Few outside of Scotland would claim to have been inspired by the General Election campaign, Mark Perryman previews a post-election seminar which will ask why?
From political commentators to left-wing campaigners the 2015 General Election campaign was dubbed the most important for a generation before it has even begun. However with the plausible exception of the twitter phenomenon that is #milifandom and the very obviously different situation of Scotland with the SNP pushing Labour towards electoral irrelevance it would be hard to locate very much in the way of popular enthusiasm as polling day approaches.
The Labour Landslide of ‘45 will scarcely get a mention as the establishment gathers to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day on Friday 8 May the day after the vote before. Yet it is impossible to understand that sublime moment when Nazi Germany was finally defeated without the extraordinary impact it would have on the General Election less than two months later. A combat of the common good versus the greater evil shaped a common-sense collectivism and popular internationalism which helped consign Churchill and his Tory party to the wartime history books.
1945 was one of those moments of great change. 2015 doesn’t look like anything of the sort. Risk aversive politics, favouring one lot because they might just be a smidgin more socially responsible than the other is hardly the stuff of some of our dreams.
Zoe Williams has a neat way of putting this in her new book Get It Together, she writes “ The truly wrong-headed, deflating thing is not the insufficiency of the mainstream; it’s the idea of waiting for mainstream politicians to give us the answers. I think a lot of them are probably okay people , but if there’s one thing my entire life has shown me, it’s that leadership will not come from the centre. Politicians cannot make the weather. They can cope with the weather by means ranging from good to terrible. But only we can make the weather.”
This is the radically populist politics of Podemos, and Syriza too, described for a domestic audience. You can tell, only the English talk with such frequency and passion about the weather! The connections are located in a widespread, and well-deserved. distrust of the political class we have been lumbered with yet cannot quite escape from. The missing dimension is a new common-sense politics. This is a purposefully Gramscian notion, that the language and emotions of politics need to be translated into forms and visions rooted in the popular, the everyday. With good reason the RIght are traditionally better than the Left at this, reducing the complexities of globalisation to binary oppositions, them vs us while skating over the imperatives of wealth, class and power.
In the recently-published collection After Neoliberalism? Stuart Hall and Alan O’Shea pinpoint the centrality of contesting these ideas “ While neoliberal discourse is increasingly hegemonic and setting the agendas for debate, there are other currents in play - empathy for others, a liking for co-operation rather than competition, or a sense of injustice.”
In the General Election Leaders’ debates this was the kind of terrain occupied by Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood with some success, they looked comfortable located there. Ed Miliband at his best occupied this same common ground, but not often enough to look like he entirely belonged there.
Labour in 45 wasn’t the finished article, it was pushed to the boundaries of its radical impulse from within by Bevan and Cripps, by the guiding ideals of Keynes and Beveridge, and on its left by a resurgent Communist Party with 2 MPs, Willie Gallagher and elected from London’s East End, Phil Piratin. As recorded by the journal Twentieth Century Communism in ‘45 the CP was bordering on a mass party with an appeal framed both by a record of militant antifascism and a widely appreciative mood towards the Red Army which created a space for a radical vision beyond Labour ‘s winning of the peace. The prehistory of the direct action of Cable Street was crucial here, translated in ‘45 into a wave of CP-led occupations to seize property and land for much-needed housing.
These moments of big change however aren’t prisoners of the past. This year has already seen the Syriza breakthrough in Greece, later this year we may see something similar with Podemos in Spain. Domestically electoral politics is about to be turned on its head with Scotland’s widely-anticipated SNP landslide.
Labour ‘45, General Election 2015, Syriza and Podemos, the Scottish turn, after the General Electiin is finally over how can we begin to re-imagine what a politics of hope might look like?
Days of Hope : What Creates Moments of Big Political Change?
Saturday 9 May, 3pm, Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road London E1 6LA. With Zoe Williams, Marina Prentoulis of Syriza, Michael Rustin co-author After Neoliberalism and Kevin Morgan co-editor Twentieth Century Communism. Organised by Philosophy Football in association with Soundings. Free but advance booking essential from here or call to book 01273 472 721.
Mark Perryman is a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football, he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest is The Corbyn Effect and is published by Lawrence & Wishart in September, available to pre-order here.