Parties are not the answer

Friday, 15th November 2013 at 16:34 UTC 1 comment

This post is not intended to connect up with the Russell Brand discussion. Its an explanation of the strategy I’m pursuing with my involvement in the People’s Assembly as much as anything. It is largely born out of arguments with, and discussions about, people involved in the various ‘New Worker’s Parties’ like TUSC, Left Unity and so forth.

Barely a week goes by without someone demanding that I back an ‘electoral alternative’ to austerity. Sometimes, its almost as if I’ve overlooked some key piece of strategy that should be so very obvious. Yet there is basically no way that such a strategy can have any impact in the short term or the long term.

In the short term, we have the electoral system. Britain is a two-party state that offers the illusory possibility that a meaningful third party might exist. Yes, a regionalist party might stand a chance of breaking through, but for an anti-Austerity alternative, the chances are non-existent outside of the Green Party, who are as likely to lose Caroline Lucas as they are to gain a second seat. Any strategy that we adopt must assume that Britain is a two party state if it is to have any connection with reality.

I also have a problem with the idea that fencing off the anti-austerity votes before election day into a party, will do anything but remove the small incentive that Labour has to appeal to the anti-austerity crowd. All majorities are constructed, and Labour will do whatever it takes to construct the majority it needs to win. If Labour can’t construct that majority to include anti-austerity votes, what option does it have but to construct it from pro-austerity votes?

The strategy has further problems in that it creates and accentuates the very divisions it ought to be trying to overcome. People either ‘vote ‘for the alterative’, or they aren’t part of the movement. This guts the movement against austerity of all Green-voters, Labour-voters and non-voters. Nothing else so effectively aligns the interests of Anarchists and Labour members, but that’s hardly the point!

Finally, the entire strategy contains the terms of its own failure: namely, if people aren’t elected to office on a given date, it has failed. We need a movement that will last beyond the 2015 General Election if we are to create wide-scale change.

But there is a far more important set of questions to be asked. What is it we’re trying to achieve? Do we want power, in which case we must appeal to the electorate, or do we want to change society? Parties talk to their voter-base. We need to talk to everyone regardless of voting history or intention.

Add to this the fact that Parliament itself is far from all-powerful. Any government in Westminster must co-exist with multinational corporations and institutions, and not least, the City of London Corporation and Privy Council; both uniquely powerful entities that should have been removed years ago. We must influence far wider than just Westminster if we are to be effective. In fact, a lot of the debate about ‘electoral alternatives’ falls down on the failure to comprehend this point alone. Deluding ourselves that our democracy is bigger than it really is prevents us from tackling the cracks between corporations and government, as much as it weakens us in any other way.

Lets go back to the construction of majorities. First, creating an electoral appetite for change is very different to offering a manifesto in the way a party approaches an election. If Labour offered an anti-Austerity manifesto right now, it would be a suicide note for 2015. Until we’ve created a majority big enough to vote in an anti-austerity government, no such manifesto will be forthcoming. If at that point, an electoral alternative is presented, we will simply split the majority we have created.

Those who propose electoral alternatives are often looking for a short-cut to success. They want to wake up in May 2015 with their job done and dusted. I am not suggesting for one moment that we should elect a Labour government and expect them to get on with the job. Perhaps we should elect a Labour government by the scruff of the neck and demand they sort out the mess under the threat we make Britain ungovernable. Whatever happens, we will not dispatch our responsibility to create change any time soon.

Maybe it helps to think of the 2015 General Election as our chance to pick our opposition – do we want to oppose a Labour government or a Tory government? This is also part of why I don’t advocate signing up to the Labour party wholesale – we’re going to need to form the opposition no matter the outcome. Also, Labour is much less of a single cohesive body than many people seem to imagine. Furthermore, we ensure that whatever happens, we create a civil society capable of holding those in power to account. After all, that’s what we’ve been missing all along, isn’t it?

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Entry filed under: Activism, Britain, Elections, Participation, Party Politics, Politics.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jon  |  Friday, 15th November 2013 at 22:34 UTC

    “If Labour offered an anti-Austerity manifesto right now, it would be a suicide note for 2015.”

    Isn’t this because they have zero credibility after the Blair years? The problem that I’ve seen watching Question Time and so on recently is that the Labour representatives (meaning MP’s and activists alike) have a platform that is entirely divorced from what they do once in office. Does anybody friendly to left-wing policies actually believe them anymore? I would be a worried if they did. If they replaced their leadership that would be different, but isn’t Ed Miliband still their party leader, surrounded by other Blairites?

    Reply

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