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

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

Footballer Ched Evans: it’s not about forgiveness and his right to work.

Owen Gibson (Guardian, 10 01 2015) notes that Gordon Taylor, “the best paid union official in Britain”, as chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association for 33 years, has shown “so little apparent empathy for the victim” of convicted rapist Ched Evans. He also refers to F.A. Chair, Greg Dyke’s, “belated intervention”. Similarly, David Conn (Guardian, 10 01 2015) comments that Dyke “finally broke his silence”; but only “to clarify that the FA had no rules on the matter”. Conn points out that “The PFA has not made clear its abhorrence of Evans’s and his footballer friend Clayton McDonald’s disgraceful conduct towards Evans’s then 19 year old victim”. And “in a week of debate, few football men remembered to mention (the victim’s) plight”.

We might explain this behaviour as an example of (unconscious and unexamined) heterosexist male bonding that perpetuates a sense of entitlement to power and unimpeded access to women’s bodies. Evan’s desire to “join in” with the rape of the victim on his arrival at the hotel, by invitation for that purpose, exemplifies these heterosexist reflexes. Conn draws attention to the fact that all bar one of the key football decision makers in “this sorry affair” are men. Men apparently untouched by (or resistant to) changes in social and cultural awareness, attitudes and behaviour, after 40+ years of feminist-inspired activism and action.

There are generational issues at play here – these older white men – but there is also evidence on the street and on twitter, for example, of continuity and consensus across ages, among men, that show how severely misogyny still stacks the odds against girls and women in our society. Ched Evans’s conduct, attitude, and indifference to his victim’s situation; his willingness to denigrate and stigmatise her (via a website) in order to further his own goal of returning to his career as a professional footballer, demonstrate their roots in heterosexism and misogyny.

By contrast, Emma Hayes (Guardian, 10 01 2015), manager of Chelsea Ladies, refers to “an incident like this” (language that diminishes the act of rape and its consequences for the victim), and says “ he is a young man and should be forgiven”. (Is that because he is young or male? Or both?) She also mentions “the pitfalls of . . . attracting the attention of women”. The mind boggles.

The ‘give him a second chance’ discourse / plea for forgiveness, underscore the perpetrator’s right to his privilege and its customary rewards. Protesting his innocence, backed by financial resources from his fiance’s father, and assuming his right to a speedy re-entry to a high profile, high-income job, a celebrity position, all rely on a false assumption that is hardly mentioned, let alone discussed.

Sexual abuse and violence (like racism and homophobia) are not like other crimes, such as financial corruption or crimes against property, even murder. They are rooted in deep-seated misogyny and unequal gender power relations across society, which together construct and perpetuate these relations and behaviours as normative, ‘natural’ and right. Perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence thus make very poor subjects for rehabilitation.

Certainly Evans should make the effort in future to live differently, and re-establish himself as a non-offender, i.e. as a man who is not a threat to girls and women. But this debate is not about one privileged, heterosexual male in the public domain, who ‘made a mistake’ and got caught: it is about our society and the position of girls and women within society.

Cases like this expose fault lines in society and disturb the status quo. This in turn provides opportunities for learning and transformation. Legislation and regulation play their part, but early years, primary and secondary education have vital contributions to make, as do the arts, if we are to break the dominance of heterosexism and misogyny on and off the field.

As Conn observes, the case for offering Evans a contract presents him as “just a man plying a trade” and “the game is just a business”. It is time the F.A. and the PFA were dragged into our post feminist and post Saville world. This clearly requires changes of personnel at the top of what Conn describes as these “uncaring men’s clubs”.

11 01 2015