2016 has seen two huge events that’s handed the extreme right unprecedented power in the US and UK in Donald Trump’s election in America and Brexit. The left is all over the place for a number of reasons, and the so-called centrists don’t realise that carry on doing exactly the same thing that they’ve been doing since the 1990’s is only going to hand election after election to Tories or people like Trump. See for example John McTernan wittering on trying to convince people that what’s failed the very people who would vote for Brexit or Trump is a good idea still.
I have no idea of all the answers but there’s some things the left need to do to fight against what’s coming, including first of all realising we’re now in a fight and that may well mean getting your hands dirty in street protests and direct action. Tweeting hashtags and signing petitions within your own online echo chamber will change, or stop, nothing.
This article by Cat Boyd over at Bella Caledonia is superb even though I don’t 100% agree with it but it does contain a crucial snippet.
Or take the left’s biggest challenge, both in Scotland and the US: immigration and its alleged threat to jobs and services. Our big problem here is to make sure we don’t end up looking like smug liberals who refuse to tell it like it is. Some people responded to the Brexit vote by demonising everyone in Northern England as a thicko who blamed their failures in life on immigrants. I just can’t agree with that picture. Northern England not so long ago was a hotbed of radical trade unionism and leftist ideology. That region has been an ally of progress for most of history.
The same arguments about the ‘rustbelt’ in the States is clogging up my social media feed today.
Faced with the anti-globalisation right, we’re often left defending free trade. I think we should be honest about this. Free trade has failed working class communities. It’s been a disaster. Living standards haven’t moved for decades. It’s terrible that people have been manipulated into blaming immigrants for the problem. But open, cross-border trade has ruined many communities, and desperate people are open to manipulation. Trump is a master of that manipulation. We have to be the people to link this problem to capitalism, because that’s the root of the problem.
Trump and Brexit was a rejection of globalisation. To be exact, the way globalisation has hurt the industrial heartlands in the US and UK. Middle class liberals and lefties haven’t been bothered with this, because centrism (which sidelined these communities which were formerly left wing) didn’t bother with them. For centrism (read globalised liberal capitalists) to work, it needs an underclass to continuously promise ‘that things will be better if you vote for us’ to, but at the same time the centrists/liberal left have no intention of making things better for people.
In effect, they’ve just managed expectations. They’ve given no vision. What was Clinton’s vision? ‘I’m the best qualified person for the job’? Yeah, and? People are electing a leader, not a manager. I object to Trump with every inch of me but if I was a industrial worker in the Rust Belt looking at a distant Clinton, I’d look at Trump as an option just to say ‘fuck you’ to people like Clinton. Of course I wouldn’t. The racism, bigotry and hatred would preclude me for voting for him but I’d also struggle with voting for Clinton and here’s one of the things that lost her the election; she didn’t get the leftish vote out in enough numbers.
But liberal/left commentators who perpetually think themselves right preached at the electorate without actually listening to them let alone get their hands dirty by going to meet them face-to-face. Here’s a wee story; I offered to help chap doors for the Greens last year. I said we should go knock doors on a fairly rough, but solid working class area of Bristol. The others didn’t want to do that. ‘Not worth it’. These people were written off, described as ‘chavs’ so potential votes were lost to other parties or just lost, and here’s what seems to have been one of the many things to hurt Clinton. She didn’t have anything to say to these people so they decided to either vote Trump or not to vote at all.
The right, especially the alt-right speaks to people often who’ve never been spoken to before. They present themselves as saviours, yet in many cases these people are the same people who support or caused the problems of the working class in the first place but if you don’t have candidates you think will change things and that you can trust, then it’ll be either voter apathy or another Trump. Unless there’s a leftish argument to replace the centrist one as happened in Scotland with the rise of the SNP who for their flaws, present a leftish vision to the working class Labour left behind and took for granted, then the left is stuck arguing about safe spaces or middle class identity politics. At some point the left in the US (and whatever remains of the UK after Brexit) need to square up to the right and present their vision for all, not just a few. They need to present candidates who aren’t just being picked because it’s their turn, but that offer change and can be trusted by enough people. They need to fight for leftish values and not sell them short just to grab power as after all, we’ve not seen Trump diverge from his hard to far right views and it’s won him an election.
There has to be a line in the sand and it should be drawn now, with Trump. Yet it won’t. They’ll be endless whiny articles in the Guardian or Independent that miss the point, that if we don’t find a solution on the left that speaks to as many people as possible while being as workable as possible, while sticking to decent empathetic values then we’re in for a period of fascism. It’ll be hard, it can be done but it’ll involve listening to people, getting your hands dirty and ensuring that a better world is for all, not just the people who vote for you.