Friday, May 30, 2014

Doing Politics

In last week’s European election in the Wealden area of East Sussex, where I live, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) came top of the poll. With 16,000 votes, UKIP were just ahead of the Conservatives; the Greens, Labour and the Lib Dems mustered 10,000 votes between them. The change from 2009 seems to be that UKIP have taken a couple of thousand votes from the Tories and, probably, some of the protest vote that previously went to the Lib Dems and the Greens. I am under no illusions about this; I live in a deeply conservative area. Although not far from London, it falls in a large gap between the main routes out of the capital down to Brighton and Hastings. It is very easy to become frightened of things like Europe and multi-culturalism when you have little experience of them.

UKIP’s ‘success’ should be put in context, though: because of the low national turnout, only 9% of registered voters supported them; but that is still more than each of the main political parties. The ‘Russell Brand effect’ has been blamed for spreading political apathy amongst potentially progressive voters: his admission that he has never voted has been cited as a validation of failing to engage in the political process and a contributory factor in letting UKIP in. In recent years I have been an advocate of not voting as I felt that the choice between three privileged, middle-aged men in navy blue business suits is no choice at all. Little did I know that another one would come along - this one in a mustard-coloured suit with a pint in his hand - and convince some people that he offers an alternative.

However, UKIP are not an alternative; they are a negative, backward looking party. There has been no successful political philosophy that advocates a return to the conditions of the past – only disastrous failures such as the Nazis and the Khymer Rouge. And because of that, UKIP do need to be challenged and confronted. There were two things this week to re-invigorate the political will. Firstly, David Runciman, in his essay exploring the choice between boring old politics and the revolutionary allure of technology, said “only politics can rescue you from bad politics”; and quoting Malcolm Gladwell’s appropriation of Gil Scott Heron’s aphorism – “the revolution will not be tweeted” - he made the point that, whilst social media is a powerful tool, “political change requires more lasting and durable connections”. Secondly, the leader of Podemos (We Can), the new anti-austerity party that managed to come third in the elections in Spain, explained the party’s philosophy as “citizens doing politics”. Pablo Inglesias added, “if the citizens don’t get involved in politics, others will”. Others, such as ex-public schoolboy commodities brokers posing as men of the people. The situation is clear: if we are going to deal with the ‘bad politics’ of UKIP, to stop their attacks on the welfare state and society’s weakest, we need to be ‘doing politics’, not just tweeting to the converted.

Exhortations to ‘get involved’ can often sound cliched and meaningless; but to ‘do politics’, to build on the support of the 25% that didn’t vote for reactionary parties in my area, and to capture the imaginations of the 62% that didn’t vote at all, means engaging with the process by joining a political party. The Green Party has branches in Hastings, Lewes and Brighton, and the Socialist Party is also active in Brighton. Let’s not bother with the Lib Dems, but how about this for a radical idea? The Labour Party: the largest progressive political party that has a history of building a fairer society and opposition to the repression of minorities. It is the only political party I have ever been a member of but its continuation of Thatcherite privatisation and vanity warmongering drove me away. How about getting involved with them again? Pushing from the bottom to promote those positive ideas that we know are popular with a majority of people: large-scale building of social housing and common ownership of utilities and infrastructure. So...?

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