Seizing the moment – from Social Selfishness to Social Solidarity

Over the last few weeks I’ve discarded a number of responses to the fast-approaching General Election, fearing they were self-indulgent and added little to the overwhelming priority – to oust the Tories and to break from the selfish bullshit, that is neoliberalism.

At the heart of my abandoned efforts was a desire to explain my love/hate relationship with the Labour Party [LP] – from enthusiastic young canvasser in 1964 to being the committed Chesterfield delegate at the LP national conference in 1987 through to having little good to say about neoliberal New Labour for nigh on thirty years. All this was a preface to seeking to persuade you that I carried no naive torch for Jeremy Corbyn. This said, I did hope that something was on the move within the Party. The 2017 election LP comeback from the depths suggested that my fragile optimism should not be cast aside.

The passing years have dented inevitably my perspective. Whilst to be expected the coordinated mainstream media assault, from the Mail to the Guardian, on Corbyn’s character has been overwhelming. This pseudo-psychological narrative has so insinuated itself into people’s thinking that, for example, contributions on the youth work’s social media sites echo the fixation. Politics is reduced to personality. Corbyn’s dithering versus Johnson’s deceit is about as insightful as it gets.

Rarely do we find an engagement with the profound ideological, economic and political choice posed by this ‘snap’ election. On the one hand the Tories stand for a continuity with the ‘free’ market, dressed up in an authoritarian, populist, nationalist garb. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor. On the other Labour aspires to resurrect afresh a social-democratic, redistributive agenda ‘for the many, not the few’.

To back the latter offers no guarantees, but it opens a door to possible progress that will be slammed shut if the Tories prevail.

This stark choice is caught in the following letter sent to The Guardian by leading contemporary musicians, about whose work I know little, but who represent certainly a significant current on the music scene.

Stormzy backs Corbyn. Ta to the NME.

We are musicians, artists, rappers and grime MCs, and we will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party this election. We’re not voting Labour in the naive hope that they will solve all the problems our communities face. We vote because they offer an urgent alternative to the destructive policies of the Conservatives.

Ending austerity will, for the first time in many of our lifetimes, use the taxes we all already pay into, to reinvest in the housing, youth clubs, community groups and cultural centres being destroyed by the current government. These spaces made many of us who we are today, and while we don’t rely on them like we used to, we know how important they will be for the next generation. It is only by restoring them that our communities can take charge of our own destinies, and build our own solutions to the problems we face.

We are under no illusions about Labour’s own imperial history, and we don’t think the British establishment is fundamentally going to change. But we are sick of our taxes being spent on fighting more wars and building more jails. Jeremy Corbyn has been one of the few people who has fought against injustice all his political life, from apartheid South Africa to the bombing of Libya.

To deny from our own, now quite comfortable places, that a Labour government would improve the lives of millions would betray the communities we come from. The opportunity for people-led change can be made possible under a Jeremy Corbyn Labour government. End austerity, rebuild our communities and take back the means to change our lives for the better.

Surely, in an election that could transform the livelihoods of many, and be the difference between life or death for many more, life is something worth voting for. Join us. Register to vote before midnight on Tuesday 26 November. And vote Labour on Thursday 12 December.

Signed by Akala, Stormzy and others – see Musicians backing Labour

I don’t think they exaggerate, whether talking about life or death in the present or the future. Crucially they recognise that a vote for Labour is no more than the start, a Labour victory merely the beginning. People-led change requires our ongoing involvement in politics, in the grass-roots struggles to transform our collective existence.

ta to snopes.com

Even as I pen the phrase, a Labour victory, I falter. Calling for a vote for Labour in England, exceptions such as the Greens in Brighton aside, is utterly understandable, but what about the situation elsewhere in the disUnited Kingdom? Two interrelated concerns colour my sense of what best to do. Firstly the bottom line is that we rid ourselves of the Tories and break from the Thatcherite legacy of self-centred individualism. Secondly I am deeply at odds with the idea that Labour is the sole repository of compassion and justice, a form of ‘monopoly radicalism’. It is caught in the leadership’s dismissal of a post-election progressive alliance, involving, say, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. My heresy is that I feel a coalition government led by Labour, within which politicians listen acutely to the people and to each other, would be an important step towards a more democratic British politics.

Since 1979 we have endured the conscious undermining of our commitment to one another, of our belief in the common good. We have been coaxed and cajoled into being first and foremost passive consumers rather than critical citizens. Since 2008 neoliberalism has been a broken model, but the vision of ‘another world is possible’ seemed to be beyond us. It is clear that the totally unexpected election of Corbyn to the Labour leadership shocked the status quo. Put aside, for a moment, the inevitable criticism that the LP leadership could have done this, that or the other better, the orchestrated, toxic campaign against Corbyn in particular has ironically little to do with the supposed weakness of his character or his alleged virulent anti-semitism. It has everything to do with the challenge posed to the ruling class or elite, if you prefer, by an economic and political programme focused on social equality and social justice. Such a proposal is an anathema to the most influential fractions of the powerful.

At this juncture the choice is plain, even if the consequences depend critically on our political involvement beyond the polling booth. We have a fleeting opportunity to close the era of social selfishness and launch a renewed era of social solidarity.

FROM SOCIAL SELFISHNESS TO SOCIAL SOLIDARITY

SEIZE THE MOMENT! VOTE TO OUST THE TORIES!

2 thoughts on “Seizing the moment – from Social Selfishness to Social Solidarity

  1. Pingback: Corbyn and Anti-Semitism – Gus John answers Archbishop Welby – CHATTING CRITICALLY

  2. Dave Backwith

    As Ken Loach’s video says the UK general election on 12th December does indeed promise to be a Fork in the Road (https://twitter.com/kenloachsixteen/status/1204365910947061760) a game changer, one way or the other. It the Tories get a clear win we’re likely to have the most right-wing, anti-working class and racist government in living memory. And given the polls and the bile the mainstream media are pumping out, uncertainty about the result and what to do to try to influence it, is hardly surprising

    But Tony urges us to seize the moment and vote to oust the Tories. Well, I would if I could.
    I share much of Tony’s ambivalence towards Labour. But, like it or not Labour or, more likely, a Labour-led coalition are the only viable alternative to another Tory government – and we’ve had more than enough of them: ten long years!!!). That said, I’ve doubts about Tony’s conclusion that “We have a fleeting opportunity to close the era of social selfishness and launch a renewed era of social solidarity”.

    One doubt is about the some of the limits of the ‘our’ much-trumpeted democracy and whether the election is likely to bring a government that can lead a shift from ‘social selfishness to social solidarity’. Like Tony I was pleased to see Akala and co’s letter and support the gist of it. But the fact is for a lot of people, whether they’ve registered and, if so, whether they vote, and who they vote for will make no difference at all to the overall result. Where I live the Tories had majorities of around 19-20,000 in both 1915 and 1917 – taking about 60% of the vote. In other words, if the ‘left’ parties formed an anti-Tory pact and they all backed the same candidate, the Tories would still win – comfortably. According to Wikipedia there were 172 safe Tory seats in 2010. Much of the south of England is so-called ‘electoral deserts’ where effectively the Tories face no contest. Of course, the electoral landscape is shifting and what were once taken for granted votes are no longer guaranteed. And, apparently, it is people on low incomes who are most likely to change their vote.

    But as Clare Ainsley also argues (http://www.transformingsociety.co.uk/2019/11/27/class-still-matters-in-elections-but-its-changing-nature-needs-to-be-understood/) these working class votes have to be won and what matters most to them are incomes, welfare reform, housing and the NHS. In a country with 14 million people living in poverty, rising homelessness and ever starker inequalities that’s not surprising. Where these things come together is that for Labour to form a coalition government in which “which politicians listen acutely to the people and to each other” needs a social movement which addresses the issues which impact on people’s lives, mobilizes them and thereby offers a convincing prospect of radical change. I think Tony is right to emphasize that, ‘People-led change’ goes beyond voting and is built on, “ongoing involvement in politics, in the grass-roots struggles to transform our collective existence”.

    Historically, it’s not hard to show that the Labour Party has never been about people led change and even at its reforming best (the 1945 government) has made top-down changes for people rather than leading a movement, or movements, of the people. Today, however radical Labour’s manifesto might be, there’s little sign of them leading a popular movement against neo-liberalism. I think Tony’s right to say that ‘Corbynism’ has rattled the establishment, hence the landslide of vitriol intended to discredit Corbyn. But that would flood of poison will be as nothing compared to what would be unleashed if he did become prime minister. To withstand such an onslaught the parliamentary Labour Party, and any coalition partners, would need to be rock solidly defiant and would need the popular, active support of poor, oppressed and exploited people. I don’t think that’s likely to happen but if it would be a start in making democracy real: by people struggling for control over lives. That would definitely be a nail in the coffin of the selfish bullshit of neo-liberalism.

    Like

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