Delivering leaflets for Dave

 

I couldn’t believe it. Was this what 30 years of (mostly) radical political activity came down to? Delivering leaflets on behalf of David Cameron! Oh sure, the leaflet said ‘Labour In’ and even had a nice picture of Jeremy Corbyn on the back with the most underwhelming message in support of continued EU membership that one could imagine. But I took heart from this. This wasn’t about how great the EU was. No this was about pragmatics, and the simple realisation that for a variety of reasons, leaving the EU would not only be bad for the economy but for the cultural direction of the UK.

Thus far, the whole campaign was characterised by the Conservative Party tearing itself apart – ‘Blue-on-Blue’ the media called it, but it was more ‘Blonde-on-Brown’. Yes, Boris Johnson had stabbed his friend David Cameron in the back when he announced his intention to campaign for a leave vote. Earlier this year, one could not have got a cigarette paper between them on this most vital of questions, now….

This act of treachery filled me with rage. ‘How could you do it Johnson, you over-ambitious asshole?’ Every time I saw Cameron’s face a wave of empathy rushed over me.

‘Don’t worry Dave, stay strong, you, me and Jeremy will halt the rise of the blonde assassin and his racist ‘spiv’ associate’.

How were these feelings possible?

I thought I hated David Cameron.

This was my self-justification for delivering pro-EU propaganda to local households on the London-Essex border. It made a change from the stuff I used to deliver. Here I was ready to defend the status quo at the drop of a hat. I was agitating for the establishment, yet I felt clean and unaffected. How nice to play the grown-up and confront these dangerous radicals, of both left and right, on their half-baked plans and their wistful fantasies.

Oh how I pitied them, despised them even.

However, my main concern as I walked up and down people’s front gardens, was what to say if someone challenged me. Should I argue at all, or come out with some witticism or clever putdown? Might that only provoke or alienate? Thirty years of actively studying politics and economics on a daily basis, seemed meaningless if this wisdom was not transferable to a pithy anecdote, or some clever phrase. The very idea of communicating in such a false way made me feel sick. I comforted myself that I really would have made a poor politician. After all, I still read books for Christ’s sake!

***

It was then when I saw her grey head walking up and down front gardens, zig-zagging towards me. She too was delivering leaflets and I knew instantly that she was working for Vote Leave. My bile rose up in my throat, I would have to say something – a golden nugget to get under her skin. What if she actually had some political understanding, and a longer discussion was required? This would require an entirely different approach. I rehearsed a thousand different arguments in the 20 or so seconds it took for us to virtually collide outside someone’s garden gate, and when this fateful moment occurred all I could manage was:

‘Vote lose-all-your-annual-leave’.

She looked at me momentarily, shook her head to free a pair of earphones which I had not noticed.

‘Sorry?’

‘I said you guys want us to lose our employment rights so Boris can inaugurate a form of neoliberalism which would make Maggie look like a socialist. You really think we can leave the single market without consequences? All of business and expert opinion is lined up against you.’

Ah, that felt good.

‘We can trade with other nations.’

‘Trade with other nations!! If it was that easy, nobody would want to be in the EU in the first place. Nobody likes the EU, including Cameron and Corbyn!’ I spluttered.

‘It’s all this migration,’ she returned. ‘We can’t control our own borders.’

‘No one can control their own borders, we all have equal access to each others’ borders, that’s the whole point!’

‘But there are too many coming here, and we can’t cope.’

‘Can’t cope, do you not realise that migrants make a net contribution to the economy?’ Ever since Thatcher’s day, the idea has been to make the UK a low-wage flexible labour market. The whole thing has been set up for migration, the Brexit free-market Tories don’t even understand the logic of their own argument! How dare they blame the migrants for low wages – for shame!’

She stepped back a bit. It was working, she was an amateur, and she had not even mentioned wages.

Then she said it, her final rally…

‘Uncontrolled migration is a drain on public services, particularly the NHS. We need to take…’

‘NHS!!’ I shouted, slightly frightened by the level of my own volume. I stole a quick glance around the neighbourhood so as to ensure we were not causing a disturbance.

‘Let me tell you about the NHS!’ Last year my father almost lost the sight in his left eye. The doctor who saved his sight was from Greece. She was wonderfully attentive to my father’s needs to such an extent that he did not want to see any other doctor. It was as if she was a pagan Greek Goddess to our family. Even when we were at home eating dinner, the conversation would turn to Dr Frangoli. We would stop eating, and once I noticed a little tear dropping from my father’s left eye. He was so grateful, awestruck by this woman. ‘I don’t want any other doctor touching my eye,’ he said, ‘I trust only her.’ If that was not enough, most of the aftercare service was carried out by other migrants from the EU, as well as other countries. For days we sat in that hospital praising these people to high heaven. They appeared like angels to us. I even joked with them, saying, ‘Thanks for leaving your country and tending to our needs.’ How many Greeks have lost their eyesight whilst Dr Frangoli was helping my father? Eh? How many?! Migrants are not a drain on the NHS, they ARE the bloody NHS! Without them we would be screwed, how can you be so disrespectful?!’

I stopped and caught my breath. God I felt like crying!

I noticed my companion had shuffled back, she had clearly had enough.

‘I see,’ she said. And almost as an act of contrition, she whispered, ‘Well I guess your father will be voting for Remain then?’

‘Oh no, he’ll be voting for your lot.’

We stared at each other for a couple of seconds before she took her leave and recommenced delivering her leaflets. I stood there listening to my heart thumping. I was quite worn out, and just wanted to go home. I observed her mechanically zig-zagging up and down the remaining front gardens, but the swagger had left her gait.

I looked at the crumpled leaflet in my hand. It had become sodden with sweat. How had it come down to this? Without any enthusiasm whatsoever, I too continued with my leafleting.

‘Better get these delivered for Cameron,’ I reasoned.

‘Bastard.’

Brexit? No thanks! Better the Devil you know

That there is a lot wrong with the European Union is not in doubt. It has morphed into a lumbering, hubristic leviathan before our very eyes, often displaying the kind of staggering incompetence, not to mention cruelty and abuse of power, associated with empires that have grown too quickly; losing touch not only with reality, but most importantly with its people, as it shambles along in a delusive bubble of its own creation. But it was not always like this.

A potted history of the EU

Back in the eighties, it was a no-brainer that Britain should be a part of the nascent European project. That the Labour Party dared to advocate withdrawal from the EEC in its 1983 ‘suicide note’ was deemed to be further proof that Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives were the only competent party to be trusted with the economy. It is now often forgotten that it was Mrs Thatcher (later to succumb to Euroscepticism) who signed the Single Market Act in 1985 – giving us the free movement of capital and people, a neoliberal nirvana. Only a few years later John Major followed up with the Maastricht treaty, which drew out some of the political implications of the ongoing process of the union of European nations, and then took us into what turned into the disaster of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). The ever-expanding EU project culminated in the creation of the single currency – something now widely credited with much of Europe’s economic woes. Euroscepticism grew in tandem with the expansion. The European project was growing too fast, said the sceptics, and Britain risked losing what was left of its sovereignty – we were sleepwalking into a ‘superstate’. Even from the very start of the creation of the EU, the Tories had had their naysayers – its right-wingers, who cloaked their ideological objections in an economic rationale. This struck a chord with their doubles on the left who were doing the same thing. These ideologues patiently bided their time as, over the decades, the fantastic success of what is now called the EU slipped into its opposite – vindication of the naysayers’ warnings, at least in their eyes.

Britain was always something of a reluctant partner in this project. It wanted to have its cake and eat it too. After the decline and fall of its empire, Britain was caught following the second world war between the rise of the new superpower, the USA, and the formation of the European power bloc. The former imperial power naturally wanted to retain power and influence in a changing world – but what compromises should it make with rising greater powers, and with which ones? Straightaway we see that worries about the loss of ‘sovereignty’, voiced by the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, is at least situated by history. But if it was all as simple as they like to make out, why did Johnson only convert to Brexit after David Cameron’s apparent failure to secure suitable reforms? It’s not as if those reforms were ever going to deliver the kind of sovereignty wished for. Brexiteers argue that, with full sovereignty restored, Britain would be free to do trade deals with all four corners of the globe, but what sort of trade deals would the likes of Johnson and Farage sign us up to? Presumably, ones without the socio-economic protections of the EU – arguably good for businesses, or at least for some of them, but what kind of boon for democracy and ‘sovereignty’ would it represent for the mass of the population? One that is hard to discern, we would wager.

It’s not the economy, stupid

You can argue the toss about the economic trade-offs. As far as it is possible to tell, the boring reality is that the purely economic costs or benefits will probably be marginal either way. The whole question is more a political one. As Paul Mason points out, there are good arguments for wanting to exit the EU, but that doesn’t mean you should actually vote for Brexit. Why? Two words: Boris Johnson. Vote Brexit, get a resurgent Tory right, which will dominate the next period of British politics, and which will use the referendum win as a mandate to pursue ever more extreme Thatcherite polices. It is all very well voting to ‘get your country back’, but you won’t get it back – you’re handing it to the Tory right.

There’s a small ‘c’ conservative argument for staying, too, in that we are gambling with uncertain and potentially big upheavals for at best marginal economic gains. The terms of the withdrawal that Britain will win from the EU are by no means clear at this stage, but could conceivably be punitive – the EU will want to discourage other countries with similar ideas. Britain will want a continuing relationship with Europe, particularly access to the single market – and Europe will to an extent surely want that too. Britain is still one of the biggest and richest economies in the world. But given Britain’s current (at least apparent) hostility to migration and regulation and other conditions imposed by Brussels, how will this be achieved? The devil will of course be in the detail. But this is the real point. Brexiteers are pursuing an ideological agenda, the implications and real consequences of which they cannot be sure of. They are dangerous radicals, not conservatives. They want the benefits of EU membership without the costs. They are not really conservatives at all but have a petit–bourgeois spiv mentality.

Don’t let’s divorce or kick out the kids, let’s talk

Let’s return to the sovereignty question, as this would seem to be something of a trump card for Brexiteers of left and right. It can be seen for the myth it is with an analogy. When an individual decides to get married, they cede a large portion of their personal sovereignty with another person who is doing likewise. Both parties pool sovereignty: what they lose in one aspect, they gain in another. This is only apparently a loss, from a limited and selfish point of view. Actually, the apparent loss is a real gain: both individuals are strengthened by the partnership – the ‘individual’ has been transformed into a higher synthesis. At this point, it would be stupid and counterproductive to continue to insist on your individual rights. All that would do would be to threaten the higher synthesis. You’ll end up back on your own again, back where you started, having gained nothing. As The Economist likes to point out, full sovereignty is not obviously something to be wished for. Nowhere on earth is more sovereign and independent than North Korea.

What would we want this much-prized sovereignty for? The Brexiteers top trump, at least when it comes to connecting with a disaffected populace, is: to control our borders. The UK has entered an arrangement which nominally cedes border control for the right of access to other countries. The Brexiteers’ big beef is that more people in the other countries appear to have taken advantage of this to come here than people in the UK have to go there. This is a partial and hence misleading truth. What has really been happening is that the UK economy has been sucking in some of the most able workers from other EU countries and exploiting them in our more-flexible and hence cheaper labour markets. This has been made possible because of the near collapse of the ‘wage’ following 30 years of Thatcherism. Many indigenous Brits cannot afford to live on the wage a job offers without relying on a relatively generous (soon to be taken away) system of benefits. That this has been a boon to UK business (if not to its workers) is not in doubt. The UK has expanded its economy by raiding poorer countries’ labour forces, at the expense of our own, whilst at the same time having the chutzpah to claim that these very same people are clogging up our hospitals and social services – institutions that are, ironically, most often built and staffed by those very same immigrants.

Increased migration was an inevitable consequence of neoliberalism. This is the economy Thatcher and her successors built – a globalised, neoliberal, free-market utopia – and it explains why large sections of the business community still support EU membership, albeit through gritted teeth. But rather than accepting this reality, the likes of Johnson and Farage want to go a step further. For them, the EU stands in opposition to the kind of neoliberalism they want to see. When they bemoan the EU’s ‘regulations’ and ‘red tape’ what they are tacitly acknowledging are the remains of the social democratic settlement that followed in the wake of the second world war. This settlement was a compromise that recognised the rights of ordinary working people to such things as health, education, housing and a decent wage, if in return working people would recognise the rights of businesses to ply their trade in search of profits. This compromise, now thinned out, still underpins the Single Market, and the likes of Farage and Johnson want to get rid of what remains. The rest of the ‘red tape’ constitutes the legal framework required to underpin any free trading agreement – costs big businesses are happy to take on, but which can be an intolerable burden to smaller ones (a reason in itself why big businesses are happy to take them on). So when the Brexiteers light a bonfire under EU red tape, we can assume that any new such arrangements they come up with will be just as bureaucratic and costly (if not more so, minus the social protections we currently enjoy). What kind of free-trading paradise would you expect when when a desperate UK led by the blonde opportunist starts renegotiating our trading position with the likes of Trump or authoritarian states such as China?

Bigger dreams

At least some of the Brexit people have bigger dreams. They believe that a referendum victory will lead to a series of referendums in other EU states, thereby destroying the EU leviathan by stealth and turning Europe into a group of free associating and freely trading democractic nations – a kind of anarcho-capitalism, in fact. This is almost certainly a dangerous illusion and makes Cameron’s overheated warnings about world war seem all the more plausible. As the Remainers rhetorically point out, about the only foreign power praying for Brexit is Vladimir Putin – there’s nothing that would suit his geopolitical strategy more than the break-up of the power blocs currently frustrating his ambitions. This is not to say that there will be chaotic break up and war in the event of Brexit – but given the uncertainties, and the continent’s still recent history, conservative caution would seem sensible. There’s nothing very wrong with utopian dreaming, but beware the fanatics who are in a rush to impose their vision on a recalcitrant reality. Afghanistan and Iraq provide sobering lessons for those who are in a hurry to engage in utopian state-destruction and social engineering. The hope there was that ‘liberal democracy’ would spontaneously emerge from the rubble; what we actually saw was tribalism, sectarianism and corruption, to mention nothing worse, emerging in the power vacuum of these failed states. Utopian Brexiteers, whether of the free trading or socialist variety, should be careful what they wish for.

The EU does of course need to change, and the best way for progressive forces to help bring about democratic change is for Britain to remain a member. Being outside will leave us with no control over events occurring on our doorstep and will not return any meaningful sovereignty. Warnings from the likes of the Bank of England and the IMF should be heeded. The only likely result of a win for the Brexit campaign is a carnival of reaction in this country – and perhaps worse in the countries on our borders. That many people want to leave the EU is entirely understandable, however. The EU needs to wake up to the simple fact that its current course is unsustainable. Let’s hope the UK’s referendum goes the right way – for Remain – but that the EU learns a lesson from all the millions of ordinary people who are clamouring for the exits.

Politics for beginners

This talk* was originally entitled “Being political in a non-political era”, so given what has just happened to the Labour Party, it is probably a good idea that I agreed to change the title. However, this is not a pure Politics 101 type talk. Instead, after saying a few words about the nature of politics, how it is represented in the media, how we are all affected by it, and about the academic study of politics, I propose to give an illustration of how we can start the process of thinking critically and learning to navigate our way through the political world – and that means, the human world, our world. It is not my intention to convince you of any particular political point of view – rather to provide food for thought.

What is politics?

My guess is that if you ask most people what they understand by ‘politics’ you will get a variety of answers revolving around politicians, the House of Commons, elections, legislation, political parties, foreign relations and wars, and so on. And these are undoubtedly crucial aspects of what we call ‘politics’. But what such answers reveal is that, for most people, politics is ‘out there’ and has nothing much to do with them or their everyday lives. Indeed, this is how politics is most often represented to us. And yet, at the same time, although politics is not our “specialist subject”, we will be asked to vote, or someone will offer strong opinions in the pub, workplace or over the garden fence, as if we’re entitled to an opinion.

And what do we hear over that fence? More often than not, platitudes ingested and regurgitated without much thought from the mass media. You will sometimes hear some sense or evidence of careful thought, of course. But the observation brings me to my first controversial statement: political ‘common sense’ is invariably nonsense. If we think about it, this should come as no great surprise.

Political culture appears to be based upon a contradiction: on the one hand, we are feted by pollsters, and parties seek to connect with this thing called ‘public opinion’. After all, we live in a democracy – rule by the people. On the other hand, we also just as clearly seem to live in the age of the ‘expert’, and are effectively told (and sometimes we tell ourselves) that we are not politicians, and that we should defer to the experts for guidance.

My contention is that within the space where these contradictions clash lurks something called ‘ideology’, that that ideology masquerades as “common sense”, and it is precisely here where we are open to political manipulation. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that, with the help of critical thinking, we can turn the tables, and change the agenda. This should therefore be an area of deep concern to all citizens of a democracy.

If we define ideology roughly as the ideas that those in power want us to accept in the interests of their keeping power, then this leads me to my working definition of politics: power and its distribution in society. Associating power with politics is not controversial, but the social relations of power can be. If we take a brief and simplistic overview of the history of our society over the past few centuries, we will clearly see that power relations can change quite radically – from the divine right of Kings and Queens, and the power of the church, to parliament, and up to our modern day, where, in theory at least, we all hold the power – the revolutionary idea of universal suffrage. It is salutary to think that our society is actually based upon this extremely radical idea, and I would like you to hold on to this thought.

The academic study of politics

I have been involved in the academic study of politics, both as a student and teacher. Political science is a branch of the social sciences, which includes the likes of economics, sociology, anthropology, history and so on. All such disciplines are an attempt to investigate scientifically – or at least systematically and seriously – aspects of human life. Really, what all social science does is pose the question: what does it mean to be human? But if, as I suggested earlier, politics is concerned with power, you might see that there is a problem. Does not power and its distribution in society and the resulting ideologies affect our ability to investigate things objectively, scientifically?

Political theory is the study of ideologies (conservatism, socialism, liberalism, and so on) – it asks questions about the nature of political life, the relationship between the individual and society at large, the nature of the ‘state’ and its ideological underpinnings. An appreciation of such questions will affect how you see all the other questions – all the other branches of study. It will colour the lenses through which you see political reality. That is why political theory can be seen as primary for a genuine understanding of human life in all its aspects. If you have no appreciation of international relations, social history, or economics, then your understanding of what politics really is will be severely hampered. Without some grasp of political theory, one lacks any genuine frame of reference for understanding anything.

The icing and the cake

And that leads me back to how most people engage with politics. Even for those relatively highly motivated people that watch Newsnight or read a broadsheet – if this is all they are doing, and politics is a cake, all they are doing is nibbling the icing. The sponge will forever remain an untasted mystery. I am not saying one should not read quality newspapers, obviously, but they are no substitute for broader and deeper study. They are not a substitute for books or collective engagement.

What kind of things would a serious study look at? Many difficult issues, no doubt, but let’s start with just two. First, what does it even mean to say we live in a thing called ‘society’? You will perhaps remember that Mrs Thatcher herself raised this question, and famously answered it by asserting that the question was meaningless as there was no such thing as society. For those of us awake to present-day social realities at the bottom of the pile, perhaps now we are in a position to see the practical impact of her theoretical assumption and the intimate or dialectical relationship between theory and practice. Thatcher’s political theory defined her attitude to social questions and the action she took on them. In other words, political theory is not just abstract ideas. It can hurt you. Badly.

Second, how shall we be governed and on what terms? A democracy is a society based upon political equality. We are all equal before the law and we have one vote each. But at the same time there is social and economic inequality, which implies power structures in society, which democracy itself has not been able to fully bring to account. As good citizens, we must question how the people at the top got there, whether or not there is any validity to the process whereby they got there, and whether they should be allowed to continue in their roles or be made redundant.

Now we are really doing politics! When we engage with politics, ideology and theory in a critical way, then we are in a position to hold our political masters to account – as is demanded of us in any genuine democracy. The alternative is to uncritically and unconsciously accept the unexamined ideological framework and the power structure on which it rests. This turns on its head the old definition of politics as “the art of the possible” – because what is deemed “possible” is itself an ideological construction, not a matter of objective science. This is the importance of political theory: to help us see beyond what is obvious, beyond “common sense”, beyond ideology.

Ideological societies

This kind of analysis often surprises people who assume they are free of ideology. Most of us realise that Nazi Germany, the old Soviet Union, North Korea, or even those areas now controlled by ISIS are examples of ‘ideological’ societies, being based upon a prescriptive set of values and rules, where free thought is suppressed and submission to some kind of doctrine the norm. We often congratulate ourselves on having escaped this and for living in a ‘free society’.

One does not wish to be churlish – of course, we do live in a society that is remarkably free by historic standards. But such freedoms need to be guarded, nourished, and extended or surely they will wither away. As noted earlier, the freedoms we take for granted spring from a democratic culture which has been many decades in the making. In some respects, mainstream politics has been about expanding those freedoms, but in some cases it has been about restricting or reversing them. The overall context is political equality: one person, one vote. That we have a form of democracy is not in question. The issue is its content and quality – its depth.

The point is that, despite our society being based upon one of the most subversive ideas of all time – mass political democracy – arguments over social and economic democracy have still to be won – perhaps the best example of how ‘ideology’ still controls us and defines our options. In a sense (and only in a sense!), we have it harder than the North Koreans. We are already free – but what shall we do with our freedoms? Are we truly alert to the responsibilities – and grown up enough to take them on?

Demand the impossible

Perhaps, then, the ‘art of the possible’ is not so much about a wise acceptance and navigation of objective realities as it is an ideological defence of social iniquities. I want to subvert the idea that politics should be or is the ‘art of the possible’, and argue that it should, and can become the ‘art of the impossible’ instead. We must examine closely what we are constantly told is ‘unrealistic’. We have a perfect example of this with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader, and I will finish my talk with this point about how ideology works.

Labour lost this year’s general election and then threw itself into a bruising leadership campaign. Jeremy Corbyn was persuaded to stand as the left candidate, and because he could barely even get the minimum number of nominations required, MPs who disapproved of him signed his papers so that at least the party could be seen to have a ‘full debate’. Some of these people later regretted helping him, when his campaign started taking off. So please note that what they wanted was the appearance of ‘democracy’ – a token. This way, their democratic credentials could remain intact, and the left could take a thumping and be reburied after its temporary exhumation.

In pursuit of the façade of democracy, the rules of the leadership election had been changed – the idea was precisely that this would neutralise the left, and disempower the trade unions. Imagine the shock and horror of the party establishment when thousands of outsiders decided to pay their £3 and declare for JC! Such temerity could not be tolerated, so the party establishment claimed they were being infiltrated by outside left groups. Although true, the numbers did not add up – the numbers in such groups are minuscule and people were joining to vote for JC in their tens of thousands. The establishment had opened Pandora’s Box and they were losing control. And all thanks to their own rules – their own political chicanery. This led some party figures to argue for the suspension of the election – just because they did not like what was happening, that the result was not going their way. Just consider that for a moment. For years such people had bemoaned the lack of participation in politics, and now, at last, their proclaimed dream was coming true. But the dream was after all a nightmare, because the people joining had the cheek of having their own ideas. Such hypocritical hubris, cant and humbug.

We all know what happened next, but notice this. The same people that told us that the election of JC was impossible were not only proved hopelessly wrong, they are now telling us his potential election as PM will equally be impossible because what he proposes is unrealistic, and the people won’t go for it anyway. Notice the language they continue to use. They speak of ‘realism’, ‘common sense’ and the need to be elected. Aside from the obvious objection – ‘what is the use in electing a Tory-lite Labour Party other than to save your personal careers?’ – they have this fixed idea about what is permanent, possible and acceptable. In other words, they lack any kind of historical analysis whatsoever – they do not understand that change is the only thing that history guarantees.

But what change is possible is actually down to us. We can only be effective in bringing about change if we are alert to ideological bullshit. This demands a better civic-democratic culture than the one we already have – a culture that values reading, study, participation. But maybe such a culture is now on the cards. Love or loathe him, JC and his nascent movement will surely contribute to this end–Dave

* This is based on a talk first given by Dave to environmental group Barkingside 21

Jez we did! Now let a new conversation begin…

There’s nothing more thrilling and warming to the radical soul than that moment when the power structure cracks and crumbles. What had seemed so right and obvious and eternal is gone in an eyeblink. Ceausescu’s face when the booing started. The cracks in the Berlin Wall. Portillo. The Blairites during Jeremy Corbyn’s victory speech.

So, Jez we did indeed! This is a stunning victory for the left, and a crack in the near-four-decade-old edifice of Thatcherism, and it’s been a long time coming – a whole lifetime coming for some political activists, including those talking to you now.

The Tory reaction has so far been politically clever – if disgusting and cynical from a human point of view. It is to whip up fear. The first Tory response to the Corbyn victory, one no doubt long in the planning, was that Labour now represents a “threat to national security”. The Tories are now under instruction to use the word “security” as often as possible in the hope that the meme will take hold of minds before any facts can get in – in much the same way that many people already believe that the Corbyn shadow cabinet, with its majority of women, is somehow all-male. We can only hope the electorate can grow up in time to see through all this. History cautions against being overconfident on this score.

The New Labour reaction was scarcely more edifying. The Blairites pride themselves on being political weather vanes, wetted fingers in the air, focus group data at the ready. And you could argue that Blairism was indeed a clever response to the prevailing political winds of its time. But the wind has changed and their psephology has failed them. As is to be expected from conservatives and dogmatists of all stripes, they stick to their ideological framework when the facts change. All they have left is the unedifying dogma that the only thing that really counts is power and that the only way to beat the Tories is to once again cosy up so as to be indistinguishable from them. For us however –as in fact for some Tories – the very fact that we have an opposition again is something to be cheered by all genuine democrats, regardless of the extent to which you share Jezzer’s vision.

The Blairites have a fear card of their own to play, which is that Corbyn will destroy the Labour Party, the only organisation powerful enough to stand up to Tory attacks on the poor and working class. Call us simple-minded, but we rather tend to the view that the best way to oppose is to oppose, not to play cynical political games, and if this destroys the Labour Party, then it is clearly not fit for purpose anyway. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the very opposite is the case: that Corbyn is Labour’s only hope. In any case, it is the settled and democratically expressed opinion of the majority of Labour Party members, not to mention the social movement that now backs it, that the old New Labour just wasn’t worth saving anyway. Let’s see what can be built to replace it.

But can we win? #Thatchwecan!

The big question now is whether this social-movement, Occupy-style Corbyn victory signals the beginning of the end of the 40-year-long neoliberal project. Who knows? The movement against remains weak and it faces powerful enemies. Power fights back. But at the very least, a new conversation will begin, and this is needed more than anything else.

The pundits are doing their best to assure us that a Corbyn election victory is not possible. It should be remembered that these are the very people who only last month ruled out as ludicrous the possibility of a Corbyn leadership victory. And it wasn’t so very long ago that Labour swept to victory on a left-wing ticket and made some of the most progressive, socialist reforms the world has ever seen. So of course it’s possible – Jez could be PM in 2020.

It’s worth remembering that Thatcher herself was very much a Jez figure – a radical opposed by her own party who espoused ideas that mainstream opinion agreed were just nuts. But society was in crisis and change of some kind was irresistible. Something somewhere had to give. Thatcher won by pulling sections of the working class along with her project – the key also to a Jez victory. Thatcher promised material advancement – offering shares and council houses at knockdown prices. We were promised a ‘property owning democracy’, and a ‘popular capitalism’ — a nation of ‘Sids’. The ‘Sids’ now are still arguably doing pretty well out of the Tories – the relatively wealthy pensioners who vote for them have had their wealth ring fenced from austerity cuts. But the reality for many more – many of whom don’t vote – has been one of falling real wages, precarity at work, benefit cuts, massive student debt, and property ownership in decline. Social mobility has virtually stopped as inequality has widened.

It is for these reasons that Corbyn, and the movement that he has engendered, just may have a chance. There are plenty of people unrepresented in this democracy of ours, who are feeling ever poorer, and are thoroughly sick of political business as usual. Some of Corbyn’s policies are already popular – the renationalisation of the railways – and it is to be hoped that he can bring them along on other questions – militarism, immigrants. Corbynomics is the method, but the object must be the soul. And at least there is at long last a Labour leader who can actually do their job – in the first instance, to vehemently oppose the Tories latest plans to shackle the trade unions and cut welfare spending, and argue for a compassionate response to the refugee crisis. At the very least, this should make the Nasty Party think twice before launching further attacks and hopefully create a questioning culture in our society that challenges the general confidence of the rich and powerful on a day-to-day basis.

Perhaps we’ve at last completed the cycle that began with Thatcher. The possibility of building a fairer society has just opened up once again, and whether or not moves in this direction are led by Corbyn, by his movement, or by something else that comes in its wake, it is an opportunity we must be thankful for and grasp with both hands. All those who have supported or cheered Jez so far have a moral responsibility to follow through, back him, and get involved in organising the alternative. How you do this is of course entirely a matter for you. But joining the movement would seem to be a good first step.–Dave&Stuart

Is another capitalism possible?

In a previous life, we believed that Marx’s critique of political economy led inexorably to the conclusion that the only solution to the problems of capitalism was revolutionary socialism. Now, we are not so sure. The more natural question to ask, given the stubborn resilience of capitalism, is the one in our title. And the answer seems fairly obvious, given that there have always been different ‘capitalisms’ operating within a variety of contexts with varying results. It is interesting to note that George Osborne appears to believe in the same inexorable logic that many of our erstwhile comrades do; namely, that for capitalism to flourish, profits must be restored and the social wage cut; a ‘trickle-up’ economics. Is this the only way the system can work? Is George just following Marxist logic, capitalism’s logic, or is it ideological smoke and mirrors to justify an attack on the poor?

If one has an ‘objectivist’ understanding of capitalism that sees profit maximisation/restoration as the system’s raison d’etre, it is hard to see the likes of Osborne as morally culpable. Indeed, our old comrades are consistent on this, and argue that the Tories have a far better understanding of “how capitalism works” than the left-reformists, who think that water can be made to run uphill.

However, we should question these basic assumptions about the nature of capitalism, whether they come from George or from Marxists. Even if you accept that actually existing capitalism is a rapacious and inhumane set-up – and we do – we need to go back to first principles and ask: what is the scope for change within the system? To what extent is it helpful to think of capitalism as a ‘system’ at all? If we de-objectify capitalism, what appears instead are historically constituted social relationships. And social relationships, no matter how constrained, can surely change if the participants in them decide that change is what they want.

When Osborne decides to make his cuts to social spending, this cannot be the only option open to him. There is a subjective (ideological) driver at work. This ideological driver you might call “Thatcherism” – the unchallenged ruling ideology for getting on for four decades. This is the context in which to understand the potential of “Corbynmania“. It opens up a space where we can question old certainties and look at the world with fresh eyes. Even if, contrary to the mainstream press, Corbyn’s programme is relatively modest, its effect really might be revolutionary because it upends common sense and changes what is even thinkable, let alone doable. Even if you disagree with everything Corbyn stands for, or discount his potential for success, then still mainstream culture in this country has now to deal with a politician who is straight-talking and honest and seems to sincerely believe in the possibility that things might be organised differently. That is in itself revolutionary.–Dave&Stuart