Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Domain That Dare Not Speak Its Name (Progressive Coalition)

On 8 May 2015, the day after the 2015 UK general election, I registered a domain name:                     

I searched for it first, as one must, and I was shocked to find that it was not already registered. Despite the fact that "progressive coalition" seems to be an obvious idea around which to oppose the political right in Britain, and despite the fact that several parties in the UK had recently been trying to do just that, no-one had wanted the name.

I wasn't too badly shocked, of course: for the previous three weeks, at least, I had witnessed the playing out of a political narrative whose outcome was made more certain by the lack of cooperation among the parties of opposition, none of whom could hope for total power.

Opposition to the right is fragmented, in the sense that it can no longer be focused through twentieth-century leftist aspirations, especially if carrying them into action relies on class tribalism that is no longer widespread or binding in society. Although that seems obvious, some on the left still speak as if it were not. 

The British left has identified nothing as coherent as Marxism on which to found its twenty-first-century political project, although the list of issues requiring action is dauntingly impressive: the iniquitous effects of neoliberalism; global warming; the short-termism of almost all energy policy; global social instability exacerbated by zealotry, militarism and the arms trade; big pharma calling the shots in health care; self-interested commerce calling the shots almost everywhere; etc.

In Britain in 2015 the left has missed an opportunity to do anything about any of that by failing to engage imaginatively with the possibilities of progressive coalition.

It's been hard to reconcile a Labour Party willing to take brickbats when defending the intellectual integrity of its maligned leader, with one willing to talk only about the most orthodox political strategies during its election campaign. Although this was no doubt deemed the safe option, sticking to narrow party messages in 2015 played like a reactive retreat from the very intelligence supposed to be the leader's hallmark; supposedly his saving grace in the ridiculous popularity stakes.

Similarly, when the same leader refused to discuss coalition with democratically-mandated Scottish Nationalist (and other) MPs it looked as if he was in denial about the state of opposition to the right in Britain. It looked as if he was in the grip of a very old-fashioned desire for the kind of absolute power that many voters believed to be out of his reach, and beyond his competence.

In formulating the campaign tactics that produced these effects, someone probably thought they knew best. For them, I have some questions:

What if, from around 2011, the Labour Party had campaigned vigorously for a pooling of national resources dedicated to the creation of a new politics: a politics for a consumerist society bedevilled by short-termism, facing uncertainty on many fronts (social, environmental, economic, strategic, etc)? What if it had done this not primarily as a means of reinventing itself but as the co-ordinating agent of a progressive coalition? Would the outcome have been worse, for those who oppose the right, than the outcome of the 2015 election?

It's hard to say. But it's relatively easy to see that clinging mindlessly to the ideal of absolute power weakens the hand of any political agent who lacks the means to acquire it. More to the point, absolute power is a shibboleth in today's perversely connected world. Those with financial heft have moved on, reshaping their hold on power via trickle-up economies, where an interconnectedness amounting to the surveillance of every socially-visible citizen constrains each to his or her primary role as a revenue stream for the aggregators of wealth.

Thus are the 'casual right' changing society, without straining to acquire absolute power, without elaborating an ideology.

In this new world, a "Labour Party" may no longer be the point. I don't mean that the people in the UK Labour Party have no purpose, but that agonising about how to remain true to an identity formulated solely for twentieth-century realities might be a waste of energy.

So, as the UK Labour Party embarks on its second phase of self-analysis in a decade, I hope it does so with a more radical eye to the future than the last time around (2010). I hope it actively entertains the idea of playing a lead role in a progressive coalition. There are many potential partners, with interest and expertise in different areas of concern. They want only for a place in such a coalition to make their contribution to a progressive politics for a post-neoliberal Britain.

Ask not how all progressive politics can be "Labour", but how Labour can be of most use to progressive politics.

I'm open to suggestions about what to do with the domain name. Coincidentally (given the UK's Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011) I registered it for five years.

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