Archive for June, 2009

The Labour Party left Compass group has just held a conference, No Turning Back, which aimed to bring together left and progressive currents to explore the scope for “a new model of pluralist politics”.  The Guardian account of the conference was also very positive.  Particularly in the degree of common ground between labour’s Compass left and the Green Party in agreeing on a core set of policies.

However, my immediate reaction is to raise a couple of queries over this as a way forward:

1. It seems to me that after 12 years of the New Labour Project, the left (inside and outside the party) is at its weakest. I suspect that most members of the party who would have worked for the kind of policies and approaches outlined here have, like myself, left long ago. Not only in reaction to what the Blair/Brown governments have done, but because the evisceration of party democracy meant that our views did not count.

2. I do not yet see much sign of a strategy emerging rather than another wish list of policies. What is the Labour Party for? Is it simply about attempting to capture the State, as it is, in order to ameliorate the worst aspects of globalised capitalism? (wouldn’t this just be to repeat the mistakes/defeats of the seventies?). If the aim is, rather, to bring about a serious shift in power away from the state and big business and towards civil society, surely this requires a coherent strategy for democracy, civil liberties and greater equality that most people (not just most party members) will actively support? The Labour Party, even before its Blairite makeover, was constituted mainly as an electoral machine to increase labour representation locally and centrally, and takes support for granted.

I am seeing a lot just recently about the Transition Initiatives.  A movement dedicated to encouraging people to take action to help their local communities become more relilient to changes anticipated due to peak oil and climate change.  Even The Guardian has got in on it with an article by Madeleine Bunting: Beyond Westminster’s bankrupted practices, a new idealism is emerging.

Is Transition a radical and creative way to re-engage ordinary people with progressive politics and participatory democracy?  Or is it simply non-political self indulgence by a small number of middle-class hippies?  Very few of the comments on the article posted on The Guardian’s web site attempt to debate the issues raised, which is disappointing but hardly surprising.  So many of the comments on most pieces seem to be coming from a relatively small number of juvenile trolls that the section should be renamed from Comment is Free to Comment is Banal.

I went to a screening this evening (organised by the York in Transition Initiative) of a documentary film about how Cuba coped with the sudden loss of oil, fertilisers and other imports following the collapse of the USSR in the nineties.  It was not about how Cubans became middle-class hippies, but how a society was forced by circumstances to introduce radical changes in order to survive.
We can argue over how much and how quickly we are going to experience volatile change here in Europe thanks to global recession/depression, peak oil and climate change, but it’s stupid to insist we can avoid a crisis.
The illusion of security (whether in work, health, retirement or environment) available in a free-market, class-based economy  is being torn away.  This growing insecurity perhaps partly explains the degree of anger being directed towards MPs and the growing disaffection with Westminster.
This is an opportunity for us to look not just at the formal trappings and institutions of ‘representative democracy’, but also to question what sort of society we want to live in and what actions we ourselves can take to bring it about.  It should not simply be about surviving ecological shocks but more importantly social justice and the distribution of power in society.