Mer om det brittiska valet

Här kommer några lästips och en uppdatering om debatten på Crooked Timber.

Filosofen Julian Baggini var en av undertecknarna till det offentliga brev som en rad Labour-politiker och självständiga vänsterliberaler skrev  för några dagar sedan och som proklamerade Lib Dems som ”the progressive party”. Baggini skrev på twitter i samband med publikationen: ”Will I regret signing that?”. Nu har han skrivit en artikel — ”A vote for the Lib Dems could check the Tories” — om hur han resonerar. Bland annat förklarar han sin syn på hur han resonerar i val generellt, en syn som jag för övrigt delar:

Politics in general, and elections in particular, are not about supporting a long and detailed list of personal desiderata, but getting behind one of a handful of loose groupings, the one you think is going to be not as bad as the others. The choice you have to make at any particular election has to take into account the precise conditions of the time. I’ve never been tribal in politics and in different elections have voted for at least six different parties, including all the main ones.

Kenan Malik, ”What realignment in politics means”:

It is tempting to imagine, as the surge of support for the Liberal Democrats shows little sign of abating, that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in British politics, of the sort that took place in the early decades of the twentieth century or in the 1980s. A century ago, the Liberal Party, dominant for much of the nineteenth century, imploded and came eventually to be replaced in Britain’s two-party system by the Labour Party. In the eighties, Margaret Thatcher crushed the old Labour Party, from the rubble of which New Labour emerged.

On the surface, a similar form of realignment is taking place today. May 6 could mark the end of two-party politics and the arrival of the Liberal Democrats as a major player in a future dominated by hung parliaments and coalition governments. Yet, if realignment it is, it is of a different kind than that which took place in the past. Those two great reshapings of the twentieth century political landscape were expressions of significant ideological changes. The first saw the emergence of social democracy and the creation of the welfare state as an institution central both to British political life and to the nation’s self-image. The second marked the erosion of the ”postwar settlement”, the rise of neo-liberal economics, the disintegration of the left, and the growth of a more atomised society.

[. . .]

The end of tribal politics, in the sense of a blind attachment to a political party simply because of a historical tradition, is to be welcomed. But the detachment of parties from their moral and ideological anchors carries with it a two fold-danger. First, it opens the door to the politics of identity. From the BNP to the Christian Party to nationalists of various stripes, we can already see the emergence of such movements. And, second, as political parties replace their moral core with stuff of pragmatism, any hung parliament may become a forum not for political debate, but for struggles over special interests. The hope is for democratic renewal. Pork-barrel politics could be the reality.

D.J. Taylor, som skrivit en biografi över Orwell, har skrivit en artikel om det politiska språket: ”A campaign that Orwell would recognize”.

It is an axiom, that when a modern politician, or a modern politician’s amanuensis, sits down to address the people who are going to vote, the first casualty will be not truth, or even logic, but language.

[. . .]

Here are four specimens of English prose taken from a Liberal Democrat election newsletter that fell through the door in the third week in April:

”After coming to power ending seventeen years of disastrous Tory rule, things went well for a short time.”

”Thanks to Labour’s recession, ordinary hard-working families have already suffered cuts to vital services and tax rises.”

”A&E departments at hospitals are also picking up the pieces of binge-drinking to the detriment of others who need help.”

”But within years, Blair and Brown had taken our country to an illegal war.”

[. . .]

The net result of these concealments and evasions, a kind of terrible linguistic uncertainty common to all parties and political utterances, is not simply a desperate laziness of expression and an absence of striking phrases – all the heavy artillery that language uses – but a creeping awareness on the reader’s part that what he or she reads is merely a series of bleating noises. In ”Politics and the English Language”, Orwell concluded that political language ”is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.

Diskussionen på Crooked Timber, som jag tidigare refererat, fortsätter också. Den är fascinerande, och kommer bli väldigt relevant i Sverige också. Särskilt relevant givetvis för socialdemokraterna. Hur ska man lyckas behålla sina kärnväljare och samtidigt locka till sig storstadsvänstern? Ibland misstänker jag att det bästa för Sverige i stort vore om (s) höll kvar vid sin väljarbas (och inte överger landsbygden) och sedan, vid regeringsbildning, jämkar ihop sig med partierna som samlar bostadsrättsvänstern. Det finns för- och nackdelar, men scenariot med hundratusentals missnöjda folkhemssossar som känner sig övergivna är inte lockande. Om det blir för mycket genus, mångfald och kosmopolitisk moralism —oavsett dessa idéers förtjänster— så knuffar man folk i famnen på Sd. Jag tror det kan bli farligt om (s) blir alltför medelklassigt progressivt, och egentligen också om det blir alltför marknadsliberalt. Den politiska krönika om ”bigotgate” som jag länkade till i slutet av mitt förra inlägg, den avslutas på följande sätt:

I’m rather reminded of a passage from a Tony Blair conference speech that both set out New Labour’s credo, and captured its essential pathology. ”The character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition,” he said. ”Unforgiving of frailty. No respecter of past reputations. It has no custom and practice. It is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change.” That doesn’t describe Gillian Duffy, nor millions and millions of other people. And in this awful episode, here are the wages of that ever-festering disconnection.

(Det är i den här kontexten jag tror att man ska förstå idéströmningen red toryism: en kritik av både old labour samt de gemensamma dragen hos Thatcher/New Labour. ”The current political consensus is left-liberal in culture and right-liberal in economics. And this is precisely the wrong place to be”. Men vad nästa för Labour?)

Nu över till Crooked Timber:

I recently spent 18 months in England, and during that time I had the good fortune to spend quite a bit of time amongst the foreign casual worker community – mostly Japanese people working in restaurants part time while they studied English, but also other Australians and some Europeans – and I have to say they move in a world which the ordinary white, middle-class educated Briton neither understands nor comprehends. If the British left (or right, for that matter) saw the way British people behave towards the foreign worker community, and how hard it is to get any kind of a good break without really strong community and family ties, they would be considerably less interested in talking about “fair play” in British history and a lot more interested in calling ordinary Brits bigoted. They’d also be considerably less sympathetic to Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British workers” dog-whistling, and decidedly more critical of the immigration debate than they currently are. [CT #124]

Well, if people hadn’t been encouraged for decades to consider themselves to be the ‘clients’ of a welfare bureaucracy, simultaneously helpless and entitled to whatever the state deigned to give, they might feel less betrayed when that state appeared to be giving ‘their’ benefits to ‘others’ for no identifiable reason beyond spite and disdain.

Well-meaning [I charitably assume] politicians and bureaucrats have created a culture in which working-class communities can do nothing except feel resentment, because they have been stripped of agency while being repeatedly told that their relative poverty is the fault of bad people elsewhere. And being ordinary people, they are more inclined to identify ‘badness’ with visible difference and mutual incomprehensibility than with ‘class position’. [CT #126]

A fancy theory, [#126], which would work better if it didn’t fly in the face of any kind of cultural history of British racism (or, for that matter, the racism of the organised workers’ movement the world over until the 60s). [CT #127]

I think it’s important to note, in order to understand the full picture, that racism, and a particular kind of casual, unthinking racism, permeates every level of British society, not just (though it is evident there too) that of a Rochdale council estate.

To give you an example; on the night of this incident, I went drinking with a couple of friends of mine, who I’ve known my entire life. Young, middle-class twenty-somethings embarking on a career. I’d never really had occasion to talk to them about politics before, but the incident sparked a conversation about immigration and voting. One of my friends, a female primary-school teacher, revealed that she had voted for the BNP at the last election, for no clear reason that I could ascertain, except that she didn’t see them as racist. Which caused my other friend, a male aerospace engineer, to start explaining why he thought the BNP’s ‘voluntary repatriation’ programme is a good idea.

As you might imagine, the conversation left me profoundly depressed, and I have to say that it’s convinced me that there is a strong undercurrent of racism in British society at the moment, which is largely being held in check only by a rather vague idea that voting BNP ‘isn’t the done thing’ (neither of these two were planning on voting for them). [CT #135]

No [#126], you can’t waltz in claiming that the British working class have some post-welfare state fear of immigrants taking their jobs and ignore, for example, the fact that this “they’re taking our jobs” thing is as old as the history of British racism. Christ, this anti-Polish stuff was going on 100 years ago in East London, it’s not like it’s some novel idea that poor British people came up with in response to some actual facts on the ground, or anything. [CT #136]

Christ almighty, I thought the left was supposed to be in favour of the working class; you’re coming within half an inch of saying ‘fuck the racist bastards’. [CT #138]

When I lived in London and was constantly beset by these troubles [crime], my colleagues and my British friend would say the same thing as you – they don’t recognise the Britain I saw. I think this is partly because of the earlier experience I alluded to, that there is a different Britain for foreigners coming to Britain, who don’t have family connections to support them, and also partly because the British left have a remarkable unwillingness to discuss the issue of broken Britain. Interestingly, all the British people I met who had returned to Britain from Japan immediately noticed these problems, and were either desperately trying to return to Japan, or desperately trying to find ways to justify their decision not to.

Basically, if the British left refuse to talk about Broken Britain and consciously drop class from the issues they’re willing to discuss, they cede a huge amount of cultural ground to the racist right. And given that Britons have always been focussed on race, this is a recipe for disaster. [. . .]

I lived in Finsbury Park, which is a middlingly-good suburb by London standards (the guy whose house I went to look at in West Ham thought it was “quite posh”), but its crime rate is on a par with the most dangerous suburb in Australia (where I have also lived, btw). Its crime rate is probably 10 or 100 times greater than a bad area in Japan, like Saitama. People who live in these areas notice these things and begin to wonder if maybe something is wrong. When the British left responds to these questions with ridicule or claims that “you’re just unlucky,” people start to think that maybe the British left don’t know what they’re talking about.

Unless the left can come up with some defense of their claim that Britain isn’t broken, rather than getting sniffy, then Cameron and the people to his right will seize that ground. They’re talking a language that a lot of Britons, who i suspect are in much less comfortable positions than most people posting on this blog, understand. [CT #148 & 152]

The “people up the top” of Britain are far less racist than the people down the bottom of the class structure. Cultural, political and financial elites are all impeccably liberal in their public sentiments. The top people were the ones who organized the de-nationalisation of Britain: Commonwealth immigration, EU integration and multiculturalism. What ever the virtues of these processes they do not include bottom-up populist initiative and support.

Nor do British “up the top…people” indulge in race-baiting in any systemic, systematic or even episodic way. They are well-insulated from the social costs of high immigration/cultural diversity (slum-lord tenancies, sweat-shop labour, degree-mill unis, crowded public services, pockets of serious crime, religious fundamentalism, terrorism). And they lap up the management and enjoyment of diversity’s social benefits (cheap industrial labour, meek domestic help, exotic take-out, never-ending street festivals, high retail turnover, overseas conferences) with great gusto.

That is why “up-the-top people” express surprise and indignation whenever “down-the-bottom” people ever confront them with another take on cultural diversity. They can’t imagine why any one could oppose such unalloyed joys. In fact that disjunction of social experience sounds like a classic case of the divided “class culture” that you endlessly bang on about. “People at the bottom” do not need to be “tricked into not fixing it”. They are all to grimly aware of which end of the stick they are at, which is why they belly-ache about it constantly. [CT #153]

Comments [#148, 152] sound exactly like what I heard about from the workforce when I worked in a factory in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire. Some targeted, some random violence, drunken fights at the weekend, moans about the drug dealer up the street, and so on. Not to mention the (obviously somewhat biased) police blogs.

But me, as a nice middle class highly educated person doesn’t see all that because I take care to live in nice areas and avoid dodgy parts of town. Same with the politicians, who have police guards and chauffeurs, and all too many left wing types who live in nice leafy suburbia.

Now there is an element of chance involved, for example I know one or two people for whome everything goes wrong, one thing after another, they’re just at the bad end of the bell curve of random chance. But comments [#148, 152] fit with what I have seen and talked to people about since leaving university.

The simple fact is that new labour is not and has not been a party of the left. Of the centre, yes, wishing to balance some social goods with letting the rich get richer and siphoning a bit off them, but in no way can they be said to be acting left wing, especially on this topic. [CT #163]

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