Somewhere between ‘Things can only get better’ (D:Ream, 1997) and ‘We’re all in this together’ (nightmare, 2010) large sections of the population lost faith in the political process in Britain.
Something changed. It could have been the shallow smarmy heir-to-Blair continuity or the farce of the banking crisis or the war against the poor and spiralling unfettered inequality.
The grudging decision this week to include the Greens, the SNP and Plaid from the ‘leaders’ debates is the reversal of a decision that even political-media class couldn’t face. It’s a mark of how the independence referendum has had ramifications beyond our borders.
Something’s changed again.
As previously constructed the leaders debates offered a business-as-usual model based on a Westminster Old Boys Club view of the world. They excluded three of the most articulate women in UK politics and narrowed the terms of the political debate to the same programme of austerity that has been proven to fail for the people, but been spectacularly successful for the already extremely rich who have seen their wealth continue to soar.
So there’s a glint in the armoury of the British Way, a flicker of life in the dead hand. The Thatcherite orthodoxy that There Is No Alternative (TINA) now has has a challenge. This is the challenge that the Labour Party has failed to put to people.
Whilst having different political agendas and focus, the ‘minor parties’ have the basis for a shared policy agenda. These simple un-radical ideas have massive public support in Scotland, England and Wales. They represent common ground around social justice, environmental justice and the first steps towards a semblance of greater democracy.
It’s a volatile world.
All bets are off. Tonight as vile revelations unfold about the Tory established order and the secrets they’ve kept and Syriza changing European politics it’s time to be bold and take the initiative.
Here’s a twelve-step programme that could put Plaid, SNP and Greens from side-players to game-makers in this years General Election.
Interestingly the only thing they have to do is to offer what the majority of voters of all parties actually want. Here’s a programme that could unite millions of people and offer, for the first time in decades, a genuine alternative:
1. Bring the Railways back into public ownership
2. Shift investment from nuclear to renewable energy
3. Commit to halt Fracking in the UK
4. Bring the energy companies back into public ownership
5. Create a Living Wage and a programme to abolish food banks
6. Abolish the House of Lords and adopt proportional representation
7. Commit to public investment to end austerity economics
8. Welcome refugees and immigrants as an economic and social asset
9. Agree votes for 16/17 year olds
10. Cancel Trident
11. Publish the Chilcott Inquiry, and do not enter into illegal wars
12. No tuition fees in education
This was what the independence referendum was about: Insisting we need a government system that reflects the values of the people, rather than one that makes the realisation of their values impossible.
Unless the Greens, SNP and Plaid can build on the momentum that has been moving their way by explicitly setting out a clear and common Yes Alliance (Yes to society, No to austerity), it is hard to see us gaining a government system at the UK level that reflects the values of the people.
Why is it so hard at the UK level?
It isn’t because these policies aren’t popular; the extraordinary fact is that they are – as made evident again in this weeks UK-wide Panelbase poll. It is because the political and media and economic system is captured by what many, including Alistair Livingston, call the ‘deep state’. This is not about what party is elected; it is about who you have to be to be chosen. Whether chosen as a candidate by the Tory, LibDem and Labour parties, or chosen to be promoted at the BBC, ITV or Sky. It is not about which party is elected, but about who holds the centre of gravity in these institutions. And those who hold the centre of gravity, those who create the mindset that judges success and failure, are those educated in the private (‘public’) boarding schools, those who occupy a state of mind that has been taught to fear its own feelings, has been taught not to trust itself, and so can’t believe it is possible to trust the people to make decisions, and ultimately can’t believe democracy is either possible or desirable. As a result we have a very deep crisis of democracy in the UK.
Back in October 2013, Adam Ramsay noted that yet another poll had highlighted the popularity of what is called ‘radical’ policies across the UK. By 4 to 1 people said that they would be more likely to vote for a party with: “a plan to end the privatisation / contracting out of public services by default, and [to] take more public services into public ownership”
“46% of voters would be more likely to vote for a party promoting public ownership instead of outsourcing and privatisation. Only 11% would be less likely to do so, whilst 43% said it wouldn’t make a difference.” Adam added “Despite this, there is no major party in England with this policy.”
The question that people asked at the Radical Independence Convention in Glasgow in November was: if these policies are so popular in what sense are they radical? If they are not radical to the vast majority of the population, and the majority of voters in all the supposedly ‘mainstream’ parties (from Labour to LibDem to Tory to UKIP) want them, then WHO has the right to call them radical? Presumably those who benefit from reprivatizing an East Coast rail that has provided better service and better economic returns than any of the privatised rail companies? Time and again when people are asked what policies they want, they want the kind of policies we are told are ‘radical’.
For example, one of the strongest reasons why support for the LibDems rose in the 2000s was because both Labour and the Tories were pro-war, one of the strongest reasons why support for the LibDems fell was because they didn’t stick with their opposition to tuition fees, nor with their opposition to nuclear energy, but instead supported austerity economics that makes the wealthy richer and severely damages the economy by shrinking public spending.
So whilst here in Scotland it’s easy to think we’re up against a UK establishment where UKIP is presented as the only ‘realistic’ (illusory) ‘alternative’ to the austerity parties, in fact:
“. . . the generation who flooded central London with angry protests four years ago has now graduated, and is facing a general election. . . [This generation has] largely rejected – or, more tellingly, not even considered, the NGOs that the New Left of their parents generations built. They are interested in questioning power and the inter-relationships between problems, not just campaigning on one single issue after another. They don’t just want to sign petitions, they want to organise collectively to challenge those who rule them, and the Green Party has become a key path to do that through.” (Adam Ramsay, 15th January 2015, Open Democracy)
Peter McColl picks up on this in January 2015’s Scottish Left Review where he describes how the Green Party is transforming itself from a ‘we mustn’t upset anyone’ to a ‘we will transform the system’ party. He writes:
“We all know that it is our economic system that is wrecking people’s lives, and wrecking the planet. To create a fair society and a future for our planet, we must stop this system and replace it. Green politics must be about replacing capitalism with a system that doesn’t destroy lives and ecology in the pursuit of profit”
He goes on to say: “At a time where Labour and other parties have fudged their commitment to social ownership of vital industries, Greens will be making the case for nationalisation of the railway companies and rolling stock. We will act to prevent further privatisation of the NHS, and Royal Mail. And we will nationalise the utilities, allowing them to focus on providing good services, rather than making profits. We will oppose the TTIP with its compulsory privatisation clauses. We will promote renewables, defending the Scottish wave industry, not hugely destructive fracking. Greens will continue to make the case for the freedom of movement of people, and against the racist immigrant-bashing political culture that has become dominant in the UK.”
However, Peter goes on to point out that: “Of course the move to relevant politics has not been uncomplicated. A motion to adopt a policy of Free Public Transport faced bitter opposition at the 2014 conference. Despite the obvious advantages of tackling rural and urban transport inequalities and exclusion, creating good jobs and reducing pollution and carbon emissions, there was a reluctance to move transport out of the market, and into social provision.”
And this last point is perhaps the most crucial one: if prominent people in the radical (or should we call them sensible?) parties are able to support their party while, at the same time, being willing to be open about where they think their party falls short (rather than adopting a ‘my party right or wrong’ attitude) then there is a far greater chance that the public will trust people who have questions, and parties who allow them prominence, rather than parties who don’t.
One reason for the rise of the Greens may be that it is a generational shift (or a once in a century shift, if our comparison is the rise of the Labour Party at the start of the 20th century). This shift is evident in the 18 to 24 year old sub sample in yesterday’s UK-wide Yougov poll. Here you can see support shifting dramatically from Labour to the Greens, in the way Adam Ramsay describes above (http://bit.ly/1y66Ju4 ):
Meanwhile in the Scotland sub sample, in a first past the post contest, many of the same people are going for the SNP rather than the Greens, but that could be very different in particular constituencies like Peter McColl’s Edinburgh East where voters may want to help prepare the ground for a potentially very strong showing for the Greens in the 2016 Holyrood elections.
In the subsample of Scottish voters the SNP are still surging ahead. Having given the establishment such a fright with the closeness of the referendum result, and with the empowerment generated by the Indyref campaign, people are showing a clear commitment to finishing the job, mostly by backing the SNP at Westminster:
However is there a way of finishing the job more completely? What if the Greens 9% and the SNP or Plaid’s 7% in today’s ICM poll combined into a 16% and rising on the basis of the platform outlined above? The psychological boost to those who think voting for them is a wasted vote could then take the minor/ radical/ sensible parties – those with the policies people actually want – into a position where the people actually get the policies they ask for.
When radical change happens it happens fast, and often it is the fruit of long, hard and seemingly fruitless work by those determined to see it happen, combined with responding to change and acting with integrity.
What were those 4 lessons we leant at school about when and why radical change happens? (1) Weak existing regime (2) Widespread discontent (3) Strong radical leadership, and (4) a Catalyst.
The first two are clear, the third is perfectly possible if the three parties choose to step up to the mark, and their doing that might in itself be the catalyst that is needed to bring us over the line, or at least, as with the Indyref in Scotland, show the clear direction of travel.
There is a clear and reasonable alternative, and we will get there. Soon.