In this meditation I move beyond my brief as a heavy metal rhetorician.
If you have been out on the streets in the past few weeks expressing your views on Trump, the EU, the NHS, signing petitions, and drenching social media in opinions, then you’ve taken part in an aspect of democracy. However, in doing so, you expose yourself to charges of being spoiled, doing the least but complaining the loudest when things do not go your way. More, commentators on the other side of the debate will always point to what Nixon’s speech writers dubbed ‘The Silent Majority’, who are not out on the streets shouting, who are just getting by, who approve of what the government is doing as expressed in elections and referendums and want them to just get on with it (however misguided and wrong you believe them to be).
Your constant sharing of your enlightened opinions, your sharing of facts and stats to legitimise them, the circle jerk of moaning agreement, and the disappointment when you find other people in disagreement; democracy means it’s not all your country, it means a whole bunch of competing views, some of them really quite distasteful, equally it doesn’t mean rolling over and accepting the result once announced, it is process as much as result.
Punching Nazis, dumping Trump, blocking Article 50, all very well for people who already agree or are inclined to with a little persuasion. Facts, stats, data? These things come up against the fashionable ‘post truth’ analysis some people are leaning on to explain the world around them. For example, among government officials, advisers, and many politicians (experts) there is a general consensus that immigration is economically good for the country, but now in the wake of a very convincing and constantly reaffirmed counter narrative these people are forced to ignore their evidenced based knowledge and bring about an act of self-harm in the name of democracy. But this is because there are areas of the country immigration has not been good for, and having people out on the streets and social media bemoaning them, patronising them, refusing to even humour their opinions because they are now unacceptable to liberals, this only adds salt to rub in the wound.
So what is to be done? I think a brief illustration that best serves is Corbyn’s three-line whip on the Article 50 vote. I was disappointed when I heard this, as a supporter of Corbyn who has given him a very long leash in terms of PR cockups and awkward press releases, his rhetoric is still one I subscribe to. But the EU is too fucking important for this. Even if Corbyn wanted a Brexit from the start, he won’t get the new relationship with Europe he wants with May at the helm. Labour MPs will follow their constituents, Labour’s hand has been shown too early, and once again a massive internal conflict has erupted in full view of the public and media.
For every Corbynista that reached a point of no return in their waning faith in the man (for me, this would be the EU), what’s left for these people to do? Resign their membership? Go back to the single issue campaign groups they came from? Sit on the sidelines and make snarky remarks about the Labour leadership and why it isn’t good enough in the face of overwhelming political upheavals?
In the face of all the ridicule Corbyn and his supporters have received, it can be painful when you finally consider that they may have been proved right. Putting your name to any cause comes with this risk. You’ve had your fun with the Labour Party, go back to where you came from, leave politics to the careerists, you don’t have the stamina.
At this point, we can bring all these loose thoughts together. What’s the best way to feel like you’re making a difference beyond the realm of public protest and eloquent moaning? What’s the best way to get an accessible message across to those not normally disposed to listen? Campaign for an alternative? More than that. Talk about the good work the alternative has already been doing. Since the NHS’s inception, the left has been using it as proof of why their policies work. Talk about local Labour councils doing good work in spite of savage Tory cuts, talk about every local community event and cause where Labour’s presence and support was felt, where members, MPs, councillors, and activists are all working together to make the country a better place. Beyond the sexy politics of the EU, of Trump, of Putin, of the rise of China, of the metropolitan/little England divide, of the generational divide, there could be stories of Labour getting on with the job of making this country a better place to live in for all. Tailored in a way that cuts through the daily stories attempting to make us look like nothing more than a protest movement, make it about the Party not the man, because the Labour Party will still be the largest and most powerful alternative to whatever unspeakable horror is in government until Labour itself is in government.
Why not the Green Party, or the Lib Dems? The Greens will take a long time to shake off their image as utopians, instead why not push a green agenda through under a Labour program. The Lib Dems, since losing the faith of students and the damage done to their reputation in the Coalition, they are now free to say what they like about the EU, poaching pro-remain Labour members as they go whilst repairing their reputation as a principled Party. Presently they claim to be the only party for those missing the centre ground of the 2000s…good for them.
Only a fool would follow Corbyn blindly, and only a fatalist would resign their membership and give up on this greater mission based on the actions of one man. Theresa May is able to position herself as the leader of a country, Corbyn the leader of a protest? Let’s get on with acting like we’ve got the job of governing already then, starting locally, and when people are more disposed to listen to Labour members as a result of all this hard work they are doing for their communities, then we make sure their fingers of blame are once again pointed in the right direction. Every other means of very public, damning critique from the same political orientation is counter-productive.
Now obviously for those with full time jobs, busy social lives, intellectually challenging hobbies, or like myself, a distaste for people in general, this means that the answers are harder than a placard and a march. But the big dumb truth is that people will only listen when they are predisposed to listen. And one party political way to engender this predisposition is to make the Labour Party visibly involved in positive work on a local level, in parallel to its current role as opposition to government.
With all that in mind then, let’s anticipate the criticism.
Number one. For all your talk, what do you actually do, what difference do you make? Much like the anti-vegan/vegetarian position, this point is a distraction, a thinly veiled cloak for the utterer’s own guilt at their inaction. No one likes a hypocrite, so assuming one has bought the original position, even the barest minimum of involvement in the Labour Party beyond attending protests and criticising Tories on social media is still more than nothing. Does that put you in jeopardy of coming across as a self-satisfied fart smeller? Well yes it does, there’s nothing worse than a smug liberal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, potential inconsistency is no reason for inaction. And the risk of coming across as a smug activist doesn’t make the issues resolve themselves. People level this charge because it makes them feel better about doing nothing. People who do the least shout the loudest, this is a truth, it is not the truth.
Number two. Two sentences don’t really do much to dismiss the likes of the Greens and the Lib Dems. There’s no space to go into this fully here. But even the most comprehensive explanation as to why I’ve sided with Labour over others from a philosophical as well as practical perspective would not change the opinion of a committed supporter of other parties.
Number three. This is not intended to dismiss the purpose of street protests, petition signing, or the venting of opinions on social media. If prolific enough, at the very least they can force the issues into the public dialogue. Taken on its own however, it’s easy for those unconvinced of the cause to dismiss them as moaning liberals. When it comes to a Brexit voter, or someone who’s UKIP-curious, this needs to be done in conjunction with a demonstration that you are on their side. Otherwise you will forever be shouting across the ‘echo chambers’, that handy conceptual tool journalists and others have created to make sense of their world.
So the message distilled to its most basic level has something to do with bees and their attraction to various condiments.