28 Dec 2010
Laurie Penny, Tommy Sheridan and the continuing failure of the left
The Con Dem government are slicing and dicing the welfare state, Murdoch's media control is accelerating, ecological catastrophe beckons and the financial system has failed .We need a left that can gain enough strength to pull the brakes and stop the train leaping into the abyss.
However an effective left looks further away than ever. Attempts to build a left alternative to the Labour Party such as the Scottish Socialist Party and Socialist Alliance have failed. In England only the Greens and Respect have made gains and these have been modest and local.
The argument that there is no electoral alternative outside the Labour Party seems over whelming, yet there is no place for the left in Labour either. The Party is top down, undemocratic and more responsive to oligarchs than bus drivers. The failure of the inspiring John McDonnell to get on the ballot paper for Labour leader, tells us everything we need to know about the possibility of moving the Party left.
Politics, at least, in England and Wales, is apparently blocked for the left.
Laurie Penny, inspired by the new and youthful protest movement hitting the streets, has argued that we can by-pass parliament and directly effect change. :
'this movement is daring to do what no union or political party has yet contemplated – directly challenging the banks and business owners who caused this crisis.'
Yet the Con Dem government will continue to hold power and in doing so will do everything possible to reduce the capacity of the left. Massive cuts in education will mean that students will be forced to work harder, borrow more and reject degrees in subjects like the arts and politics, thus the ability of youth to protest will be eroded. The job cuts of the Con Dem government will complete Mrs Thatcher's task of destroying the trade unions.
Tommy Sheridan's party the Scottish Socialists briefly acted as a voice for the social movement on the streets, at the time working class opposition to the poll tax, elected members of parliament and briefly helped change things in a left direction. While Sheridan's case is complex and I for one have close friends on both sides of the argument, there is no doubt that the kind of change Laurie Penny seeks has been made less possible by the destruction of the Scottish Socialist Party.
As a member of the Green Party I worked hard to elect Caroline Lucas and even took Tommy Sheridan's former press officer Hugh Kerr down to Brighton to pound the streets. However one Green Party MP, even one as inspiring as Caroline, is not enough.
In Latin America, the right using the excuse of IMF austerity gained a monopoly of power in the 1990s. This was reversed by vibrant social movements, but social movements are not enough. In Latin America, new political parties emerged from the street movements, took power and are now, despite contradictions and setbacks, are changing things.
Laurie Penny is right to be excited but we are still a long way from a strategy for change.