By Jim Grundy
In a recent debate with a supporter of the Liberal Democrats I was shocked (which I suppose I shouldn’t have been) at the callous dismissal of the problems being experienced by millions of people in this, the seventh largest economy in the world. Cuts to pay, pensions, benefits, care services for the elderly, trebling of tuition fees, removal of disability benefits, the 20% rise in homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS and rationing of healthcare, cuts to the Police, none of it registered. The anger, frustration and despair that all of that and so much more has caused, were dismissed as “phoney” and served no other purpose than to provide a stick to beat Liberal Democrats with.
The attitude on display reminded me of an interview I saw with a violent offender once. He had been sent to prison after an unprovoked attack upon a complete stranger. When asked what he’d do if he ever met the victim again his response was not to offer an apology or show any remorse. Oh no. The man said, “I’d have him!” When questioned why “’Cos he put me here!” In his way of thinking, he was the victim. He had lost his freedom and that was the fault of the person, he’d beaten to unconsciousness, nothing to do with his own actions.
This kind of attitude is only possible because of the constant attacks upon ordinary people seen everyday coming from the Government and its increasingly rabid friends in the right-wing press. Owen Jones performed an important service when he published his excellent book, “Chavs. The Demonisation of the Working Class.” His timely expose of how the attacks upon the livelihoods of millions of people have been justified by the oh so Victorian belief in the deserving and undeserving poor (although it’s hard to detect much belief in the former).
The ability to objectify, the all too genuine suffering, that is being inflicted upon the “the poor” (his expression) by our Liberal Democrat friend was topped off by a positively post-modernist outlook on life. To him, there was no such thing as truth, and all experiences and evidence of the effects of the policies being supported by them in coalition with the Nasty Party were merely texts, only one version of events with no greater validity than anything put out by Tory Central Office.
It was an astonishing display of how millions of people can be dehumanised and any protest about their fate treated as nothing other than a cynical, empty, politically-motivated lie. It could’ve been a case of an individual judging another by their own values (or absence thereof) but it was enlightening in its way. It reminded me of the disconnection between the people and their leaders – and how some of the people come to embrace their own alienation.
There are some within the Labour Party who hold views about the average working class person as being little different to the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted white van man driver stereotype. Recent polling commissioned by Progress was used to support that view and its case, that the answer to the loss of the last election was not that the Party had for too long ignored its core vote but that there was no such thing as a core vote and a further lurch to the right is required if we stood any chance of forming the next administration.
I suppose it infrequently occurs to your average Progress supporter that it is a poor defence, against the excesses of the right-wing, to become right-wing yourselves.
They have written-off the working class in favour of a middle-income, middle class swing voter; they long abandoned any belief in socialist principles, so no surprise there. But if we wish to gain the support of those who, whilst certainly not Tories, are still to be persuaded that Labour has anything to offer them, we have to do more than taking on each and every, daft idea that comes out of the Daily Mail and its ilk everyday.
Anyone could be forgiven for believing that Progress – and the Lib Dem who started me thinking – view politics as akin to Premiership football. There is only one game – for football read capitalism – the only issue is who is the best manager of the team (and who’s got the most attractive kit)? If we don’t like the current prime minister, offer them another but certainly don’t offer to change the game.
“You’re all the same, politicians,” is heard often, and sometimes it’s not an easy task to dismiss that claim. But if we in Labour have any serious ambition to win with an overall majority, we have to show the clear red water that does exist between us and this, the most rabidly right-wing government in post-war history.
It’s not good enough to spend all our energies chasing after the 100-200,000 voters in key marginal constituencies. We must, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “Take Care of our Own”. In that song, a number of questions are asked and it’s worth repeating them here:
“Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see?
Where’re the hearts, that run over with mercy?
Where’s the love that has not forsaken me?
Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free?
We have to provide the answers.
But if the answer is to dismiss the pain being inflicted upon millions as regrettable but inevitable, then we have no right to expect them to come to Labour … just because the alternative is so appalling (and incompetent with it). Even with a stick of the size, that is being handed to us, we cannot just bash the Tories and Lib Dems, we have to offer hope of a real alternative to austerity.
The answer is not a charismatic leader (we’ve had enough of those) but a solid commitment to listen to what we know to be true. We’re here, yes to represent the interests of all, in our ‘One Nation’, but, most of all, to protect those who are the most vulnerable in society. If we fail to do that, we won’t just have failed as a party, we will have failed the country as well.
It’s time to move away from the Tory lie of a bankrupt nation, to dealing with the reality inflicted by a morally bankrupt collection of Tory and Liberal millionaires. Our Liberal Democrat friend called this ‘tribalism’ (oh, the irony). I call it justice and, in the truest sense, looking after our own.