being underfunded by LP HQ (see Dan Hancox, ’24 hour party people’, 14 06 2017, G2). And where Momentum could not fill that gap, there were negative outcomes for those candidates. This needs independent investigation.

But doesn’t Corbyn’s inclusive Labour campaign, conducted with passion and dignity, and the stunning GE result, show that the Labour party is now seen as the only serious repository, not just of hope, but of realisable economic, social, environmental and political transformation, which has not previously been on offer from any political party? So for Lewis and Lucus to warn (threaten?) the Labour leadership that “progressives will desert the party if they cannot see a change in the way politics is conducted” combines ignorance and arrogance.

To caution the leader, who has engendered the most open, honest and participatory political process the country has ever seen, and which has led to this Labour breakthrough, confirms that there is still a lurking desire within the Labour establishment, to denigrate Corbyn’s achievement as leader and to topple him in the name of a progressive alliance. By ‘progressive’, they seem to mean themselves, those who have actively opposed Corbyn’s Labour project of diversity, unity and campaigning, against the apparent odds, to put Labour back on the political map, not just as the largest political party in Europe, but as a radical and representative party, fuelled by a new participatory politics that has activated members and supporters, old and new.

The post election resistance and disbelief that Lewis and Lucas represent, mean they still don’t get it. They don’t welcome this opening up of our democracy, this people-powered campaign (as opposed to machine politics). They don’t see the unity of purpose, across so many social and cultural differences, that Labour’s unique campaign and astonishing result demonstrate. If they cannot see this electoral process and result as a new politics, is it perhaps because their part in it was so reluctant? Like the media George Monbiot castigates (‘The biggest losers? Not the Tories but the media, who missed the story’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017), Lewis and Lucas (and Compass?) missed the story. So instead of rejoicing, they feel gloom and a sense of defeat.

val walsh / 16 06 2017

[This is a slightly revised version of the letter sent to The Guardian, 15 06 2017.]

Personal, political and professional misjudgement. Being wrong, being sorry, being contrite. . . . in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn’s game-changing general election campaign.

Since the UK GE (08 06 2017), a number of MPs and media commentators (e.g. Louise Ellman, Lucy Powell, Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Robert Peston), stating the obvious, have admitted they “underestimated” Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and his ability to inspire and steer a widespread and burgeoning campaign rooted in Labour values, based around a manifesto that addressed the circumstances, concerns, hopes and aspirations of all sections of our society, across differences of age, ethnicity, social class, dis/ability, gender, sexuality and geography.

Some (e.g. Owen Jones and Owen Smith) have gone so far as to explicitly apologise. But in the main, the expressions of approval at this extraordinary achievement fall short of acknowledgement of their own role since Corbyn was elected in 2015, in opposing and denigrating him and his supporters: they merely, they say, made a mistake. They now smile, many Labour MPs having achieved increased majorities on the back of Corbyn’s incredibly successful Labour campaign. And those they derided are also expected to smile, now we are all on the same winning side. Corbyn’s supporters are expected to overlook, for example, the damage the PLP inflicted on the Labour party by forcing a second leadership election, and sustaining hostilities and attempts at sabotage, throughout the period of Corbyn’s leadership.

But what will stay with Jeremy’s supporters is not the neoliberal ‘mistake’ of these MPs and commentators, in finding themselves on the wrong side of history. What will be remembered are their venomous bile, their relentless spite, aggression and contempt towards Jeremy and his supporters – possibly the worst personal, political and media attacks on a public figure, an elected MP, in living memory. Their seeming need to destroy, not just to disagree, was shocking. As well as instructive: exposing themselves to public scrutiny (intellectual and political). We know them better now.

As Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn never responded to or descended to, personal abuse, and there were those who saw this as ‘weakness’, a sign that he was not a proper leader, not ‘manly’ enough. Following his example, can we now move to outlaw extremist forms of communication in the pubic sphere – in politics and the media – where shouting, verbal dominance and mocking abuse seem to have been normalized as signs of ‘success’, the behaviour of a ‘winner’. Both Theresa May’s relentless personal abuse during the electoral campaign, and Jeremy Paxman’s loudmouthed recent media performance surely show us the way not to go if we are to engender the social and political conversations we need, to come together in respect rather than competition. These are the old ways. Parliament and the media need to learn from Jeremy Corbyn’s example and strength.

val walsh / 12 06 2017

 

 

 

Shacking up with the DUP: reckless, wrong and dangerous to UK democracy.

Alarm and revulsion has been variously expressed at the prospect of the UK parliament being held hostage to Northern Ireland’s DUP (Democratic and Unionist Party), on the basis that it wants “to allow people to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds, opposes liberalizing abortion rights in Northern Ireland, has repeatedly vetoed marriage equality and counts a number of creationists and climate change deniers among its senior members” (Esther Addley & Caroline Davies, 10 06 2017).

If that isn’t enough, there is the constitutional inappropriateness and risk to the peace process and power sharing at Stormont, posed by the UK’s role as mediator being severely compromised if the DUP and the English Tories join together to impose their values and policies on the UK following the GE result. As Alastair Campbell, Shami Chakrabarti (BBC Question Time, 09 06 2017) and others have warned, the Tory party and its government are no longer neutral agents in this vital process, if they are overtly in bed with each other politically, exerting mutual influence.

In addition to these two serious social and political objections to the DUP acting to guarantee the survival of Theresa May’s damaged Tory government, there is a third factor which should cause more than hesitation: the role of Robert Mercer, US billionaire hedge fund owner (Trump’s biggest donor and close associate of Steve Bannon), and his organisation, AggregateIQ, the data analytics company based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

“A shadowy global operation involving big data, billionaire friends of Trump and the disparate forces of the Leave campaign influenced the result of the EU referendum” (Carole Cadwalladr, ‘The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked’, 07 05 2017).

Mercer owns Cambridge Analytica, which funded several of the Leave campaign organisations in the UK; its vice-president during the UK EU referendum period was the infamous white supremacist, Steve Bannon (close associate of Trump inside Whitehall, and friend of Nigel Farage). The DUP spent £32,750 with AggregateIQ as part of its Brexit campaign (Cadwalladr). In February 2017, “the DUP Brexit campaign manager (MP Jeffrey Donaldson) admits he didn’t know about its mysterious donor’s links to the Saudi intelligence service” (Adam Ramsay & Peter Geoghegan, opendemocracy.net, 16 05 2017). Ramsay & Geoghegan note that, “Being forced to return a donation of this size [£435000] could leave the DUP at risk of bankruptcy”.

May’s reckless desperation to remain Prime Minister and keep the Tories afloat as the party of government, is further evidence of Tory indifference to matters of legitimacy, corruption and democracy. The craving to hang on to power overrides ethical considerations, and by extension, the best interests of the country, as opposed to short-term party political advantage.

val walsh / 11 06 2017

Democracy and the problem of slippery journalism.

This is the unedited version of my published Guardian letter, 13 05 2017:

Jonathan Freedland (‘No more excuses: Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown’, The Guardian: 08 05 2017) continues his excoriation of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. It makes for slippery journalism.

He cites the election results as “evidence” and “proof” of Corbyn’s failure as leader, but notes the collapse of UKIP, “its programme swallowed whole by the Conservatives. Ukip voters transferred en masse, reassured that Theresa May will give them the hard Brexit they want”. Many working-class anti-EU voters, he says, feel better represented by May than Labour. Well yes, because Labour’s stance towards Europe, the EU, other nationalities, the world, is not the same as Ukip or the Tories. Generational and educational factors, as well as social and economic experience and circumstances, have influenced voting behaviour.

Few of the participants in the two focus groups Freedland observed ever bought a paper and seldom watched a TV bulletin. “So blaming the media won’t wash,” he proclaims triumphantly. Nor could they name a single politician, other than May, Corbyn and Boris Johnson. Freedland ignores the significance of where/how participants get their information, and the role of closed circles/echo chambers on social media, concluding: “They had formed their own, perhaps instinctive, view.” What on earth does that actually mean? As journalism it’s beyond poor. Is it disingenuous or just sly?

Freedland quotes Dave Wilcox, the Derbyshire Labour group leader, who refers to “genuine Labour supporters”, who will not vote Labour while Corbyn remains leader. “Genuine”: well what does that make the rest of us, those out campaigning for a Labour government? ‘Fake Labour voters’? And what of all those young people ready to vote Labour because Corbyn is leader?

Theresa May exults in her identity as a “bloody difficult woman”. Her bluster seeks to disguise the fact that, as Professor of European Law, Michael Dougan (speaking as a panel member on Brexit Britain, at Liverpool’s WOW [Writing on the Wall] festival, 06 05 2017) insists: “There is no plan”. Freedland would serve democracy better by calling to account a prime minister “nervously pinballing from one stop to the next, with apparently no idea of where she is going or why” (John Harris, ‘Today there are three voter types: the disconnected, deceived and dismayed’, The Guardian: 06 05 2017), but determined to take us with her.

val walsh

 

Theresa May’s feminist gaffe.

 

In his first week in office, the new US President:

                  Trump has proclaimed war against the media, been accused of serial lying,      declared open season on environmentalists and undocumented migrants,                 outraged the Mexican president, begun stripping millions of Americans of healthcare coverage, removed funding to organisations that offer abortion advice or procedures, and revived the prospect of torturing terror suspects (Ed Pilkington, reporting from Michigan [28 01 2017] ‘Trump fans. ”I think he’s doing a phenomenal job”’, The Guardian).

Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, has shown haste in securing a meeting with Trump, at the head of the queue of other foreign leaders – except “all the others had thought better of it” (John Crace’s sketch [28 01 2017] ‘When the Donald met Theresa and not Teresa’, The Guardian). Given her increasingly hardline attitude to the UK’s Brexit process, this enthusiasm is disturbing.

Theresa May’s summit with Donald Trump conceals an ambitious, perhaps      desperate, British agenda: to enhance ties with strongman leaders in the US, Israel, Turkey and Poland as relations fray with key EU players, notably France and Germany (Simon Tisdall [28 01 2017] ‘Rights set aside as PM courts strongmen’, The  Guardian).

So is cosying up to leaders of countries with ultra-conservative and authoritarian domestic policies and rubbish human rights records going to replace established UK ties with, for example, EU social democracies? Do Trump’s claims that torture works and climate change is a hoax get to be sidelined in the building of the new ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK?

The advent of Trump’s administration exemplifies hetero-patriarchal masculinity on parade: armed and dangerous, and coming to a life like yours. . . .

Inclusive, bold, feminist activism.
Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, women were on the move, planning a Women’s March in Washington DC, for 21 January 2017, his first day in office. As Kaylin Whittingham, president of the Association of Black Women Attorneys, announced:

A march of this magnitude, across this diversity of issues, has never happened        before. We all have to stand together as a force no one can ignore (cited Joanna Walters, reporting from New York [14 01 2017] ‘Inauguration of Trump is expected to be eclipsed by huge protest march of women’, The Guardian).

Beginning as a feminist rallying cry via social media, the call attracted more than 200 progressive groups and partners, representing issues including: the environment, abortion rights, prisoners’ rights, voting rights, a free press, affordable childcare, gun safety, racial and gender equality, and a higher minimum wage (cited Walters, ibid). Jessica Neuwirth, who heads the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition, called it “a comprehensive call for social justice and equal rights” (cited Walters, ibid.) And so it came to pass, and not just in Washington DC, but in other US cities and cities across the world. .) See ‘This looks like defeat. But all is not lost’ in Category ‘Comment 2017’ at togetherfornow.wordpress.com.

These worldwide demonstrations were not just protesting Trump’s social and political agenda as president. These demonstrations were feminist acts for all participants, as a stand against the man himself: the man who takes pleasure in threatening women’s rights (e.g. reproductive rights, going so far as to suggest that women who have abortions should be punished); the man “who mocks menstruation, and grabs vaginas’ (Hadley Freeman [28 012017] ‘No president cares more about size – let’s show Trump how many of us oppose him’, The Guardian Weekend).

 Misogyny and racism were key acknowledged triggers for these street uprisings in major cities worldwide. These were protests against the abuses perpetrated by hetero-patriarchal masculinity and sexualized male dominance. Widely described as narcissistic, Trump exemplifies the worst of this breed.

The problem isn’t men, but those men with narcissistic traits. Narcissists view their   needs, their entitlements, their ambitions, as far more real than anyone else’s. They brook no criticism, whether justified or not, and tolerate no humiliation. They will     punish those who try to thwart them . . . . to a narcissistic man such as this, no one               matters but himself. He is all-important. Because feeling superior is so essential to his being, and because his desire to have his superiority affirmed is bottomless, he is far more likely to casually indulge in misogyny, racism, class prejudice – you name it   – because the less like him you are, the less you could possibly matter (Deborah Orr [28 01    2017] ‘I grew up in a man’s world. I’ve seen the damage narcissistic men can do’, The Guardian).

Theresa May’s performance.
                  Their hands remained uneasily entwined as they walked down the colonnade                 towards the Palm Room. . . Trump started to creepily stroke and pat her hand. . . (John Crace, ibid).

The sight of May and Trump, hand-in-hand, in a ‘just-married’ pic, will have made a good few of the protesters on the Women’s Marches retch. She didn’t have to go that far; she chose to go that far, to display what she thought was her power as a woman prime minister. And in that display of heterosexual intimacy with this misogynist and racist, her ethical credibility was soiled; as a woman leader her efficacy was compromised; and any feminist awareness and commitment towards women as a diverse constituency, is dead in the water.

She chose to distance herself from the powerful feminist demonstrations of the 21 January, and the women and men who together bore witness to the importance of social justice issues, equality and human rights as central to democracies, and not mere ‘minority’ issues, optional extras. Her Tory individualism and personal ambition rule.

“Underpinning May’s approach was a kind of optimistic naivety tinged with arrogance” (Jonathan Freedland [28 01 2017] ‘Never mind the optics, May’s dash was mortifying’, The Guardian). Her deportment and body language, as well as her silence on key social justice and equality issues, made it clear she is prioritising the hard men of the extreme right (at home and abroad). She wants to be accepted as one of them, as equal: a populist and authoritarian leader. In a short skirt and heels.

29 01 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

This looks like defeat. But all is not lost.

The cumulative impact of political events in 2016 in the USA and the UK, specifically the UK EU referendum leading to the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US President, has left those who suffered ‘defeat’ in those elections, not just feeling defeated but bereft: agonizingly bewildered and disempowered.

The fact that so many white women in the US saw Trump’s misogyny, racism and cavalier disregard for facts and evidence as no reason not to vote for him, punches a big hole in the feminist project and any idea of political ‘sisterhood’, not just in the US.

The fact that such a man could seduce large sections of the electorate by means of his unabashed misogyny, racism and lies (now called “alternative facts”); his concerted incitement of hatred and contempt for so may social constituencies; and his fostering of fear as a means to social control: this violent onslaught laid waste the grounds for mutuality, reciprocity and inter-cultural co-habitation.

The wall of misogyny and racism these political events have exposed, intensified and glorified, is not new, but has suddenly acquired an ‘official’ status and institutional power that aims to undo and bury the achievements that equality, environmental, and peace activists have worked for over so many years. The crude triumphalism delivering this hetero-patriarchal surge of testosterone adds to the misery of his diverse opponents/ victims.

In the wake of this biggest of political upheavals, and the second time in recent history that the clear winner of the popular vote has been prevented by the American Electoral College from claiming the presidency, neither screaming nor silence will serve us. American stand up Alec Baldwin screamed his protest and pain after Trump’s triumph, noting that we, the defeated, were expected to give up quietly. To shut up, roll over and accept defeat in silence. But in response to his call, it was clear his audience, like him, had other ideas.

Given the unseemly, ugly and deceitful campaigns waged, and the central roles played by racism and misogyny; given that all the signs are that under Trump’s administration, equality and social justice, healthcare, environmental protections and social care, and international collaboration, for example, will be relinquished as democratic values and goals, what is the evidence so far that the populations on both sides of the Atlantic, who reject the authority and legitimacy of these election results, will acquiesce and submit quietly?

Women take the lead.
Amidst the outrage and despair, the fear and uncertainty, Saturday 21 January 2017 offered us a sign of hope. The Million Women March in Washington DC, called at short notice to protest the Trump agenda, triggered a wave of solidarity rallies led by women in other US cities, as well as across the world, including London and Liverpool in the UK.

In DC many more people turned up than had attended Trump’s inauguration the previous day. The televised evidence is clear. The aerial filming of the gatherings in these cities provided stunning evidence of women’s power to initiate and lead, and of people power, as these events attracted (e.g. in Liverpool) the participation of men, babies and small dogs, and not just seasoned feminists, but adults (women and men) who have never attended a public demonstration in their lives, but had been moved by the seriousness of the situation to act (I’m drawing here on a conversation with a couple of strangers at the Liverpool rally of 1000 people outside St Georges Hall.)

In Chicago, the streets were so jam-packed with demonstrators, people couldn’t march as planned, but bore witness, shoulder to shoulder, in their great numbers. And to see so many people sporting bright pink knitted beanies with ‘pussy ears’ felt like feminist insurrection! Don’t think Trump could explain or dismiss that with his “alternative facts”. In Liverpool, one of the small placards read: “Pussies for Peace”. There were many other heartfelt, passionate, pointed and witty messages. All defiant. As ever, humour was wielded as powerful political ‘talkback’. We all felt better for it.

It was women of colour in the US who had initiated this wave of activism, allowing so many angry, despairing and frightened souls to take to the streets, to demonstrate that courage, hope, determination and collectivity were not in short supply, despite Trump’s ascendancy. As a start to 2017, this uprising will have saved many of us, and not just women, from feeling that the odds against truth and justice, equality and fairness, and global mutuality and responsibility had just become insurmountable. The joy of being present at one of these demonstrations, and/or witnessing them on TV or social media, cannot be underestimated as political and politicizing. Good news.

Meanwhile, we brace ourselves.
As Trump overreaches himself in his first week of office, pounding out one astounding edict after another at breakneck speed, he is leaving individuals, communities, organisations, politicians, journalists, diplomats and countries reeling in fear and disbelief. The enormity of what is being attempted by this peevish narcissist and braggart, who, like all bullies and dominators is used to thinking he is fireproof, untouchable, will surely trigger national and international efforts at defence and containment, hopefully short of war. Early impeachment would be an honourable start.

Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister, Teresa May, alone among national leaders, rushes over to the US to make friends and ‘do deals’ with Trump, as if it’s business as usual. Given May’s passion for fashion and ‘femininity’, I mused to a feminist friend in a text: “I wonder what she will decide to wear. . . and what shoes?!” She replied tartly: “May needs to remember that, whatever she wears, she’s just ‘pussy’ to him.” Will this fact assist or hinder the ‘special relationship’ May seeks?

Well she chose to turn up in a skirt, with bare legs, arriving in freezing weather. She obviously thinks her ‘femininity’ (her legs) will serve her in this political encounter. By talking to journalists on the plane, ‘flirtatiously’, about “opposites attracting each other” (referring to herself andTrump), she exposes her inadequacy as a responsible and competent political actor: she’s just a personally ambitious, rather conventional, middle class, heterosexual Tory woman, who lacks feminist antennae or motivation.

May appears to be approaching her meeting with Trump (a known sexual abuser and misogynist, who sees women as sexual targets and trophies, who can be “grabbed by the pussy” without complaint), as a heterosexual woman displaying her knees, thinking she can challenge or seduce his male dominance and emerge unscathed and victorious. She may be overestimating her prowess, and the power of clothes to seduce or intimidate (neither a ‘winner’). The press has already referred, delicately, to her “charm offensive”. Is she seriously going to try to flirt her way into this new special relationship? As opposed to raising, for example, the issue of women’s rights (including reproductive rights) as human rights, on behalf of her ‘sisters’ worldwide. Where’s a feminist when you need her?

May has also chosen Holocaust Memorial Day for this significant first visit to Trump. Not perhaps her most sensitive decision yet.

27 01 2017

Promoting fair and sustainable co-habitation: exploring grounds for progressive politics as the political landscape implodes.

 

(Written for Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) Members’ Conference, ZERO CARBON: Making It Happen, 7-9 10 2016. Extracts presented to conference, 08 10 2016. Some additions made after conference.)

  • Learning the hard way: the social and political climate
  • Significant complications: women, feminism, neoliberalism, environmentalists
  • Grounds for progressive politics: agreeing the basics.

It is two years since I attended the annual CAT Members’ conference, and presented an abbreviated version of my submission to the Liverpool Mayor’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability (posted at togetherfornow.wordpress.com in Category: Conference Presentations 2014).

The reflections presented here start with the story of those years, October 2014-October 2016, a period of unusually intense and dramatic electoral politics in the UK. Such storying presents a linear chronology of highlights that invite interpretation, ‘assembling’ and interrogation, in the effort to better understand their collective significance. But in the middle section, the ‘smoothness’ of linear narrative breaks up, becoming disrupted by what I refer to as ‘significant complications’ sparked by the initial narrative. Despite the intellectual and political turmoil created by this unfolding process, the assumption is that progressives must pursue the possibility of piecing together the means to sustainable co-habitation, as opposed to mutually assured destruction. It is a case of one or the other.

Learning the hard way: the social and political climate.
The Scottish referendum in 2014 was the first political upheaval, as the population, including a high percentage of young people, decided politics was interesting after all, and that something important was at stake. Electoral action started in 2014 for me, when my local Constituency Labour Party (CLP) was set the task of choosing a new parliamentary candidate. He was elected in the 2015 general election with an increased constituency majority. The LP general election defeat led to Ed Miliband immediately standing down as leader, which in turn precipitated an unanticipated leadership contest, involving four candidates, including two women.

Jeremy Corbyn was a late entry to the candidate list. His victory was gob-smackingly unexpected; in addition, the margin by which he won (just short of 60% of the votes) was unprecedented. His success was the result of a surge of new Labour voters, together with older, long term Labour voters, both those who had stayed in the party for many years (despite sometimes grave misgivings) and those who left (some for the Green party) and have now returned (in joy, relief, hope – and wonder). A national organisation, Momentum, was immediately set up to build on the surge of enthusiasm and optimism unleashed by Corbyn’s election.

In Liverpool, Merseyside Momentum was ahead in the autumn of 2015 in bringing together the diversity of Corbyn supporters, and in the last 12 months has held many public events (meetings, rallies, conferences, political education events, and demonstrations / parades), variously involving hundreds and thousands of enthusiastic Corbyn supporters, often at very short notice. Each time we took ourselves by surprise, both at the numbers participating, and the confident, serious and ecstatic atmosphere. Across the UK, LP membership has gone through the roof, and CLPs have seen greatly increased numbers attending their meetings, sometimes so many they have had to hold ‘serial’ meetings in order to include everyone (see Greg Hadfield [September 2016] ‘Brighton and Hove: epicentre of the battle for the soul of the Labour party’. Labour Briefing: 10/11), where “the annual meeting included three sittings to accommodate over 600 members”.

Merseyside Momentum has had a similar experience, with half of those attending upstairs and half downstairs at Jack Jones House, and the speakers swopping round halfway so everyone was included and got the chance to contribute. Alongside the euphoria of Corbyn’s supporters, his political opponents in the Labour party and beyond immediately set about what has been a relentless process of vindictive personal and political manoeuvring. It should be noted that these attacks were triggered by the fact of his election as leader, not by his subsequent performance as leader.

Jon Trickett, Labour MP, was a panel speaker at a packed event, hosted by Jacobin, ‘What Can a Left Government Do?”(27 09 2016), part of Momentum’s The World Transformed (four days of politics, art, music, culture and community at the 2016 Labour Party Conference Fringe, held at the Black-E Community Centre in Liverpool). Other panel speakers were James Meadway, Laura Horn and Aditya Chakrabortty. Trickett spoke of his 50 odd years as a Labour member, who had seen how Labour leaders always faced concerted criticism and attack, but he said that he had never witnessed anything as ferocious as the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn: from the Tories, from the media, and from inside the PLP. He added, quietly: “But he is not defeated, he is not broken, he is not bent. And he will not be bought off.” Trickett’s sombre assessment triggered a standing ovation from the several hundred attendees, who roared their appreciation.

The political landscape in 2016 has been dominated by the EU referendum, which turned out not to be a referendum on the EU, but, on the one hand, David Cameron’s (unsuccessful) attempt to resolve divisions within his political party and re-assert his authority as leader, and more widely across the country, the chance for people to howl in rage at national politicians (“They’re all the same!”) and London’s perceived neglect of the regions, in particular coastal areas, the midlands and the north. It was social class grievance calling out what has been a class war engendered and ignored by parliamentary politicians and the media for too long.

TV and video coverage of the campaign and its immediate aftermath (e.g. Faisal Islam’s film for Sky News), bore witness to a surge of anger, together with evidence of feelings of abandonment and fear (of migrants), fear of the Other / the stranger, and for many of those who had never voted before, an ignorance of history, society and politics – of facts, processes and institutions. These were people, many of whom looked overfed and undernourished, who had endured punishing economic poverty over many years, almost certainly food and fuel poverty, education poverty and experiential poverty (e.g. of diversity and difference, via travel and intimacy).

The indelible impression was of people who had been deprived of safety/security, dignity, opportunity and reward; and then been punished by politicians and others for their deprivation: not just publicly stigmatised, but materially further deprived of the means of dignified survival, wellbeing and social / cultural participation by Tory Austerity politics. And “people who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made” (FDR, cited Ben Fountain [17 09 2016] ‘How Donald Trump feasted on the corpse of the American dream’. The Guardian Journal: 40). This is not news, but since 2010, Tory Austerity politics has delivered hunger, unemployment, homelessness, social isolation and desperation on an ominous and reckless scale.

The UK EU referendum campaign was vicious, manipulative and dishonest, variously inviting contempt for politics generally, as well as, on the Brexit team, explicitly inciting fear and hatred of migrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, people of colour, foreigners, for example. And ‘experts’ (at the behest of Tory MP, Michael Gove). It was conspicuously relevance and evidence-light on both sides. The Brexit result exposed a sorely divided, fearful, angry and resentful country. There was an immediate spike in hate crimes and racism: 46% in the week following the Brexit vote, and the rate of such attacks has continued to escalate since (Andrew Solomon [17 09 2016] ‘Wall stories. From Mexico to Calais, why the idea of division is taking hold’. The Guardian Review: 1-3). The duplicity of the Leave campaign in particular, was immediately exposed, as well as the alarming fact that there was no plan in place, or even part-imagined. As Ian Birrell, former speechwriter for David Cameron, observed after attending Tory party conference, following the EU referendum result:

Most dismaying is the mixture of naivety, arrogance and rank hypocrisy found behind the Brexit bravura. No one seems to have a clue as to what sort of agreement can be achieved with our closest trading partners in Europe (‘The delirium of these Tories: it’s like a UKIP convention.’ The Guardian, 04 10 2016).

The EU referendum process confirmed that turbo-capitalism / neoliberalism is a gendered project: the “bravura” of which Birrell speaks is elite patriarchal masculinity and male dominance in action; brokered by mediocre men (several already well known as dishonest public figures) with an inflated sense of entitlement and power. For those fronting the Leave campaign (as opposed to those funding and organising it behind the scenes), it had been a ‘game’, a bit of fun, as Tory MP Boris Johnson’s stricken grey face revealed on hearing that they had won. Nigel Farage’s reaction, by contrast, exposed his deeply personal exultation, as he triumphantly berated MEPs in Brussels, identifying UK rejection of the EU as a one-man, personal victory: his. Formerly discredited Tory MP, Liam Fox, now appointed by Prime Minister, Theresa May, as one of three Tories responsible for negotiating the actual conditions of UK withdrawal, would vie for that accolade.

In Liverpool, the EU referendum was quickly followed by the selection of party candidates for the new role of Liverpool Metro Mayor (elections to follow early 2017). This ran alongside the second Labour leadership contest, as a result of the PLP deciding that the organised attempt to remove Corbyn as leader should be brought forward after the Brexit result, rather than turning their fire on a Tory government in disarray after the referendum and the resignation of their party leader, the Prime Minister, David Cameron. The result of the second Labour leadership contest was announced at the start of Labour party conference in Liverpool (24 09 2016): Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as leader.

At a CLASS (Centre for Labour and Social Studies) Evening Reception and Review of the Year fringe event (25 09 2016) at Labour conference, chaired by Dr Faiza Shaheen, writer and journalist Paul Mason observed that one of the differences between now and last year is that a year ago Corbyn was “an accident”; this year, re-elected after a gruelling campaign, with an increased majority and strengthened mandate, everyone (the media, the Tories, the PLP, together with his own supporters across the country) know he is not an accidental leader.

Throughout this period of electoral activity, as well as anti Austerity candidates, I was looking for those whose political platform demonstrated awareness of environmental issues and feminist values, and their interconnections. I found greater awareness and acceptance on both counts than previously. However, there were also . . . .

Significant complications: women, feminism, neoliberalism, environmentalists.
Like philosopher, Nancy Fraser:

I’ve always assumed that by fighting to emancipate women I was building a better world – more egalitarian, just and free. But lately I’ve begun to worry  that ideals pioneered by feminists are serving quite different ends (Nancy Fraser [14 10 2013] ‘How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it’ The Guardian).

Since October 2014, I have helped elect a series of white males to office: as my MP, as leader of the Labour party, as candidate for Metro Mayor, and again as Labour leader. What my experience has revealed is the dearth of suitable women candidates. I know loads of brilliant women in the public domain (feminists, social justice champions, anti racists, environmentalists, running organisations, leading campaigns): but all unwilling to enter the male-dominated bear pit of English parliamentary politics.

The 2015 Labour leadership context exposed my dilemma: the two women candidates espoused neoliberalism, which I understand to be incompatible with feminist and social justice politics. So I had to vote for the only anti Austerity candidate: an older white male with a beard. Adrienne Roberts, Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Manchester, draws attention to:

a neoliberal ‘common sense’ that assumes that greater access to the financial       market, like other markets, will automatically lead to the erosion of discrimination – undermining gender inequality while simultaneously improving profitability. They also assume that there is no alternative to neoliberal finance-led capitalism, which imposes important limits to critical feminist praxis (Roberts, ‘The limitations of transnational business feminism:  the case of gender lens investing’. Soundings: A journal of politics and culture, Issue 62 Spring 2016, Alternatives to neoliberalism: 69). Emphasis added. See also Stuart Hall & Alan O’Shea, ‘Common-sense neoliberalism’, Soundings 55, Winter 2013.

Elisabeth Prugel argues that:

The neoliberalisation of feminism occurs as feminism is increasingly co-opted        into neoliberal projects (‘Neoliberalising feminism,’ New Political Economy 20 04 2015, cited Roberts, Soundings Issue 62 Spring 2016: 78).

The only Labour woman candidate for Liverpool Metro Mayor was a neoliberal MP, with problematic views of the Israeli / Palestine conflict, as well as having signed up to remove Corbyn as Labour leader. So again, I had to vote for one of the men. There were not just not enough women offering themselves for political positions, they were the wrong women, even those adopting the label ‘feminist’. What a cruel world. I returned to Nancy Fraser’s critique with renewed awareness and despondency:

In a cruel twist of fate, I fear that the movement for women’s liberation has become entangled in a dangerous liaison with neoliberal efforts to build a free-market society. That would explain how it came to pass that feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview are increasingly expressed in individualist terms (Nancy Fraser [14 10 2013] ‘How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden – and how to reclaim it’. The Guardian). Emphasis added. [See also Nancy Fraser refs in ‘The learning curve that is the 2015 Labour leadership contest’ at togetherfornow.wordpress.com in Category: ‘Essays 2015’.]                            ).

The liberal-individualist scenario, which emphasises “individual autonomy, increased choice and meritocratic advancement” (ibid.) – how personally seductive and politically virtuous does that sound? – uncritically endorses a free market society, within which participatory democracy and social solidarity fall by the wayside as political priorities, and the limitations of equality as a discourse are cruelly exposed.

Never mind that the reality that underlies the new ideal is depressed wage levels, decreased job security, declining living standards, a steep rise in the number of hours worked for wages per household, exacerbation of the double shift – now often a triple or quadruple shift – and a rise in poverty, increasingly concentrated in female-headed households (ibid.).

The last 30+ years have provided irrefutable evidence that neoliberal individualism cannot be endorsed as liberatory, fair or just: nor as embodying either Labour or feminist values of equality and social justice. But it has fuelled consumerism, which has variously (and differentially) fed, clothed, shod, employed and housed women in ways that have felt personally liberating for many women in the West. Much of the ‘neoliberal common sense’ that seeks to align gender equality with finance-led capitalism as ‘smart economics’, “reaffirms a particular Western version of liberal feminism” (Roberts, op cit: 74), and within this discourse:

The incorporation of women into the workforce does not have to involve    identifying and challenging historically constituted gender power relations, because the issue is framed around ‘diversity’ (ibid.: 75/76). Emphasis added.

In 2016, divisions on the Left for feminists have hardened:

Transnational Business Feminism seeks to work through neoliberal capitalism rather than to challenge it (op cit: 74).

And the ‘business case’ for gender equality “legitimises the growing power of corporations, and naturalises and normalises the fusion of gender equality to participation in the capitalist market economy” (ibid.: 72, emphasis added). But as Roberts reminds us:

From a critical feminist perspective, however, gender equality is important for reasons that surpass corporate profitability (ibid.: 75).

In addition, neoliberalism (or free market fundamentalism) is powerfully implicated in the destruction of habitat and species, climate and community, social and economic security, and the privatization and fragmentation of the NHS. As well as being hostile to democracy itself. As feminist activism, research and increased participation in the public domain got under way in the 1960s and 1970s, and as the neoliberal project later hit town and started to swallow all in its path, women did not anticipate the significance of this new source of difference and division, and its consequences for feminist, Green and Labour politics in the UK.

In the early years of the UK environmental movement, variously taking shape as the Countryside Alliance, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, for example, social justice issues were not part of environmental discourse and debate; social class issues were embodied by the (all white, middle class) membership, but power relations were not examined as theoretically or politically significant; and while women were members, feminist values, critique and analysis seemed off limits.

To speak of gender power relations was to speak in an incomprehensible ‘foreign’ tongue, and be identified as a ‘troublemaker’ ruffling feathers. To an extent, early environmentalism in the UK embodied middle-class apolitical decorum. It did not count itself as ‘politics’, which was seen as something intrusive and contentious – ‘party political’. It felt as if environmentalism was ‘safely’ in its own, non political box, and was for people who did not ‘do politics’, or at least anti establishment politics.

And this may still be part of its attraction. Young female students, on being asked by a TV reporter how they intended to vote at the 2015 election, replied: “I’m not political. So will probably vote Green”. For these young women, ‘political’ seems to mean party political, and that means Labour or Conservative or Lib Dem – the parties of government, and perhaps, by implication, scandals, corruption, deceit, broken promises, and older, elite white men in suits.

In the UK, the intellectual and political standing of both early feminism and women’s environmentalism, echoed women’s social and political position more generally, which meant we were Other to ‘mainstream’ (i.e. elite white male) ideas and action; and women activists and scholars in the West were almost exclusively white.

CAT embodied gender awareness and gender parity in its early working practices on site, and more recently explicit political analyses have begun to emerge in Clean Slate, CAT’s practical journal of sustainable living. For example, ‘Why zero carbon needs women’ (Jenny Hawley, pp27-29) and ‘Equality, diversity and the creation of a zero carbon future’ (Helen Atkins. pp3-31), both in Clean Slate, No 100, summer 2016. And the latest issue, No. 101, Autumn 2016, is headlined, ‘Brexit: What now?’ and includes articles on poverty and climate change. Amidst political turmoil and social carnage, environmentalists and feminists could do with mapping some serious common ground in the context of anti Austerity politics, which post Brexit look set to become even more challenging.

Paul Allen, CAT’s lead on Zero Carbon, notes how the Tory government has rolled back on practical support for renewable energy and zero carbon building, while encouraging fracking, and the potential significance of the fact that many of the leading Brexit campaigners are climate sceptics (‘Climate policy’, Clean Slate No.101 Autumn2016: 21). The reduced influence of the UK on EU climate policy as a result of leaving the EU is also a serious concern. Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), surveying a year in which climate policy has gone backwards in the UK, finds further disturbing evidence in a Committee on Climate Change (CCC: the UK government’s advisory body on this issue) overview of research comparing ‘production’ emissions and ‘consumption’ emissions (‘How big is the average Briton’s carbon footprint, really?’ Clean Slate No 101 Autumn 2016: 16). He concludes:

So there is absolutely no justification for the UK government cutting back on climate action. Quite the reverse – we need to accelerate transition. Much more ambitious policies on energy conservation, energy generation from renewable sources and sustainable consumption urgently need to be pursued (ibid.). Emphasis added.

Katherine Knox, Policy & Research Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, currently leading the JRF’s programme on climate change, social justice and community resilience, re-iterates that:

Recent policy has been moving in the wrong direction. We also need to start thinking more holistically about climate change mitigation and adaptation (‘Poverty, disadvantage and climate change – finding solutions’, Clean Slate  No 101 Autumn 2016:19).

Josh Fox, film-maker, playwright and environmental activist, offers an even more explicit verdict: “Fracking is a form of climate denial” (11 10 2016, The Guardian), at a time when the evidence is in: “climate crisis is upon us” (ibid.). He argues that:

Courage is what the movement fighting climate change and fossil fuels needs most now. Lack of courage by western governments is having devastating consequences (ibid.).

It is courage that can move us, individually and collectively, beyond narrow vested interests and beyond our personal comfort zones. Fox cites activist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, who estimates that:

We have 17 years to replace all fossil fuel infrastructure with renewable energy. That means no new fossil fuel projects. Period. We burn down what we have, and we build renewable energy sources as fast as we can. That means no new pipelines, no new fracking fields, no new offshore drilling, no new tar sands or coal mines (cited Fox, ibid.).

As Fox summarises:

The neoliberal promise that we can both prevent catastrophic warming and allow energy companies to get rich extracting and burning more fossil fuels is a fallacy. We can’t (ibid.).

In 2016, it is resoundingly clear that facing up to climate change is a national and international political project, a challenge for the Left and progressive politics. What will be the contribution of the environmental movement, the Green party, the Labour party and the trade unions to this political process now that the EU referendum decision to leave the EU has been taken? In 2016, facing up to climate change entails challenging neoliberal assumptions, values and practices, undoing the internalisation of that ‘neoliberal common sense’ that there is no alternative, and developing practical alternatives.

At a national and local level, Knox cites the importance of tackling social justice issues, such as poverty:

The issue of low-income households paying disproportionately more towards the costs of policy measures paid for through energy bills has been widely reported. But the answer is not simply to avoid taking policy measures; it is an argument for a fairer application of the costs, and the use of taxation as a more progressive route to fund policy measures (Katherine Knox, ibid.: 18). Emphasis added.

This is politics: parliamentary and international politics. Political action at the local level is also an essential part of national and global change. However, as you participate in environmental events, such as the CAT members’ conference, you can find yourself caught up in discussions that are fundamentally consumerist, predicated on lifestyle options and choices; sharing information and experience, for example, regarding insulation, passive solar heating, photovoltaic (PV) technologies, heating systems, energy consumption and costs, ‘waste’ (excess) disposal, recycling, composting and personal zero carbon ambitions, etc..

This sharing is important, but it is not environmentalism as politics, but rather a lifestyle discourse mainly by and for those who have some material prosperity (land, property, disposable income, capital, etc.), relevant education and training, and a measure of independent control over their lives, plus disposable time. This demographic and its accompanying culture could constitute an obstacle to the sharing and social co-creativity required if we are to develop an effective progressive politics that goes beyond the constraints (and pleasures) of neoliberal individualism. This cohort may occupy a (privileged) comfort zone that they (understandably) wish to maintain and/or defend. As one woman explained in a small group discussion: “I don’t want to be harangued or told what to do. I already do a lot of things”.

The issues raised in the last two issues of Clean Slate highlight the significance of the relation between environmental action and environmental politics, on the one hand, and electoral politics and parliamentary action on the other, at a time when, post Brexit, the UK political landscape is imploding, social relations are in upheaval, and our relations with other countries and cultures could be on the skids.

Grounds for progressive politics: agreeing the basics.
The events of these last months have left progressives tearing our hair out in despair (and fear) at the sight of such polarisation: politics as unregulated vested interest / greed / male dominance / triumphalism; and politics as grievance / self harm / defeatism / helplessness: incoherent and coherent rage. John Harris has offered this ominous summary:

The rising inequality fostered by globalization and free-market economics manifests itself in a cultural gap that is tearing the left’s traditional constituency in two. Once, social democracy – or, if you prefer, democratic socialism – was built on the support of both the progressive middle class and the parts of the working class who were represented by the unions. Now, a comfortable, culturally confident constituency seems to stare in bafflement at an increasingly resentful part of the traditionally Labour-supporting working class (John Harris [06 09 2016] ‘Does the left have a future?’ The Guardian Journal: 25).

By contrast, film-maker, Ken Loach, asked about the criticism that Jeremy Corbyn is more interested in growing the movement than in winning power, replies:

I think that is nonsense. The stronger the movement, the greater chance of winning an election. It has to be a movement, in that it isn’t just an electoral machine . . . . What the Labour movement is about is a broad mass of people actively engaged in a democratic process (cited Simon Hattenstone interview, ‘Here comes trouble’ The Guardian Weekend, 15 10 2016: 48).

Loach compares the present situation to his experience in the 1960s of small groups just talking to each other, and “he loves the fact that there are now so many people engaged in the debate” (ibid.).

Age and social class can certainly be mapped on to the divisions mentioned by Harris, but education has emerged as a distinctive factor, and not just as a function of age and social class:

            Voters with postgraduate qualifications split 75 to 25 in favour of remain.   Meanwhile, among those who left school without any qualifications, the vote was almost exactly reversed: 73 to 27 for leave. A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last month confirmed that ‘educational opportunity was the strongest driver’ of the Brexit vote (David Runciman, ‘Degrees of separation’, The Guardian, 05 10 2016: 32).

Drawing on a report on the 1983 general election, Runciman notes:

Graduates, even in the 1980s, tended to be much more concerned about the         environment than other sectors of the population. They were also strikingly more internationalist in outlook (ibid.).

And this constituency certainly congregates within environmental groups and organisations, for example CAT members. It appears that higher education introduced “values distinct from class experience” and “related to issues that were not straightforwardly economic” (ibid. 33). Runciman concludes that the significance of education is that:

Education does not simply divide us on the grounds of what is in our interests. It sorts us according to where we feel we belong (ibid: 33).

In the autumn of 2011, I attended three national conferences in quick succession: I had an urgent need to be among crowds of people with whom I felt I had some values in common, and with whom I felt some sense of belonging. In the event, I noticed that the Friends of the Earth residential conference in Nottingham was overwhelmingly white and middle class, but there were plenty of women. The CAT members’ conference in Machynlleth, Powys, was exclusively white and middle class and rather male dominated. The Labour party conference, held that year in Liverpool, was gloriously mixed: all ages, backgrounds, sexual preference, ethnicities, and a real mix of women and men. I remember thinking that this was because it was national, and that if it had been a local event, it would have been exclusively white. The Labour party experience was exhilarating and filled me with hope. (Perhaps I should explain that I had moved to Liverpool in 1973 from multicultural south east London and had missed that diversity.)

The demographics of our groups and organisations have social and political consequences that, if too monocultural and fixed, constitute an obstacle to building a sense of sufficient ‘common cause’ and ‘shared identity’ beyond ourselves. It is clear that it is the Labour party that already embodies and represents our diversity as a people and society, across differences of social class and ethnicity, for example. Environmental groups, and even many women’s groups, have some catching up to do, and too often reproduce the structural differentials of social class, race and sexuality for example, that operate as divisions in wider society.

But crisis – and this is surely a time of social, economic and political crisis – can afford opportunity and clarity; new determination and courage; new strategies and alliances: co-creativity. Ceri Hutton, human rights researcher and activist from Ulverston, Cumbria, offers this neat summary:

The Corbyn campaign for me is about changing social and political tack. Unless we do, we will sell off more public assets, lose our NHS, turn our children into automatons, devalue art, watch more and more people lose support and dignity, trash more human rights and keep pumping money towards the rich in the laughable hope that somehow, some day, they will hand it back. And we continue to thunder towards the cliff of climate change (cited, ‘Cumbria for Corbyn’, Labour Briefing, September 2016: 6).

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, attests:

It is unimaginable that Labour could ever go back to supporting austerity; to            endorsing attacks on benefit claimants, supporting aggressive wars or scapegoating migrants (‘What does the Labour leadership election tell us?’ Labour Briefing, September 2016: 5).

He concludes that the campaign to remove Jeremy from office wants:

a return to a politics where Labour leaders may make bold statements about changing society but are easily incorporated – a return to a politics where elections are simply a rotation of political elites (ibid.). Emphasis added.

What is therefore required is a substantial change of political culture – custom and practice – a rebuilding of trust:

banishing the era of spin, triangulation and sharp suited politicians saying   whatever they think we want to hear (ibid.).

The other Labour leadership candidates in 2015 all tried that and were roundly called out. Many in the PLP failed to understand why Jeremy was favoured above those other candidates. They had only to listen to the voices of his supporters, old and young, experienced and inexperienced, across the country, who, given the chance, demonstrated understanding and could explain with straightforward eloquence. Like victims of childhood sexual abuse, many had waited a long time to be heard and believed, instead of disregarded, blamed, exploited, managed and/or suppressed.

In 2014/15, The Kilburn Manifesto (2015) team (headed up by the Soundings journal founders, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin) defined the central problem as the “character of the entire neoliberal system, with whose advance the New Labour government (this is not to deny its achievements) had been complicit” (Michael Rustin ‘Alternatives to neoliberalism: a framing statement’, Soundings, Issue 62, 2016: 13):

We did not think it useful to be engaging in debates over ‘policies’ when what needed to be addressed were the fundamental assumptions on which any specific policies needed to be based (ibid.).

Examining fundamental assumptions can produce a list of obstacles and barriers on the one hand, and ‘solutions’/services/practices on the other, about which agreement could be reached, first in terms of their importance/priority, then in terms of how to tackle the obstacles and barriers, and how to fund and organise the ‘solutions’/ services/practices. Such a process can work to avoid waffle, spin, power play, sloganising and abstraction. Internal Labour debates and cross party conversations could usefully address attitudes to the following:

  • poverty (economic, food, fuel, education opportunity) NB children
  • inequality (see above + attitudes to difference and disadvantage)
  • gender power relations
  • social class disadvantage NB children
  • scarcity (clean air, water, food, energy, land, housing)
  • climate change
  • violence & violation: abuse / conflict / terrorism / war NB children
  • violence & violation: misogyny, homophobia, racism, disablism
  • fundamentalisms
  • militarism, the arms industry
  • neoliberalism
  • corruption & exploitation.

‘Solutions’/services/practices could include attitudes to, and social and political practices regarding:

  • tax: revenue, regulation, fairness (redistribution)
  • investment
  • economic policy and practice NB power relations
  • employment issues: conditions, protections, rights NB power relations
  • public sector: values & services
  • privatisation
  • technology
  • energy: renewables & nuclear
  • digital citizenship (users as citizens not just consumers)
  • education for life & democracy, not just employment/work
  • land: ownership, use, responsibility
  • housing
  • arts
  • NHS
  • public health, mental health, social care & welfare support
  • regulation, e.g. H & S, social justice, inequality, corruption
  • food: production, distribution, regulation
  • transport
  • social justice & human rights
  • democracy / the body politic.

None of these ‘headlines’ occupies its own discrete box, but partakes of a range of conjunctions and scenarios. Exploring fundamental assumptions and priorities together, as part of peer process, helps establish areas of potential consensus, controversy and practical political action, as well as the lines in the sand for individuals, constituencies and political parties. It can help generate a meaningful and honest conversation, a different political methodology, which is genuinely capacity building.

For example, do we want a society in which poverty, inequality and climate change are accepted as unavoidable and immutable? By contrast, do we want a society that is organised in ways that alleviate, eliminate or arrest economic poverty, inequalities and climate change? Or one in which poverty and inequality are used as political tools, a form of control, dominance and punishment; a source of personal, public shame? These are political decisions for us to make.

Pursuing this approach, do we see tax as an imposition and burden, a curtailment of individual freedom, or as “about how to make collective choices that work best for the communities we all live in” (Richard Murphy, The joy of tax: how a fair tax system can create a better society, 2015; cited Doreen Massey, ‘Tax: a political fault line.’ Review, Soundings, ibid.: 161). Massey argues:

At the broadest (and deepest) level, tax and tax policy should be, explicitly and politically, about constituting the society we want. It is about the constitution of our collectivity (Massey, ibid.: 163. See also Tax Justice Focus [2015], The greatest invention: tax and the campaign for a just society.) Emphasis added.

Each of the obstacles and barriers listed here can be fruitfully interrogated in this way, moving us towards greater transparency and potential mutual understanding. This process also has the effect of democratizing the political parties, organisations, communities and groups that take part. More people understand what is at stake; and more people feel they have a stake in decision-making and parliamentary policies. More and better information circulates as a basis for understanding and decisions. Complexity is more likely to be acknowledged than denied. (The Carbon Conversations project described by Rosemary Randall and Andy Brown sounds like something similar. See Randall & Brown, ‘In time for tomorrow?’ Clean Slate No 96 Summer 2015:30/31).

Compare this methodology to the ‘post truth’ politics of the populist Brexit campaign.
Progressive politics in 2016 must encompass an anti-populist strategy, not least because:

Populists deny, or wish away, the pluralism of contemporary societies. When they say equality, they mean sameness. . . (Jan-Werner Muller [03 09 2016]  ‘The fantasy of populism’. The Guardian Review: 5). Emphasis added.

Fear of difference, hostility towards the Other, and the emphasis placed on purity, drives racism and its violations.

It is a profound illusion to think that populists . . . . can improve our   democracies. Populists are just different elites who try to grab power with the help of a collective fantasy of political purity (ibid.).

Step up Nigel Farage with his talk of “the (little) people”, and he is one of them, in opposition to the establishment!

But liberals also have to tread on the dangerous territory of identity politics.They have to argue against the populist fantasies of a ‘pure people’, and instead fashion attractive and, above all, pluralist conceptions of Britishness and Americanness (Jan-Werner Muller [03 09 2016] ‘The fantasy of populism’. The Guardian Review: 5).

On the central concern of this commentary, the relation between environmental issues, feminist values and anti Austerity politics, and their productive conjunction as a basis for progressive politics and a new political methodology as suggested above, there is a further complicating factor that has become visible during these politically charged months.

Education has historically been a key feature of the Labour project: hence the importance of free postwar state education and later the introduction of comprehensive secondary education that was meant to supersede the tripartite system of grammar schools, technical schools and secondary schools, which divided and categorised children at the age of eleven. Politically, education was seen as a core right within equalities campaigns, for all marginalised and oppressed constituencies. It has been seen as central to self-determination, economic and social advancement, and creativity. In practice, however, children attending technical schools and secondary schools (i.e. the overwhelming majority of children – 98%?) were generally not expected to apply for university, and in the main were not allowed to know such places existed. Ignorance about higher education opportunities may have been more common in the north of England, where poverty was more extreme and the comprehensive revolution took longer to establish.

Formal education in a class-based society in which the instruments of social class hierarchy (public schools) were left in place by the 1945 Labour government, could variously be conceived as the shedding of disadvantage, as ‘empowerment’, ‘escape’, as ‘access’, as part of the ‘knowledge is power’ discourse. But notice how the language of escape, upward mobility and access connotes entry / getting in / gain, and a move away from working-class lives and values, perceived as in ‘deficit’.

Hardly surprising then that there always remained working-class communities that resisted the charms of education, seeing it as ‘social makeover’, as a giving up of and disowning of working-class culture, values and practices. Education as middle class would remain hostile territory, and many working-class children would experience disadvantage and damage within the system, at the hands of white middle class teachers, for whom they represented ‘lack’ and/or ‘deviance’. (See references at end.)

It is October 2016, and David Runciman, professor of politics at Cambridge University, offers a summary of what could prove to be a cruel new twist on English anti-intellectualism. With more graduates than ever before, after years expanding higher education and access to it, he speculates whether education has mutated to become a mark of privilege; knowledge a perk of power; a moral assumption of superiority; self interest dressed up as expertise, an expression of self righteousness (see ibid.: 33). If this is the case, our society is in big trouble, and progressive politics just hit another buffer. The public political conversations envisaged above test levels of shared conceptual language and analytical skills. And these are skills, aptitudes and practices (research, analysis, communication, debate) associated with creative early years and secondary education, but in particular post 16 education, and especially good university education. A vivid example of this political challenge post ‘Brexit” is food.

Noting that “in the UK . . . our food system is fractured by gross inequalities of access, cost, health and culture”, Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy, conjures the technical, intellectual, diplomatic and political complexity facing government (and the rest of us) in the wake of the referendum decision to leave the EU, and the incredible complexity of “unravelling decades of food law and regulations” (Tim Lang, ‘The food system’, Clean Slate No 101 Autumn 2016: 20) amongst other things, at a time when:

The UK, European and global food systems ought to begin a complicated process of restructuring to reduce food impact on climate change, biodiversity loss, water and food waste, at the same time as shifting the diets in the rich and poor worlds (ibid.)

These are public health issues, as much as environmental and economic concerns, none of which were discussed during the referendum campaign, despite the fact that the UK imports 30% of its food, and migrants are established and prominent workers in farming and horticulture . This whole-society process requires a host of experts (and there is serious doubt that these actually exist in the numbers required, not least because of entrenched Tory mistrust of intellectuals and experts, who exert critical intelligence that can cause political discomfort). It also requires wide-ranging public participation, understanding, consent and behaviour change. Lang calls for us “to get our act together, to be calm and analytical” (ibid.)! You sense he dreads further uproar and widespread panic. There is both a sense of crisis and urgency in his observations and analysis, as he asks: “What are our tasks right now?” (ibid.).

Faced with such complexities, Lang emphasises the importance of “creating new working alliances” (ibid.), which speaks to the central challenge those of us face who are politically active in whatever way and to whatever degree. But if, as Runciman speculates, education, previously prized on the Left as a right, power and pleasure, as nourishment for mind and soul, has become commodified as an instrument of neoliberalism, as a mark of privilege and superiority, then rising to the challenge of building new working alliances will be harder, not least because neoliberalism is quintessentially hierarchical and sets us in competition with each other, rather than nurturing the skills of cooperation and collaboration.

To be effective, new working alliances must be heartfelt, meaningful and strategic: and they demand our best efforts and expertise. Ken Loach provides a relevant example. He is still a member of Left Unity, not the Labour party.

But since Jeremy Corbyn took over as leader, it hasn’t stood in elections. It is not standing in opposition to Labour (cited Hattenstone, ibid: 48).

And it’s possible that Loach might leave Left Unity and rejoin Labour: “Because that’s where the big discussion will be happening” (ibid.). (Emphasis added.) Lang’s concluding counsel and sense of urgency and opportunity clearly have relevance beyond the politics of food:

We need to talk widely. . . We have much work to do and there will be many who share our concerns. This may be a time for unlikely bedfellows and unholy alliances (ibid.). Emphasis added.

This cultural shift towards what Loach describes as “a broad mass of people actively engaged in a democratic process” (cited Hattenstone, ibid.48) will take personal and political courage and stamina, as well as discrimination and organisation. The current Tory government, with a leader neither elected by her party nor the country; with a majority of 12; escalating internal divisions, acrimony and disorder, variously arising out of unbridled ambitions, personal laziness and political incompetence, should not be viewed as unassailable. To challenge and overcome the government demands a process of togetherness and co-creativity on the part of opposition parties, and we need to imagine and begin to forge this movement well ahead of the next general election.

val walsh / 17 10 2016

References re. state education and social class in the postwar period:

  • Mary Kennedy, Cathy Lubelska & Val Wash (eds) (1993) Making Connections: Women’s Studies, Women’s Movements, Women’s Lives.
  • Val Walsh, ‘Terms of engagement: pedagogy as a healing politic’ in Louise Morley & Val Walsh (eds) (1996) Breaking Boundaries: Women in Higher Education: 187-207;
  • ‘Interpreting class: auto/biographical imaginations and social change’ in Pat Mahony & Christine Zmroczek (eds) (1997) Class Matters: ‘Working-Class’ Women’s Perspectives on Social Class: 152-174;
  • ‘Digging up tangled roots: feminism and resistance to white working-class culture’ in Pauline Polkey (ed.) (1999) Women’s Lives Into Print: The Theory, Practice and Writing of Feminist Auto/biography: 197-215;
  • ‘From tangle to web: women’s life histories and feminist process’ in Pamela Cotterill, Sue Jackson & Gayle Letherby (eds.) (2007) Challenges and Negotiations for Women in Higher Education: 73-94.

end