Democracy in difficult times
A personal view by Jon O’Connor:
Please note that the views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of others in the local CLP; nor are they intended to represent the position of FHCLP
I like the term democratic deficit and I have used it more than a few times.
It suggests clearly there is something imperfect about a system and that there is a need to revisit this with an eye to core values and core purpose. In many ways, that seems to me to be inherent in all democratic activities: they demand regular scrutiny – and the best institutions welcome this.
This piece is written against the backdrop of the Labour Party conference, the resurfacing of some internal controversy and the consummate balance of the recent Forde Report, which looked carefully at the health (past and present) of the Labour Party. The indications are that we have yet to bottom out our differences and our ability to work together as a broad church or “community of the left”.
I believe that the call some years ago for “a kinder politics” was one which should still be heeded.
Democracy is in real trouble at the moment: the Tory attack on civil liberties is unprecedented.
On the Labour front, a highly disciplined delivery of message has at times led to the ruthless stifling of dissent – some would say also there is an unprecedented sense of control from the centre or the top. Is this also bordering on the undemocratic, in the deliberate drive to convince middle England?
However, the big picture – it has to be said – it that without question we need a Labour Government: one which will challenge and change the narrative of the Dirty Dozen Years: 12 years of cruel Conservatism, which have reached a new low with the appointment or annointment of Liz Truss and the barbaric budgeting of Kwarsi Kwarteng.
Does the first point matter? Yes. We should ensure we respect the Forde Report and what it suggests we still need to address, without flinching and as a matter of pride that this sets us apart from a Tory Party which excuses all manner of excesses and abuses of power. Because any party that claims the moral high ground must both demonstrate the highest standards of behaviour and the ability to learn from the forgiveness and reconciliation of examples such as Nelson Mandela’s Long March to Freedom.
If that sounds far-reached, we need to reach far, to reach out. We need an end to division in the interests of democracy; a true commitment to inclusion and ownership starts close to home.
The national psyche is currently polarised with a line that runs directly from apathy to anger.
Somewhere along that line lies the instinct for action and activism: neither of the far ends of the spectrum provide solutions for the social and economic crisis we are currently witnessing.
Far too many friends, Labour Party members included, are feeling depoliticised by despair, exasperated and exhausted – have given up on politicians and any hope of a future which offers hope.
Labour in 2022 needs not only to oppose this government, but to reach out and engage more gently with those who are disaffected and provide good arguments and offers of activism in practical political or community activism: supporting each other in dealing with the growing problems we face.
Careful policy positioning alone will not suffice: truly comradely behaviour is needed across the board. Practicality that includes and gives purpose is a crucial element of reuniting the party and the country.
There is a palpable relief which can be found and seen in community activism – which in turn leads to reflection on the priorities we identify with and ask our elected representatives to affirm on our behalf.
The issues and ideas that have surfaced in our own CLP are not by any means surprising – but we know that what they share in common is the opportunity for individuals to step up in communities to make a real difference at a challenging and potentially catastrophic time for all of us.
cost of living crisis; food poverty; housing insecurity;
access to transport; health inequalities and inefficiencies
economic and employment uncertainty
environment and quality of life degradation
Those who – like a local Labour Party member recently – candidly confess to feeling angry all the time and hating the sense of fomented frustration which that brings, need help too.
The caustic effect of hostility as a condition is damaging to well-being, health and to social cohesion. The evidence is clear on social media: the sleepless and restless reporting of national mood, which swings wildly and often aggressively strikes out at people on the same side in terms of core values.
With seconds we know what has happened, have an opinion, have an argument: perhaps this more than anything has coloured and polarised our contemporary political narrative.
I’m proud of our local CLP for generally standing firm on socialist principles: the need for social justice, for equalities, for workers’ rights, for international human rights obligations to be respected, for civil liberties, opportunity and inclusion and for an economy which provides everyone with sufficient means to live well and for a future generation to fulfil its potential.
Hence, the rough working version of a local Labour manifesto – ideas in development – have focused from the themes above on the simple twin pillars of “People and Planet“.
Unless we focus on human needs and environmental sustainability, we literally have no future.
Within this framework, we must work to counter the issues and problems we face and frame a positive narrative, showing leadership and the courage to set out the possibilities we see ahead of us:
Secure housing programmes; action to end food poverty
money management support; local economy stimulus
sustainable transport and environmental action planning
This week’s conference is already throwing up some surprises in terms of radical socialist actions – like the welcome proposal to nationalise the railways as a part of our national infrastructure.
The indication of a wider agenda which embraces public ownership and cooperative models is also very welcome. Today, Keir Starmer’s speech introduced the concept of a new national energy provider, which – if not the full nationalisation which many crave – is at least a version of ‘power to the people’.
So let’s work together to ensure that alongside the emergence of new hope that Labour could provide an alternative to the Tories there is also room for real debate, real discussion and real democracy in place of the top-down model which has often been the model favoured by Labour in 2022.
Let’s also try and ease back on the endless and aggressive invective flying around – especially between those with the ear of the leadership and claiming to represent Labour and those they happen to disagree with. It’s simply very alienating.
There are many who have clearly felt excluded by the message they hear – local Party members and foot soldiers who were stalwart campaigners and champions of Labour until recently.
The many who have experienced what remains at the present time a flawed disciplinary process and a flawed complaints process not only have their own political confidence destroyed, but their friends, associates across a wider spectrum of views are also affected and CLP capacity across the county is really struggling at a time when we are going to need a surge of political energy.
Democracy matters: it’s all about unleashing the power of the people, it’s not about a power struggle.