Saturday, May 09, 2015

24 hours in the media bubble (a rant)

I've got that aching tired headsplitting feeling that comes from spending most of the last 24 hours sprawled on the sofa watching the election spectacle unfold, eyes dulling. It started once I'd finished a drive around Paisley, my son Finn hanging out of the window taking some photographs (a selection of which are below), calling in at two different polling stations to allow him and his girlfriend to cast their votes, just as the sun went down. 

I think this is the first election in my lifetime that the votes our household cast actually did count for something, as most of them contributed to the downfall of the smooth but utterly ineffectual Douglas Alexander, who has just become a Portillo-esque poster boy for the failure of the Labour Party to connect with the concerns of people who live here. He promised austerity lite and 'nicer cuts' and tedious gradualism: nothing to connect with the urgent politics of climate change, total capitalism and constant attacks on the poor, let alone offering a vision of a more positive, inclusive Scotland.  For decades the Scottish Labour Party has taken the 'ordinary people' it claims to represent for granted, and in the last 24 hours they have kicked back with a vengeance. Some more forensic historical thinking is needed too - this starts, after Kinnock and John Smith with the Labour Party's accommodations with Thatcherism - the continuities between Thatcher, Major and Blair and even Brown. Perhaps it could also end here, although with a newly empowered bunch of Thatcherites in charge from the South it's likely that the SNP will be reduced to shouting from the sidelines while the Labour Party retreats into of deep introspection - and possibly chooses to align itself more back to Thatcherism as well. And no doubt there will be some hardcore economic 'medicine' to swallow in the dealings over devolved finance, which will lead to more austerity, less public service, north of the border as well as in the south. 

I can only hope that some sense prevails and that Jim Murphy is forced to resign - I'm sure he's keen to get a top of a list seat for MSPs in 2016 but unless the Scottish Labour Party buries its attachment to Blairism it really could be well and truly on suicide watch.  A vicious combination of municipal paternalism and command and control Blairism just will not cut it, particularly when offering an apologia for Trident, and failing to grasp the deep sense of disempowerment and disillusion in communities which have been constantly told to shut up, be grateful and enjoy the spectacle - in Glasgow, all civic circuses and no bread. The Yes movement offered something else, and the fallout from that and the fateful decision by the Labour high command to campaign alongside the Tories set up this particular showdown. Just as with the lethally tight embrace of power-greedy LibDems in coalition, Labour allowed itself to be suckered in too close to the Conservative brand of UK-plc nationalism - although since 1992 it's always liked to talk about "Britain", aping Thatcherism without really doing any serious thinking about what "British" means any more. Clearly it's now very different depending on where on these islands you happen to be. And the Tories have executed an textbook example of divide-and-rule in this election process. If in 2014 we'd been offered a serious constitutional conversation, a serious consideration of what a federal state might look like, some serious devolution, we might not be at this point now. 

No doubt there are many decent people who were on the 'No' side in the referendum and who still have a deep loyalty to the Labour Party who have very decent motivations, but we are beyond that now - there is a need for a complete rethink of how to oppose endless marketisation and endless neoliberalism, and it could perhaps be that the UK state is something that will need to be sacrificed along the journey, as the contradictions become too much to bear. If the EU referendum looks like it will comes out with a 'No' at UK level then isn't that also a green light for a SNP government to call a second independence referendum?  My much more articulate London-based colleague Jeremy Gilbert summoned the energy at 3am to write something that encapsulated the mood better than me - it's here - and as he says, it's democracy or neoliberalism, we really can't have both.  

And all the constitutional problems - federalism, the voting system, the relationships with Europe, the West Lothian question, are going to come into play - and even a tiny Tory majority means that these will be negotiated in the context of a continued, relatively unchecked, power grab by the wealthy. The only silver lining is that perhaps we may see a re-run of the '90s Tory civil war, only with an even tinier majority at stake. Cameron was there, as a bag-carrier for Norman Lamont, and it'll be interesting to see if he learned anything from that: all the Tory demons will start howling around in the wide open gaps between the dual Pandora's boxes of global capital/free market ideology and Little Englander anti-Europeanism that sit on the backbenches waiting to be fired up.  

No doubt that the SNP has been opportunistic - they've always had a neoliberal streak too -  and no doubt that the idealistic sheen will wear off as the realpolitik between Edinburgh and London unfolds, but the stark contrast between how Scotland and England voted (with perhaps the exception of Brighton Pavilion, bits of other cities and London) is self-evident. The failure of the Labour Party even to match the results of 2010 will open up all the sores of the post-2007 Blair-Brown splits or even the more serious wars of the 1980s.  I've never been a fan of the Labour Party but I completely agree with the Compass call for some serious thinking about how to build a new kind of left that is open, pluralistic, engaged, and above all able to talk intelligently and make a serious offer about the future. Earlier this evening The World Tonight offered a kind of face-off between Matthew Taylor and Neal Lawson but they both navigated the conversation intelligently - insisting that offering more than just 'better jam tomorrow' was needed but actually thinking about what a 21st century politics needs to look like, drawing on the experience of Syriza and the other European left parties in aligning with social movements and opposition to the dull drum of deregulated globalised marketisation (although they didn't exactly say that, so perhaps I'm being too rose-tinted). 

And so it unfolded: the return to the sinking feeling of 2010's drift rightwards, and even more perhaps, 1992, and I watched one politician and pundit after another parade across the screen, most with little to say and most with the smug look of people who even if they have lost their jobs, have plenty of cash in the bank and plenty of options, unlike their constituents, most of whom are hard pressed and worried about the future.  The campaign was dull, politicians sealed away from the people in manicured photo-ops, endless repetition of slogans, straplines, and messages: fairness, better plans, hard working families; what about a politics which actually opened up some conversations about possible futures? We had that in Scotland around the referendum and after that experience I'm not sure sub-Blair and sub-Thatcher tactics work so well. 

I watched Cameron's polished Jaguar cutting through the dawn at high speed en route back to the Whitehall palaces; leaving the tired faces at the counts and easing itself back into the smooth choreography of the state, confirming that there would be no transfer of power; and then, later, the defeated and victorious 'leaders' lined up together in front of the union jacks at the Cenotaph. It was ironic; it was boring; it was business-as-usual. But underneath the statecraft and ceremony there are some deep traps and faultlines waiting to open up for all sides

So I guess we are back to the everyday politics of action and doing things - of not waiting for someone else to step in, of getting on with everyday solidarities and everyday resistances. I'm fed up of being a spectator in someone else's crap story - back to that dull aching televisual feeling...One of the great advantages of living in contemporary Scotland is that there are plenty of good people around who also want to make things happen. We just need to make sure we build networks of solidarity and hope that reach across the simplistic divides of nationalism and political parties to form alliances which are informed less by market values and more by human values - values of trust, hope, of generosity, of gifts; values which will be in short supply as the political rhetoric cranks up the money machines,  the economic bullshit, the fear, greed and hate, over the next few years.