It was glorious, but it ain’t over.
Forgive me allowing myself a little boast, but I feel as though, for once in my life, I was ahead of the herd. I joined the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn, have voted for him for leader twice, and have never lost faith in his power to be a potent influence for good in British life. I have a ‘Corbynista’ shirt which I have worn to local party meetings throughout the Blairite fightback, and I have held out hope, through two turbulent, contentious years, that a lucid, honest politician, who talks about real life rather than rarefied, contained abstractions, could bring British politics back to sanity.
Of course, I am in the lowest twenty percent of median average household incomes, and approximately £500 per year worse off than I was before 2008, which is probably, when we get past the hypnotised fixation with media control, a pretty good driver of mood. I’ve also been working in public service throughout the period in which the Tory hit squads have been ‘working tirelessly’ to destroy them.
Until a couple of weeks ago, being a Corbyn supporting member of the Labour Party was seen widely as an extreme position, but it suddenly appears mainstream, and the violent, corrupt, brutish, hateful extremism that has passed as the political centre-ground for most of my life, just as suddenly, seems like a marginal, confused, farcical and outmoded embarrassment. It’s not gone; it’s still hanging on and still a danger, but a visible one, stripped of its disguising power to confuse. Neo-liberalism is looking vulnerable, fragile.
Nine weeks ago, it seemed as though we were enduring business as usual and that it was fixed and eternal. True, the Labour Party continued to make dangerously reasonable and realistic policy statements, as they had been doing for the last year, but they were drowned beneath news stories that all started with “the trouble with these ideas is that they’re not part of the proper political dialogue”. I was avoiding media, reading the LRB but staying away from the ‘news’, because its hypocrisy just enraged me. Every time I heard a commentator who was, supposedly, ‘in the loop’, I was reminded of my favourite piece of cartoon art.
So, we had a government committed to an ideology that was impossible to pin down, but amounted to the idea that the state and state institutions are somehow inherently evil and must be dismantled. In practice, what that meant was that they had to make life as hard as possible for ordinary people. There was a crisis, which, again, they couldn’t clearly identify, but it involved, variously,
- being threatened by refugees, who were about to ‘flood’ this country and destroy some, again unidentifiable, quality of Britishness. The fact that those refugees were mainly children, starving in abject, wretched poverty in a field in Calais, didn’t reduce the threat.
- being ripped off by an endless horde of people who pretended to be ill, or disabled, or dying, or old, so that they could live at the expense of Tory voters whose property is more sacrosanct than the lives of people with disabilities.
- being incandescently offended by a failure to worship at the altar of the military, or the royal family, or not eating fish and chips in a suitably patriotic manner.
The method they chose for addressing the nagging sense of threat they were so busy maintaining was to impoverish the majority of British people and tell us that it was for our own good. In the meantime, the publicly owned structures -our shared wealth- was to be stolen from us and given to various privatisation parasites, prominent among whom were Richard Branson, American banks and Rupert Murdoch’s advertisers, all of whom seemed to be, mysteriously, clients of Theresa May’s husband.
It also meant, as Chris Riddell’s brilliant depiction of the establishment delusion illustrates, that they were compelled to continue making more refugees, by manufacturing excuses for constant, unending war. And, it turns out with only a very little googling, that most of the government had financial interests in that process as well.
It sounds as though it should be a story about evil genius, but the truth is they’re not geniuses. To list the parade of fools who make up the front row of our current government is to court despair: Michael Gove, the Penfold lookalike who dreams of an illiterate peasantry; Chris Grayling, who reversed a decade’s improvements in the criminal justice system in a few short years of amateurish profiteering; David Davis, who is currently humiliating us with his cluelessness in the Brexit ‘negotiations’, and Boris Johnson, whom Marina Hyde brilliantly described last week as “Britain’s foremost stupid-person’s-idea-of-a-clever-person”. Then there’s the odious and openly corrupt Jeremy Hunt, who never saw a piece of public property he didn’t try to flog and the floundering and out-of-his-depth chancellor Philip Hammond: they’re all dim-witted crooks, propped up by worn-out spin and at one another’s throats because they serve the deepest right-wing lie: look after number one and never tell the truth when a good lie will do. They are, as Frankie Boyle says in the video below, “…some of the worst people in the world…broken sociopaths.”
The battles they’re really concerned with are not the challenges of taking responsibility for the safety, well-being and prosperity of this country. Rather, they are fixed on their own in-fighting; the maintenance of their individual positions in a deeply antagonistic and futile occupation: professional establishment politicking. It’s a game to them. I’ve linked elsewhere to a compellingly lucid explanation of the power shift that took place when the previous gang of crooks decided to retire to spend more time with the profits of their back-handers. When we ask what on Earth Theresa May was thinking, calling an early election just after having declared to the EU that we were off, we have to remember: it wasn’t about us. Their gameplaying is never about us. It’s about their strange little world, in which their concerns, their insecurities and their weird fantasy bubble-world are all that matter.
Theresa May, it turned out, is no brighter than the rest of them. An element of the game-players’ corruption was a sense of entitlement, buttressed by the belief that the Labour Party, having stepped out of the establishment bubble with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, was out of the game. Who’d listen to a party that wanted to [snort] privatise the railways?
Anyway, they had the media on their side.
Except, the suspicion that the backbone of establishment power, a uniform and breathtakingly malign press, was on the wane was a key reason why, when May called the election, I had real hope that she had made a mistake. The overwhelming prejudice of the public environment in the UK said that it would be a foregone conclusion, but that didn’t ring true in the way it had in 2015, when the media had actually worked to try to make the election seem tighter than it was. The people I knew, who in 2015 were reliably parroting the approved lines from The Sun and The Mail about Europe and immigrants, had lost track of what they were supposed to believe and had started focussing on the difficulties in their lives. Very few of them thought by this time that those difficulties had anything to do with immigrants or terrorism: they could see that their enemies were the increasingly fascist dole office, the eviscerated council, the absence of the police in their communities, the rising costs of food, electricity and other luxuries.
Perhaps most hurtfully, they saw their children being victimised. They moaned about the impossibility of getting a place at the few good schools around here. They spoke in resentful rather than aspirational tones about the ‘free’ schools, the fee-paying schools and the ‘academies’ that were sucking all the educational resources out of the Island for the profit of a group of foreign investors and that were, effectively, if not explicitly, establishments reserved for the children of people who had large houses and big cars and friends on the Council.
In the children’s centres where I do a lot of my work, the service users were presented with the steady reduction of options. My own learners had gone through the period of uncertainty about their chances of completing their courses. The Tory/UKip council had abolished our council funding, almost as an afterthought, and the contempt behind that act had registered. My learners knew that we were (and still are) hanging on by a thread, and that the abandonment of all these services is a process of calculated insult, class-to-class.
Beneath all these frustrations, there was the nagging knowledge that our positions within society are becoming embedded and inherited: the Samanthas and Tobies who go to the ‘free’ (private, exclusive, racially and class homogenous) school up the road will be richer, happier, fitter and will live longer than the children of my community, however good the teachers and leadership in the local council school are.
Awareness had cut through all the bullshit about immigration and ‘our brave troops’. The word ‘inequality’ had gone from a slogan to an experienced truth in the two years between the two elections. I felt that there was a chance to connect people with politics in a way I hadn’t seen in my adult lifetime and, thank God, so did the leadership of the Labour Party. They pushed fairness, they pushed change and they made the approved establishment narrative seem what it truly is: the visceral hatred of the bullying classes who gain their sense of undeserved self-worth from their loathing of the mass of their fellow citizens.
So, telling the corrupt rich that their shit does smell was the right message at the right time, but what had made it so? Was it really that people had put two and two together over the previous two years? Well, yes, in part. Poor people aren’t stupid, but they have been persuaded, by the very political environment that causes their dis-empowerment, to believe that politics was inherently corrupt and they were powerless. Other voices, some well-intentioned, but many less so, had turned disengagement into a form of rebellion: a political anorexia that imagined it was hitting back while playing into the hands of its abusers.
Certainly, the Labour Party offered something completely new in this election: a genuine, meaningful political alternative from a major party with a real prospect of having an effect. In our first past the post system, it may be nice to vote Green, but it’s pretty useless. Labour, on the other hand, even though it lost the election in terms of both votes and seats, has already shaped government policy to a degree that has scared the establishment, and its rabid lackeys, to their shrivelled souls. Click those two links. I love the undertone of panic in Andrea Leadsom’s stupid drift towards totalitarianism, and even more so the failure of certainty in the Guido Fawkes piece, piercing his habitual above-the-fray affectation. It’s like his smirk has faltered, but then, he’s suddenly got a lot less to smirk about. He’s a true believer whose world-view has just collapsed. What is the point of selling yourself to Satan if you can’t spit on the poor?
Amid the glory of the election campaign’s powerful attack upon the status quo, we suffered four outrages to decency that were all symptomatic of the hatred that is at the heart of neo-liberal capitalist politics: two horrible ‘blowback’ incidents from the genocidal warfare of the capitalist war machine, an attack on faith by a far-right lackey of the ruling classes and a mass-killing as a result of reduced state oversight of housing and safety systems. We must not let the anger these events inspire divert us from focussing on the true enemy: the ruling classes of this country. Magnificently, it seems that the purpose of the never-ending, racist ‘terrorist’ emergency that the establishment maintains has lost its power to sway mass opinion: the response has been, overwhelmingly, to choose love, rather than division.
We are, for the first time in my lifetime, fighting fit to resist the divisive power of racist hatred, and we see where our anger should, rightfully, be directed.
It’s not over.
Live a good life, because living a good life is a good in itself. Go vegan, recycle, ride a bike to work rather than using your car.
But, more than anything, it is time to get involved in the political process, and to fight the power of insane, self-serving neo-liberal capitalism.
Tomorrow, Amanda and I and a group of Isle of Wight Labour comrades will be in London, marching for better housing, better wages and better public services. Will we see you there?