Saturday, 24 May 2014

Where is the British left? Missing, presumed dead

A simple question: Where the hell is the British left?

As the European elections and local elections* see a huge success for the xenophobic UKIP, I'd love to know where the hell the British left - from centre to extreme - has disappeared to.

Labour should be tearing chunks out of this Conservative government - propped up the centre-left Liberal Democrats - which is committed to blaming the poor and sending millions into deepening poverty.

But no. Just like New Zealand and Australia**, they have left a period of power in a shambles, put up ineffectual leaders, and failed miserably at making political gains - at a time when the recession has ravaged the country and they should be making the case for supporting the sick and poor and disabled and unemployed, should be investing in public transport and affordable green energy, should be making the case for all these things.

We know that small parties do very well at local election and European elections (which are proportional, unlike the UK's joke of an electoral system). It's a chance for a protest vote, to stick it to the main parties, when turnout is low.

But why have UKIP succeeded and dominated the media for the last 6 months, while the smaller leftist parties are - well, what ARE they doing? I don't know what they're doing, which is kind of the point.

I had to find the Green Party's electoral campaign broadcast on Youtube. I had to look it up. I would be the first person to admit my Facebook feed is an ivory tower, a bubble, of privileged/leftist/green/progressive attitudes, because that's mostly the people I like. But I didn't see it once.

The British socialists said - no wait, who are the British socialists? I count myself a moderate socialist, and yet I don't even know the name of a British socialist party - of which there are many, because let's face it, the far-left is very good at infighting and squabbling over 19th-century economic philosophy while the free-market, xenophobic right marches on.

Why are UKIP doing so well as a protest vote against the main parties, against a background of the MPs expenses scandal - while the left parties are nowhere to be seen?

There is technically a thing you can call "the British left". Sure, Britain is naturally a conservative country. And sure, the vast majority of UK newspapers are either right-wing or far-right-wing: The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Financial Times, The Sun, The Spectator, The Economist, ITV.

But in theory, this is what I'd call the British left:

  • Labour Party - centre-left, major Parliamentary party
    Currently failing at creating solid policies and holding the Tories to account
  • Liberal Democrats - centre-left, minor Parliamentary party
    Currently propping up the Tories they should be holding to account
  • Green Party - left/green, tiny party (1 MP)
    Currently consist of Caroline Lucas MP being awesome, and, uh, not sure?
  • Respect Party - left/radical, tiny party (1 MP)
    Currently... nope not sure
  • Various socialist parties, including Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Party (England and Wales), Scottish Socialist Party, Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Workers Party, Liberal Party, the Communist Left Alliance (in Fife), and I guess perhaps the Pirate Party.
    Currently relegated to the last paragraph of "Non-Parliamentary political parties" on Wikipedia's "Politics of the United Kingdom" page -> Political Parties section. (Okay, that's not true - the following paragraph discusses single interest and local parties, such as the "Better Bedford Independent Party". I don't know if they're leftist.)
  • Trade unions - still a major contributor in finances and policy to the Labour Party and smaller leftist parties
  • The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror and the New Statesman, and Channel 4, representing 98.57% of left-leaning news in the UK.***
In a way, you could say a lot of British leftism is mixed into the fabric of daily life. Mainstream British public opinion supports public institutions like the BBC and the NHS. But this, quite simply, doesn't mean anything when it comes to action at the ballot box or even political policies.

One aspect of UKIP's success, alongside the BNP and the hideous military religio-fascist xenophobia of Britain First, is one of capturing the media's attention. They have been in the spotlight precisely because they have such awful, bigoted opinions, which are both notable on their own and notable because they seem to, for whatever reason, have caught the public's attention.

I'm sure my parents' generation remember the Labour Party tearing itself to shreds in the 80s, with the papers regularly talking about communists, Trotskyites, the militant tendency, support for the USSR and evil communist regimes, etc. etc. I bet some people are grateful we aren't watching that today.

I'm just saddened the British left are so insignificant, they're not even seen as a threat.

And you know what's really disturbing about UKIP and these elections?

Britain has watched UKIP's endless stream of misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia paraded around the media and on the internet, like a non-stop source of unprofessional clown-like hatred, and the British public have still said, yes, that's the party I want.

Maybe one of the reasons I don't know about (never mind support) any of these tiny British leftist parties is because I hate the petty infighting, personality clashes and reliance on outdated economics like Marxism/Leninism that comes with small leftist parties. I'd much rather support a Labour Party that was principled, credible, effective and electable.

I don't mind that these parties aren't in the media for all their faults like UKIP is.

I mind that there isn't a progressive, green, LGBT-friendly, inclusive leftist party cutting a path through British politics like UKIP is.

* Local elections are just for England and Northern Ireland, not Wales or Scotland.

** UK: Labour 1997-2010 - Tony Blair 97-07, Gordon Brown 07-10. Won 3 elections: 1997, 2001, 2005. Succeeded by coalition of Conservative Party (right) led by David Cameron and Liberal Democrats (centre-left) led by Nick Clegg (2010-present).

NZ: Labour 1999-2008, Helen Clark 99-08. Won 3 elections: 99, 2002, 2005. Succeeded by right-wing National Party led by John Key (2008-present).

Aus: Labor 2007-2013, Kevin Rudd 07-10, Julia Gillard 10-13, Kevin Rudd 13-13. Won 2 elections: 2007, 2010. Succeeded by right-wing Coalition (National Party + Liberal Party) led by Tony Abbott (2013-present).

*** The BBC don't count, since they are regularly criticised for being too right-wing and too left-wing. Personally I think that's a good sign that they are, generally, in the centre. But it also means they don't count as left.

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