Politics is a precarious path for a career, that’s for sure. Not so long ago, Theresa May was flavour of the month. The new strong woman, adored by many of the rank and file supporters, a better option than Thatcher; less abrasive, no annoying children, and smartly dressed too, in designer clothes.
Even though she hadn’t supported leaving the EU, she boldly threw her hat into the ring to succeed Cameron, emerging as the new leader with her own catchphrases, ‘Brexit Means Brexit’, and ‘Strong And Stable’. Even her enemies had to concede that she had a handle on things, and that she epitomised the Conservative ideology in a way that the public schoolboys preceding her never could.
Somewhere along the way though, it all went very wrong. Perhaps she was badly advised, or maybe the whole thing just went to her head. She could have waited out the term of the government, got on with the job, and led the negotiations around leaving the EU. But she wanted more. Personal approval, public affirmation of her leadership, and the possible destruction of any viable opposition.
So she called an election. One she was expected to win. One I thought she would win. I expected a Conservative landslide, the end of Jeremy Corbyn as opposition leader, and successive Conservative governments ruling unhindered until my dying day. All she had to do was to keep her nerve, and not disclose the reality of their policies. Say a few nice things, meet a few real people, including some who didn’t agree with her. Get her hands a little dirty on the campaign trail, and try to come across as someone behind the mask, and that iron grey hair.
But no. Instead, she decided to tell us what was best for us. The rich would continue to get richer, the poor could stay where they belong, and everyone in the middle would just do as they were told. She scolded her greatest supporters, the elderly, by taunting them with the prospect of selling their houses to pay for social care. She would not increase their pensions, and would means-test them for every benefit and allowance. As for the young, they wouldn’t vote anyway, so they could all shut up.
Why bother to appear on national TV debates, to argue her point? Why meet people in deprived areas that she didn’t want to associate with? Better to travel to nice comfortable places, where she would be welcomed by the wealthy and unconcerned. Better to give solo interviews to reporters than to face questioning from plebs about her policies. She didn’t need to do any of that, she was certain. Her victory would be enormous, the insiders and the pollsters had all told her, and she believed them.
They got it wrong, and so did she. She emerged with a tiny majority, and had to seek support of the far right DUP to prop up her government. Anyone else would have admitted failure, and resigned. At the very least, they would have gone back to the country with another election, apologised for their previous errors, and sought a bigger mandate. But she decided to cling on, to become an embarrassing figure, a female John Major, going from ‘The Grey Men’, to ‘The Grey Woman’. Then came the additional mistakes. Refusing to meet the victims at the site of the Grenfell Tower fire, and refusing to give interviews to the BBC journalists at the scene. As her political opponents showed their chops by hugging homeless victims, and helping to shift boxes of aid, she hurried back in her car to the studios of the BBC, to give a ‘personal’ interview with one chosen reporter.
She then threw away any chance of redemption via that interview, by harping on about the same things, boasting about the £5 million in aid for the victims, but unable to tell the reporter when and how it will be given out. She refused to accept any government responsibility for ignoring safety warnings after similar fires, and repeated her prepared quotes like a broken record. She looked older already, the signature eye-bags bigger than ever, her posture slumped and defensive. The reporter eventually gave up, her voice tinged with frustration at the attitude from the leader of Great Britain.
Mrs May is on her way out of politics, that’s for sure. And she only has herself to blame.
Despite predictions of a moderate winning the election to become leader of the Labour Party, an outsider has confounded expectations, by becoming the front runner. Jeremy Corbyn has been the M.P. for Islington North in London, since 1983. Before that, he was prominent in Haringey Council. He has always been regarded as a rebel, and to the Left of the party line. He lives in his constituency, takes little money for expenses, and espouses causes, both domestic, and international.
During his political career, he has campaigned in favour of nuclear disarmament, and the dissolution of The House of Lords. He supports re-nationalisation of the railways, equal rights and pay for workers, and the return of the six counties to Ireland. He has a long association with the Trade Union movement in the UK and abroad, and once worked for the National Union of Public Employees. On the international stage, he has been outspoken against Israel, and fought for fair treatment of the people in Chile. He is also a well-known for his support of the government in Venezuela, and for his views on animal rights and welfare.
So, his Socialist credentials are fairly sound, it would appear.
If this is the case, why do so many people think that his becoming the leader of the Labour Party would be a disaster? Well for one thing, times have changed. We live in an acquisitive society, overwhelmed by avarice, where selfishness has replaced selflessness. Huge multi-national companies control almost every job, and international financiers control our economy. The politics of the so-called ‘man in the street’ has moved further to the right than ever before, with immigration and terrorism replacing health and education as the main concerns. If this is the case, then the mild-mannered Corbyn is certainly not electable as a leader of the nation. The doomsday scenario is that Labour would return to being a party of the far Left, with an agenda unpopular with almost everyone, save for those who voted for Corbyn.
His opponents claim that Labour would become a minority party; a party of protest, a party that would never again see itself in power. Of course, they are lamenting their own demise, their own inability to achieve that power, whatever the cost to their principles or background. They claim that the opposing parties are delighted, that they want Corbyn to win, so that Labour will lose whatever vestige of power it still clings to. But is politics really only just about winning? Perhaps most people see it that way. I do not.
Corbyn offers at least a partial return to the roots of Socialism in the UK. Nationalisation, equality in education and in the workplace, fair treatment for the poorest in society, as well as the sick and disabled. Ridding the country of nuclear weapons, and tackling the energy crisis. Reopening the mines, closed by spiteful politicians and businessmen as supposedly unprofitable, as a punishment to the miners after the strike. He offers respect to all, regardless of social position, sexuality, or creed, and a chance to rebuild the economy without reliance on invisible industries, or foreign companies.
This might all seem to be just an unworkable ideal, but it is not. It is all possible, if you are brave enough to take on the gainsayers, and conglomerates. It might well be that the time for this has been missed, and all the stories of the Labour Party becoming an anachronism under his leadership are true.
But at least it would restore its honour, and its self-respect.
There has been a great deal of excitement lately about the success of the UK Independence Party in two recent by-elections. If you watch or read the reports closely enough, you will have noticed that both the men elected were previously representing the constituencies concerned. They simply resigned from the Conservative Party, then stood for re-election under a different banner, and a more extreme agenda. I will not speculate on their motives for doing this, though I suspect that there are others who may well follow their example.
UKIP leaders and officials make many claims about the reason for their success, whether in the local council elections, or the recent parliamentary ones. Perhaps the most offensive claim, is that they represent the true opinions of the working classes in this country. In reality, they reflect the least informed, most biased, and racist opinions of just some of the people in the UK, working class, or not. They appeal to the lowest common denominator at each end of the political spectrum here, yet the other parties, and the media, appear to be letting them get away with their outrageous claims.
Those of us concerned enough to be worried about the emergence of the Far Right into the daylight of political representation are correct to worry. There are so many throwaway lines, soundbites, and off-the-cuff comments that need a great deal more investigation. Repatriation of immigrants is casually mentioned. This is supposedly popular with the majority of people in this country, though there is little evidence to support this, outside of some spurious polls, and talking-head TV interviews. This is the same policy advocated by the National Front, The BNP, and other groups of the extreme Right.
Less taxation of the rich. Is this popular with everyone? I doubt that, but perhaps they read no further than the supposedly populist immigration policies. Part-privatisation of the NHS. (This is currently being ‘reviewed’ by UKIP, who may have realised the folly of stating this so blatantly) Have any of the predominantly white, working-class, UKIP supporters thought this through? Unlikely. They are the people most likely to need the service that UKIP would convert into a system similar to that in America. Treatment dependent on ability to pay, and health for the rich, at the expense of the poor. Abolition of inheritance tax, to ensure that the rich stay rich. Scrapping education targets that currently try to get at least half of school leavers into university. Free Schools will only be allowed to continue if they ‘uphold British values’, (Whatever they are…) and grammar schools will return, to further divide the young people of this country.
Any current energy policies will be mothballed or scrapped, with the emphasis on shale gas, fossil fuels, and a return to air-polluting power stations, as well as on-site power generation for any company that wants to use this method. There will be no subsidies for alternative or cleaner energy, and no further investigations into other ways to generate power. They will also ‘streamline’ the benefits system, and introduce a cap on the upper limit of benefit received. There are few specifics here, just the ominous use of the word ‘streamlined’. Members of parliament from constituencies outside of the borders of England will have no vote on issues considered to be important only in England. This is the first step towards an independent England, and a break-up of The Union. Perhaps they should be called EKIP? They will abolish the Human Rights Act, and withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights. This will be replaced with something yet to be detailed. In employment, rules governing Agency workers would be done away with, and employers would be allowed to discriminate in favour of British applicants, as well as disregarding many existing agreements with trade unions.
All of this, and much more, can be found on their official website, under the heading ‘Policies for People’. I haven’t made anything up.
They have two policies that I do actually agree with. Leaving the EU, and not going ahead with the unnecessary HS2 rail line. This is not enough to make me support them though, as the right-wing policies that dominate their thinking will surely be the tip of a dangerous iceberg, if they ever get into a position to implement them. They would take this country back to how it was before 1939, and see that as progress. Culture would suffer, the poor would ultimately pay an unacceptable price, and the working classes that supposedly support them would be returned to a place that they have fought their way up from over the last seventy years.
Given that they are unlikely to get any real power in the 2015 election, what am I worried about? I am worried that all other parties will continue to move to the Right, hoping to keep their own supporters, and stop them voting for UKIP. I am worried that the population will start to see right-wing and extremist policies as acceptable, and something to embrace. I am worried that they may hold the balance of power in a parliament where no major party has overall control, and that ‘deals with the devil’ will happen as a result. I am worried that the future of this country is for it to become a haven of Far Right thinking, regressive policies, and backward-thinking. And I am worried that the so-called voting masses will think that all of this is good.
It has been worrying me for some time now, and I feel that it is appropriate to ask the question. Is there any Left-Wing remaining in British politics? We used to have the ‘Loony Left’, the Labour Left, The Workers’ Revolutionary Party, Militant Tendency, The Socialist Workers’ Party, and The Communist Party, with all its various factions. There was the Young Communist League, The Morning Star Group, the Trotsky supporters, and the old-style Marxist-Leninist diehards. Some of these still exist. You can find websites on the Internet, see members selling newspapers and pamphlets, and notice their banners on TV news, waved by marchers, demonstrating against something or another. The Morning Star newspaper is still for sale, and has a modern website. There is even a Stalin Society. I was keen to join, but they didn’t reply to my e mailed request. It seems that it is too much trouble to be a revolutionary these days. Round up all the members and supporters of these various parties, and you would be pushed to fill the terraces of a second division football club with them. They have no impact, no influence, few policies, and no apparent agenda. Their leaders are anonymous, and constantly changing, and most of them have been eaten up by internal arguments, that have diluted them into oblivion. The days when the Establishment feared the wrath of the organised Proletariat, and their strong Trades Unions, are long gone.
There was a time, not so long ago, and certainly within my recent memory, when the Left had a fierce commitment, and a hunger for real change. They had radical ideas and beliefs, and swore to change the status quo, if and when in power. The rhetoric is now about wind farms, nuclear power stations, global warming, third world sweat shops, and the rights of farmers in countries most Britons couldn’t find on a map. What about the re-nationalisation of railways, utilities, banks, and industry? Never mentioned. Getting out of Europe, and abandoning NATO, has become a policy of the extreme Right, after it was discarded by the Left, and found lying around, waiting to be picked up, and re-packaged for general consumption. Wealth taxes on the rich and powerful, the abolition of the House of Lords and the Royal Family, getting American bases off our soil. Where are those policies? Gone; though sometimes partially embraced by powerless splinter groups, and more worryingly, the burgeoning Right.
In Britain, we are seeing a return of Right-Wing politics at a rate unseen since in Italy and Germany in the 1930’s, and driven by much the same fears and reasoning too. Fear of job losses, fear of foreign investment and ownership, and fear of things non-British. Add to this fear of different religions, against a background of ‘Crusader’ involvement in Muslim countries, and the firework has been well and truly lit. An economic slump has opened the back gate to the worst kind of sneaky rightists. UKIP, Old-School Toff Tories, Right-leaning Liberal Democrats, and even most of the (new) Labour Party, are all embracing the politics of the Right. Some are more outgoing and extreme, such as the League of St George, Column 88, and The English Defence League. Others, formerly considered extreme beyond the pale, like National Front supporters, are now merging into parties like UKIP, and The Conservative Party, and melting happily into the background.
The media has all but abandoned any support for the Left, in any form. Despite laughable accusations of Left-wing bias, the BBC continues to tread carefully, fearful of its licence money, and dreading being handed over to commercialisation. All other television provided for mainstream viewing is either cosily neutral, or blatantly conservative, albeit with a small C. The newspapers are virtually all speaking for the Right, and the worst ones are fuelling the fires of xenophobia, as well as religious hatred, and spewing out propaganda against the disadvantaged and poorly educated in our society. The possible exception, The Guardian, speaks for the well-heeled middle-class intelligentsia, salving their consciences during their morning commute. The Morning Star has such a small circulation, it would be pushed to compete with a regional newspaper in a small town. Even that supposed voice of the Left, seems more concerned with the internal struggles of Communist factions, and is preaching to the more-or-less converted anyway.
The Trades Unions are still here, but they are no longer a force to be reckoned with. Years of amalgamation have turned them into unrepresentative monoliths, that have lost sight of their members as individuals, and seem to have forgotten the essence of the trades and skills that they are supposed to defend and protect. Hamstrung by changes in the law, they have played along, having their industrial teeth pulled one by one. Their political affiliations have diminished, and the Labour Party, that they were most associated with, is trying to sever ties with them, fearful of continued association with an organised workforce; embarrassed to stand alongside them and fight for the rights of ordinary people. Their leaders have become powerful and wealthy in their roles, detached and distant from a membership they treat like sheep. The only real alternative to another Conservative government, which would surely move even further to the Right in politics, is, whether I like it or not, the Labour Party. Now far removed from its roots, and unrecognisable to the activists who moulded it during the 1970’s, it is no longer a party of the Left. Its leader is an ineffectual bureaucrat, and its cabinet have no real policies. They have even revealed that many of the policies of the present coalition would be unchanged under a Labour administration, and that some of the cruellest changes, in health provision, and welfare reform, would also be upheld. In that case, the Labour Party is no longer a worthwhile, or even desirable alternative.
It seems likely that the very definition Left, relating to political affiliations, will soon cease to be used, and not long after, cease to exist. Left-Wing, Leftist, and any similar descriptions, will be consigned to the history books, to be viewed with mild interest as a thing of the past, sometimes with a wry grin of amusement. I like to think of my own politics as those of the extreme Left. Old-school, hard-line Communism, like something that once existed, but no longer does, or ever will again. The only place for this now, is inside my head, as I conclude that there is no Left left.