“Our promises were a series of possibilities” (Ian Duncan Smith, on The Andrew Marr Show, 26/06/2016)
It’s easy to mock Ian Duncan Smith. Many have and many will continue to do so. It’s also easy to see where he’s coming from. I feel the same about my PhD research questions. That’s why I have too many of them and have to narrow them down. However, the PhD is explicitly a learning process, and while government should involve continuous learning, the electorate has a different understanding of the word “promise” and didn’t expect either side in the EU referendum to be floundering around without a plan and dissolving the only things they believed to be certain about the process.
Yesterday afternoon, I found myself reading Resources of Hope. Raymond Williams has always been one of my favourite writers, and it upsets me that so few of our current leaders appear to be familiar with his work. If they were, they would not treat voters with such contempt.
I was born in 1980. There has never been a point in my lifetime where it has not been known that the future of this planet would involve deindustrialisation, globalisation, increased automation, reduced importance of trades unions, reduced party loyalty, increased mobility of the workforce, conflict and terrorism. It has never not been known that this would result in disenfranchisement of voters, poor and insecure conditions for employment and housing, riots, increased reliance on oligopolies and all the rest. However, the response of the Left, those who are supposed to be on the side of the 99% and not the 1%, remains weak and old-fashioned.
The hard line Marxists still hope for a revolution, albeit framed by some as the part-humorous Fully Automated Luxury Communism. That particular scenario is almost here, in its way. Observe Sports Direct, where the response to humiliating employment conditions is that the security checks and much else will soon be automated, or Amazon where workers race against the machine to pick orders according to targets. The work is becoming fully automated, and treating those workers that remain like barely sentient robots, on low paid agency contracts with no guarantee of work and every deduction that can be gouged out of their pay will be applied. As for the luxury, Sports Direct and its group of businesses bought up household names like Kangol, Firetrap, Karrimor and pile them up alongside the big names like Nike and Adidas in former palaces of expensive branded sportswear. Everyone can own affordable luxury now – instead of saving up for your Kangol hat or Adidas trousers, you can push past the hordes in a sea of neon labels and get them for pennies. The communism bit will soon come, as the political parties have imploded and the market instability is killing the jobs the algorithms and robots didn’t take, so we shall have to ask the civil servants to get the Universal Basic Income sorted out quickly before the riots recommence.
The slightly softer “Progressives” suggest we should all unite to get the authoritarian right out, by being just as didactic about how we should all respond and having no idea how to achieve consensus on anything other than “the other lot are bastards”.
Both viewpoints are outlined here in the 1980s by Williams. There is no new response.
A year ago, following the General Election, I made a radio ballad called National Interest.. The final track uses audio extracts from 1980s Labour politicians, mixed in with recordings I made at Jeremy Corbyn’s Northern Future policy launch in Leeds. While the policies on offer were OK, the rhetoric echoed the early ‘80s almost exactly, and I was one of the few in the room who wasn’t a blokey union leader monologuing through the Q&A section. Then as now, people were leaping upon a bandwagon for “Change”, and it wasn’t about Corbyn just as now it is not about the EU. It was about hope. The exciting thing about the early Corbyn crowds and the huge turnout in the EU referendum has nothing to do with campaigns or policies or information and everything to do with people wanting to be heard and feeling like they might be listened to. The crowds are the thing, not the personalities and campaigns they were hung on. It’s a shame both ended in chaos.
Perhaps the friendlier Leave voters are right, and it’ll all come out in the wash. Sadly, we got our current politics from Primark and the polyester policies will disintegrate into further murk. Read your Raymond Williams, he’ll teach you how to talk to people.