Saturday, 26 March 2011


It is indeed terrible that so many are about to lose jobs and prospects. I know what is waiting to hit the university, where some of the best people in vital offices will be lost. The great rally today is understandable and natural, and the various scuffles at Fortnum & Mason, at Topman and the rest are nothing much. Perhaps the whole is a cry of pain and anger - anger chiefly at the crash itself and what brought it about - with the usual circus sideshows. It doesn't seem to me a coherent demand for anything particularly clear. Is the cry for no cuts at all? For different cuts? For slower cuts? The first makes a good slogan, but the issue is about the second and third which are not much as slogans. CUT A LITTLE LESS! is not very dramatic. CUT AT A SLOWER PACE! is no better. The big 'alternative' as proposed by Ed Milliband is a combination of the second two, but it is still awkward for him to be leading the charge on the barricades as it is less than a year that Labour were in government and it was under their watch, and with their policies, the crash happened.

I say 'them' meaning my party of choice. History is not to be wound backwards. We are not going to recover coalmines, steelworks, fisheries, shipyards and dockyards. The unionised workforce is very much reduced. No doubt railway workers and UNITE can still bring some services to a halt but the TUC has no great army of tanks to park on what Jim Callaghan once called his lawn.

Short of a revolution - and I thought things might just move in that direction with the collapse of the banks and the financial system but we seem to be past that - it has to be different. Banks collapsed but the financial system survives. The importance of the financial sector is beyond me to gauge but I don't imagine it is something that can be controlled at a purely national level.

I would like an honest Labour party that told us it will do the best thing possible in whatever conditions it had to operate in. If it has to operate within globalised constraints, let it form its policies according to the best humanitarian options available. Let it be unashamedly ameliorist. Let it worry less about presentation and hollow rhetoric than about the gradual shifting of the moral centre towards a more generous, egalitarian society, persuading us to it, so we don't just talk or shout but do it. That much is possible and honest. I think it can work. I think the people among whom I live understand that and could respond to it.

That policy won't yield much of a slogan either. Things can only get better has been done to death. But I don't care for slogans anyway. My prescription for a march would be a silent one whose only banners were those that indicated where particular groups came from. This is who we are. This is where we are. Get to the squares and stand there. Forget the speeches. The change starts with silence. And with our own willingness to be honest about what such a change would entail for us. Injustice must be fought from within our own silent pockets.


P Lane Anon said...

I couldn't be there myself - work, to my great good fortune - but many friends marched, some of whom lost their jobs at the end of the week. Local government spending cuts. I felt sorry for them: all that they're up against now, then marching, then arriving in Trafalgar Square to be met by...

...all of the usual suspects who have built their own jobs and careers on events just like these. The worst set of trade union leaders since the '30s (what Jack Jones would say is hard to imagine) - and Ed Milliband insulting the memory of the dead of the Civil Rights, Anti-Apartheid and Suffragette campaigns. While others lose their jobs, they get to cement theirs and to build national profiles for themselves. It isn't fair.

We still have no policies as such - 4 years after Blair left!! - some say just as well, as the "real" cuts (not the threatened ones) turn out to be Alastair Darling's anyway as no worse cuts than those were actually possible.

But there's so much we could at least set out to do. Mutualize water, gas, electricity and the railways. Re-regulate local bus services. Keep the banks nationalized and piecemeal reshape them to purpose. Set up an oil fund for whatever's left in the North Sea. Raise minimum housing standards and set out a programme to impose them. Scotland's building council houses properly again. Why not England and Wales?

It's easy to come up with lists like that. We've all got our own. But I'm one of those who worry that we're too comfortable as outsiders pointing the finger of blame at others. If we have policies, then we own the consequences, and own the responsibility for adapting to them. I wonder if Labour people have had enough of responsibility for the time being. And it's in times like these that the usual suspects capitalize.

George S said...

Your penultimate paragraph has some useful bright ideas PLA. Maybe they would work. Maybe Labour should be looking into such notions in an utterly pragmatic way. What can we do? At what cost in both human and financial terms (the two are rarely distinct)? And if there is anything like a 50-50, or even 30-70 balance of factors, let's choose the one we believe in, say why we believe in it, and explain precisely and honestly the risks involved, saying why those risks are worth taking.