For our Future’s Sake, Tories Out
I’ve never been persuaded that turning out, whenever it suits politicians and their paymasters, to put a cross on a ballot paper is the highest expression of my democratic conviction. It strikes me as bizarre that handing over my say about how the world should be to an individual, who is the obedient follower of his or her party and who is neither accountable or recallable to me, is perceived as the democratic moment of my existence. Neither is my doubt an insult to the memory of those, who struggled for the universal adult franchise. This important victory is but a stepping stone towards more inclusive forms of democratic involvement, Even under its own rules representative democracy denies the vote to young people, who are taxed without representation.
Hence I’ve always treated elections with caution, even though, in my time, I’ve leafletted and canvassed for Labour. Indeed there have been moments when I have also openly argued against voting Labour and shown sympathy with the anarchist slogan, ‘Don’t Vote, it only encourages them!’ This is not one such moment.
Across the years the professional youth workforce has tended to support Labour, seeing it as a progressive party committed to the central role of the state in providing public services. Indeed in 1997 many workers were seduced by Blair’s ‘Third Way’ with its championing of what has come to be called ‘identity politics’. The price paid was a heavy one as New Labour abandoned class politics and solidarity, embracing both neoliberalism’s masturbatory self-centredness and its fetishistic belief in an iron law of the market. The price paid has been austerity and widening inequality. The price paid has been the creation of the precarious society. The price paid has been the eruption of a Manichean world of good and evil, of our bombs and their bombs, none of which distinguish between the guilty or the innocent. Even as it forfeited power to the Conservatives, New Labour proved unable to think outside the neoliberal oblong. Thus there has seemed to be little choice in the party political arena – ‘you couldn’t put a Rizla between them’.
However, in the last turbulent months and volatile days, the scenario has changed dramatically. A Labour Party, perceived as in a terminal crisis, has risen from its bed, led by Jeremy Corbyn, an unlikely and much-maligned figurehead. To the dismay of much of its Parliamentary wing the Labour Party has been reminded of its social-democratic heritage. Its manifesto, whilst by no means the last word in radicalism, is being experienced as a breath of exhilarating air, by many more than just the faithful. It asserts the common good against private greed. It desires peace not war. Whilst it says very little about youth work – a promise to stop the cuts, NCS retained – it offers hope for young people, aspiring to free them from debt and zero-hour contracts. For now, our sectional interests are not the burning issues.
Where does this leave us? It seems pretty straightforward – Vote Labour on Thursday. And yet? Despite Labour’s remarkable recovery from being written off, it is very unlikely that it can achieve an overall majority, especially with Scotland in mind. And I’m convinced such a triumph would be deeply problematic. It would be pulled off with the support of a minority of the population, which would not stop Labour from declaring it had a mandate to impose its programme. At odds with the proposal that he’s about a new way of doing politics, Jeremy Corbyn is still tribal in his outlook. He yearns for the revival of the two-party contest, Labour versus Conservative. Thus he refuses to countenance supportive, working agreements with other political parties. The Greens are dismissed, even though Caroline Lucas might well be the first choice for a Deputy Prime Minister. He argues neither the Scottish National Party nor the Liberal Democrats are progressive, not to be touched with a fishing rod. Yet the majority of his own party’s MP’s suffer in stunned silence, unable to get their heads around the collapse of their pragmatic accommodation to the status quo. Can you believe it, they are now being expected to believe in something other than their own careers?
For sure, it’s a mess of contradiction, but let me end with two proposals, for what they’re worth.
- If at all possible, it is vital to prevent five further years of a growing Tory authoritarian populism.
- We need to celebrate the possible emergence of a Coalition of Chaos, which brings together in creative dialogue and practice political groupings, which in opposing the way things are, possess a vision of a fairer society. In IDYW we urge a practice that is improvisatory and reflective, democratic and emancipatory, knowing that nothing is ever guaranteed.
On Thursday, vote defensively to stop the Tories and vote optimistically for a new way of doing politics. In this momentous clash our vote is but the beginning. Both within and without youth work our obligation is to carry on building from below. Our task is to hold politicians to account. Our commitment is to speak truth to power.
Thursday looks like being more enthralling than we ever thought. Whatever the outcome, the struggle continues.