Labour’s cunning case for extra-parliamentary action

Paul Clarke has an excellent piece on the subject of yardsticks for political clarity.  His conclusion is particularly wise:

Most shades of political thought have been tried. Human ingenuity and systemic inertia generally mean that things mooch on pretty much as they always have been, despite the rocks that various “leaders” might try to lob in from time to time. So if you’re wavering between left and right, and seeing points of recognition in both camps (and you should – to do otherwise would be a worrying sign of lazy thinking), how about putting your shoulder behind the one that doesn’t, every time and very rapidly, lead to policies which are about being vile to people?

Is that simple enough?

Well, yes.  But – also – perhaps not.

My initial response went thus:

It’s a good yardstick, Paul. And I don’t exactly waver from a visceral point of view. But I *am* minded to remember that there are different kinds of vile.

I don’t need to remind you that not everything New Labour did to us was particularly pleasant or, indeed, generally welcome.

Meanwhile, and to continue the theme, over at Labour List on the subject of a Guardian interview with Ed Miliband, Mark has a very nice summary of yesterday’s key statements from Labour’s leader.  The one I like the most – and which, if to be taken seriously, will have profound implications for the Party, what it does and how it’s run – is this one (the bold is mine):

“We have got to help change people’s lives directly. We have got to take our members seriously, so they are no longer there just to deliver leaflets. We have to find ways to grow an activist base from just 15 people. Every local party member that joins needs to get a visit from someone asking why have they joined what are you interested in. We often don’t do that.”

An interesting set of ideas for a party leader in our generally prosaic politics to associate himself with, don’t you think?  And, potentially, a way forward for political parties which want to differentiate themselves.  Not necessarily through discrete policies which may be difficult to communicate, capture and understand but – rather – through acts of practical solidarity which do much much more than simply provide a friendly, articulate but largely ignored rhetoric.

This, for example.  Recently, Ed announced he was exploring the idea of implementing extra-parliamentary activities by Labour on behalf of the voters with an initial proposal of a bulk-energy-purchase scheme.  This is a good start but should be extended much more widely as a philosophy and as a process.  In a body politic where the corporations and moneymen and women have taken control of parliamentary government (essentially, a kind of legalised coup d’etat), extra-parliamentary action – that process whereby the people regain command of the civic and municipal spaces currently under attack from without – is absolutely necessary and unavoidable if we are to protect the people we should identify with and support.

Many on the left of the political spectrum would argue that marches, strikes and direct action of other kinds are what this country now needs – immersed as it is in a lately self-inflicted economic crisis without precedent.  But I’m not sure that’s going to be productive.  In a world where we must accept that the powerful have tied up the vast majority of the loose ends (perhaps in cahoots with a certain part of the political class), as political organisations looking to defend the disenfranchised we need to work out ways of acquiring and exerting a power which the electoral system and the people in economic power have removed from the labour (as well as the Labour) of opposition.

Ed’s idea of engaging in real-life actions at the margin of parliamentary debate would have two important advantages over the traditional and reactive extra-parliamentary action of yore:

  1. it would serve to re-educate us all about what politics could really mean in a 21st century – even as it would remind us of the long and honourable history of direct action which might, in such a way, be brought up to date;
  2. it could be proactive and fleet-of-foot as it picked off in real-time real-life improvements in people’s living standards and daily lives – we, as a political party, would as a result not have to wait for the currently gamed grinding cogs of constitutional control, which in any case have recently failed the people’s will, before attempting to act out that complicating role of defending the squeezed middle from powerful attack;

Essentially, the idea described above would involve a small strategic retreat from dedicating all the resources of the Party to parliamentary engagement and a regrouping around making the Party a direct actor in ordinary people’s lives.

No better way to convince people you’re on their side than to physically show rather than tell it.

As I concluded in my response to Paul’s post:

As a Labour Party member, I *want* to believe in Labour – but don’t want to give up on my right to disagree even in the midst of terrible politics. And British politics, being so *very* tribal, doesn’t really allow for freedom of thought. The massed ranks of “good” vs “bad” policies take over and make us forget our own ability to think our way out of the bag we’ve been dropped in.

Ed’s promotion of this idea of cunning extra-parliamentary action is definitely an example of how we might think our way out of that bag.

More of this please, then.

Much much more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s