Monday, 30 November 2015

Politics must become more fun!

Omitting the recent "Corbyn Effect", political parties have seen a decline in membership continuously over many years. Old tribal warfare such as Workers vs Bosses has faded into memories, even if the issues behind it are unresolved and painfully present behind the scenes. Most work is no longer carried out in huge factories but by "white-collar" mortgage-holders with new priorities. In our unequal country, having a job and a home, no matter how indebted, count as economic success,  apparently not meriting the energies of unions to wrest improvements from Gradgrind employers. This leaves the Left with out its main historic purpose.

Voting is now left to older generations with memories of how we got here and with the time to stay in touch with the mainstream media. They are familiar with the democratic process, unlike today's young. Yet the future belongs to the latter, even those not yet of voting age. How are they to be persuaded to engage in a process which seems so irrelevant to their daily experience, let alone join a political party? True, the aftermath of the recent election has seen a huge upsurge in parties' membership, perhaps because Corbyn's message, like that of Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, could be conveyed in a sound-bite or in 140 characters.

And how sustainable will this engagement of the younger voter be, if or when the power-hungry sulkers of the Labour front bench show how disloyalty really works and the people's Labour Party is once again discarded? Then, focus group, who-can-be-least-radical politics expressed in spad-eeze will turn them off again, surely. The [mostly white, mostly] men in suits will once again be a distant oligarchy with no understanding of the lives of those struggling young workers, disabled or unwaged citizens.

Instead, these may more likely be engaged by what makes them curious, angry, or empowered. This may be a community cause, or a global conflict; a campaign or an injustice. So the young, as bright, lively and unselfish as in any generation, will form their own allegiances using their own preferred forms of expression and media. This will still be political engagement but not party-political, leaving them outside the process whereby decisions can be made. A thousand pressure groups will still need a mechanism through which to unlock resources controlled by an ever-narrowing, unrepresentative few. These latter will still cluster in Parties, which will still need voters; and the voters will still depend on the Parties; but the people may fall into neither category unless they can attract the young, the ethnic minority, the women voters currently put off by the profile of  "Politician". How to do this? The Parties must relinquish their capital stronghold, devolve and share power - genuinely, explain how governance works; offer social engagement and the fun of debate; actually listen and hear what is needed; and then show how politics can work for them and for the country.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Misleading history lessons

Although history does not repeat itself precisely, that general lesson can be gleaned from an understanding of it is surely undeniable, except by the most arrogant or wilful of leaders [naming no names]. It is in understanding it badly that lies one current malaise, which may cost us dear. How we talk about, treat and make policy about foreign peoples may be the very cause of some of the most intractable policy areas: diplomacy, Europe, immigration, social cohesion.

As rulers of colonies, the British Establishment acquired a sense of superiority, entitlement and arrogance which has yet to be diluted by the passage of time since empire's demise. Foreigners were looked upon with either suspicion [if powerful] or disdain [as lesser beings]. Still, today, our ruling oligarchs and their media camp-followers seem content with a default mode of suspicion and stereotyping. The Algerian author Karem Daoud sums up this attitude thus: "Arab-ness is like Negro-ness, which only exists in the white man's eyes"

 Such a hangover from history leads to behaviours, even policies, such as schmoozing the rich, no matter how ethically dubious; and trying to avoid direct contact with the rest. Handshakes are exclusively reserved for those with money to spend. This "rubber-glove" attitude may be manifested in trying to ensure that our shores are protected by other States not letting people out in our direction; or in bombing from a safe height. It cannot be seriously believed that history teaches us that the gunboat is preferable to the conference table, but metaphorically this seems to be the first resort of the Right. Trouble in Syria - lets bomb, or better still, use remote controlled drones. Refugees in Calais - lets keep them away with fences and someone else's armed guards. Mass migration in Europe - lets claim we are not a part of it.

Refusal to welcome valid refugees is all about their foreignness rather than their humanity. Hostility to the EU is about an arrogant distaste for collaboration with Others. The British Establishment still seems to show its old colours, failing to grasp that all humans are of equal worth, no matter how much or little wealth they command; and that foreign States are as entitled as our own to self-esteem and the respect of others.

The World is changing before our eyes. Mass migration has only just started. As climate change also shows, you cannot simply turn your back on such seismic shifts but have to adapt to them. Concrete walls will - should - not keep out either extreme weather nor the realities of human need. So let us have reality in politics not worn-out attitudes inherited by a narrow-minded and xenophobic few.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Do we really want to go it alone all the time?

They say that perception is truth so perhaps I may be allowed ignorance to some extent of facts "on the ground" when the impression of reality is all I can rely on. I have long felt that collaboration - teamwork, if you like - was a preferable way of overcoming obstacles to going it alone. Not only are two heads better than one but more resources and fewer opponents result. So Europe has avoided conflict since its members agreed on cooperation. So, the principle of mutual defence [note that word] lies behind NATO. So, the countries of the world agreed to create the UNO to foster collective solutions to the biggest issues.

Then why is it now the case that these apparently laudable institutions seem to be by-passed by our own government, a key player in each? NATO is, it is true, cited as the vehicle for some actions but these are rarely concerned with mutual defence. Rather it is used in aggressive adventures. The UN fails totally to appear when a massive humanitarian crisis faces hundreds of thousands across Europe and the Middle East - even neglecting the disgrace of the Calais Jungle and its suffering inhabitants. And how pathetically self-serving have the leaders of the EU been when dealing with the crises facing both the elected government of Greece and its suffering people.
When institutions fail it is because its members fail to cooperate. This will inevitably lead to the further breakdown of the institution, leading to unilateral actions and inter-nation, "Balkan" conflicts, with the humanitarian aspects of the crises of the world left high and dry. Before this occurs, leaders need to look hard at both the reality and perception of their own loss of faith in collaboration and ask if this is really the fault of the institution or of their own leadership. They need to ask what is really best for the country and for the world. My perception may be shared, to the extent that supporters of cooperative institutions may end up voting to abandon them, if they are allowed to fail to perform as they should. Then the reality will be truly dangerous.
Tom Serpell

Monday, 2 November 2015

Tribalism is great but can it damage democracy?

Seth Godin had brilliantly described one aspect of how modern society structures itself in his writings on tribes. I hesitate to describe his work as an analysis of what works, though.
We are none of us true islands, connecting ourselves by accident or intent with others in any number of tribes with shared interests, habits, bloodlines, cultures or roles. Each may belong to several or even many different tribes, in which we engage as suits us. This has been made incrementally easier since the mass access to the Internet arrived. Now, we can subscribe to any number of groups even without ever meeting our peers, just by use of our mouse. And herein lies the problem. For just as joining can be ready, so can creating a would-be tribe.
In politics, there used to be, in this country, two major and one or two minor parties to attract us. Now, even within the broad label of a major party like Labour, one can join tribes of the left, the right, the centre, all of which fight verbally at least every bit as viciously as they do with the older, bigger enemy: the Other Party. Criticism too having entered the cloudosphere, all this verbal war is carried out in full view of who is saying what about whom, to the delight of the enemy.
Belonging is great. But taking vociferous sides in public conflicts between tribes within a greater Tribe could mean defeat of all at the hands of those we should be fighting. So, Jeremy, be careful that Momentum does not put all your momentum into a narrow box which can be attacked by other Labour boxes, become a mere sectional tribe, instead of changing the big tent for the better.