A good thing the Tories won – a chance to change coming

The Conservative majority win in the UK general election of 2015 wasn’t the first time I’ve been bemused and disappointed by our establishment; there’s been countless opportunities for such emotions over the last decade: the invasion of Iraq against the vocal opposition from the British public, war criminal Tony Blair being rewarded as ‘peace’ envoy to the Middle East, the cash pay out to banksters after their world class failures in palming off financial ‘instruments’ and worthless paper in 2008, the MP’s ‘duck house’ expense scandal, the fizzle and flop of the Occupy movement so deftly defused by the media and there minions in office, – the list goes on. Mind you, disappointment in our institutions is not exactly a new phenomenon for the British. What’s more troubling, and what causes my bemusement is that many of these things happened during the last Tory watch in the ‘coalition’ government. All of that can happen and yet they still get back in?? You have to admit the Conservative party and the wider neo-liberal paradigm for which they are merely the current flag-bearers, are very good at that they do, they really are. No wonder they look so triumphant as they bang there well-heeled loafers on the Cabinet table.

It is very easy to condemn, but when it comes to judging the actions of others more often than not we end up on slippery ground. What is needed is fewer words of complaint, less hand wringing and more solutions. The current paradigm of ‘free’ markets (although government subsidies have seldom been higher) privatization and small state was installed against the post war consensus and conceived by true believers in the power of capital – you can say what you want about their motivations but they certainly had a coherent, unified vision and took advantage of prevailing undercurrents to feed ideas that were considered fringe, in to the mainstream.

Of course, the strategy for that particular brand of socio-political thinking has always been unapologetic self-interest. Their own, their friends in big business and corporations, and anyone willing to buy in. They hold the most of the strings, think tanks, money and influence to appeal to and manipulate the baser impulses to ‘have’, whatever the cost may be to wider society, the environment or the future. They figure happiness means only a healthy bank balance and lots of people clearly agree. But by no means everyone. Despite the fanfare the Conservative government got in with only about a quarter of the electorates vote. There is still an appetite in this country for alternative policies and many people feel unrepresented at all. Myself included.

So why, as the title of this piece suggests, is it a good thing that the Tories won?

We live today against a general backdrop of decline caused by increasing resource constraints, a concerted extraction of wealth from the majority to the minority, a squandering of trust from many in a position of authority, needless austerity and intense dissatisfaction with the current political class; we find ourselves on the cusp of change. Change is inevitable whether we, or those currently in power, like it or not. We’re almost at boiling point and it looks like no one is going to turn down the heat anytime soon. But now that the pre-eminent establishment party is back in they simply won’t be able to help themselves – they’ll push their agenda so far they’ll break more than just their promises. The self-serving, the systemic problems and the injustices they’ve worked tirelessly to obscure will be obvious to all but the most obdurate onlooker. Within those cracks the opportunity to grow something new finally see light.

Right now we seem to be lacking any meaningful opposition that runs counter to our spiraling circumstances but this is precisely the time that we – those of us who are fed up with silently objecting – should be authoring a ready-to-wear alternative. To be effective, I believe we need to do what they do.

The Right’s strength has always been a unified vision, coherent presentation of their ideas and an intrinsic appeal (what’s more appealing than self-interest?). In the late 1970’s and on in to the 80’s, they did not shy away from working hard to research, present and implement ideas such as privatization of the telecommunications industry, that only a few years before had been unthinkable. They loaded the column inches of daily papers and they caught the attention of business leaders and opportunistic politicians. They initiated think tanks that became a key and ongoing influence in decision making. In short, they became the mainstream in a few short years. In contrast, the left has been marked by in-fighting, watered down policies, short sighted leadership, a failure to present a cohesive and unified vision and an almost apologist stance with regards what they’re supposed to stand for. There has been a comprehensive failure to recognise common interests. Just one example: a unified consensus from human rights groups to environmentalists to trade unions regarding minimum wage would be an effective place to begin interrogating the current paradigms propensity to subjugate real human and natural value to that of abstractions such as money. This is but one example where consensus could be reached and a step towards achieving it made rather than losing focus in a familiar fuzz of bickering and narrow campaign interests.

Nevertheless is would be folly to believe anything could be achieved easily against the grain of current thought. Firstly, the business-as-usual fraternity would not and could not be persuaded to relinquish their gains; not until it becomes painfully obvious that to fail to do so would run counter to their interests. Make no mistake, that impetus will present it itself at some point; climate change, resource constraints and debt burden are lining up nicely to be the key drivers. Of course, in saner times, wiser echelons of the elite pragmatically accepted that there had to be a trade-off between insatiable wealth concentration and providing for the strata of society that actually provided that wealth through their labour and production. Whenever that was forgotten conflict soon followed. Those politicians and business leaders of all stripes to whom an unprecedented concentration of wealth has just been diverted should at least remember that they are unlikely to withstand an increasingly inevitable correction. The second problem feeds off from the first; history tells us that as things deteriorate the chorus of voices defending the status quo grows ever louder; ‘House prices boom set to continue’ was trumpeted to the skies before the bubble burst in 2008 and ‘good times just ahead’ was a common mantra in the great depression. Reading any paper or watching any channel will quickly show you denial of our current predicament is part and parcel of the current ‘plan’. We must raise our voices louder to shake things up.

For those of us who see things differently opportunities are arising and perhaps ideas too ‘out there’ could begin to seem common sense when the frame changes. There’s no shortage of ideas that could be explored: reorganisation of the election system, civic responsibilities, local civic societies, legal obligations to vote, shorter election cycles, a ban on party donors, a rolling back of trade agreements and the re-emergence of protectionism where it benefits the environment and the local economy. An integrated approach to foreign policy – rather than subservient to foreign corporations we should partner with foreign governments.  MP’s banned from vested interests with a limit on salaries or even salary loans, nationalised utilities and infrastructure, independent media, taxation of financial instruments, banning of legalised loan sharks, a tax on environmental ‘externalities’ such as a nitrogen tax on farmers using fossil fuel based fertilizers, the list goes on. All of these ideas are totally heretical and are from being taken seriously, let alone implemented. However, whilst anathema to the way we do things right now nevertheless they are still solid, reasoned and beneficial ideas. Just not to the dominant minority.

So what step can be taken towards these goals? Perhaps one way to put them out there would be to construct them in tandem with an established party which already has a structure and reach. The Green Party is surely that party, if they can avoid the temptation to water down there policies in a vain effort to gain acceptance and find a way to work in partnership with already existing local groups who have made it their business to specialise in areas that directly affect them. Much work has already been undertaken from which experience and answers could be drawn, there is no reason to recourse to isolated think tanks populated by ‘researchers’ who have little experience of the real world. If a concerted effort was made to involve every currently fringe group in the authoring of these policies they would grow from the grass roots upwards. There would be no need to win people over because it would be their ideas you’d be championing. Once people realise that there is a party that actually listens engagement would soar.

  • Using the framework of a party, network with all local groups, devolving decision making at the local level for areas like local commerce and planning, transport and utilities and media.
  • Engagement with trade unions; shared priorities such as job protection and creation, something guaranteed likely if protectionism ceases to be a dirty word.
  • Grow the membership of the party via these local sub committees where as many people as possible hold the reins through active participation; committees, focus groups, community projects, drop-in and roundtable exercises.
  • Utilise direct action such as boycotts and civil disobedience to begin to pull back from what is currently considered the established norm. All protest is peaceful, non-violent and non-confrontational. Create alternative supplier list for members so they can practically avoid those corporations that run business counter to environmental and ethical ideals.

Once again, it’s obvious that these kind of strategies would be very unpopular in certain circles – can you imagine any mainstream politician suggesting them? – there would be an eruption of the sort of outrage usually reserved for former radio 1 DJ’s and trade unions attempting to secure a better deal for their members. Anyone who dares suggest something that in some way counters the mighty lord of so called ‘economic growth’ must immediately be discredited. Yet I believe the appetite for just this kind of countering thought grows daily – as does the necessity. Although it would truly be political suicide for any party or politician to suggest ideas like these without having done the necessary legwork to engage popular support first, history won’t thank those who knew what needed to be done yet failed to act for fear of derision.

Back of the envelope sketches like this essay aren’t going to achieve very much. But there are people already out there shaking hands with their neighbours whilst making up their minds to do things differently. A cursory look around will throw up a Transition Town here, a community garden there and a neighbourhood cooperative within a few short miles of where you read this. Besides, now that we have a party in office dedicated to enriching the few at the cost of the many – a party that has no intention of listening – it will occur to many more that there’s no point in wasting time with words when the writing is already on the wall. Time to take it all back.

22.05.2015

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We Are Many

Tonight Amir Amirani’s We Are Many, a film about the largest UK mainland demonstration ever, opens in cinemas across the country. In February 2003, following months of build-up protests, over a million people from all walks of life hit the London streets to tell Tony Blair, minion Prime Minister to the seemingly unelectable George Bush Jr, that ‘no’ we would not support an action so flagrantly in violation of international law – not to mention morally reprehensible.

Of course, then, as now, MP’s ignored the public and did what they always do – looked after their own interests. Those of us who had spent months standing on the front lines were bereft. For myself, I was engulfed within a wave of disillusionment that lasted some months. I believed thereafter that protest doesn’t work; far better to get involved with like minds to try and create something new than shout at the old. The system seemed then, as it does now, deeply entrenched.

Yet as the film so deftly illustrates, I was wrong to believe that we had been defeated. On the contrary, that protest not only sparked a worldwide sea change on the day itself but its impact was such that its reverberations ring still. It showed many what is actually possible; that the democratic will of the people is inevitable; that the so called apathy of the people is a media invention (the same media that upholds the establishment); that many won’t just stand aside and watch injustice.

Whether you were at the protest – even if you’ve never protested a thing in your life – you will find much to inspire in this film. Sure, it has appearances from a whole host of familiar faces, from Damon Albarn to Tony Benn, Danny Glover, to Claire Short, but the real stars have to be the people on the ground,

You can tell that this film, like the protests themselves, is a labour of love; its superbly shot and well-paced but at its heart is a conviction and a passion that is irresistible. It even has a Daily Telegraph journalist admitting he was wrong – surely that, if nothing else, is worth lining up for?