Thursday, 18 March 2021

THE ROAD FROM DEMOCRACY TO OLIGARCHY - PART TWO - WHERE ARE THE GOOD PEOPLE IN POLITICS WHEN YOU NEED THEM?

My first blogpost in this series ended on a note of optimism, tempered by an advance warning of a wake-up call for me lurking around the corner. In this second blogpost, I am sharing the update on my persona as a Labour Party activist that I posted on my website in 2019 (see this link here) - and then bringing my personal story right up-to-date with a fresh update that takes you, the reader, into the present time as I consider my options. All this will be set in the context of the latest moves by those misgoverning us to take the country further along the road from democracy to oligarchy. 

Let's begin within that wider context of national politics.

Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, posted this message below on Facebook early yesterday evening, Tuesday 16 March 2021: 

'I spoke out against the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill in the House of Commons debate today. We have never seen anything like this Government before. Our democracy is being swept away in a calculated programme to leave the public muted and powerless. If this Bill goes through, anyone who values their democratic rights must get organised and fightback.' 



Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South


Two days before, the Observer newspaper had a leader article under the heading 'Civil liberty' in which the Metropolitan police force and its leadership are castigated for their failure to recognise their own institutional racism and sexism. This is a police force that decided to clamp down a day earlier on a peaceful vigil to commemorate the lives of women killed by men - a vigil called in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard. The man now charged with her kidnapping and murder is a serving officer in the Met. This is a police force that refused to engage with the women planning the vigil and cited government Covid regulations in the lockdown as the reason. As the Observer states: 'This is misogyny.'  

So it is - and it is important to understand the link between any government and their police forces. In

the last months of the Trump administration, it was becoming difficult to distinguish between the actions of the American police and the National Guard in responding to the 'threat' from protestors. Yet when the Capitol was invaded in the name of Trump and the election that had been 'stolen', there was little evidence of effective policing then. That is what authoritarian oligarchs do when challenged. They bring in the police and if necessary the army, as Trump did . And they use and manipulate their own thugs and militias, as Trump did too. Our television screens are filled with scenes of even more extreme violent policing of demonstrations by government agencies in Hong Kong and Myanmar. This state violence has a spectrum of severity - but all states may be tempted to follow this path, even those calling themselves 'democracies'. 


The National Guard deployed to deal with BLM protests in the USA 


The Observer draws these conclusions which I wholeheartedly endorse:

'The home secretary, Priti Patel (a woman found guilty of bullying in her department and still in office only thanks to the protection of a man, Boris Johnson, who has also been found to be a liar determined to advance his own interests at the expense of others), is proposing to further extend police powers to curb protest (through) a bill that dramatically increases police discretion to clamp down on the right to protest and gives ministers power to amend key definitions in the act, without proper parliamentary scrutiny. If the government has its way, police forces that struggle to combat racism and misogyny from within its own ranks will increasingly become the arbiters of the freedom to associate that is the cornerstone of democracy. This cannot be allowed to happen.'  

As I said in the first post in this series, these government moves in the UK are being carried out under the cover of a pandemic emergency, a catastrophe of this government's own making. Read Naomi Klein on crisis capitalism to get a measure of what is going on here in the UK - or a number of my past blogposts - or 'Dying to Know - Running through a Pandemic' by me, when it is published. 

So much for the wider context of national politics in the here and now. Let's go back to my personal update as a Labour Party activist from  a year and a half ago - and then I will provide a further update and start drawing some conclusions. I will note now, in passing, that the Opposition appears marginalized and ineffective, quite incapable of preventing this shift towards being an oligarchy:


'AN UPDATE:

We are approaching the end of September 2019, two years after my first posting. Where am I now as a Labour Party activist?

This Saturday – September 28, 2019 – I hope to be canvassing in Camborne as part of the team that is determined to see Paul Farmer, the prospective Labour Party candidate, returned as the Member of Parliament for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle. The seat is a Tory marginal; George Eustice, the Tory MP, only has a majority of 1,577 votes.

Last week, on Thursday evening, I was at Heartlands, Camborne with around fifty other activists in a Cornwall General Election Barnstorm Meeting.


September 2019 - Paul Farmer wearing a Cornish tie, in the centre. I'm second on the left.


I have helped bring into being a Labour Party public meeting next month, on Saturday October 12. The theme is ‘Austerity in St Ives’ with guest speakers Paul Farmer; Chris Wallis, the organiser of the St Ives Food Bank; Gill Pipkin, CEO Citizens Advice; and Nicole Broadhurst, Labour Mayor of Penzance.


The very same meeting - Saturday, 12 October 2021 - Paul Farmer on the left of the panel, next to him Gill Pipkin, then Nicole Broadhurst, Chris Wallis and Rex Henry. Backs of head and side profiles will be recognizable for the cognoscenti.  


On Tuesday October 15, I am the guest speaker at the Helston branch of the Labour Party, speaking on the theme of ‘Austerity in Cornwall’. Still busy then, spreading the vision of a decent and fair society, shaped by 21st century socialist values. 

But I chose to withdraw from meetings of the constituency Labour Party in Penzance in early 2018. How and why did that happen?

My vision of a concerted campaign to win for Labour a third of those who voted for the Lib Dems in the 2017 General Election led to a vote at an Autumn 2017 monthly meeting in favour of my motion to launch a leafleting campaign beginning in the wards of Penzance.

I argued that around 7,000 of the 21,000 plus votes cast for the Lib Dem candidate, Andrew George, were tactical votes from those who otherwise would vote Labour if there was a realistic chance of a Labour candidate being elected in this constituency. Andrew George had lost to Derek Thomas, the sitting Tory MP, by around 300 votes. If we in Labour wanted to make this a three-way marginal, we should start our campaign to do so immediately, targeting the Labour-inclined Lib Dem voters. My motion had been carried but it became clear in the following months that there was little support for my vision within the new socialist executive. Fair enough; there are different paths to the same goal. But I was left feeling uncomfortable. I have chosen to concentrate my energies elsewhere. Life is too short to focus on differences; there is too much of that in politics in general. I’m living out my political beliefs where the wind knows my name.'



What follows below is my latest update, written today, Wednesday 17 March 2021, and this I will copy onto my website page:


And then came the General Election we had been preparing for - or not. Boris Johnson's calling of an election to be held on 12 December 2019 had followed his failure to persuade Parliament to approve a revised withdrawal from Europe agreement by the end of October. He decided on a snap election and went on to win it with a landslide majority on the back of the slogans: 'Get Brexit Done' and 'Bring Back Control'. 

As soon as I knew in early November we were in campaigning mode for real, I threw all my energies into campaigning for Paul Farmer in the constituency of Camborne, Hayle and Redruth. That would be my way of expressing my socialist beliefs in this campaign. In fact, I clocked up twenty days of campaigning, with a dedicated and large group of other canvassers, right through to the election day itself. When the 10pm exit poll was declared that day, I swallowed hard in disbelief. Paul Farmer, it emerged, had ended up trailing the Tory victor by over 8,000 votes.


Canvassing in November 2019 - Labour Party activists including me


In my own constituency of St Ives in 2017, the sitting Tory MP, Derek Thomas, had scraped in, defeating Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat candidate by only 312 votes. The able and local Labour candidate was still at university and could not start his campaign until after his exams had finished. Even as I enthusiastically campaigned for him, I noted the absence of campaign funds and wondered how far those who remained loyal to the New Labour vision of Tony Blair in party headquarters in London and in the SW regional office were writing off this constituency of mine. As it was, the Labour candidate got over 7,000 votes but the other two were polling around 22,000 each. 

And that is a critical problem in our first-past-the-post electoral system. If we Labour activists in the St Ives constituency had not been so successful in 2017 in increasing the votes cast for the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn's socialist vision, Andrew George would most likely have been returned as the MP and the Conservatives hold on power would have been even more precarious. The outcome that would have most favoured the socialist cause was prevented by the campaigning of socialists such as myself. 

At the time, I and the others resisted this argument and logic. As you will already have read above, I turned my attention after the 2017 election to creating a campaign to win back those who would have voted Labour if they had believed the party had a chance of winning. I could see no other way of electing a Labour MP in this constituency. When that campaign failed to get off the ground and I withdrew from the political game in the monthly Labour meetings in Penzance, my adherence and loyalty to the local party faded. It now seemed to me clear that the socialist cause would be better advanced by Andrew George, in 2019, gaining more votes than the Conservative candidate in this very tight, marginal constituency. 

Alas, Derek Thomas, the sitting Tory MP, increased his majority to one of over 4,000 votes. The Labour candidate secured half the votes of the party candidate in 2017. 


Conclusions:

  • Proportional representation, in some form, is essential if we are to have a voting system that is fairer and encourages people to believe that every vote counts. No ifs or buts. Democracy is under threat and our political health as a society requires this change. The political party I want to vote for must have this reform in their manifesto.
  • The party I vote for should be a socialist party. No ifs or buts - unless you find yourself caught in the conundrum of tactical voting because political parties who have a nose for power refuse to let go of the first-past-the post system.
  • The Labour Party under its present leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has evidently decided to abandon the socialist direction and values of its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, even though they are shared by the majority of the 450,000 members still left in the Party. 
  • If there were to be a successful leadership challenge from the socialists within the Party, there would inevitably be a return to the fierce in-fighting and resistance to socialist beliefs that were evident to those in the know during Jeremy Corbyn's time in office as leader.
  • To me now, logic points towards the creation of a new socialist party, fit to win the votes of tens of millions as the realities of global extinction become ever more apparent. Without some form of socialist vision, we are doomed.                



I will follow up that last bullet-point conclusion in the next blogpost in which I explore the pitfalls of political engagement from a psychoanalytic perspective. What are men and women in politics really up to? What's in it for them? 

How sad we have to explore that question but I promise the answers will be interesting. 

      

     

    

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