Tag Archives: Politics

Leadership, Logic and Labour

10 Jul

Jeremy Corbyn has regularly been accused of lacking leadership qualities.

It’s an odd – and stupidly illogical – thing to say about a man who has refused to stand down in the face of a concerted, treacherous and overwhelming attempt by his own MPs to unseat him.

In fact, he has led a popular movement that has massively boosted his party’s membership in response to the threats against him.  He has led by repeatedly condemning those on his own side who would like to reduce his campaign to personal abuse of his opponents. And he has led, most of all, by taking the opportunity the challenge has presented to restate his principles in clear and stark terms.

Like at the Durham Miners’ Gala, when he recounted being asked how he was coping with the pressure on him.  His answer, delivered with an actor’s relaxed pause, a slow build, and the immaculate timing of a angry comedian, cuts like a sword through the illusions of the political and media classes:

Real pressure, real pressure, is when you don’t have money to feed your kids.

But when the challengers and the mainstream media talk about ‘leadership’, what they are really claiming is that he doesn’t play ‘tactics’.  They are wrong there too, as I’ll show in my next post.

 

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A Perfect Opportunity to Destroy Blairism

26 Jun

So the Blairites have decided to use the Brexit vote to attempt to oust Corbyn and return the Labour Party to a position slightly to the right of Thatcher.

There’s a slim chance it’ll work for them.

But with a 38 degrees petition against the coup having already gained around two hundred thousand signatures at the time of writing, it’s pretty unlikely.

More likely is that the Blairites will achieve their secondary aim of making the Labour Party unelectable with a left-wing leader – and thus buttressing the lie that has sustained neoliberalism in Britain for the last twenty years.

Should left-wingers react with panic? Despair?

Not at all.

On the contrary, there is now every chance – and justification – for the left in Labour to purge the Blairites from every significant position within their party. And for the left outside the Labour Party to lend a hand. This time, unquestionably, it is the Right that has chosen to damage Labour at its moment of greatest opportunity. The Left’s counterattack against the coup must be merciless.

A Series of Strategic Responses to the Tory Majority, no. 9

14 May

I’ve been putting out a lot of suggestions for action in the face of an austerity majority at Westminster.  But this is the first one that I’m advertising as happening on a date and in a place.  See the poster / flyer below.

If you’re in the Aberystwyth area and you want to help make a change, please come along.  If you’re not, please tell any of your friends who are.  Unless they’re Tories, obviously…

This also applies to people at the University.  In Aberystwyth we have hundreds of people who make a living out of academic ‘radicalism’.  But only a vanishingly small proportion ever contribute to community campaigns or political action outside the lecture theatre.

Finally, if you simply want to tell us that we should be joining (or working with) already-existing campaigns or institutions, come along to the meeting and tell us yourself.  More information is always welcome.

Leaflet-Cambrian-1845-21-6-2015

A Series of Strategic Responses to the Tory Majority, no.8. Partnership and Twinning.

11 May

Distance and centralism are powerful factors militating against success for left-wing, regional, and national groups within the UK system. The Tories can often form governments around south-east England, London and the foreigners and non-doms who control the political meaning of the City of London.  As the Tories, to themselves at least, are also the British national party par excellence, so they have no need to question or oppose the centrality of London institutions or or political action with its limits set at the walls of St. Stephen’s Palace.

They are strengthened in this by a transport and communications network that has been designed over the space of several generations to favour their viewpoints.  It is commonplace for ‘commuters’ who work in London to live in Cambridge, Oxford or Gillingham, and to get (and preach) a London-centred mindset as a result.

Other parties pursuing victory around that same set of allegiances – like Blair and Brown – end up following Conservative policy or even competing to be more conservative again.  Whereas groups that have never accepted the centrality of Westminster action, or which take their strength from other areas, are hampered insofar as they simply can’t move people (or ideas or action) around the areas that ought to be their natural home.  One example here should suffice: Welsh railways stop at Carmarthen, with an insanely slow bus journey being the only route north from there.  With an Assembly based in Cardiff Bay – itself an artificial development creating by further marginalising its historically poor and marginalised inhabitants – the sense of opposition that could come from having a committed and radical Plaid Cymru leader has already been substantially stymied.

I’ll obviously be coming back, later to how this relates to the necessity for a new media sphere and the practical arrangements necessary to put that into place.  For the moment, I want shortly to put some proposals for action based on the understanding that the regions, nations, classes and groups where radicalism is strongest are precisely the ones most likely to be hampered by the lack of opportunities for physical movement.  These will also apply to a certain extent to the way that organisations and individuals attempting to act online may organise, given that assets like high-speed broadband, computer parts, specialist data access etc. are always restricted at first by the physical networks of road and rail for installation, distribution and staff placement and recruitment.

One a priori I want to put before embarking on a list of proposals for action.  Transport difficulties are compounded the more people have to move over long distances or without good public transport.  They are – initially – doubly compounded for each new person or group which is seeking to participate in any given action.  All the initial suggestions I have put, therefore, involve a minimal number of people moving at any given time, and attempt to minimise the number of people or organisations they need to work with in order to achieve a measure of success for their chosen action.

1.  Partnership.

Those at the centre of power can act alone, or look like they are.  But the hardest part of a movement towards equality has to happen in an equal way .  My first suggestion is looking for one other person to work with immediately on action for political change, and pledge to work together for a common and realisable aim.  Promising yourself that you’ll take action is easy to go back on – it’s more difficult to break promises to your friends.  And once you’ve agreed to take common action then you’ll feel less like a voice in the wilderness and more like you can be part of something that matters.

The common and realisable aim you choose, should of course be something that will create more energy around it, and bring other people in.   Here’s some for starters:

i. One example might be organising an ‘art against austerity’ exhibition at your local village hall.  Invite national/local/protest movement media and social media organisations to review it

ii.  Another might be booking a room in a pub or cafe in order to have a lunchtime forum on the politics of austerity and centralism, and creatives responses.

During the course of today, I’ve agreed to collaborate on making some of these happen in the Newcastle Emlyn and Aberystwyth areas.  Your ideas, offers to speak, offers of projector loans etc. most welcome.  I’ll be drawing up the first draft of a leaflet shortly, which shall be mercilessly criticised and edited for simplicity’s sake.  Once it’s out there, your comments on wording and event organisation will also be very welcome.  In particular, are there certain people who should be invited – and would you be kind enough to let them know about it?  For now, we know just that we’re hoping to book places for the 19th and 21st of this month (May), in Newcastle Emlyn and Aberystwyth respectively.  First speakers also to be announced tomorrow.

iii.  Fill up your car with radical books and leaflets opposing the austerity agenda, and set up at a boot sale.  Make sure you’ve got a whole lot of freebies to give out and keep smiling even if it rains and nobody talks to you.  They will secretly admire your bottle.  If you make a profit beyond a day’s wage, keep doing it.  If you have the time to do it a lot, offer to buy back books.  If it becomes a wild success, build a people’s radical library in your town or village.

Sorry, got carried away to dreamland there for a second.

Or did I?  It wasn’t beyond the Welsh of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, why beyond us?

Whatever, I’d still love to see a giant red flag flying over a car boot sale.  It would give me hope.

 iv. Organising a sports event on behalf of your local food bank, and using the attendant publicity to condemn the callous nature of government policy towards those on benefits.

I suggest a plastic duck race down your local stream, with an instagram competition for the best decorated duck used to generate early publicity in the silly stories pages of the mainstream media.

 2.  Twinning

Partnership with others immediately around them will help people commit to radical projects, and get things moving fast.  But in order to fashion a movement (or set of movements) against austerity and centralism, there needs to be a sense of change that can motivate much larger geographical areas.

Creating national and regional organisations is a time-consuming task, and always offers the possibility that some of the resulting groups will be assimilated easily into the Westminster austerity concensus.

But no such difficulty exists if groups, even if they contain only a tiny number of people, agree to ‘twin’ with groups elsewhere, and put on events together with shared resources.  From such twinned groups, if organised rapidly amongst concerned friends to keep their heads up, can come the impetus to reach a broader national or regional alternative media and alternative community.

3.  Grow Sunflowers.

That one’s a teaser.  I’ll talk more about it another time.

nb.  I know some of this stuff is a bit vague.  But I don’t have time to write in shorter sentences.  See you at the boot sale.

A Series of Strategic Responses to the Tory Majority, no.7

10 May

The greatest barrier to effective working-class and radical social action is the gradual nature of capitalist change inbetween instances of naked repression and sudden shifts – we don’t see what happens in the corporate sector which runs our government because it is largely accepted that it is ‘private’.  Only cultural studies obsessives and those of a choleric disposition spend all day every day reading the Lobster or pointing out the oppressive nature of ordinary life – it’s necessary, but it doesn’t make you the most fun person to be around.

Especially in a mainstream culture that now prides itself on vacuous ignorance, and an artistic culture largely attached to mainstream political outcomes by the (tightening) purse strings of official funding bodies; and the intellectual respectability of explanatory paragraphs attached to incompetent art.

Most protest and cultural dissent, therefore, happens reactively, when the moment for resistance has long passed, and with the (Corporate) State making the running from the first.  The legal forms and restrictions upon strikes and protests, have also tended to minimise the disruption caused to business as usual by protest action.

There are many areas of implication for everyday action in the statements above.  I’m going to quickly sketch out jthe implications of just one of them.

The corporate sector needs to be cut apart from the ‘private sector’.  Radical businesspeople – as distinct from the salaried employees of legal fictions – need to make this argument repeatedly and powerfully, and to create or modify their institutions and representative bodies in order to shift policy as a result of it.  Despite the emergence of campaigns and writing focusing on the vast power of the one per cent, their spokespeople are allowed to masquerade as the spokespeople of ‘business’ as a whole.  This can change.

General Proposal:

Radical businesspeople, and radical businesses and community groups, should right now be setting up or joining their own representative institutions or working out plans to redirect the practices of the ones they are already involved in.

The Federation of Small Business doesn’t mention party affiliation on its website – but there is no sense in which what they present there can be seen as anything but backing for the austerity plan and the rule of the 1%.  Oddly, new airports seem as high a priority to them as the dead centres of many of our towns.  Certainly there is no mention of the poverty and regional inequalities that threaten any small business which does not exist specifically to serve the wealthy.

Specific Proposal

If you’re a Northern or Welsh radical businessperson, go out and create a business forum that is compatible with your political views.  Or just call up somebody who you think you could work with on it.

If you’re a designer who know a radical businessperson.  Ask them for some work designing the initial campaign materials, or send them a nice meme to make the case…

If you’re a member of Business for Scotland, or any of the other pro-independence organisations of that type, find people in the North, Wales, Cornwall etc to act as mentor to.  You’ve already made part of the journey I’m describing here, and your help would – I’m sure – be appreciated.

If you’re an intellectual, writer, blogger.  Construct the arguments, and find the figures, that will enable businesspeople challenging rightwing dominance in their institutions.  The nature of the institution itself needs to be explored for appropriate ‘pressure points’.

 Pressure Point 1: Note that many people now look at themselves as businesspeople, despite gaining their identity to others from their work.  Painter and decorators, for example, often identify themselves as self-employed, though they suffer a lack of control in their work and conditions as great as a day-labourer’s in the Victorian era.

Pressure Point 2:  Campaigns against market closure, supermarket expansion etc. could be used to force local areas of the FSB to break ranks with the austeriarchy, albeit usually in a limited form.  If you have such a group in your local area, suggest a meeting between them and the local FSB.  Make sure that you’re very well organised and have a mass of data to hand about the debilitating effects of the cuts on ‘small businesspeople’ – but also make sure to broaden the debate.  Big successes aren’t necessarily initial important – your initial aim might be as small as getting an hour’s regular discussion in a barber’s over lunchtime.

Pressure Point 3:  Now I’m being absurdly specific.  If you live in or near Derby, you are in the situation to hit pressure point 2 immediately.

More later…

A Series of Strategic Responses to the Tory Majority, no.6

10 May

Even if you’re not a member of a political party, even if you’re an anarchist, there’s a number of things worth considering for action that can come from the nature of your representatives.  I don’t mean this in terms of some abstract, purely theoretical nature, nor am I necessarily demanding serious research. I’ll use where I live as an example of what I mean.  My constituency MP is one of the tiny band of LibDem MPs left.  His name’s Mark Williams.  I remember virtually nothing about him, except he wasn’t altogether comfortable with the bedroom tax. Boom! That’s a conversation worth having.  What action / perspective is he now going to take on the bedroom tax in opposition?  If he chooses to champion abandonment, will the LibDem parliamentary campaign threaten to derail popular oppositional movements?  Particularly, how will that play out in Ceredigion? I’d suggest, on the basis of the tiny amount I know without undue stretching, that left, national and bedroom tax activists working together could create a fever around the issue in Ceredigion if they organised hard to present their case publicly in the next few days.  And Mark Williams and the LibDems in Ceredigion would be following behind, if it was done fast. This is something I would love to see happen.  If you’ve contacts and links you think would be useful in fleshing out that idea, let me know. Whoever and whatever your local representatives at whatever level are, how can you use their present and past allegiances, habits etc, in order to manoeuvre them into being a thorn in the governments’ flesh.  Not only in parliamentary terms, but in terms of being drawn to sympathise – even if only over a single issue – a popular and self-confident network of oppositional groups. In the North there seems a real need for questioning over whether particular Labour MPs should now be content with an also-ran economic and political status for that area, even within England.

If you live there, please, check out things like the Campaign for the North and the Free North Campaign – and get involved. Are there also single issue things that clearly intersect with the need for a higher status for the region? Suggest a common cause to the relevant organisations in those areas.  Be pushy and let them know this is going to be a vibrant and positive thing – a deepening of democracy.

Do you want a regional parliament?  If you do, start doing the in-depth research and publishing your results.

If you’re an architect or critic or historian, then ask what the right location would be.  Write about your proposed location(s), in whatever form you like.  Publish as fast as possible.

Incidentally, are you a teacher or lecturer planning a politics, geography or sociology lesson?  Consider a class discussion on the right site / design(s) for a Parliament of the North.  Get your students talking about the transport links through the area, the networks of power, the questions of identity, urban planning and its role in everyday life.  Explain to them that in Scotland, the referendum vote was for those aged 16 and over. Even twelve year-olds now may be eligible to vote come the next election, if this aspect of Scottish politics comes into play again within the next five years.

On which note – somebody, somewhere, preferably a teenager who is sick of working without the protection of the minimum wage – needs to kick off campaigns on voting and wages for that age group.  If you are that person, history is probably on your side right now. More tomorrow.  Good night.

A Series of Strategic Responses to the Tory Majority, no.5 Political and Community Action 1

10 May

I’ll be returning, repeatedly, to ideas of media strategy.  And seeking to establish routes for resistance to austeriarchy will, I think, tend to force even more returns to the media issue than even I would like.

But let’s look elsewhere for a moment.  Outside Scotland there is no effective parliamentary route for the left to achieve anything.  The ground can shift now.  Two opening suggestions:

1.  Looking for targets and times for effective community and protest action that have good transport links, or organisation, within the region where radicalisation is desired.

Of course, transport links are not simply a given – you can do something about them.  Do you drive?  Especially, have you a minibus license?  If so, there’s something you can do…  Now it’s just a matter of finding someone you can do it for, or with.

2.  Moving informed political and philosophical discussion out of the universities and into pubs, workplaces, squats, temporary autonomous areas, and homes.  The Scots made a discursive society a reality, and have thus been able to upend expectations in two years’ flat.  Philosophy in Pubs is, as I understand it, the organisation most committed to making a thoughtful society.  Have a look at what they do.  If you like it, consider putting on political and philosophical discussions where you are

On that note about transport…  Bad and often worsening public transport offers the possibility of peoples’ organisations, under democratic community control, to create alternatives.  Some could be centred on transport, obviously.  More important, however, is getting events underway in local areas that are clearly, urgently and politically related to the election result and making a positive response.

3.  If you’re on the left in the Labour Party, and you’re sick of the New Labour regime that shouts upon every defeat that Labour must bend over further for business interests, then start researching law and scheming hard.  Would you be capable of organising a left-wing constitutional coup in your party organisation, whether at branch or constituency level?  If so, although it’ll be hard work, the time to look for like minded-people within that party is right now.  If not, consider whether you would be able to draw upon your time in the Labour Party to bring others like out of the party and into a new, membership-list supplied, organisation.

Similarly, pushing your branch into wider community links could best happen right now, whilst people are at a low ebb.  If you’re great at introducing people over beers and you know everyone in your area, then do some bringing people together.

4.  if you’re on the left of the Lib Dems.

There really is no hope for you, is there?

Unless… you go now.  Your coalition delivered the rUK to the Tories and Scotland to the SNP, whilst a catalogue of desperate and ugly deaths attests to what you have done, wittingly or unwittingly.  The only hope there is, is to immerse yourself in the new opposition – I don’t mean parliamentary opposition – with the zeal of a convert.  Otherwise posterity will not forgive you.

Incidentally, haven’t you noticed that the party you’re still in got half its name from a party that cemented Thatcher’s dominance at a key moment in history?  For God’s sake, Go.

Drive, put up posters, organise meetings, stand outside the jobcentres and give out free tea and coffee and listen to how people feel when their benefits get cut.  Argue your (very liberal) rights as the police move you on, and then consider how far we are from a democracy.

It’s the only way to begin to atone.

More soon.  I hope some of the ideas create a spark.  Let me know…