I've been a socialist almost all1 my politically active life, but I've never been a member of the Labour Party — until today.
The need for change is obvious to everyone who pays any attention. When I was young we argued on moral grounds: this is what is right. Now it is a matter of survival: permanent war2, climate chaos, constant crisis, take your pick. As the homeless and the disturbed colonise more and more of our city centers and the governing elite carry on plugging business as usual, one of my neighbours added a simple sheet of paper in their window that said it all: "Strong and stable? My arse!"
What is not at all obvious is what to do about it.
Can we elect change? Last night Labour won Kensington in London, one of the richest wards in the country, by 20 votes. Labour always wins in Kensington in Liverpool, but listen to the voices of the local community radio describing what little difference residents perceive that it makes to their lives in John Harris' lovely tale of the two Kensington's:
I remember celebrating Tony Blair's victory in 19973, and I remember marching with 2 million people in 2003 to oppose the invasion of Iraq that went on to kill 2 million people in yet another western outrage against the Middle East. How did a left party end up jumping to the tune of George Bush and the US military, providing them the cover they needed to proclaim that their oil wars were part of a "coalition"? (Jeremy Corbyn was a member at the time of course, though creditably opposed to Blair's warmongering.)
There are many many other examples, so many that I end up having a lot of sympathy for the anarchists, who say that if voting could change anything it would be illegal. Government doesn't go bad by accident, and left politicians don't find themselves powerless to avoid duplicating the madness of the past because they're bad people.4
Most of what happens in our world day-to-day is driven by capitalism, and the principal powers of capitalism are not governments but corporations. The logic of massive corporations competing for ever greater profits doesn't leave space for the needs of human beings — even starvation is logical under this system. To make real lasting change, to survive, we will need to change that logic.
Then should we give up?! No! It becomes more and more obvious to more and more people that our survival is at stake, and though we live in dark times there is more than a glimmer of hope in the challenges to the established political order that have surfaced in Brexit and again in last Thursday's general election. I used to suffer Nick Clegg as my MP; now I'm proud to have voted for Jared Omara and to see the massive outpouring of optimism and energy around Jermey Corbyn and movements like Momentum.
The old order is still in power — both in the shape of Theresa May's illegitimate goverment and in the dominance of Blairite aparatchiks in the parliamentary labour party. But there is a vast new tranche of young people starting to fight for change, and lazy old fogeys like me need to get off our sofas and join in the conversation. Where next?
- I came to the left through anti-racism, joining Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League in the 1980s. I lived in Leicester then, which was the headquarters of the National Front at the time, and racism is something even my fuzzy-headed teenage self could understand and reject absolutely. From there to the ideology of fairness — socialism, from each according to their ability, to each according to their need — was an obvious step.
- The "war on terror" is its own opposite, creating more and more damaged and maddenned people, perpetuating and enlarging the very perversions it claims to attack.
- In a bar in Lyon with my friend Paul — I don't suppose either of us would have believed that 20 years later we would still be deep in the neo-liberal screw-the-world territory that the outgoing Tory government had done so much to promote.
- Perhaps even Tony Blair was a decent man once, before he ended up bathed in more blood than Lady Macbeth.