For too long – arguably, since the first British parliament – the British public have been asked to choose between two or more variations on a theme. In effect, the choices at elections have usually been different administrations but not different ideologies. Universal suffrage shifted the norm slightly, but the settling of a routine from the 1950s onward has suffocated any intent behind the principle of democracy.
The two most recent general elections in the UK, in 2010 and 2015, have been almost pointless. Arrays of slimy, robotic middle-management types reading from scripts – lying incessantly and shamelessly – have offered absolutely nothing of substance, meaning or usefulness. Each barely distinguishable array, whether Labour, Liberal Democrat, Tory/UKIP or SNP, seeks, ultimately, to please a tiny elite minority and each array focuses on different methods of conning the voters. Assisted by a media that is split into two camps: cheerleaders for corporate fascism and woolly liberals fearful of the masses, whichever botox-faced collection of prats happens to be in power has concentrated on directing tax payers money into the grubby hands of aforesaid tiny elite, via public asset “sales” and a cornucopia of tax-dodges, while ensuring that public ire is directed elsewhere by promoting campaigns of hate against immigrants, unemployed people, disabled people, etc. The two newest parties, UKIP and SNP, are not dissimilar from the established three; UKIP are merely gobby Tories and SNP are Scotland’s SDP.
The similarities between the objectives and actions of the political parties up to the 2015 election, coupled with all of them having anodyne presentation, means British politics has become boring, lifeless, choiceless and off-putting. Not only do many people choose not to vote but also the majority who do vote do so without any optimism that they are doing anything other than sticking a cross randomly on a piece of paper. In such a scenario, the status quo, currently a slim Tory majority, is the most likely outcome. Those who benefit from public disengagement from the democratic process – the offshore hedge funds and international financial gangsters – are delighted that the public are disengaged.
The narrow strip of British politics is fading
British politics has maintained its narrowness since the 1950s primarily due to two factors:
- The presence of exterior threats, real or invented, such as the Soviet Union or the IRA, that act as a deterrent to a desire for change
- Slow steady improvements to lifestyle possibilities for many people over the decades, particularly with respect to career prospects and home ownership.
However, both the above assists to keeping the political spectrum as thin as possible have dissipated, for different reasons.
Exterior threats are still proclaimed by politicians and a dutiful media but cynicism and a lack of trust have wearied the British public. They know that the wars in Iraq and Libya are about oil revenue, the war in Afghanistan is a proxy war as a statement of global power and support for a coup of swastika-wearing thugs in Kiev is not appealing. Even the actions of ISIS have not generated the same appetite for war as would have happened twenty years earlier.
More importantly, the steady improvements to people’s lives have come to a halt and the prospects for more than one generation of people are invisible. The removal of affordable further education and housing, job security and unemployment benefit, and the creation of a very bleak future if someone succumbs to disability or long-term illness, have combined to remove the prospect of a good progression through life regardless of how hard someone works.
Thus, reluctance to consider other options than the narrow band of Labour/Tory etc. has diminished. In other words, there is less to lose by being attracted to a genuine alternative politics.
The gap appears
The electoral success of the SNP and the voter numbers for UKIP and the Green Party show that people have, recently, been willing to vote for parties other than the traditional three. However, it isn’t a departure from the narrow strip of ideologies of British politics. As stated above, SNP sit in a similar position to the SDP of the 1980s and UKIP are an offshoot from the Tories; the Green Party has re-invented itself as “left-wing” but is suffocated by its persistence with progress-denying pseudo-environmental policies and a belief that capitalist exploitation can be reformed via shifting tax demands around.
The timely election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader provides an opportunity. He is not the socialist messiah; like the Greens many of his policies are an obstruction to progress – described in comparison to Leon Trotsky here by Brendan O’Neill – and he is committed to the constrictions of the current parliamentary system. However, both his success in the election and the ensuing interest in left-of-centre politics has cheered and emboldened socialists. The range of political issues debated publicly has increased and, more usefully, the perspectives used when discussing such issues has become more varied. A key point is that many younger people have acquired a new interest in politics via Jeremy Corbyn, as supporters of him or as supporters of socialist ideology. Thus, the success or otherwise of Corbyn as Labour leader is only one of the consequences of his election victory. The renewal of interest, understanding and appreciation of socialism is the biggest consequence.
Crucially, the renewed interest in socialism is not in isolation of today’s political setting; it is in the context of a government that is lurching further and further toward corporate fascism. The Tory conference in Manchester has included a succession of senior party members unashamedly proposing policy that attacks freedoms, rights and access to education and healthcare while increasing the flow of monies to corporate gullets who are simultaneously being given greater powers to exploit and fleece. The filth of unrestricted capitalist exploitation is where these Tories like to bathe and they do it while smiling and sneering. They have eschewed pretence of caring. The glee with which the latest horrors are announced that will lead directly to more homelessness, less effective healthcare and death is matched by the conceit as they lie their way through speeches and interviews without worrying about being found out. That is the political context in which new supporters of socialism are situated and so the contrast between the two ideologies is obvious.
A gap in British politics may be emerging. This is long overdue. There are self-imposed limits to how far (left) Jeremy Corbyn will take his opposition to the Tory gimps of capitalism but there are no limits to how far anyone with a renewed or nascent interest in socialism can move. People with an interest in humanity and its possibilities can move as far way as they can from the enemy of human progress – capitalism. The gap between can widen to a chasm into which the choking centre full of the likes of Dan Hodges and Wes Streeting can fall never to be seen again.
Don’t mind the gap. Push it wider. Choose your side.