Dave Backwith counsels caution, whilst continuing to hope

I’m really pleased to post this response to my piece, ‘Seizing the Moment’ from a dear friend and comrade of thirty years, Dave Backwith, author of ‘Social Work, Poverty And Social Exclusion‘. I do so late on a Wednesday evening, full of dread about tomorrow, but hanging on to hope.

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 2015 and 2017 – 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 their lives. That would definitely be a nail in the coffin of the selfish bullshit of neo-liberalism..

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