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Getting Greener

June 30, 2011

I’ll confess to a residual political tribalism when it comes to party preferences. I’ve been a Labour supporter since my teens but my application for membership was turned down when I was 16 on the grounds that the party didn’t organise in Northern Ireland. Ah, well.

The politics of Irish nationalism and Ulster unionism have never held any attraction for me, so I went off and flirted with the Trots and others for a few years before developing a bricolage approach to politics. In other words, I voted for this and that, here and there, tactically and without passion or commitment.

Today, Labour (both British and Irish versions) accept members from Northern Ireland but I just can’t bring myself to join. The New Labour-thing, coat-tailing the USA in foreign policy and an uninspiring domestic agenda left me cold and disillusioned.

Was it time to go Green? The Irish Greens hadn’t covered themselves in glory in coalition down south but maybe that was a learning experience. They’d know now that if of you lie down with dogs…

But no. Not the Greens. Not now.


Because there’s nothing quite like a Conservative government to concentrate a socialist’s mind. And then there’s a shiny, new leader offering what looks like a break with the tired politics of ‘New Labour’.  Time to get real and think seriously about party membership again. Get involved. Do something. Respond to the old tribal dog whistle. How did I ever seriously contemplate joining the Greens? As comrades are always quick to point out, the Greens are a party of the middle class; a single issue pressure group, not a serious political party; they have no real understanding or interest in class issues.

Well that’s all fine and dandy. But how come Caroline Lucas is visiting the picket lines today, while Labour leader Ed Miliband is unable to even make the most piecemeal utterance of support for people, many of whom he owes his political career to?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Strategist permalink
    July 1, 2011 12:31 am

    Ha! Beautifully put.
    I think Ken Livingstone’s pronouncements have been better judged, but of course he needs to win an election in London, rather than out there in the horror of Middle England.

    On Socialist Unity I tried to put together a few thoughts on why the left needs to reach out more to younger people not working in the public sector who are basically having all prospect of a secure old age systematically stolen away from them that this strike is about them as much as it is about public sector workers.

    [For some reason you can’t link to a post on Socialist Unity only to the whole site, so I’ll just copy the whole thing out here, hope you don’t mind!] {…Having now copied the whole thing out the enormity of hijacking your thread with screenfuls of crap pasted from Socialist Unity really hits home. Do feel free to delete!}

    Ken on the strikes

    Ken Livingstone said: “Nurses and teachers did not create the global economic crisis, yet public servants and the wider public are being forced to pay not only through these pensions changes but higher VAT, student fees and transport fares, cuts to EMA and vital services that millions rely on.

    The Tory-led Government has mishandled the pension issue. Cameron and his ministers have put a 3% surcharge on pension payments for millions of people. Danny Alexander’s provocative announcement on the retirement age in the midst of negotiations has proved reckless.

    It is a sign of the harm that is being done to living standards by this government that one of the unions involved in this dispute, the ATL, has never before in127 years held a strike. The Tory-led government should drop its refusal to negotiate on core issues such as the increase in the employees’ pension contributions, raising the retirement age and the change from RPI to CPI.

    What is happening today means hundreds of thousands of Londoners will be inconvenienced. That is bad news for everyone. The government must end its attacks and negotiate on the core issues under contention.”

    To which a contributor called faultylpgic said: “Whilst an improvement on Miliband and Balls it’s hardly a powerful backing of those resisting..says a lot about the labour left and how out of touch they are.”

    To which I said: “It’s really important that Ken should win the 2012 London Mayoral election, so don’t be a plonker.

    There’s a massive job on to educate the people on the pensions issue, or why these strikes are happening. And that job must be done in the teeth of a propaganda machine that swings into action straight away to tell everybody that the teachers are “greedy bullies” ((c) Daily Mail).

    Ken’s statement is well judged as ever from the left’s most successful politician.

    It meets the London public not working in the public sector where they are now, and to give them the information they need to understand the situation better. And vitally, it widens the issue out to make clear that this is really about defending the very concept of public services from an all-out assault by a neo-Thatcherite government.

    There’s two generations of Londoners – of all races and ethnicities – out there who don’t instinctively think in terms of class solidarity, they think as individualists and consumers. Yet they know they are dependent on public services for their standard of living.

    This is where Mark Serwotka and co. really must do more to get the message across. This is not solely about pensions. It’s about the very concept that ordinary people working in private, public or voluntary sector have a right to a level of security in their old age. The unions should announce that this strike is about pension rights for everybody, in every sector – about levelling up, not levelling down. And they should invest in a major expose of the private pensions industry, what a massive fucking rip off it was pre-crash, and what an utterly failed basket case it now is.”

  2. Rab permalink*
    July 1, 2011 8:03 am

    Good to hear from you Strategist.

    I think you’re right on the money about the need to reach beyond the public sector with arguments about pensions. As you say, presenting a picture that pitches a profligate public sector against a straightened private sector has been a key part of the government’s propaganda narrative. But it’s a narrative that is wide open for subversion: because it proposes nothing less than a race to the bottom; and presents the public sector unions with opportunity to cast themselves as champions of everyone who’s struggle at the moment.

    I’ve been reading Ivor Southwood’s short but magnificent book, Non-Stop Inertia, in which he paints a bleak picture of the lives of many young people (and probably not so young also) who find themselves in low paid, irregular employment. There’s a constituency right there that needs to be called out to. And they sound a little like the ‘two generations of Londoners – of all races and ethnicities – out there who don’t instinctively think in terms of class solidarity’.

    Interestingly, I spent part of yesterday abusing Ed Miliband on Twitter, until someone replied saying that the Labour leader had to appear ‘less red’ for fear that he might alienate the south of England. I appreciate that. Alas, we cannot ignore the definitive power of ‘middle England’. But I think this will only make the UK’s present constitution less sustainable in the future: there’s a ‘celtic fringe’ and a post-industrial north that just don’t seem to be able to play any meaningful role in UK elections. That’s a problem…

  3. July 1, 2011 9:10 am

    I think the post-industrial north includes where I live in Coventry. My brother is in continual low-paid irregular work so how the hell is he to have a pension? What about those who cannot afford pensions because they are in steady but so low-paid work like myself.
    Class solidarity should not only transcend race and ethnicities but also sexual orientation (gay, lesbian) and gender. Whenever ‘working class’ awareness is mentioned the issues of
    sexual orientation, race and gender should be discussed. There must be working class gay people out? ‘If’ you ‘believed’ the mainstream media they only show gay people who are celebrities, or middle class.

  4. Strategist permalink
    July 3, 2011 3:12 am

    Thanks Rab and Chris. I completely agree with you on “presents the public sector unions with opportunity to cast themselves as champions of everyone who’s struggling at the moment”.

    The NUT’s stickers said “Fair Pensions for All”, but the unions could do more to develop that message over the next weeks and months.

    I’d be interested to hear how the strikes went down in a place like Coventry. In London I think there is a general sense that the public sector may have better job security/pension but does get paid less. But in the North/Mids/Celtic Fringe, if the white collar public sector are getting better security *and* better money, this feels like a different kettle of fish. And no doubt this is what the right wing press are on to (inveterate opponents of the “politics of envy” that they are…)

    One thing that surprised me about Thursday in London was that the attempt to widen “J30” from a teachers/civil servants thing to a “precariat” / “indignados” thing didn’t seem to work (unless I was simply in the wrong place). The university and school students who had given such a brilliant account of themselves in the freezing cold weather last winter didn’t show up, despite it being a warm day.

    Then I was told that London Uni students have already gone home (can this be true?) and I suppose the one place school students wouldn’t want to be on a warm day when school was cancelled was hanging out with their teachers?? Anyway, I’ve been told that September will go better and the students & university lecturers will be out jointly, in force. Hope so – and not only in London, in Coventry as well.

    Thanks for the tip on the Ivor Southwood book, I’ll go & have a shufty. I think this whole precarious work generation is an absolutely massive issue, and I’d be interested to see you blog more on it. Wikipedia says “Precarious work is a term used to describe non-standard employment which is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected, and cannot support a household.” The latter bit is key, because for the indignados it’s not just about being able to be secure in old age (which seems a long way away when you’re in your 20s), it’s about being secure enough to get a decent place to live or start a family.

    We can dream of the day when the burger flippers and baristas come out with the teachers and students!

    On Ed Miliband, I think the key thing is the enormity of Clegg completely fucking it up on electoral reform. We’re totally back into a first-past-the-post two party politics world now, and the only thing that matters is the marginals. The North does have a role to play, as do the shires – they’re the platform on which Lab & Tory stand to slug it out over 60-70 marginal seats. I like that as little as anyone – but that’s the game for now.

    There are two ways for Labour to make ground in those marginals – get the non-voters to start voting or to get people who voted Tory in 2010 to switch to Labour. That’s the strategic question that is no doubt troubling Ed Miliband.

  5. Rab permalink*
    July 3, 2011 9:48 am

    I’d like to write something about Southwood’s book. It’s made quite an impression on me. I’ll probably get round to it next week. At the moment we’re bathed in glorious sunshine over here. This happens so seldom that it demands the instant response of running into the street with as little on as possible to soak up some the light and heat.

    I watched Ed Miliband’s interview on the BBC website from the 30th June. Absolutely shocking. I think he’s dead in the water. Labour need to ditch him quickly. And I speak as someone who didn’t find his election to the leadership too objectionable. How they replace him with is a moot point. I don’t get the feeling that there is a lot of ‘talent’ in the parliamentary party at the moment. Maybe someone will emerge.

    I hope the students are back up-and-at-it in September. They bring some much needed energy. I suspect that most of them are off for the summer, many joining the ranks of the precariat, even if only temporarily over the holidays before returning to university. Although having just seen my own bunch graduate last week, I fear that many of them are about to find out just how tough and potentially disappointing graduate employment prospects can be. Which brings me neatly back to Ivor Southwood…

  6. July 4, 2011 1:47 pm

    I’ve just posted on Libcon that I feel Ed M has blown his chance to be the figurehead of resistance, due to the fact that he’s a coward. Fair points about middle England and the Celtic fringe, maybe the country needs to be split along political lines. The socialists do their thing, the right wingers do their thing and we see who gets the best results. Never likely to happen, I know, but even wild optimism is better than what we have now. The epidemic of pessimism, created and promoted by the coalition, supported by Eds’ Labour party.

  7. Rab permalink*
    July 4, 2011 7:45 pm

    Welcome Blackwillow,
    I think you’re spot on about Ed Miliband – he’s dead in the water. He’s abandoned his base to play to a gallery that will never love him. But I think we may see the break up of Britain, with a Scotland (broadly social democratic in complexion) going it’s own way. I fear for what that might mean of England, perhaps left to the mercy of the Tories for ever and ever, ahem.

  8. July 6, 2011 2:25 pm

    Speaking of clear messages, Rab, what frustrates me about all this is the failure of the left to get across to the public a key and central truth: that the private and public sectors are not discrete entities, independent from each other, that they are inextricably linked and that if you shrink the public sector with mass redundancies, sell offs and mergers, it’s going to have a big impact on the private sector as well. That little cafe in the big metropolitan hospital. The newsagent just beside the council depot. The bookshop on the university campus. They all depend on public sector workers who in turn depend on them. A simple image perhaps but sometimes simple is effective.

  9. Rab permalink*
    July 6, 2011 6:44 pm

    There are still bookshops on university campuses? Fuck me.

  10. July 6, 2011 8:24 pm

    Hmmm well maybe I was stretching it just a tad there!

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