Monday, 8 September 2014

A new opportunity is emerging; a breakthrough is possible

Len Mcluskey told his UNITE union conference that nothing 'in the next 12 months' was more important than the election of a Labour Government. Nothing more important than the election of another pro-austerity government? Really? It would certainly be a defeat for the Tories, and that might make people feel they could fight more. But we would still have to do all the major lifting, defeat the main government policy, and therefore the government that enacted it. Is getting Miliband elected really the most important thing we can do in what is now the next nine months? So, building the anti-austerity movement remains the priority whoever is elected. But does that mean there is nothing much of interest for the left in the coming election itself?

On the 13 of July this blog pointed to the institutional political crisis now effecting Britain. It was not the first time the point had been made here or elsewhere but as the vote on Scottish independence looms the characteristics of the British political crisis sharpen and become clearer. The independence vote, the rise of UKIP, the referendum on Europe, the austerity consensus of the three main parties and the relentless, excoriating public disgust with all things parliamentary are already shaking the British political class to the core. 

We can now see the shape of the potential wreckage emerging out of the miasma of decay, hypocrisy and corruption that calls itself British democracy. But we can also see clear steps through the fog-allowing the anti-austerity left the potential to take a decisive new political direction and thereby offer a new lead to the wider society. 

Scotland's vote on independence is already changing Britain's political landscape regardless of outcome. The surge for 'yes' has forced new concessions and guaranteed (whatever the upshot of the vote) that anti-Westminster hostility will be front and centre in Scottish politics for some time to come. Scotland has now embarked on its own political dynamic and line of struggle. And now we can also clearly see the potential consequences for the British Labour Party. The removal of Scotland's Labour MPs from Westminister in 2016 would finish Labour's possibility of governing Britain. Whatever UKIP's advances at the cost of the Tories, at a stroke the seductive promise of the possibility of governing, the absolute keystone in the arch of the traditional, bureaucratic labour movement, would have been removed. (It is interesting to note Mr Mcluskey's reaction to such an eventuality. After fuming publicly against any LibLab pacts, he says that would be the only circumstance for him in which he could support a Labour coalition with the Liberals! It is access to government that overturns all of Mr McLuskey's other principles.)  

The first impact of Scottish independence would be for Labour to fragment. Its internal ties and loyalties would loosen. Direct contact would need to be made between potential MPs and their constituents. Left candidates would seek close ties with union and campaign objectives - to guarantee supporters and finance. Links with other groups and individuals would strengthen inside Parliament. Individuals and small political currents (eg the Greens) would have a higher profile in Parliament. And the overall political crisis in British politics would still have only just begun. 

UKIP threatens a regroupment of the Tory right as well as a hemorrhage of some traditional Labour votes, and as Britain would be committed to an EU referendum, an economic crisis would rapidly follow on the heels of acute political change. 

Reality, as a very, well read revolutionary once put it, is always richer and more surprising than any theory. Sketching in some consequences of the current political contradictions inevitably produces just a sketch. But there is a line of march emerging which makes sense of Britain's political crisis and which would test its its potential for the left to advance its cause on a wider political stage. 

The Greens in England have held their most radical conference ever. Besides re-nationalisation of transport, defence of the NHS etc, then have made the bold call for a drastic redistribution of wealth via a citizens wage, paid for by the billionaires. They are anti-nuclear in peace and war. They have a much better record on equality issues than any mainstream party, most unions, institutions and voluntary associations.  And Caroline Lucas consistently wins polls in her constituency. 

Lewisham hospital campaigner, Louise Irvine, has just announced her candidature against Jeremy Hunt on the NHS question. Louise has led the most successful campaign yet to defend the NHS, building a local alliance which embraced virtually all strands of the left AND the local population as a whole. 

Up and down England and Wales there are well known campaigners. They represent the people in their area and they represent anti-austerity - at a time of great party political weakness.

Left partial breakaways from Labour, towards direct union groups in Parliament, representing campaigns and various local coalitions, are becoming possible and will accelerate among certain traditionally Labour MPs and candidates if the Scottish vote yes. As extra-parliamentary activity grows, and even if the Scots vote no, it will be possible to create some 'semi-detached' relationships on the edges of Labour. 

In short, the anti-austerity left should have an informal policy towards the 2015 general election. It is surely NOT the most important thing in the next nine months to secure Ed Miliband his premiership. Out of the industrial action and campaigns against austerity we can identify a group, perhaps one or two, perhaps more, of potential MPs who can genuinely represent the anti-austerity struggle. Under conditions of the general political crisis, the disaggregation of the main parties, their voices are much more likely be heard. Of course it would require some reconsideration in parts of the anti-austerity left of their existing electoral policy - essentially to represent themselves. OK. Let's hope they come along. For the rest of us, there's some work to do. We have to get some MPs elected that really represent something.

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