The election lost, we wander round the ruins and embers, still shell-shocked. And with Labour’s Miliband having resigned so swiftly, the contest for his successor gives no cause whatsoever for comfort or for hope. Who are these people jostling now to replace him ? What brought them to this position ? Has anyone yet had time really to think things through, to talk hard and deep and widely, to emerge with any real integrity or justification ?
I want to give due credit to Jon Cruddas, the Labour thinker of note whose thought was not much listened to by the Miliband circle. Yet he is still there, still thinking, still arguing. He admired the Bishops’ letter of a few months ago. He responded creatively. It is worth paying real attention to both them and him.
And Cruddas is surely right in saying how serious and significant Labour’s election defeat has been (see: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/16/labour-great-crisis-ever) To say Labour lost merely because it moved away from Blairite compromises with the “Haves” and with what is falsely and cravenly termed as our “aspiration” to emulate excess, is insufficient and self-serving on the part of the proponents of this line ; further – as Seamus Milne persuasively argues in Wednesday’s Guardian – it is merely surrendering to propaganda from our plutocrat creature press rather than being true to conviction and also to the British public at large, a majority of whom favoured Miliband’s careful cluster of slightly egalitarian proposals. See: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/20/blairite-revival-leadership-contest-labour-breakup
For the nation’s sake, we must think and talk in much larger and more fundamental terms than this sorry Labour shuffle backwards and rightwards to where anti-social hooligans operate. What is in question is whether or not there can be such a thing as truth, honesty, fairness and community in our modern way of living.
John Harris’s analysis of the problem is also searching, and equally dismissive of a Blairite re-run. See http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/15/labour-history-leadership If Labour is to take power again it needs to become a real social movement, as it used but long ago ceased to be. Long ago, under Blair and maybe before that, it became just another distrusted party making false promises from Westminster. But how to become a movement now, and in what form ? And Cruddas (with the Bishops) is asking questions even more searching than that. He is trying to re-think what makes community now, what makes a civilised society now, how can we rise to this flood of change we have released and are living – how can we make something recognisably human out of it ?
For it is not just Labour which lost the election on May 7th 2015. This nation did. Our children did. All our futures did.
And the balance of forces which 37% of us elected back into power rests on a set of hollow and discredited mantras that belong in the nineteenth century rather than in the twenty first, surrounded and defended by a ring of wagons made up of a corrupt press and of individuals in possession of outrageous and anti-social wealth, desperate to retain it at whatever the universal cost. These forces are not the answer to our nation’s needs. They are merely the creatures of our vacuum, spawned by it. They belong nowhere else but in our dangerous vacuum.
We have to go back to first principles. Labour is now in a good position to do so, on behalf of the rest of the nation, if it is willing to face the reality of our malaise, if it is willing truly to serve this nation’s needs.
One theme I keep pushing is language itself. How can we learn/re-learn to speak cleanly to one another in ways that support community and trust and democracy ? Politicians seem no longer to know how to, or even to see why they should, our re-elected Prime Minister least of all. Juvenile lies and slogans, delivered as if from clockwork toys. Neither does most of the press use language actually to speak to fellow human beings. Press and politicians, both, are barely bothering with real language as they drag each other further and further down. Essentially they just snarl and howl, or else purr winningly, using a camouflage of words to do so. That alone cripples our democracy and any hope of renewal.
I propose a law that restores the ancient punishment of the stocks. That punishment should be reserved for politicians (and journalists and others who are given the authority of a public platform) who use language deceitfully (a loose definition, I grant you). The stocks should be set up at the centre of Parliament Square. Any politician who is caught being deceitful should be sentenced immediately by the Speaker, the more senior the politician the more severe the penalty. Prime Ministerial deceit would warrant a week in the stocks, followed by five years of full-time Community Service, as penance. It might make him socially useful at last. It might teach him why it is important to tell the truth.
For the Lie was another winner at this last election, as well as Fear, as well as Greed and Envy, and there is a sense in which all of us assented to that victory.
I do not see any hope or future in this rump of a devastated Labour party, now seeking to rehash failed and exhausted Blairite collusions with the Lie. The only solution I can see, the only hope, is for there now to be a profound rethinking and reworking of what it means to be progressive, what it means to put value on community and on responsibility to others, what it means not to lie to self or others. That thinking must involve all parties of the “left” as presently constituted and understood. And it must destroy all those parties of the “left” as presently constituted and understood. And it must lead to an entirely new entity and alliance shaped from the essence of all of them, a new party and grouping large and sure enough to roll the Tories back into the humble shape to which they truly belong, like Tiddalik the frog who was made at last to laugh, so that others might drink from stream and pool, and so he shrank back into his true froggy and insignificant size, and crept away into the reeds and hid his face in shame.
(For the legend of Tiddalik the frog see : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiddalik )