By Justin Kenrick. What are current political conditions, and how could a Commons approach be enabled to flourish in them? In Scotland, for example:
In Robin McAlpine’s superb analysis (After the election . . . where next for Scottish Politics?) the Scottish Parliamentary Holyrood May 2011 election was about a long term process in which:
“a broadly left-of-centre consensus has interacted with a more specific left-focussed strand of the electorate, and this has generated continuing change in Scottish politics which underlies the visible politics of parliament and party. There is plenty to suggest that 2011 is part continuation, part acceleration of this process.”
So, people used to trust Labour to be the party that focused on the well-being of all, and the party drifted from them as (at Westminster) it took to power, to nuclear weapons, to war and seemed to be dazzled by the rich. Then people turned to the SNP, because it shared peoples’ concerns about inequality in education and health, because of its focus on renewables and renewing hope, and its opposition to nuclear weapons, nuclear energy and war.
If the recent 2011 Holyrood election is part of a broader process of dramatic political and cultural change, then one key question is whether we can respond to the political opportunities and ecological necessities by developing a movement that focuses less on party politics and more on the need for transformative political change?
Should those active in political parties who see the need to reign in corporate power, focus not on party building but on building a broader movement of which their parties are a part? Should they focus less on electoral strategy than on culture shift strategy, and on connecting this to addressing the democratic deficit?
Does such a movement need to develop a culture story that is ahead of the SNP but – in some senses – going beyond where they are heading? We in Scotland can’t wait for the SNP to fail. In fact we should expect and hope that they succeed: not in terms of their road building and misguided faith in corporations, but in terms of persuading people that the closer to home decisions are made the better: that we can trust ourselves. Should we be suggesting that self-determination for Scotland should become self-determination for communities and so take empowerment to the next level?
Alongside this, it may be counter-productive for the Greens in particular, or a broader movement in general, to define itself as anti-capitalist, or define itself as being for higher taxation. We need to be for a healthy social economy which taxes for clear social purposes. We need to be for an economy of trade and production, innovation and specialisation. But this can’t be a reactive socialism that is forever focused on capitalism, and it can’t be ‘capitalism-lite’ which still maintains capitalism’s addiction to growth, and its inevitable boom and bust as financiers gamble and cash in on the rise and fall of prices, psychopathically focused on the one ‘rational’ goal of profit maximisation, and ignoring the devastating harm this causes to people and planet, and even to their own relationships with their families and themselves.
Could such a movement motivate, and become a vehicle for, the disenfranchised?
Supporting the Disenfranchised:
Huge swathes of people – especially the young, the poor, the marginalised – don’t even bother to vote. They don’t need anyone to speak for them, but how best can they be supported to speak out and re-engage? Does a broader movement for political change need to persuade such people to vote? This certainly worked for the Democrats in the USA, but if its purpose is simply to ensure the election of one of the brands on offer then is it worth it? Parliamentary voting should be the icing on the cake of a functioning democracy, but if there is no bread and butter democracy of people being able to hold the media and politicians and other powerful players to account, and able to build community and economies and politics from beneath, then are we simply engaged in Marie Antoinette’s ‘Let them eat cake’? Similarly, if we focus on (badly paid) ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ within the system as it is, then are we only offering a variation on Rome’s ‘Bread and circuses’?
Perhaps the trick is to realise that the situation is volatile rather than static, that it can all go either way very quickly, that our response (or lack of one) is what will make it go one way or another, and that we need to be preparing for highly different possible futures.
This is the sixth in a series of ‘Case for the Commons: the kinder Society we want’ – the seventh will look at the current political context in the Global North and suggest we prepare for two very different scenarios.