Can the left blame its failures on the right wing media?

Last week saw the publication of Margaret Beckett’s report into why Labour lost last year’s the general election. The report can be read in a number of ways to confirm your own views about what Labour did wrong. During this period of Labour Party soul searching it is worth remembering what the weeks leading up to last May’s election were actually like. Immediately before the election the right wing press were full of images of Ed Miliband looking weird eating a bacon sandwich, front page articles about how his economic policies would bankrupt the country and how Labour had let an army of migrants into the country to simultaneously steal your job and claim benefits.

The Beckett report confirmed the perception that Labour was out of step with what most voters wanted, especially in terms of the economy, benefits and immigration. I find myself asking: were Labour out of step with public opinion, or were the public told Labour was out of step by the right wing media? Miliband committed to austerity, and controls on immigration, but it did not make a difference at the ballot box. Was this because the right wing papers rubbished Miliband from the start and never allowed his policies to have a fair hearing?

The power and influence of the nebulous right wing media are often cited by lefties on both sides of the Atlantic as the reason for electoral failure. Surely the masses would embrace nationalisation and higher taxes on the wealthy if only someone would explain to them how this is in their interest, preferably in words of three syllables or less. Maybe the left should stop using the right wing media as an excuse and confront its lack of popularity? After all, circulation of newspapers is declining. In Britain we have (largely) unbiased TV news coverage, and social media offers a far greater ability to reach people directly and convince them to support left wing policies.

When looking at this argument, it must first be said that there is clearly an overwhelming right wing bias in the print media. This is not imaginary. Apart from the Guardian and the Mirror, every mainstream daily paper supported a ring wing party in the last election - they all supported the Tories apart from the Express, which supported UKIP.

The coverage of Cameron and co. is generally favourable. The most glaring example of this is the press’s reaction to the comprehensive spending review in November. In the run up to the election, Labour campaigned on less austerity, higher corporation tax and a mansion tax on expensive homes. The papers’ reaction was that this would be the end of Britain, capitalism would crumble as incentives to be successful were removed, the rich would all move overseas and take their money with them, the deficit would swell and we would face an economic crisis of the same magnitude as Greece’s. Labour’s policies were a socialist dagger aimed at heart of Britain.

Then along comes the comprehensive spending review and George Osborne puts back his own deficit reduction target as well as raising corporation tax and stamp duty. The papers praise him as a level-headed chancellor, a moderate liberal claiming the centre ground of politics. Labour’s grab at the homes of rich would have put grannies onto the street. Osborn’s is a sensible policy for a more prosperous Britain.

John McDonnell did not help matters by waving around Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, but even so, the magnitude of Osborne's U-turn on working tax credits, on tax cuts and clearing the deficit went entirely unacknowledged. The Independent tried to draw everyone's attention to the gaping silence over Osborne’s back and forth on the economy: “George Osborne executes a tyre-melting U-turn over tax credits, and the nation’s ears are drawn away by the gentle thud of a little red book landing on a table.” However there was little open criticism of the government. Another painful example is when during the election campaign Cameron forgot his supposed football allegiance, saying he supported West Ham when in 2010 he claimed his team was Aston Villa. Could you imagine what would happen if the Labour leader had made this mistake in the weeks before an election? The front pages would be filled with photoshopped images of Miliband in different team’s stripes or probably as a giant ham.

The circulation of newspapers is declining steeply. In 1997 The Sun sold an average of 3.8 Million papers a day. Today it is less than 2 million. Over the same time period the Guardian’s circulation fell from 430,000 papers a day to 185,000. However these papers still have a lot of influence. Millions of non-purchasers still absorb their headlines in the newsagent’s queue. The power of their brands has made them very competitive in the growing space on online news and social media. People trust established papers and its shows in the fact that the Mail online is the most read news source in the UK. The Sun as a million Twitter followers, whereas the Carny (a new online only, left wing news source) has less than 4 thousand Twitter followers. The power of established newspapers brands to decide what is news and what is talked about is still very high.

The question is, does any of this influence the way people vote? Most news and commentary is read by people who follow politics regularly and most of these people have a set party affiliation. Social media - for all its ability to take left wing message directly to those who can benefits from them - is in reality a vast echo chamber, bouncing people’s own opinions back at them. Guardian editorials attacking the savagery of benefit cuts are shared and read by people who were going to vote Labour anyway. Telegraph editorials about the need to reduce the deficit are ready by Tory voters. Biased words falling on biased ears.

The newspapers do shape public opinion but they are also shaped by public opinion. Case in point is the Daily Mail putting a drowned Syrian refugee on their front page. The huge swell of support for the refugees in public opinion forced a newspaper that is typically strongly against immigration to take, for a time, a more compassionate line.

The right wing media also back the party that is going to win, whatever that party is. Despite headlines about Ed Miliband being in Nicola Sturgeon's pocket, The Scottish Sun endorsed the SNP in the general election, because they were going to win whatever happened.

My view is that the right wing media is not an impassable bar to left wing progress. The media follows public opinion as much as public opinion follows the media. I believe that the right wing press makes it harder to put left wing arguments across, but not impossible. When used properly, social media and online news can reach people directly and circumvent the right wing dominance of the printed media. When the left is doing badly then the press will be an obstacle to electoral success. When the left is doing a good job of getting our arguments across, then the press will fall in line behind popular and successful arguments.

2015 a year in review - trends and the future

This is a review of the political events of 2015. Read my summary of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader here.

Parliament and party politics were more interesting this year than for a long time, but there were important trends outside the Westminster bubble. Questions over Scottish independence were clearly not settled by last years referendum. The SNP will call another independence ballot, but only when they are certain they will win. If Britain leaves the EU because England votes to go and Scotland votes to stay then this will give the SNP the excuse they need to break up the country.

In America gun massacre followed gun massacre and still Obama cannot get any movement on gun control legislation. If you are depressed about the state of British politics, then take a look at the US to feel better about things. The race for the White House rumbles on with Trump frightening the world more and more and Hilary Clinton being so bland and boring that an openly socialist candidate is making headway in an American election – further proof, if any was needed, that 2015 was a surreal year for politics.

2015 was also the year that a lot of prominent feminists were accused of being transphobic, sparking social media spats. This led to a healthy public debate about no-platforming on university campuses. There are already too many people telling students what they should and should not do, but my opinion is that people should be allowed to express their opinions unless they are openly and explicitly encouraging violence.

Online abuse, passing itself off as free speech, has caused numerous people to examine the issue of the limits of free speech. We have a right to freedom of speech but we also have a responsibility to do no harm with it, as much as possible. After so much abuse has been dished out and then defended as “freedom of speech”, I can see why students want more emphasis on the responsibility aspect of our freedom of speech.

Many of these debates – and abuses - have taken place on social media and one trend of 2015 is fashionable social media bashing. Social media used to be means to gage public opinion or engage with the public. Now it’s viewed as a nest of hysterical people, who must be ignored in order for their to be sane political debate.

One recent example is people taking to Twitter after the Christmas floods to claim about Tory cuts to the flood defenses budget. Most people would think that a debate about cutting flood defenses after a preventable flood has damaged peoples’ lives is a good thing. However in the world of “sane political debate” verses social media these people were labeled as idiots, rather than listened too. Here is a good example of someone dismissing discussion on Twitter out of hand and here is a good response.

Some good articles were written about how social media can be a left wing echo chamber and this might have cost Labour the election. For every nuanced thought about the role of social media there were many people dismissing out of hand a platform that gives voice to people, mainly young people, who find it hard to get their voices heard.

Social media is a great tool for collective actions, spreading information and holding the powerful to account. It has been used to spread hatred and disinformation by people of all political persuasions. I feel that the current fashionable bashing of social media is a way for journalists and politicians to dismiss the voices of ordinary people as just cranks and bullies.

Elements of the political and journalistic establishment do not like the fact that ordinary people hold them to account and would very much prefer it if social media is thought of as the domain of idiots and that it is everyone’s best interests that they are ignored. You will encounter opinions you do not like on social media, some of them will be stupid and ill-informed. Everyone has a right to an opinion. Fashionable bashing of social media is way for the privileged to conveniently ignore the opinions of everyday people.

2015’s most annoying trend was self-righteous articles about people moving out of London, such as this by Rafael Behr in the Guardian and this by Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing. Yes we are all very pleased that you prefer Brighton to the capital but we really do not care. An opportunity to pop this balloon of pomposity was missed when one writer claimed that they cannot move out of London because the rest of the country is racist. Everyone looked like an idiot that week.

2016 will probably be as interesting as 2015, for better and for worse. There will be more social media spats and infighting in the Labour Party. There will also be more refugees than ever before arriving and we need a practical solution to what is to be done with all these people and we need it today. Terrorism is a fear, but I am hopefully that 2016 will not see a massacre in London similar to the ones we have seen in Paris.

The promised referendum of Britain’s European Union membership will most likely happen next year, because Cameron wants Britain to stay in the EU and he does not want this to be a vote on an unpopular midterm government – so the sooner the better from his point of view. The potential for both Labour and the Tories to trip over their own feet during the campaign is enormous and I am interested and slightly frightened to see how they both handle it. We can also expect sluggish economic growth and further cuts to public services. 2016 might finally be the year cuts and lack luster economic performance blows up in the Conservative Party’s faces.

At the Red Train blog 2016 we bring a new website design, new articles on a wider range of topics and a recommitment to cover as much politics as possible with our usual liberal dose of left wing bias.

Our society is still faced with some very large problems. I believe that the neo-liberal economics that underpin our current thinking and direction of our entire society is heading in is potentially disastrous. There are millions of people - poor people and social minorities - that no one cares about and have been left on the scrapheap by this government. The country needs an effective left wing alternative now more than ever. It is the only way we will meet the challenges of 2016.

2015 a year in review - Jeremy Corbyn

This is a review of the political events of 2015. Read my summary of the general election here.

If the election was a surprise than what happened afterwards was a shock. Jeremy Corbyn was given odds of 800 to 1 when he was nominated to stand for Labour leader but he won with nearly 60% of the membership backing him. Corbyn won a huge victory across all ages, demographics and types of Labour members, but all has not gone well since then. Corbyn’s victory has exposed huge divisions in the Labour party.

I voted for Corbyn, and his politics are the closest to mine of any Labour leader during my lifetime. It has been painful to read the writings of many left-wing journalists I respect, trashing him at every opportunity. There are certainly legitimate criticisms of Corbyn – I will come to these – but I feel many journalists made up their minds early on that they did not like him and nothing he can do will change this. This is because the election of Corbyn as Labour leader goes beyond what you think of Corbyn personally, his voting record, or even his policies. It is a question of what Labour stands for and what it should aim to be.

The division opening up across the Labour movement is a division between those who want radical change to our politics and our society, and those who want liberal reform to our current system. It is the difference between those who want capitalism with the worst excesses removed or those who want our entire relationship with capitalism reformed. I feel this divide is unbridgeable, by Corbyn or anyone else.

Corbyn’s victory is partly down to having an ideology at all in an ideologically bankrupt Labour, and partly down to inspiring young voters and many alienated leftists and Greens. But it is mainly because the rival Blairite and Brownite candidates were awful. None of them looked like they could win a general election so the party members preferred to make a principled stand, rather than choose a Prime Minister in waiting. The Blairite and Brownite factions need to take a hard look at themselves to work out why they lost so massively to the left of the party. They have nothing to offer apart from indigent cries of “it’s our party, we should be in charge”. Since Corbyn’s election they have continued down this route, doubtlessly helping keep Corbyn popular among Labour Party members.

Labour wins big when it can unite the working class trade-union supporting voters, the liberal metropolitan middle class voters and the aspirational voters who think they will be better off under Labour. Under Miliband, UKIP ate away at the first group, the Greens at the second and the Tories took a huge bite of out the third. Corbyn is losing the third group, but he has stopped the exodus of the second group and a question mark remains over his appeal to the first. In Oldham UKIP heavily targeted this group, hoping that accusing Corbyn of not being patriotic could win over these voters. It did not work, because of the issues with UKIP discussed above. The Tories are trying the same tactic on a bigger scale and that is where the real threat to Labour lies.

If the Tories can win over group 1 and 3, while holding onto their core support, they will win big in 2020. However I do not see a Labour front bench figure who can win over all three groups and Labour need all three. Yvette Cooper gets group 2 and 3, but loses group 1. Liz Kendall gets group 1 and 3, but loses 2. Stella Creasy gets group 2 and 3, but loses 1. David Miliband gets group 3, but loses 1 and 2. The only possibilities would be Lisa Nandy or Jess Phillips but they are not exposed enough for us to accurately judge how well they would do as party leader.

Corbyn and his new shadow cabinet have made some mistakes. Certainly having John McDonnell waving around Chairman Mao's Little Red Book was a bad idea, however over four years away from a general election these mistakes matter little to most voters. The few victories Corbyn has had have been the most widely noted, mainly Labour stopping Tory plans to cut working tax credits, which interim Labour leader Harriet Harman supported.

Then came a terrorist attack on Paris and the excuse Cameron had been looking for to start bombing Syria. This is a terrible idea and Corbyn was right to oppose it. However, parliament thought otherwise and a few in the Labour Party seized this as an opportunity to embarrass Corbyn; showing once and for all that Blairities care more about being proved right than they do about the Syrian civilians we will inevitably kill and how this will encourage others to flock to ISIS.

Even so, the Syria vote is a major defeat for Corbyn. I think ultimately he will be proved right and that this military intervention in Syria (and Iraq) will only increase support for ISIS. Unfortunately at the point when this becomes apparent everyone will have forgotten Corbyn’s stance on the issue as we will be focusing on a new political crisis. Sometimes it looks as if Corbyn cannot win whatever he does.

Parliament and party politics were more interesting this year than for a long time, but there were important trends outside the Westminster bubble. Read my summary of trends in 2015 and what to epxect in 2016 here.

2015 a year in review - the general election

I usually start the New Year with recommitting myself to writing this blog and standing up for left-wing values, so this year I decided to do something different and end the year with recommitting myself.

It has been a rollercoaster of a year in every sense. 12 months ago if you told me that by December 2015 Jeremy Corbyn would be leader of the Labour Party, Charles Kennedy would be no longer with us, David Cameron would have taken us into another Middle Eastern war of dubious legality and that the biggest political hash tag of the year would be in French, then I’d have claimed you had one too many eggnogs over Christmas.

However that’s the political landscape we find ourselves in at the end of 2015. It has been an unfortunate year for Paris, bookended with twin tragedies of the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Paris massacre in November. Terrorism and security have been major themes of this year; partly because the Tories want to make it the subject of the next general election, in the same the way that economic competency was the subject of this year’s election – more on that later.

The refugee crisis reached a critical point this year as over a million people entered Europe from the Middle East, South West Asia and North Africa. How Europe responds to this crisis will be the defining debate of our generation. Britain’s offering to this debate was frosty indifference until the Independent put the picture of a drowned child on their front page and before long we had a commitment from Cameron to take in “thousands” more Syrian refugees. I was more surprised than anyone by this. It goes to show that maybe people do care about what happens outside our borders and that we not a selfish island of little Englander UKIP voters, whatever that demographic of squeaky wheels claims.

Insulting UKIP bring me neatly to the biggest British political event of this year, the general election. For people who follow politics like it is a sport it was both fascinating and dull. The polls were too close to all (up until the BBC’s exit poll) and it looked like another hung parliament, with coalition negotiations going on in the public view. However there were no moments of controversy, no gaffs and no defining moments of brilliance. The TV debates were interesting but ultimately changed nothing.

Small left-wing(ish) parties did well out of the TV debates. I was very impressed by Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru and Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP. Sadly Natalie Bennett from the Greens failed to make much of an impression. She did manage produce the worst gaff of the election with a terrible interview for LBC.

I thought that we could face a “Green Moment” when the Greens steal large number of voters from Labour’s metropolitan liberal left and become a serious player in parliament. It did not happen. I have a soft spot for the Greens but while they are seen as the party of the self-satisfied, middle class, Guardian reading set - the people with their own compost heap in the garden but take three holidays aboard a year – they will fail to capture the broad based support they need in order to return more than a handful of MPs.

Lack of effective leadership for the Greens remains a major problem for them. Caroline Lucas is a good politician to have at the front. Natalie Bennett is not and I do not see her leading the party to electoral success. It must be said that the first past the post electoral system is a huge hindrance to parties like the Greens – and UKIP. A fairer electoral system would have given the Greens more seats for the one million votes they got in the general election. However it would have also returned a Tory UKIP coalition government. I think this is right, it is what we voted for and it was what we should get.

It is interesting that, in May, I thought that the general election was the death of major parties and first past the post system, that electoral reform was imminent, and that coalitions would be the future. With the poor performance of small parties this year, a Tory majority government and huge numbers of new members of the Labour Party, it looks like big parties are as strong as ever and that binary left/right politics is here to stay.

The general election also saw the annihilation of the Lib Dems, justly deserved for breaking so many manifesto commitments and alienating a new generation of voters who they courted in 2010. Many of the 2010 Lib Dem voters went over to the Tories, which cost Labour the election. This should finally put to bed the idea of the Lib Dems as a credible left-wing party. They are and always have been centrist party.

The only small party to do well out of the first past the post system was the SNP, who swept through Scotland like wildfire. This should concern Cameron more than it does. The Tories are great at ignoring places that do not return Tory MPs and Cameron is bad for this even by Tory standards. The huge popular support for the SNP means another referendum on Scottish independence is likely and it is possible that this Tory government will be the last of a united kingdom.

No one expected it, but the Tories eeked over the line to form a majority government. The public rejected coalitions, majority rule is back. It was the first Tory budget in nearly 20 years but it is a majority smaller than John Major’s in 1992, and look how well that went. Sluggish but present economic growth saved the Tories bacon at the polling booth. Growth was strong enough that the government could claim that they were doing well, but not so strong that the electorate could trust Labour to turn on the spending taps. Everyone hated the Lib Dem so the Tories were in – narrowly.

I hate the Tories, but I do have to acknowledge their clever electoral maneuvering. Back in 2010 I thought that austerity could keep the Tories out of office for 20 years, that when people felt the impact of the cuts it would mean a Labour landslide. It did not happen. Homelessness is up, child poverty is up, inequality and personal debt are at an all time high, yet the Tories remain popular. They have convinced enough people to win an election and hats off to them.

Having popular support from many newspapers helped, but I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Labour. By supporting austerity, by making it their top manifesto commitment, they handed victory over to the Tories. The Tories lost three elections to New Labour by promising to match Labour spending and deliver tax cuts. Similarly, Labour cannot win by offering spending cuts and better public services. The argument needs to change.

The possibility of a UKIP surge - long predicted but never appearing - was something that worried me during the election. UKIP came second in a lot of safe Labour seats and this should worry Labour, but these seats remain safe Labour seats as the Oldham by-election demonstrates. UKIP have claimed they are parking their tanks of Labour’s lawn, that their popular anti-EU, anti-immigrant, straight talking politics will bring them massive electoral victory. It has not and I see now that it will not.

This is partly because if a voter agrees with UKIP, there are plenty of Tories who share their views. It is also partly because of our British dislike of anyone seen as extreme. However it is mainly because UKIP are, at most, a dual issue party. Those who hate the EU and are frightened of immigrants care about the economy, healthcare, educating and housing and they want a party that has comprehensive policies on all of these fronts. UKIP does not and the Tories remain the main party of the right.

If the election was a surprise then what happened afterwards was a shock. Read my summary of the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader here.

Top 5 Most Annoying Political Clichés

From party leaders to pub philosophers putting the world to rights, when politics is being discussed a well-worn cliché is never far away. Over used buzz words, metaphors and rhetorical stances have probably been around for as long as party politics itself, no doubt annoying the hell out of people interested in nuanced, intelligent debate ever since. Here are five that are guaranteed to raise my admittedly easily lifted hackles.

5: Let me be absolutely clear...

When it comes to politicians, this generally means clear is the last thing they’re going to be. Next time you’re watching a political debate, or interview, keep an eye out for it – it’s a matter of when, not if. Why it is so irritating is harder to pin down. Is it that we’re supposed to assume the speaker is deliberately obtuse the rest of the time? Or is it just because it’s a bit patronising? As in ‘you’re obviously not too bright, so let me spell it out for you...’?

4: You can’t put the genie back in the bottle

Some people seem incapable of discussing anything political without lapsing into metaphors. This one frequently crops up whenever the negative effects of any new concept or – in particular, technology – comes up. It’s a lazy way of saying that we don’t really have to bother addressing the problems. But metaphors as a rhetorical tool are necessarily limited. The thing is, sometimes you actually can cram the mythical creature back into its receptacle, as it were. Take our current disastrous reliance on fossil fuels, for example. It is quite conceivable that, with the appropriate research and development, we could be able to transition to alternative power sources and leave the damn stuff in the ground. The problem with that is that it requires the kind of concerted, organised effort and investment that our current profit-driven economy is so hopeless at providing. Easier just to say sod it, I mean you can’t put the genie back in the bottle, can you?

3: Whatever its faults, capitalism is the only system that works

So prevalent is this standpoint in the age of globalisation that it even spawned its own acronym – TINA (i.e. there is no alternative). In that form, it’s associated with the likes of neo-liberal political scientist Fukuyama, who famously declared that the triumph of capitalism represented ‘the end of history’ (care to comment on that now, Francis?)

As academic theories often do, it has seeped insidiously into mainstream public opinion. You can hardly discuss economics these days without tripping over some version or other of TINA. It usually signals the beginning of the decline of the conversation towards tired, irrelevant indictments of the Soviet Union, as if this is somehow the only alternative that has ever been tried or suggested other than neo-liberal capitalism. To me, TINA’s inherent flaw is that capitalism, as a system, isn’t actually working particularly well, and the ‘purer’ the system (lack of state involvement and regulation of the finance sector, for example) the worse the consequences get.

Implicit in this rather lazy position is that capitalism is working pretty well for me. But most of the world’s people don’t live in the West. In the Majority World, this system is giving people a spectacularly poor deal, and could hardly be said to be ‘working’ for them. Even in newly prosperous, up-and-coming states like Brazil or India, it is failing to solve age-old problems of poverty, environmental degradation or inequality.

2: That’s human nature

Closely related to No.3, this cliché frequently gets trotted out to justify greed, excess and self-interest, for example ‘greed will always be a motivator, that’s just human nature’. But on that basis, ‘human nature’ could equally be used to justify any number of things, such as murder, rape and gang violence. On the other hand, other aspects of the make-up of our human nature could be said to be compassion, empathy  and looking after one another. But when did you last hear anyone argue that ‘of course governments should protect the poor and vulnerable, that’s just human nature’?

To me, the whole point of a political system and civil society is to moderate the less pleasant, selfish instincts that most of us to some extent harbour, and encourage those positive aspects of human nature. As an argument to justify an economic ideology that not only exploits people’s greed but actively seeks to stimulate it as a desirable, almost noble attribute, it seems pretty poor, not to mention lazy.

1: Hard working families

Politicians of all stripes seem to be addicted to this one. Innocuous on the surface, the phrase has some fairly nasty implications. On one hand, it’s just a little ego massage for the voter. Everyone likes to think of themselves as hard-working and deserving of policy rewards. But it also encourages people to think of decent, hard-working families like themselves as ‘us’ and those other lazy, feckless scroungers that make such convenient political capital as ‘them’. Politicians like it because it’s a subtle way of nudging voters to continue to support the chipping away of the welfare state because people who don’t deserve it are getting something for nothing - those deliberately workless, weasel-like families of the tabloids’ imagination. In reality a huge portion of the welfare budget actually goes to people who are in work, to supplement pitiful wages. 

Besides, who the hell are these ‘hard-working families’ anyway? Are they sending kids out to work down the mine as soon as they’re weaned off the lazy dependency of breast milk? Maybe even their dog has a paper round? The more I think about it, the more intrinsically annoying this buzz-phrase is, which is why I couldn’t put it anywhere other than First Place.


Well those are mine, what are yours? Answers on a postcard... or just use the Comments box...

Does socialism need a new name?

Socialism. The word used to strike fear into the hearts of the rich and privileged. It is the patient insistence that everyday people would someday seize the excess of the wealthy few and spread it around more fairly. It has been the foundation of nations and political movements. Leading right-wing politicians and economists have spent enormous amounts of effort convincing the poor they would be worse off if the wealth was distributed more evenly. Socialism was a banner under which large sections of the left were happy to assemble.

Today socialism has little traction. Few, if any, British politicians openly identity as socialist and not even the most easily rattled elements of the right wing press feel the need to argue against it. No one seems to take socialism seriously anymore. If someone identifies as socialist it gives the impression of either being chronically out of touch with current political debate or being a generational throw back who is still fighting the miners’ strike.

This seems strange if you read the news. Unemployment is high, The gap between rich and poor is widening, class mobility is at an all-time low, private utility companies are making huge amounts of money while ordinary people are having choose between food and warmth. Global inequality is reaching crisis point, as the 85 richest people in the world now own more wealth than half the population. Oxfam has expressed concern about the massive inequality of wealth.

The current situation appears to be the perfect breeding environment for socialist ideas. 
However, the political establishment is yet to be rocked by hordes of people assembling outside parliament singing Billy Bragg songs and demanding the renationalisation of the utility companies. Instead politicians continue to cut benefits and the media stereotypes the poor as criminals and scroungers on shows like Benefit Street.

So if we accept that the time is right for socialism but nothing is happening is the problem socialism itself? Does the public feel the socialism has been given its time and has failed? Given a low level of interest in socialist ideas it is a plausible explanation. This means that ideas of wealth redistribution and public ownership could be revived under a new banner, one which brings in modern ideas of environmentalism and multiculturalism and combines them with old values like full employment and progressive taxation redistributing income.  

Giving the old ideology a fresh coat of red paint and send it back out into the world to frighten the rich all over again is a tempting course of action. The problem is this has not happened. No new movement has emerged as a successor to socialism. Occupy packed up and went home. The trade unions occasionally try and launch a new left-wing party but nothing comes from it. Even the Green party can barely get a representative on the news despite having more MPs and more supporters than UKIP.

At this point is helpful to take a look at feminism, the only left wing ideology making any form of progress right now. Campaigns such as No More Page Three or Lose the Lad Mags are getting media attention and have genuine grass roots support from activists. On top of that there is the growth in feminist groups at universities and colleges, successful social media campaigns such as Everyday Sexism and young rising star MPs such as Stella Creasy openly identifying as feminist. It would be nice if socialism had this level of exposure.

However, it was not always this way. In 1998, Time magazine proclaimed that feminism was dead. Feminism had a poor public image and was losing support amongst young politically engaged women, the key group it needed to be successful. It was argued that the word feminism was too inflammatory and had the wrong image. It was said that women’s rights needed a new movement to reach out to young women and get them interested in gender politics. This did not happen and eventually the old movement rose again with young feminist thinkers of today drawing their ideology directly from the last hey-day of feminist activity in the 1960s.

So what happened? Mainly a core group of activists remained loyal to the ideology and continued to work hard keeping the movement alive. Feminism adapted to a new political environment and used modern resources such as social media to unite a divided movement around important, clearly stated goals such as making The Sun drop Page 3. Successful campaigns have built momentum and encourage others to be active in the movement. The evidence is against dropping the old ideology and reinventing. Stay true and wait for the world to take notice again.

The good news for socialists is that there are places where this already happening. The US has seen a growth in socialist movements as liberal voters becoming increasingly dissatisfied with how similar the two main parties have become. It seems unlikely that America could the basis of a socialist revival, a country where the mere accusation of being red can ruin political careers. Although socialists have yet to have any impact on the political establishment there has been a growth in Marxist and left leaning journals such as the New Inquiry. As the notion of liberalism is watered down in America, the genuinely progressive need somewhere else to go.

A political party with a commitment to socialism in the UK seems a long way off, but that does not mean socialism is dead. A revival will come, partly because the current state of the economy and the growing wealth inequality proves that the ideas are still relevant. Socialism does not need a name change, what it needs are activists that can keep the struggle going  and adapt to new opportunities as they come along. The sun does not set on ideologies; they just go out of fashion temporarily before being popular again.

To vote or not to vote that is the question

A young man sits in a cream coloured chair; he is thin and tall, unshaven, with long messy Hoxton hair. His clothes are fashionable and the top few buttons of his shirt are undone. He leans forward earnestly; desperate to be taken seriously, when he speaks it is with a manic energy. He moves seamlessly from off the cuff remarks to buzz words taken from the meta-tags of any news website: “the 1%”, “occupy”, “apathy”. His words do not always make sense, his points half formed, he has more passion than facts and towards the end he starts to lose his temper.

Opposite sits an older man, relaxed, confident in his own element, his suit is well tailored but not flashy. He has a beard, a change of image, it looks a little out of place. He leans back with easy confidence. His body language, his mood, his words are dismissive. He knows the problems with everything the young man says; the flaws, the details passed over, the over-ambition and the under-planning. He remains calm but over time grows more hostile and less accommodating.

It would be easy to characterise this as an argument between the young and the old or the left and the right, but it is really an argument of change against more of the same. The young embrace new ideas and flirt with left wing radicalism. The old have become jaded, they have seen so many grand-narratives rise and fall and see the same arguments, the same failings, repeated endlessly. They have become cynical and selfish and it’s easier to dismiss someone for their lack of thought than listen to their complaints.

This is the point we have reached as a society, change or more of the same. Soon, the political parties will begin the run up to the 2015 general election. Labour will promise change and the Conservatives will stand on the “more of the same” platform. However many young, poor and disenfranchised voters will see both as offering more of the same. On the ballot paper there is the same austerity, the same bowing to the Murdoch press and big business, the same paralysis to tackle the growing problem of climate change. There is a feeling that a vote will change nothing. The change we want individually cannot be gained by a single vote so it seems to be worthless. Any change that is promised is rarely delivered on. So many do not vote.

Onto this stage steps Russell Brand: to some an icon, to others a misogynist and for many, easy to dismiss as another pop-culture fad. The main message people will take away from his recent New Statesman editorial and his interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight is Billy Connolly ‘s old gag of “don’t vote - it only encourages them”. I think Brand was aiming for something grander, closer to Gandhi’s “be the change that you wish to see in the world”, something encouraging to the disaffected.  However, the cliff notes version has been condensed to “don’t bother voting, nothing changes”.

This is, of course, what a lot of people think: “the current crop of politicians on offer does not represent what I want so I won’t vote for any of them”. This is usually countered by: “if you do not vote for X, Y will get in.” On the left Y is usually the BNP, UKIP or Tories. This is hardly a call to revolution: “vote Labour, the best of a bad bunch”. It is hard to build an energising national campaign around: “we’re not Y”. But this is where the left is. Many of feel us less than inspired by our leaders, both in parliament, the trade unions and the media. Tony Benn is old and ill, broken down by a lifetime of not quite achieving his aims. His son, Hilary Benn, does not represent the values we want. This seems like the best metaphor for how we feel on the left.

Brand, the Hoxton Hipster, with his don’t vote, spiritual revolution in the mind message could be the best encapsulation of a generation of young lefties. He is easily dismissed by the right for being childish, impractical and sensationalist, but he makes some good points in his Paxman interview and 4,500 word New Statesman leader which resonates with a lot of people. He says some of things we want our leaders to be discussing which are firmly off the table, mainly inequality and the environment. However his overall message lacks a grand narrative and falls down on the details.

So this is where we are as the left? Russell Brand as our spiritual leader? Is this because the right is so dominant in media? Is it because in a post-Thatcher world the political spectrum has moved so much to the right that only someone who is pretty far out can represent us? Are our views so far out of touch with mainstream politics that only a clown can voice them? Or is he a medieval court jester, the only one who is allowed to criticise the king because his comments are couched in humour? If no one takes him seriously he can say whatever he wants, which is the perfect moment to say something deadly serious.

I for one approve how of Brand is bringing leftwing issues to national attention. His personal life, obsessive self-promotion and endless discussion of his own life make his good points easy to dismiss and I sometimes wish he would just tone it all down a little to be taken that much more seriously. However if it gets people talking, thinking and most importantly reading more on left wing subjects than he can only be a good thing. He can be a gateway drug to the left. The convert goes from Russell Brand to Laurie Penny to Robert Tressell. Much the same way that Catlin Moran works for feminism. I am glad someone is kicking up a fuss or no one would be.

When it comes to his non-voting I must disagree. Partly because I subscribe to the “if you do not vote for X, Y will get in” tribalist leftwing view but mainly because democracy is decided by those who show up. Brand’s comedy shows are aggressively marketed at the youth because they turn up to them. However they do not show up to the ballot box so politicians do not target their policies towards the young. If the young voted at the same rate they purchased Hoxton haircuts then a whole range of issues would be on the table. Politicians would take inequality, the environment, youth unemployment, LGBTQ rights and drug legislation much more seriously than they do now. Brand lays the problems for disenfranchisement squarely at the feet of politicians. Others lay it out feet of those who do not vote. I personally think it is fault of both. The youth let politicians down by not engaging with political issues. Politicians let the youth down by not engaging with the issues that matter to them. It takes courage to involve yourself in the political process (and this goes beyond voting) and can be painful but it is essential to achieve want you want. Brand’s change of consciousness sounds like a good idea but it will mean nothing if the change stops short of the ballot box.

We are left with the basic decision of change or more of the same and I think the young, the poor, the disenfranchised and apathetic are still not convinced by either argument. The mainstream left has drifted dangerously close to more of the same as we need to stand for change like Russell Brand does. The left is in trouble when only a clown to speak for us and take the ridicule. We are also in trouble if old cynical people can dismiss us so easily. We have legitimate criticisms but sometimes we make them in ways which do not resonate where they are needed. Converting disenfranchised non-voters will be essential to winning the argument. The left needs to work harder at listening to their reasons for not voting. Above all we need to be better. Better at what we do, how we argue and how we present ourselves. When Russell Brand is the best icon of our movement we need to think hard about what sort of movement we want to be. Then go out and build it.

Fracking exposes of a crisis at the heart of the Tory Party

The Tory party is in crisis. This is mainly a result of UKIP’s attack on their right flank, bolstered by the party leadership’s unpopular stance on EU membership. However there is also something deeper going on here. It must be hard for the party members to get excited about being a Tory. The glamour of opposition has gone and the party has been tarnished by being in power. Their term had been characterised by lack-lustre economic growth and compromise with the Lib Dems. Drumming up passion from the membership must be difficult, who are looking at the sexy UKIP for a little excitement.

The crisis in enthusiasm stems from the party's make up. Like the Labour Party its membership has steadily decreased over the last 30 years. The average Tory Party member is in their mid 60s and comes from a more relaxed section of society. They are well off, retired, comfortable and desire little, expecting their way of life to be protected. They see their traditional lives as threatened by modernity and are angry about this but they do not have a grand vision of how society should be remodelled. This is because they do not need one. Society had provided for them nicely, however, it is hard to energise a political force around protecting their way of life.

It was not always like this. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Tory Party was known for dynamism and vision, they had Thatcherism, an idea that would change the whole nation. The Tory Party was seen as being on the side of business and innovation. Now they are seen as protecting vested interest and the young business person of today is not a Tory. If anything they are apolitical or libertarian. They want government out of the way completely. The final triumph of Thatcherism threatens to destroy the Tory party itself. The old members are inactive or dying off and young ones are not replacing them.

They need to do something to move the party’s image away from NIMBYs and social conservatives and towards the ethics of today’s young business people. After growing up under Blairism, these people are generally more socially liberal than the average Tory Party member but are also more in favour of the free-market. They see rural Tories’ opposition to high speed rail or wind farms as stifling the future of British business. The Tory Party needs to do something, and fracking appears to be their solution.

The government have thrown their weight behind fracking in a big way, claiming this is both the solution to our energy concerns and the economic stagnation that has gripped the country since they came to power. This idea has not been universally popular, and the government has inadvertently managed the difficult task of uniting wealthy, rural NIMBYs and green movement against them. Despite this, the government has claimed we could be the Saudi Arabia of fracking. From this I imagine Britain will become a country where a few extremely socially conservative rich people will possess unimaginable wealth and the rest of the population will be poor and live in a dry, lifeless wasteland – this is probably George Osborn’s vision of utopia. 

The process of fracking has the potential to cause irreparable damage to the natural environment and if anything is clear, the world does not need more sources of green house gases. However, the biggest problem is that we currently have a lively debate about alternative energy solutions that has the potential to do some real good. Countries like Germany are already moving towards producing their entire energy requirements from renewable resources. Fracking only delays the problem of what to do when the gas runs out at the possible  expense of this critical debate.

Still support for fracking solves some political problems for the Tories. Aside from the political problems it solves if fracking brings about an economic boom, it helps the party reclaim their mantel as the party of business. We have heard a lot of talk of how Britain can be a world leader again, in something over than CCTV cameras per square mile, while private companies make huge profits, driving growth and employment. This is the essence of what Conservatism used to be about.

Fracking also appeals to the elements of the Tory part that is frightened of modernity. This is big traditional heavy industry which voters like because they can understand what it does. This is not a social media start up with complex business plan that is difficult to understand and uses the word fermium a lot. This is also not a similarly complex financial industry, support for which is still tainted by popular dislike of bankers. This looks like government actually doing something. Even if doing something will create 30,000 gas towers across mainland Britain.

In fact the only people who seem to dislike this are the retired Conservative Party members whose garden view of a National Trust property is about to be spoiled by a pillar of smoke rising into the sky and whose house is about to experience increasing seismic activity.

This has exposed a division between Tories for whom Conservatism is about conserving, and the party’s Thatcherite members. It asks fundamental questions about what it means to be a Tory. One thing is certain, the Tory Party cannot go on mounting effective electoral campaigns with an increasingly ageing and inactive memberships. Something has to be done to bring new life into the party and attract young people. Also for the party to win an outright majority in a general election they need to become more dynamic and more appealing to young entrepreneurs.

Fracking may not be the solution to our energy problems, but it does help the Tories with their political problems. It focuses on business and aggravates the comfortable rural Tories whose vested interests the party is seen to protect. The government's support for fracking is not aimed at tackling the energy crisis or creating jobs, it is about marketing the Conservative Party to a new generation of business people.

Woolwich: Is 'The Left' Responsible?

The recent barbaric murder of a British soldier on the streets of Woolwich by Islamic extremists has been met with universal condemnation. And rightly so: yes, a great deal many more British soldiers have been killed oversees and yes, fatal knife attacks on the streets of the capital are sadly not rare either. However, the medieval nature of the attack on Lee Rigby, combined with the killers’ ‘political’ ranting and complete disinterest in being observed by the public set this particular crime apart.
The three main party leaders, along with Boris Johnston, all reacted admirably (and it’s not often you will see Boris referred to in a positive light on this blog). Cameron, in particular, has been careful to avoid stirring up anti-Islamic sentiment, describing the attack as a ‘betrayal of Islam’. With depressing predictability, the usual suspects of the EDL and the remnants of the BNP tried to exploit the events to further their own anti-immigrant, anti-multiculturalism agenda. But overall, the world of politics has remained impressively calm at the news. Awful as the attack was, the reaction to it was refreshingly measured and uncontroversial. In fact, the only reason I’m writing about it on here is to respond to one troubling point mentioned in passing on the BBC’s live news feed by one commentator about the implication for ‘the left’.
Usama Hasan, a researcher at anti-extremism think-tank the Quillim Foundation, was reported as saying: "The real problem here is the decisive hatred preached by a very small minority of clerics in this country in a small number of our mosques and universities. They know who they are and there are Muslim groups and other groups - left wing groups may I say - who defend that kind of grievance and victimhood mentality. That's what must change and has to stop.”
Ah yes, that old chestnut, ‘the left’. I’m not exactly sure which left-wing groups Hasan is referring to here, nor why a ‘victimhood mentality’ should automatically lead to violent killings, but I find any idea that the left is somehow partially responsible for this murder or Islamic extremism in general completely abhorrent. For a start, the notion that the left does, or even can, have one unified opinion about Islam makes little sense.
Admittedly, the relationship between the broad left and Islam is of course a complicated and confusing one. After 9/11, Islam drew excessive negative attention in the press, and the Left were the strongest critics of this. On the other hand, the Left has always criticised the socially conservative aspects of any religion. Trying to defend Muslims from prejudice can lead the left, some would argue, into justification of extremist violence, especially when combined with a dislike of Western cultural hegenomy and militarism. Hasan’s implication is that the left finds it difficult to condemn outright Islamic extremism because of Islam’s association in the UK with racist prejudice against Muslims.
Some, such as author Nick Cohen, have tried to coin the term ‘Islamic fascism’ to make it more comfortable for left wingers to criticise Islamic extremism whilst maintaining a distance from right-wing anti-Muslim rhetoric. In his (mostly awful) book, What’s Left, Cohen argues against the left’s opposition to the Iraq War, claiming it had been hoodwinked into supporting repressive regimes as a result of cultural relativism. The left, he argues, should look past its distrust of US military might, and see Muslim fundamentalism for what it really is: a form of fascism.
I disagree with both Hasan and Cohen. The Left has condemned the Woolwich attack as vociferously as anyone else: Billy Bragg, as close to an emissary of the Left as I could imagine, took to Facebook to describe it as “...shocking. What he did for a living cannot be used to justify what happened to him.” Not exactly the words of someone who is afraid of stepping on anyone’s sensitive toes. And anyway, the left does not see Islam as immune from criticism any more than it sees Christianity as immune from criticism. It’s a thorny issue, certainly, because left wingers also want to be seen to respect other peoples’ cultures and values. But, on issues including ranging from the position of women in strict Islamic communities, to the lack of willingness to integrate into a healthy multicultural society in some areas, the left have a strong track record of raising concerns.
As for Cohen’s ‘Islamic Fascism’ idea, I reject this as a way of framing the debate, purely because the right-wing, political fascism of the EDL variety is an ideology based on hatred and prejudice, regardless of whether this leads to actual violence or not.  Islam is not. There is no inevitable link between ‘Islam’, ‘Fascism’, and the events of Woolwich. To suggest otherwise would be to say that there is something inherent in the Islamic faith which can lead to these sorts of attacks, which theologians and others insist there isn’t.
Perhaps the reason certain people are blaming ‘the Left’ is because some lefties seek to link events like the Woolwich murder with US and UK foreign policy. To be clear, in my opinion, the idea that illegal, unjustified military invasions such as the Iraq war would throw petrol onto the fire of extremism was self evident: in fact, the Blair government was warned of this at the time, and ignored it. But I must emphasize: seeking to explain the motivation behind Islamic extremist violence is NOT the same as justifying the violence. The Left seek macro explanations, in contrast to the reaction of the far right who prefer to just demonise all Muslims. Perhaps it is this nuance that the knee-jerk- reaction loving, easy-answer-seeking elements of the right-wing media fail to grasp about the relationship between the Left and Islam.
So blame the individual attackers, obviously. Nothing can absolve them from that responsibility. Or blame the radical clerics if you like. Or blame the idiotic wars that have made Britain a target for terrorism. Or blame the EDL nutters and extremist Islamic groups, who both provide each other the fuel they need. But the Left? Honestly, I don’t think so.

Five assumptions of the Left

People make assumptions all the time, not least about what lefties believe. How many times, for example, have you felt like an argument boils down to “so, you’re left-wing, so you must think X”?

But what assumptions about left-wing people are appropriate? As well as being critical of the wider problems in society, we need to turn our examination inwards and look at ourselves. This is how we build a robust movement. To that end, I have drawn up a list of five basic assumptions I feel it is necessary to make to be on the left. It is not exhaustive, but I do think that if you feel any of these points are invalid, then you are probably not leftwing. In my opinion, they represent core underpinning beliefs.

1. Privilege exists

Or - that the world is unfair. It is important to acknowledge that everyone is given different advantages or disadvantages in life purely based on the circumstances of their birth.

This isn’t to say hard work shouldn’t be valued – it is an unfair accusation that the left favour dependency or handouts. It is to say, though, that if you are born into a well off family you are more likely end up wealthy yourself. Being successful in life (i.e. having lots of money) is not automatically a function of how hard you work, but is determined by how fortunate you are in your birth.

Accepting privilege is an essential leftwing belief. It runs under everything else and is connected to all the other points on this list. It also connected to the idea of questioning authority and what privileges brought someone into a position of authority. Being a woman, from an ethnic minority, gay disabled, or a whole host of other things means you must work harder to be successful, as well as being more likely to face obvious discrimination and harassment compared to a group society has favored with more power.

The Right claim everyone is given an even footing and that success is a result of hard work. But privilege is the crux of what makes society unequal. Biology should not be destiny. The circumstances of your birth should not determine your lot in life.

2. Rational people can be irrational

Not every decision everyone makes is always clearly thought out and considered. This may be obvious, but it’s also very important. Consider the reverse of this point. To lean to the Right you must believe that everyone is rational all the time: criminals make rational choices to commit crimes; addicts choose to continue their addiction; the poor are responsible for their own poverty. This underpins a lot of right-wing policy: criminals should be harshly punished because they chose a life of crime. That the poor deserve to have their benefits cut because they chose not to get a job.

To lean the left is to say that some things are beyond your control and that society should step in and help out in these circumstances. Not just to correct privilege, but because people make irrational decisions and need help to get them out of the situation they have found themselves in. To be left wing is argue against the sentiment ‘you made your decision and now you must pay for it’.

3. Inequality is a bad thing

Having an uneven distribution of wealth and power does not create incentives for those at the bottom of the pile to better themselves but instead creates social strife which in the long run makes us all worse off. This is linked to questioning the fact that those at the top of pile did not get there through their own hard work but through unfair advantages. Why else, for example, are there so many people from rich, privately educated backgrounds in the Cabinet – pure coincidence? Inequality in wealth and power is a symptom of the sickness of privilege.

One of the things I find very strange about the right is when they claim that those who have less should work harder to have more, but society clearly throws obstacles in the way of some and not others. This right wing argument boils down to saying that women should work really really hard to be successful and that men just need to work hard to be successful. Claiming that inequality is a good motivator is just silly.

To be on the left is believe that inequality is caused by privilege and not laziness, and that to defend inequality is to defend a society that privileges some over others.

4. Collaboration is preferable to competition

More can be accomplished by working together than in fighting each other. The free market does not lead to the most socially beneficial allocation of resources. Competition favors privilege – this is why the wealth gap has widened so much in the past three decades.

The right argues that free market competition creates incentives for innovation and that, if left to its own natural devices, it will allocate society’s resources to where they are most needed. Those who are left-wing dispute this and claim that the free market allocates more of society’s scarce resources to the most privileged, rather than to where they will do the most good.

To be on the left is to argue that by working together, through government, collectives or other means, we can achieve a more socially beneficial resources allocation that overcomes privilege. That together we are stronger and that competition divides us.

5. One size does not fit all

Also know as diversity, a phrase much mocked by the right. We are all different, as are our needs. Yet in general society doesn't take this into account, and benefits some over others. This is essence of privilege.

The right argues for a universalist approach. But measuring everyone by the same standard in a clearly unequal society does not work. In contrast, diversity also means accepting that there are valid lifestyles different to yours. It can be hard to accept that others value things differently, some value family more than others, for example. Some value their peers more than their family. It can be hard to understand people with different lifestyles, but everyone deserves dignity, compassion and respect. It should be accepted that one size doesn’t fit all.

Accepting diversity, and that other people live lives completely differently to your own, is essential to being left wing. It is also important to accept that there is not always a single standard of behavior or proper way to do things.

I wanted to show how these problems are interlinked through the idea of privilege, in other words that the circumstances of your birth determine a lot about your life and that society is deeply unfair. Ideas that are essential to how we see the world – and the problems we want to fix.

It is important to always question our own ideas, our own assumptions, and our own privilege. This contributes to both a stronger ideology and a broader movement.

The politics of Iain Banks novels

On Wednesday the 3rd of April, best-selling Scottish author Iain Banks announced that he was dying of cancer and that his next novel, The Quarry, will be his last. In light of the news, many fans must be looking back over his oeuvre, considering what conclusions can be drawn while he is still alive.

Iain Banks was famously described as “two of Scotland's best authors” because he writes both science fiction and literary fiction (the former as Iain M. Banks). Despite the different genres, the same broad political and social themes come up in all his novels and a lot of common ground can be found.

Iain Banks is amongst the most popular writers of today who is clearly left wing. He is outspoken on subjects as varied as Scottish independence and Israel’s military intervention in Gaza. Politics infiltrate his novels to varying degrees, but it is ever-present in the themes, characters and settings he explores. One recurring theme is the idea that political opinions are a manifestation of peoples’ deepest values, such as in The Steep Approach to Garbadale. The difference between left and right wing people, according to main character Alban Wopuld, all comes “down to imagination. Conservative people don’t have very much so they find it hard to imagine what life is like for people who aren’t just like them... empathy and imagination are almost the same thing, and it’s why artists, creative people, are almost all liberals, left leaning.”

Allegory is often used to convey these ideas. 1986’s The Bridge presents a strange coma-world which symbolises the crumbling of Britain’s post-war consensus and the onset of Thatcherism. The part of the Iron Lady herself is filled uncompromisingly by a sadistic Field Marshall, who indulges his pigs with luxury accommodation on his captured train whilst enjoying such activities as forcing tethered prisoners to run to exhaustion in front of the slowly driven locomotive. But it is, perhaps, the puzzling allegory of his Culture series which pose the most interesting political questions.

These novels mainly explore the question of “how perfect is the Culture?” Is this anarchistic, socialist, post-scarcity collective really a utopia? It caters for every possible human need and removes the need for sickness, death, money, want and intolerance. No one works as society is administer but hyper intelligent computers known as Minds for the benefit of humanity. Who would not want to live in the Culture where literally anything is possible? The subtle question asked by most of the Culture novels is: “is the Culture so perfect that they feel the need to meddle in the affairs of the less perfect?” Banks’s reaction to real-world military interventions perhaps suggests an answer: on the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he returned his torn-up passport to 10 Downing Street in protest (after abandoning his original idea of “crashing my Land Rover through the gates of Fife dockyard, after spotting the guys armed with machine guns”).

Many of the early books provide simple comparisons between the Culture and other civilisations. In Consider Phlebas, the Culture is at war with the Idirans who seek to aggressively conquer other species because they believe themselves to be superior. In The Player of Games, the Culture encounters the Azad who have a suppressive hierarchical society, repressive gender politics and the material problems of scarcity. Compared to these societies, the Culture appears utopian and the reader feels that they are justified in intervening to improve the lot of their citizens. Similarly, in Excession the Culture face the Affront, who are so disgustingly violent towards every other living creature that the reader has sympathy for the Culture in declaring all-out war against such an insult to sentience.

However in later books, perhaps as a reaction to the cultural imperialism of neo-con foreign policy such as the Iraq war, the Culture's well-meaning interference has disastrous consequences. In Look To Windward, the Culture unbalances the fiercely cast-based Chelgrian society in an attempt to make it more egalitarian. This results in a bloody civil war for which many Chelgrians feel the Culture is responsible. The Culture's belief in their own perfection and how to better others ultimately leads to more death than the Idirans or the Affront could create deliberately.

Whereas the Culture novels show us how great the future could be, Banks’s non-Culture novels show us how awful the future could be. In Against A Dark Background, the Huhsz cult is allowed to hunt and kill people in order for their messiah to be born. In The Algebraist the future is divided between the overbearing Mercatoria and the sadistic Starveling Cult. In these nightmarish vision of the future, technology is turned against humanity to repress and cause suffering. Banks has scorn reserved for our own world too, from the cruelty of Thatcher’s Britain in The Bridge to money-grubbing US businesses in The Steep Approach to Garbadale.

In his Culture set novella The State of the Art, Banks turns his lenses directly to Earth as we know it. Set in the 1970s, it deals with the Culture's first contact with humans. The Culture citizens, with their perfect existence, are horrified by how cruel life on Earth is. However, one Culture citizen decides to stay on Earth, smitten by the concept of Christianity (reaching the opposite conclusion, co-incidentally, to The Crow Road’s Prentice McHoan, who eventually finds happiness by rejecting religion). Banks explores the idea of whether happiness is truly possible without experiencing suffering, and thus can anyone in Culture be happy? He poses the idea that the Culture's meddling in the affairs of others may just be a means to justify its own existence.

At its best, sci-fi tells us something about our own world – as Banks once said, “no-body who reads science fiction comes out with this crap about the end of history.” The Culture is more than just an aspiration of what lefties believe that a future society could be like, free from binding social roles, repressive leadership hierarchies and scarcity of resources. It is also an allegory for how westerners feel enlightened compared to poorer nations, and our need to meddle in their affairs – much as the West has done over the course of Banks’s career. We want to live in the Culture as much as we realise that we would rather live under western liberal democracy than under most other governments on Earth. The Culture reminds of the need to be critical of ourselves to see what effect we have on other societies.

Reaching to the Converted: Creating safe spaces and activism

Everyone knows I am a lefty and a bit of an old-Labour type, and as such I enjoy a bit of Billy Bragg every now and then. A lot of my student days were passed to the sounds of the Bard of Barking, especially Brewing Up With Billy Bragg. It was the time in my life where I discovered the most about my musical and political opinions and Billy Bragg spanned them both. Other artists were important, from Phill Ochs to Anti-Flagg, but among my friends Billy Bragg way always the favourite. Not just the political songs, although To Have And To Have Not is a stirring tune, my favourite songs were Levi Stubb’s Tears and From A Vauxhall Velox.

Like any good fan, I saw him in concert. The first time was on the night when Boris Johnson was originally elected mayor of London and the tide started to turn in favour of the Conservatives. Throughout the evening Billy Bragg had kind words of encouragement and hope. He reassured us that all was not lost and that a better world could be won through action locally and nationally. It was exactly what we needed to hear. At times he was emotional and at times logical about the state of the left today. As well as a concert and a political talk, the man gave us hope and solidarity. I would urge any lefty to go and see Billy Bragg in concert as what he has to say today is as relevant as it was in 1984 when Brewing Up was first released.

But therein lies a problem. I said I would urge any lefty to go and see Billy Bragg in concert. I doubt there was anyone in the audience who was not already sympathetic to the values Billy Bragg stands for. There might have been a few music journalists or fans of the singer-songwriter genre there who were not lefties, but by and large I think everyone there broadly identified as left wing either then or at that time or at some point in their lives. No one’s opinion was changed that night. No one started to support left wing principles who did not believe in those principles already. Some people who were armchair lefties might have been galvanised into action, but no sweeping changes in views were made.

This is a problem with the left in general. A lot of events organised with the best intentions end up preaching to the choir. Arguments beautifully laid out and thoughtfully composed fall on the ears of those who already agree with what is being passionately argued for. The support base is not expanding through readings at a Marxist book group. The masses are not being converted through a night of protest music attended only by fans of protest music.

Billy Bragg’s message did reach a wider audience when he was more popular in the 1980s. It is slightly unfair to focus solely on Billy Bragg as it is difficult to stay consistently popular for such a long time as well as staying relevant and keeping to the ideals one originally set out with. Billy Bragg has balanced all this very well but the underlying point remains that there is a strong tendency on the left to preach to the converted.

Events such as the aforementioned night of protest music do not convert the undecided to the cause. They create a safe space for likeminded individuals to express themselves in the knowledge that they are among their peers. Bold expressions of left wing values can be met with ridicule in the public sphere and it is important to create spaces where people can be themselves. The same is true of gay or trans-gender events which also create a safe refuge for those in a minority against the harshness of the outside world. This work is very important but it should not be confused with activism.

Activism is something different. It involves talking to people who may not necessary agree with everything you have to say. It involves going out and finding these people to engage with. Not in an aggressive way but it does involve stepping outside of your comfort zone. Activism is a painful and at times boring process which takes up a lot of time, produces little visible results and receives little praise. At times it is even met with brutal repression and the costs can be dear. All this is less than appealing to a lot people and so there is a tendency not to want to leave the safe space or worse, to rebrand the safe space as activism. Gathering a lot of likeminded people together in one location who all generally agree with each other can look a lot like activism but that can be misleading. Unless there is an engagement with the opposite opinion or the establishment then an event or piece of art is not activism.

Organising safe spaces for likeminded people to express themselves is important. It is the necessary flip side to activism. Where activism breaks down resolve due to the slow pace of progress, the safe space steps in to remind people what we are fighting for and why our work is important - however creating a safe space must not be confused with activism.

Different causes require different mixes of safe spaces to activism. LFBT causes require more safe spaces to be established because the harsher responses society has to identifying as gay compared to identifying as broadly left wing. Similarly traditional left wing causes would benefit from more activism and less of an emphasis on safe spaces because of the privilege most white, middle class, straight lefties have. From a traditional left wing point of view more direction action would be better for two reasons, firstly to counter the general culture of self-congratulation around organising events which only create safe spaces. Secondly to break down the bubble that some lefties live in where they believe everyone agrees with their values.

I left the Billy Bragg concert with a renewed sense of purpose which the best safe spaces bring to activists. It encouraged me to keep fighting the good fight and not to lose faith through lack of success or the election of Boris Johnson. This is something I clung to even when Boris was elected a second time.

Reaching to the Converted is an album Billy Bragg released in 1999 and it is my preferred expression to describe the left wing tendency to create safe spaces which at its worse can be preaching to the choir masquerading as genuine activism. Safe spaces have an important part to play in being a modern lefty but let us not forget the need for direct action to defend left wing values and to grow the movement.

They are winning

This is a new year and we all need to work harder. The economy is faltering and, although employment is expected to grow this year, millions will still be left jobless. Inflation may have fallen back, but there has been little growth in wages and many are still trapped in poverty. Essential government services and health care are still being chipped away at by the Tory party and their coalition partners. Now is not the time to be complacent. Now is the time for action.

All of the above is true but another more painful truth dawned on me recently. This is that the right is winning. They sit in government, they dominate our press and business community, their views form the basis of our political dialogue. In short, they are winning.

Many people believe that benefits are too high and that the unemployed are undeserving of help. Many feel that the NHS is wasteful and needs the incentives of private business to become efficient. It is often said that the government is too large and needs to be reined in, and that public sector spending is bad for the economy and should be cut. The subtle language of this is that the debt should be brought down regardless of whose backs the government’s cheque books are balanced on.

A lot of people who do not consider themselves to be political, or who consider themselves to have centrist opinions, actually use right wing rhetoric. This can be seen plainly in the debate of Britain’s continual membership of the EU. The right has walked into the dominant position in this debate because the left have let them.

The prevalence of right wing opinions does not simply extend to the economy. Many people believe that immigration is bad and is destroying our way of life, that political correctness is oppressive to our culture, that women deserve to be raped because of how they dress or behave, that the disabled are nothing but scroungers, and that the legalization of gay marriage would somehow undermine the millions of straight marriages across the country.

A lot of the dominance of right wing opinions comes from spinelessness of our left wing leadership. In the words of journalist Laurie Penny, “the Labour party still cannot find its ideology with both hands”. The TUC seems unable to find a means by which to oppose the government’s austerity program beyond politely marching from A to B, which will be completely ignored. Other left wing leaders stay silent in the face of right wing rhetoric from fear of being labelled as either Socialists or unrealistic dreamers.

I am not afraid of either of these labels. In fact, I wear them with pride. I do not think it is unreasonable to dream that we can be better off and live in a more equal society – and if the word for this is Socialist, then pass me the red flag. Now is not the time to be silently left leaning. Now is the time to be loud, angry and visible. Now is the time to tell the right that they cannot write off whole sections of society and that they cannot spread brutish ignorance and prejudice because it suits their political agenda.

There is hope. People are still willing to march and take demonstrations to knew heights. UK Uncut have performed high profile demonstrations that have hit tax-dodging businesses where it really hurts, in their wallets. Ordinary people have turned out huge numbers to oppose EDL marches across the country and successfully drowned out the racist street movement. People still scream in the streets and on the internet about how unjust a society we are becoming – have a read of this passionate argument for protecting the dignity of the disabled. The Everyday Sexism project publicly catalogues the abuse women face on a daily basis so that it cannot be ignored.

The right have always been good at dividing us, but together, with our heads held high and hope in our hearts, we are stronger than they are. The belief that we are all deserving, that we should all be equal and entitled to a decent standard of living, will win out over the idea of coldly tipping of the scales of society in the favour of the rich and privileged.

This is why I am redoubling my efforts this year and retasking my blog to focus more specifically on the left as a movement and what we can do to become stronger, better organised and more visible. I shall celebrate our successes and lament in our failures, but always remain watchful of the needs of a movement as diverse as ours.

We have to be better. We have to start winning. I am become very frightened of what we are becoming as a society – less sympathetic, less tolerant, less equal. The right might intend to drag us into a dark world where your birth determines your lot in life. Where being a rich, white, straight man is glorious and those people look down on others who are unlucky enough to be anything else. A world where money is the only thing that matters and society is bent to serve those who have wealth.

They are winning and we are slowly falling into darkness. But together we can change all of this, and it starts today.

The Rolls Royce Government: The case for big government protecting social values

What does the Continental European model of social democracy and a Rolls Royce have in common? We will return to this metaphor after some brief analysis.

Last week David Miliband wrote in the New Statesman that Labour should not be the party of the “big state” - this comes against a recent trend of criticism of large governments, which many politicians believe, are bad for the economy and unpopular with voters. Western governments are not without their legitimate criticism as anyone who has had to claim benefits or submit a planning application will be aware of. The marsh of bureaucracy that the public has to deal with when they want something from their government creates a feeling of disillusionment with the virtues of the public sector which turns voters away from any politician who claims that we need more government to solve societies’ problems. The slick efficiency of the tills at Tesco stand in sharp contrast to the long periods of standing around waiting at the Job Centre. It is no wonder politicians who favour the selling of public services to private companies find voters agreeing with them at all levels of society.

The scepticism directed towards big government is partly a result of real fear caused by the European Sovereign Debt Crisis but it is also a definite effort to shift the agenda towards a free-market small government approach by those with vested interest in this opinion. This being large companies and right leaning governments keen to drum up support for their ideologically motivated austerity programs. Miliband argues that it was faith in big government which caused the Labour party to lose the public’s trust over the economy. He is pandering to the view that Labour is the party of the “nanny state” and that the Conservatives are the party of individual freedom.

I personally, have never had a problem with the label nanny state. When you think about it, who is a nanny? A warm and comforting figure that looks after children when they are cannot look after themselves. I cannot think of a better role model for government. However western voters are opposed to oppressive, overbearing regimes which meddle in the daily lives of their citizens. The fear behind this is also legitimate, only a fool in the West would want to live under a Cold War Communist regime. However, in the left learning parties of Europe’s desperate attempts to escape the spectre of being labelled a Marxist-Leninist, some of what was truly important about socialism has been washed away in the bland acceptance of the free market.

What is important about socialism is not a commitment to the big state but to a set of underlying principles that society should be directed towards income equality, the removal of class divides causes by wealth inequality, an equality of opportunity for all citizens as a birth right and safety net for those who are unable (temporally or permanently) to provide for themselves and their families. Self-reliance should not be the governing rule of society and the collective should look out for the individual. In exchange for this the individual must be willing to make a sacrifice for the good of the collective in terms of personal wealth and some degree of personal freedom. The social democratic parties of European - some of which are differentiated from the socialist parties of Europe and some of which are not – maintain the commitment to these values on a social level but not an economic one. In place of the economic proportion of socialism there is a general acceptance of the virtues of free market capitalism as the best method to allocate societies’ scarce resources.

David Miliband and the Brown Government embodied this notion of a commitment to social justice along with a commitment to small state free market capitalism. The coalition government has continued the shift towards right wing economic principles by further reducing the state at the expense of any commitment to the values of stated above. Miliband’s insistence that Labour move beyond the big state verses small state argument may win him support with voters but will do little to reassure those who believe that Labour has lost touch with the key values at the root of socialism from which the party draws its ideology.

I submit that a rebranding of the virtues of big government is needed by social democrats if they are to distinguish themselves from the economically right leaning parties and reconnect with the values at the root of their past popularity. This rebranding should be focused on the core values stated above. There are many who are concerned about the growing divide between the rich and the poor and how unevenly wealth is distributed across society. This is also where Rolls Royce comes in.

The typical criticism of big government by the right is three fold: 1, that state involvement in the market causes a problems for industry, 2, that that it requires higher taxation and 3, the old nanny state argument. I will take each point in turn:

Firstly, I have already written on the need for Capital Conscious Socialism. I have said that government should always be mindful of the needs of private business to provide employment when intervening in the economy. It is also worth considering that state invention is often necessary to make sure that industry allocates societies’ scare resources so that they create the most social good not economic good. An example of this is medicine, which should be allocated where it benefits society by curing diseases rather than where it is most profitable.

Secondly, the cost is key to the value of large Government. We should think of Government like a car. If we opt for the cheap option (economically right wing with low taxation and spending) then we will receive a cheap government, one which is ineffectual at meeting our needs and protecting our values. If we opt for the Rolls Royce government, which is expensive but capable then we will have a government that is empowered to tackle social problems and is something to be proud off. Spending more on our government should be viewed the same as buying a luxury car. That the price tag is part of the appeal because only with an expensive product can we achieve satisfaction from our spending.

Thirdly, social democrats should remind the public that it is their government’s duty to look after them and not simply get out of the way of private businesses. It is the role of government to embody the values of altruistic medieval kings. To clothe the naked, feed the poor, provide shelter for the homeless. Those who have the least are the most vulnerable to the problems created by wealth inequality and the basic safety net provided by the state ensure that the needs of the very worst off are not forgotten. The state may intervene in our lives to protect us from letting the selfishness - which the free market uses to drive economic growth - from entering our social conscience and thus kicking aside the poor, the vulnerable and the politically weak.

The values at the heart of socialism and big government will resonate with voters once framed within the right context. The argument of big state verses small state is not the right context. The argument of Rolls Royce against a budget banger is the right context. It is important that social democrats across Europe defend these values less society become deeply divided between rich and poor. The core values behind socialism are important in building a fairer society and there is still merit to the argument that big government can help to achieve this.

Ed Miliband would do wise to bare this in mind during his review of Labour’s policies - rather than listening to the supposed wisdom of his older brother. Many on the left hope the results of the policy review will bring the Labour party out of inertia and back into the business of providing a genuine alternative to the methods of the coalition government. Until that time we should remember that we get back from our government what we put in. If we give it scepticism and starve it of funds it will be ineffective at protecting our core values. If we view government spending as an important step to having a fairer society then we can empower government to tackle the root causes of social ills.

Immigration and the flexibility of labour

There are few issues in politics that are as deeply dividing as immigration. Everyone holds an opinion on the topic, how much is appropriate, of what sort, from which country, etc. Immigration is blamed for many problems in society from crime to traffic congestion but has also advanced British art and engineering. A case in point, the Mini, that British icon of style, was created by Alec Issigonis, who was born in Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey). Perceived failures of immigration policy can have dire consequences for a government; case in point is the hammering Gordon Brown received in the 2010 after a perceived rises in immigration. Anti-immigration outbursts can be equally as ruinous to a career, for example Maurice Glasman suffered a fall from grace after endorsing a halt on immigration.

As well as the economic implications, it is generally viewed that the problem with immigration is the divisions in society it causes can culminate in either acts of terrorism or violence directed at immigrants themselves. Many also argue that the economic impact of immigration is at the root of the social divisions it causes. In this article I hope to show that the social disorder caused by immigration is a response to market inefficiencies and not a problem with immigration itself. In essence it is weaknesses in our economy which make both immigrants and the indigenous population poor and angry.

The market based economy does not allocate resources to where they create the most social good. Some areas of society have an excess of economic resources and some have a great lack. This is partly because not all resources are perfectly mobile to where they are needed or to where they can create the greatest good. A clear example of this is housing which cannot be moved to take advantage of where there is a shortage. Without state intervention there is no way to correct the uneven distribution of quality housing. These market inefficiencies and misallocation of resources will always mean that some lack essential goods and desirable luxuries. Those who lack resent other social groups who have been allocated extra. This has driven many of the poor all over the world towards Socialism and other left wing movements. However this resentment is not always directed at the cause of poverty (flaws in the market based system) but at those who it is perceived possess more and have not worked hard to earn it.

Amongst the poor white population this resentment can be directed towards immigrants when individuals feel that they have been allocated a larger slice of society’s scarce resources simply because they belong to a different social group. The same can be said amongst immigrants who can become resentful of an indigenous population who they feel find it easier to acquire essential goods and luxury items simply due to being born in a country. On both sides of the divide people with a specific agenda can harness the anger at society’s uneven distribution of resources to push the disaffected towards either terrorism or hate crimes.

This fact applies to both sides. The EDL and Muslims Against the Crusade are images of each other. Young, poor and angry. Politicians and community leaders are unwilling to tackle this issue partly due to the difficulties with effecting real change but also because they risk losing the support those who the current distribution of resources benefits. Following being let down by community leaders and politicians, the disenfranchised taking matters into their own hands. These tensions which occasionally spill over to acts of violence are caused by an uneven distribution of resources and a lack of political engagement with this issue which create poverty and fosters feelings of alienation.

If the government were to intervene in the free market to correct the uneven distribution of society’s scare resources, then there would be less poverty and less anger to exploit.
Those who speak out against immigration often cite the effect it has on the wages of indigenous people, especially those in the lowest paid manual and unskilled jobs. However this effect can also be explained by inefficiencies in the labour market. The immigration can lead to an oversupply of labour especially in these low paid industries. A rise in supply of labour reduces the unit cost of labour (in this case wages) as the jobless are forced to look for a wage lower than their desired wage to remain competitive in the more crowded labour market. When firms see that the labour supply is increasing they desire to reduce unit costs of production and thus lower the wage they are offering to new employees. They can expect to find applicants for the role as an increase in labour supply has caused a job shortage.

Wages fall as a result of immigration not because of the actions of immigrants but because in an unregulated labour market increased supply will reduce wages mainly because firms seek to reduce costs of production. Like housing labour is not perfectly mobile. People are tied to a certain area by family commitments or the cost of moving which prevents labour from being reallocated from areas of surplus to areas of shortage. Similar labour markets where there is a short of supply often have barriers prevent entry to these markets by immigrants and the poor - barriers such as expensive qualifications or many years of experience.

This effect on wages can also be corrected by government intervention in the labour market. Access to education can break down the entry barriers to certain labour markets, especially training for the long term unemployed. Also the introduction of a living wage would ensure that even when there is excess supply firms are not able to drive down the wage price to point where it puts people into poverty.

Society’s scares resources are allocated in large quantities to a small section of the population. This does not just apply to wealth and material goods but also access to important services like education and health care. This divide is growing wider and those who which society has allocated less resources are growing poorer and angrier. This anger is often directed at the wrong parties where it is the system by which resources are allocated at this at fault.

The government needs to do more to address labour market inefficiencies to tackle the social problems caused by immigration. One possibility is to consider a return to the objective of full employment and guarantee a living wage. Both of which will involve government legislating the labour market but will result in higher wages for immigrants and the indigenous alike.

Until these inefficiencies are tackled, immigration will still be an issue dividing both society and political debates. This divide will always be to the loss of the poorest members of society both immigrants and indigenous alike.

Culture of Resistance

There is a long-standing trend across society of people feeling alienated from the political establishment. This is not a movement with ideology or leaders behind it but more a broad feeling of disaffection felt by many. Individuals have sought to express this through music, film and political action drawing many who feel the same towards them but without forming a tangible movement. In recent months in the UK this has grown more apparent as opposition to the Tory government and their program of austerity has grown. I suggest the coining of a new phrase to describe this movement of the dissatisfied and how the feeling is expressed as the culture of resistance.

The culture of resistance is a general anti-establishment view point. Best described by a friend of mine as the 'fuck the police' mentality. It incorporates those against the established ideology of neoliberal free market capitalism but, in its actuality, is a broader dissatisfaction with the status quo and the dominant political philosophy. It covers a spectrum of people from those who wear Che Guevara hoodies to squat dwelling anarchists. It can be manifested in those who subscribe to specific anti-establishment ideologies such as socialism and those who take direct action against the establishment in the form of protests. However, it can also be seen in those who feel alienated from the main political discourse and social norms. The culture of resistance is not specifically opposed to or against anything that can be easily defined. That is a characteristic of a more defined movement with influential figures and a more defined ideology. The culture of resistance is more of general expression of dissatisfaction felt by many who do not fit within the establishment and are disenfranchised by this.

In one aspect it can be summed up in the general anti-establishment vibes given off by bands like Kasabian but it encompasses such diverse songs as the anger of Anti-Flag’s Die For the Government to Tracy Chapman’s more subtle Talking About a Revolution. It encompasses a range of films, from James Dean's non-specific rebellion in Rebel Without A Cause to the anti-big business rhetoric of Michael Moore’s documentaries. From the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to Iain Bank’s Complicity. It covers those who feel disenfranchised from the political and social establishment by their gender, sexuality, race, poverty or sub-culture.

For those of us on the left to be a more effective political force we need find a commonality in these disaffected individuals covered by the broad term of the culture of resistance. We need to seek out the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection and mobilise people against their oppressors. I am fully aware of many on the left who feel alienated and disaffected by lack of a strong left-wing voice in mainstream politics calling for progressive change. Many also feel dissatisfied that Labour frequently fails to be this progressive voice. Individuals form isolated causes or individuals take direct action as they feel disconnected from a larger political movement. This in essence is the culture of resistance.

It is job of those on the left to form alliances between dispirited groups and people who fall under the culture of resistance. Many of the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection are conflicting problems. Power structures within the culture of resistance make this difficult, as is forming connections within such a diverse group of people. However, forming alliances between dispirited groups has always been one of the great strengths of the right. Consider the many differences between neoliberal, free-market corporate conservatives and the faith, family and flag social conservatives who sit together (not always happily) on the benches of Republican Party. In the British Tory party we see a similar uneasy alliance between the anti-immigration lobby and supporters of the interests of large companies who exploit the cheap labour migration brings. The right counts forming political alliances as one of its strength and so too should we on the left.

There are recent examples of direct action taken by large groups of members of the culture of resistance against their political oppressors. The main instance of this is students demonstrating against tuition fee rises. A diverse group students of different ideologies and different social backgrounds united by their opposition to a single issue and their general disenfranchisement with the political establishment.

The student tuition fees protests are a clear example of the increasing degree to which young people are disillusioned with political establishment. The protests of thousands of young members of the culture of resistance in the lead up to the Iraqi war were largely ignored by mainstream politicians and thus alienation of those outside the main political discourse is continued. In recent student protests the culture of resistance were driven to property damage and occupation in response to the feeling that the voices had been ignored or silenced before. Through the media branding them as violent trouble makers, the alienation and disaffection of the culture of resistance is perpetuated.

In the Arab world we have seen a string of uprising by the political oppressed. Again a broad cross section of society has been united in a common movement of the politically alienated and the socially disaffected against their oppressors. In Egypt, a country fraught with religion divisions, Christians and Muslims were brought together against the dictatorial establishment. This should be an example to those who wish to effect social change that through a common culture of resistance very divergent groups can be brought together and ultimately topple their common oppressors.

Very recently in Tottenham, north east London the poor and disaffected lashed out at an establishment which they felt was repressing the community. This is an example of an entire community and culture falling under the label of the culture of resistance due to the disenfranchisement of poverty, the alienation of the lack of having adequate political influence to effect necessary local development and perceived over policing. The culture of resistance does not only cover isolated individuals but can incorporate entire social groups or movements.

The culture of resistance has only grown larger and more pronounced as time has gone by and more people felt alienated from mainstream politics by the dominant ideology. We have seen that there is a great power in this disenfranchisement once mobilised. Those of us on the left need to work on building bridges that unite the disaffected in a common movement if we are to effect serious and lasting social change.

In the beginning

Personally, I find there’s nothing scarier than a blank page. Rewriting and editing I am fine with, but to go from the point of having nothing to the point of having something is the hardest part of the task.  So it is in the spirit of struggling with beginnings that we start.

I would like to make a few remarks on what to expect from these pages; in essence, the news. What follows is not about my life but the wider world and – that most undescriptive of phrases – current events. There will be opinion, interpretation and analysis – and, most likely, more than a hint of bias. I will not strive for objectivity and or simply reporting the facts. On the contrary, I will be subjective and provide personal reflections.

These pages will not be entirely given over to whatever are the significant events of the last few days.  There will be ideas about society and the individual, and my personal musings on how we live and what we should strive for (or what we should make all efforts to avoid). The writing might slant more towards the business and economic aspects of the news, mainly because that is my current area of interest, but I aim to discuss as much as possible and not simply one area.

Before we begin, I would like to state that my political alignment is to the left and what you will read here will have a definite left-wing slant. The opinions hereafter will (hopefully) be quite upsetting to anyone who agrees with what they read in The Daily Mail.

It will come as no great revelation that it is easy to be selfish and cynical, but still this needs to be said again. Ultimately, we need to look after each other, which is why I call myself a leftist. We aim for a more equal and tolerant society. We are against those who, however good their intentions are, would turn us against each other, punish the poor for desiring more, women for expressing their sexuality, homosexuals for being gay and the people who disagree for speaking out. Being on the left is important because we need to make the world a better place for us all to live in. All this may seem hopelessly vague, but I hope that future posts will clarify my position.

I hope to reach others out there like your good self, and reassure you that you are not alone. Many blogs of a left-wing slant which I have read have consoled me in dark moments of political isolation. Those of us with left-wing progressive views need to be reminded that others share our deeply-held convictions. We all think differently and disagree from time to time, which is one of the reasons the left is described as fractal and woolly. We have sympathy for people who hold similar beliefs to us, and we want to encourage others to take up the pen and write what they believe in.

I aim to make a difference.