The Inquest begins – what next for progressive politics?

Chew Valley Ridge (35)

By Jon Crooks

You’ve got to hand it to the Tories and the right-wing press who fought a very negative but successful campaign of fear. They managed to convince the nation not that The Conservatives were the best choice, but that they were the safe choice when faced with the threat of a Labour government propped up by the SNP. Congratulations on your shallow victory.

The corporate press in particular played a crucial role. I never thought I’d agree with Nigel Farage on something, but he’s right to congratulate the editors of the Sun and the Mail. They were hugely influential in staging this Tory election victory.

So what went wrong for Labour? Well first of all, as David Blunkett pointed out in the immediate aftermath, the big mistake might have been the failure to dispel the impression that Gordon Brown’s government had been responsible for the financial crisis. But perhaps also because they failed to dispel the deficit myth.

What worries me now is the assumption that Labour moved too far to the left after the financial crisis and this proved to be the wrong decision. That they now need to become more ‘centrist’ – a return to Blairism. When in fact many believe Labour didn’t move far enough to the left to offer a credible alternative to The Tories, hence many former Labour voters switching to the Greens and the SNP, or just voting Tory because they were safe and “they’re all the same anyway”.

We’ll have to wait and see what Labour does next, but they won’t be in any rush. If last time is anything to go by, they’ll go underground for the next few years, licking their wounds and squabbling with each other over a new direction and a new leader. In the meantime, there needs to be opposition to this newly endorsed government who will continue to cut spending and services, continue to privatize the NHS and our schools, and continue to slash the support for vulnerable people in this country. Somebody has to step up and fight them.

The struggle must continue. Now more than ever. Maybe too many people don’t care enough outside their own little worlds, but plenty do. People who have been denied a voice in our corrupt and twisted system.

Let’s not give up. Let’s quickly decide where to take the fight. Should we campaign for a fair voting system such as Proportional Representation and put an end to all the tactical voting and wasted votes before the next General Election? Should we campaign on party funding and the influence of the corporate media who mounted a vicious campaign against Cameron’s opponents to protect their own vested interests? Having considered and discussed these issues over the last few days, I’m not so sure either of these are now worthy pursuits.

What are the chances of The Tories introducing a bill to the House of Commons to reform the First Past the Post electoral system that so benefits them? What chance is there that they will reform party funding when it is their party that benefits most from rich donors? It’s just not going to happen. Maybe if Labour had won, but not now.

So what then? One thought is that we campaign for devolution from Westminster. Here’s 3 reasons why:

  • This is already on the Tory agenda, we just need to hijack it. George Osbourne announced his plans for Manchester last November and he’ll now try and implement them, but there is a problem. Manchester doesn’t want an elected mayor. We’ve said so in a referendum before.
  • Scotland will get more devolution now; probably Devo-max, with all tax raising other than VAT and all spending other than defense handed over to the Scottish Parliament. We should demand the same in the North of England – not the pathetic handing out of a few quid that Manchester is to be granted under Devo-Manc, but genuine devolution to the regions with real political accountability and democracy at a local level.
  • In the North of England, Labour still have the upper hand and if we can convince our MPs to support us on this issue we can build strong support in Westminster

There is no point trying to force political reform onto the agenda at Westminster. The Establishment won. The Tories won with a majority (albeit a slim one) and there’s no chance of them introducing any legislation that will be detrimental to their hold on power in the future. Of course we can fight them on each and every bit of damaging legislation they try to introduce and highlight the damage they’re doing every day, but at the same time we could bring about real change from within our local communities if we can wrestle power from then by ambushing the Tory devolution plans.

Manchester could well be the key battleground. What if we were to fight Osborne’s Devo-Manc deal with everything we’ve got? Demand a referendum in which we reject his deal and demand devolution on our own terms. There are a great number of local political and environment organisations now and if they work together we could mobilize.


There is no economy on a dead planet


Published on 30th April 2015 on The News Hub

Our current economic model, commonly referred to as neo-liberalism, now dominates every corner of the earth. Thatcher and Reagan won. They sold us on an ideology of competition in every aspect of life. They began the process of removing as many barriers to competition as possible. They crushed unions, stripped away regulation there to protect workers, consumers and the environment we live in, all in the name of increasing competition. This ethos of competition now drives a large part of our human behaviour. We don’t think like communities or even as a unified nation of people any more. It’s dog eat dog, survival of the fittest. The real tragedy is that unfettered competition is supposed to benefit us by increasing choice and cutting bureaucracy, but in reality it has done the opposite. Big business is getting bigger and more powerful at the expense of small independent traders that provide real choice and originality. Real choice has been replaced by the monotony of large chain stores, restaurants and coffee shops and personal service has been replaced by call centres and self service via the internet as businesses get bigger by cutting costs.

Our transport, communications and energy infrastructure has been sold off to big business, so now our governments are left impotent when it comes to tackling global problems like climate change. In short, they’re no longer in charge. Our democracy is a sham. So much power has been handed over to the private sector that our politicians are powerless to act. Or so it seems. 

Unwilling to interfere with the market to install the infrastructure necessary to quickly switch our energy supply to clean renewable sources. Unwilling to interfere with the free market to put in the infrastructure to pave the way for a switch to electric cars. But hang on, don’t we provide millions in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry every year? And what about the deal with Eon to build and run the new Hinkley nuclear power station? Huge subsidies proposed, which has now led to a legal challenge by one of our fellow EU members.

It’s clear therefore that it isn’t just about ideology and an unwillingness to interfere with the ‘free market’, our problems are amplified by greed, power and vested interests. How many government ministers have links to the fossil fuel industry and the big energy companies? How many of their friends and supporters are wealthy landowners who benefit from agricultural subsidies? Those in power support privatisation because it is a transfer of public money to private interests. From the 99% to the 1%. They do this because they believe in a ruling elite and they want to maintain this status quo. Growing inequality? They simply don’t care.

Globalisation and neo-libralism are not compatible with securing a safe and stable planet for the future. The pursuit of continuous economic growth at the expense of all else can’t continue indefinitely. We can’t continue to base our economic system on competition at a time when we need collaboration to deliver a safe and secure future for ourselves. Tell me, how can we expect over 200 nation states to agree on a way to limit CO2 emissions whilst simultaneously competing with each other for business; the same business that is producing the CO2 in the first place based on a competitive market economy that only services to drive up consumption? We can’t. 

Is change possible?

There is certainly a growing number calling for a change to the economic system. It probably started with the Occupy movement, which has now been joined by a growing grassroots environmental movement. The problem is that whilst we know what we want, we don’t know how to get there. Politically, many on the left will vote Green this time around, but will that be enough? The best we can hope for is a few seats in parliament and perhaps a little more influence on the Labour Party if they form a minority government with the support of the Left. 

The problems with UK politics run deep. Most people can’t think outside of the existing political orthodoxy that is represented by the three main parties and the corporate media because it’s not debated and reported on in mainstream channels, and most people vote how they’ve always voted anyway. That’s if they vote at all. Only 65% voted in the 2010 General Election and most of those votes were meaningless in our First Past the Post system, where only people in ‘marginal seats’ affect the outcome. It’s a dire thing to admit, but our democracy is not democratic enough to be relied upon to drive the real change we need. 

After this election and its aftermath is over there are 3 things that need addressing: 1) we need constitutional reform – a new voting system based on proportional representation, regional devolution and an elected 2nd chamber of parliament; 2) we need to free the press and media from corporate ownership and vested interests; and 3) reform party funding to make it fair and equitable and out of the grasp of corporate power.

We might then finally begin the journey that closes the gap between the country we have now and the country and world that most people would surely prefer.