The only way is down: 18 notes on the UK election

So, good morning. I’m afraid it’s true: that nightmare you had, it wasn’t a dream. Let yourself feel the shock, the rawness of disappointment sharpened by sleep deprivation. If you ached for an end to five years of government by the rich, for the rich, then what you are feeling today is a blow to the soul. Stay with that for a while, before the pundits and the candidates in the coming leadership elections start to rationalise what just happened. There are other levels on which we need to make sense of this cruel result.

Labour is about to endure a tug of war between those who believe it needs to go leftwards and those who believe it needs to go rightwards. The truth is, neither of these directions will be much help. Right now, the only way is down.

What we have seen is a failure of politics, a failure of democracy at a cultural level, part of a larger story playing out across the struggling countries of the post-industrial west. For now, it may look like the Tories have won, but it is a fragile victory. If you want an image for the state of English politics today – Scotland is another story – then think of three cartoon characters who have run off a cliff. Two of them have just plummeted and flattened themselves into the ground, while the third is still hanging there, feet spinning in the air, oblivious to its situation.

The one cold comfort that Labour – and perhaps even the Lib Dems – could take from last night’s results is that events have forced them into a confrontation with reality, while the Tories will continue to govern on the basis of delusions, with ugly results, for a while longer, before gravity catches up with them. This could give the defeated parties a head start, but only if they are prepared to enter into a kind of soul-searching deeper than anything we have seen in British politics in a very long time.

For that to have a chance of happening, it will have to start somewhere else, somewhere beyond the party machines and the earnest, highly-educated, decent people at the centre of them, who are almost entirely unequipped for the journey to the political underworld which is now called for.

What follows are a set of notes that might help us get our bearings for this journey, some of which may turn out to be wildly off the mark. But I hope they are some use, this morning. Take care of each other. Give someone a hug today. Look out for the moment where you catch a stranger’s eyes and recognise the loss you have in common, a loss that goes deeper than the tally of seats. Grieve for the inadequacy of the ways in which we have tried to stand up to greed and fear and exploitation. But hold your disillusionment gently, don’t let it harden into damning conclusions about human nature. Get ready for a dark ride ahead. We are going to have to rethink politics on a level this election didn’t touch.

Everything is broken

1. Three tribes go their separate ways. About the only piece of commentary from the election campaign that felt truly prescient last night was Paul Mason’s analysis of the fragmentation of the UK into three distinct political geographies: a Scotland dreaming of a future as the warm south of Scandinavia, a south-east held up by asset wealth, and a post-industrial remainder of the union. There is no party that is now a major contender in all three parts of the country and their divergence means that there is no unified pattern of swing at a national level.

2. Labour talked to five million people, but it didn’t know how to listen. The sincere bewilderment of Labour figures as the exit poll turned out to be accurate says something about the failure of the “ground campaign” in which activists had five million doorstep conversations over the past four months. How do you talk to that many people and come away having misread the mood of the country this badly? Two easy answers will be given to this: Labour talked to the wrong people and/or people didn’t tell them the truth. There’s probably truth in both of these, but there’s a third reason that goes to the deeper levels of what just happened: the conversations they had on the doorsteps weren’t real conversations. We badly need new ways of having political conversations – and if we’re to start regrowing a democratic culture from below, it will start with finding ways to bring such conversations together.

3. The Lib Dems totally misunderstood their own voters. One of the most striking features of the night was the splintering of their vote in every direction: in some constituencies, it appeared to be dividing equally between Labour, Tory, UKIP and Green candidates. Some collective delusion convinced the Lib Dems that their MPs had earned the loyalty of local voters. It seems truer to see the party as having been a depository for vague dissatisfaction of a variety of flavours, whose raison d’etre disintegrated when they became an adjunct to the Tories.

4. People who are into politics just don’t get how puzzling and alienating it looks to the rest of the population. This is a broader version of the problem the Lib Dems had. Over the past week, I’ve worked with the #dontjustvote tour, a tiny playful art project making its way across the south of England on its way to Westminster, starting conversations about the election in all the places they stopped along the way. The stories they gathered along the way, snatches of which you can find on their Facebook and YouTube pages, brought home to me the sheer confusion, mistrust and disconnect with everyday reality which is most people’s experience of politics.

5. Social media is not delivering on its promises to change politics. There are lots of reasons for this, including that many of the promises were hype. But here’s one element in the mix. If you’re old enough to remember when Google was new, then think back to the first time you saw the Google search page: how long did it take before you got why it was good? Not much longer than a few keystrokes and a click. Then think back to the first time you saw Twitter: how long did it take you before you got why it was good? Probably months. Or maybe you’re still not convinced. The social technologies that have grown up over the past decade layer a depth of social and cultural subtlety on top of the technical platform in a way that wasn’t true for the information technologies of the internet in its earlier phases. This creates an under-recognised gap between the people who have invested the time to get initiated in the kind of active, engaged use of a tool like Twitter and people who don’t get it and aren’t likely to get it any time soon. So it’s not just the self-selecting echo chambers we create that make social media problematic, it’s also the unrepresentative section of the population who are actively present there and the detachment this fosters from the rest of the population.

6. Is it time to ditch the expensive American advisors? Hell yes! When I was a broke student, I spent my summers selling educational books door-to-door for a US company, first in the UK and then in California. Nothing prepared me for the difference in psychology between how Brits like to make “buying decisions” and how Americans do. Just because we share a common language, doesn’t mean American experts are well-placed to help British politicians.

A 200-year moment?

7. The unmaking of the English working class. The long trend underlying all of this is the unravelling of the social settlement that slowly emerged from the Industrial Revolution, from the destruction of pre-industrial ways of living to the emergence of the labour movement to the social democratic consensus of the mid-20th century. We have inherited political parties that belonged to a kind of society we no longer live in. As I rushed out the door yesterday morning, I found myself grabbing E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, a pre-history of the labour movement that covers the period between 1790 and 1830. The period we’re in has many resemblances to that. (If I were a cartoonist, I’d be tempted to draw Cameron as the Prince Regent…) None of the forms of left-wing politics that we’ve inherited are adapted to the times in which we find ourselves – and the process of regrowing a democratic culture is, I suspect, going to require a search for new and unexpected political forms that resembles the history that Thompson tells. The roots of the popular political movements that grew up in the 19th century were deeply entangled with grassroots self-education movements – and something equivalent to this is going to be needed in the years ahead.

8. The British media make a joke of democracy. A handful of tax-avoiding billionaires control the agenda of almost all the national papers which then indirectly controls the agenda of the broadcasters. The grip of a cynical and decadent establishment is another feature that’s reminiscent of the period Thompson describes – and the creation of new grassroots media was part of the process that led to the emergence of the labour movement.

9. Love him or hate him, Russell Brand might just be our William Cobbett… It’s neither a precise analogy nor an unambiguously positive one, but Cobbett found a voice that captured the popular imagination, speaking in dramatic language about the monstrousness of the times. He was also a fantastic egoist. “Cobbett’s favourite subject, indeed, was William Cobbett,” writes Thompson. “But… his egotism transcended itself to the point where the reader… is asked to look not at Cobbett, but with him.” (I don’t know whether Cobbett also swigged from over-sized bottles, but if he did they probably weren’t full of water.)

10. Brand provides a clue to the only kind of revolution that is still even conceivable. The week he went on Newsnight and predicted a revolution, I’d been in England, giving a lecture about “the failure of the future”, in which I suggested that one of the symptoms of this was the impossibility of taking seriously the idea of political revolution in the way that had still seemed possible in the 1960s. As the video went viral, I wondered if I was wrong. And then I remembered something Martin Shaw says, one of his mythic metaphors for making sense of the kinds of times in which we’re living: “This isn’t a hero time, this isn’t a goddess time, it’s a trickster time.” When people like John Berger (one of my heroes) were young, it was a real thing to believe in the heroic revolution that Marx had seemed to promise. Today, the only kind of revolution that is plausible is a foolish one, one where we accidentally stumble into another way of being human together, making a living and making life work. (And whatever that might look like, it doesn’t look like utopia.)

A journey to the underworld

11. This is not just a battle of ideas, it is a battle for the soul. Another thing that Brand is onto, in his inimitable way, is what he would call the “spiritual” nature of the revolution. Margaret Thatcher was explicit about how deep the project of neoliberalism went. Two years into her first term, she told the Sunday Times: “Economics is the method: the object is to change the soul.” The left has never taken this seriously, we have never even tried to contest neoliberalism on the territory of the soul. The people at the top of today’s Labour party, a few of whom I’ve crossed paths with over the years, are in no way equipped to operate in the territory of the soul – so it’s probably going to take the help of some of us who’ve been a long way outside the pale of politics-as-we-know-it, if we’re going to work out how to do this. But one of the wrong notes that Miliband hit in the past few weeks, for all his decency and awkward charm, was his repetition that this election was “a clash of ideas”. The political battle in which we are engaged is deeper than that, it’s a battle for the soul, and until the left feels that, I don’t think it will find its way to the kind of new politics we are going to need.

12. We need to be willing to go to some dark places. I had a public conversation last summer with Steve Wheeler in which he sketched out a set of thoughts about the need for a politics of “depth”. I must edit the recording and get it online, but the thrust of it was that the left has associated depth and the darker, less rational side of ourselves with the worst kind of politics. His argument – which parallels the one Zizek makes about Nazism in his Perverts’ Guide to Ideology – is that it’s a terrible mistake to cede the territory of the intuitive, the emotional, the unconscious, the irrational to the far right. It’s only by people of good will engaging with these sides of ourselves, at a cultural as well as an individual level, that we can prevent a political “return of the repressed”. We need to go there vigilantly, but we need to go there.

13. We need to understand the amount of fear in the equation. Miliband used to talk about the “squeezed middle”, but it turns out the Tories can still count on the worried middle. As I’ve said before, there aren’t enough people doing well in Britain to deliver a Tory majority, but there are enough people who are worried, who hope the brittle prosperity of the housing bubble will sustain their way of living a little longer, who hope that what happened to the poor, the young and the disabled over the last five years won’t happen to them. The puzzlement I see in the despairing posts of friends on Facebook over the past twelve hours comes, I think, from the difficulty we have in understanding this. Somehow, we need a space for conversations where people can speak honestly about their fears, their disillusionment, their lack of belief in the possibility of change for the better – without trying too hard, too quickly to convince them they are wrong. Presenting big ideas or retail policies is no substitute for this.

Regrowing a democratic culture from below

14. Democracy doesn’t end at the ballot box. The aftermath of the Scottish referendum proved this, wrong-footing the entire UK establishment. Below the surface, barely capable of being translated into election results (except in Scotland), there is an extraordinary welling of anger, disillusionment, disgust with the lot of them. I wouldn’t like to predict the circumstances in which this will take louder, more visible shape, but it was one of the running themes that emerged from the #dontjustvote tour. The Scottish precedent needs to be the inspiration for an ongoing grassroots process of democratic renewal.

15. This needs to start outside of politics as we know it. Politics today is broken in ways that go deeper than our political institutions or the people who inhabit them are able to reach. While the kind of regrowth of a democratic culture that I’m talking about is not non-partisan in some detached, objective way, it can’t be on behalf of any one party, either.

16. Build a movement that starts by being present in the place where you are and supporting the most vulnerable. Look at the role that the grassroots movements around Syriza have played in helping people to endure the hardships of austerity in Greece. That needs to be one of the models for whatever happens in Britain, as five more years of austerity are piled on the weakest. And for heaven’s sake, work with the churches (and the mosques, synagogues, gudwaras and temples) – whatever the rational differences many on the left may have with people of faith, the everyday engagement of religious communities puts most of us to shame. And the churches have shown more courage in criticising austerity than most of the Labour frontbench.

17. Another party is possible. The FPTP system may be a steep obstacle, but we live in strange times. Look at the polls in Spain. Look at the polls in Iceland, one of the few countries hit harder than the UK by the banking crisis – they are now in the third (or fourth?) act of some kind of political revolution, where a left outsider coalition gave way to a centre right government, but that government is now losing support as the Pirate Party lead the opinion polls. Strange times, really.

18. Come to Sweden (but lose your illusions). I’m writing these notes in Gothenburg Central station, about to rush off to the Congress of the “popular movement” that owns the national touring theatre for which I currently work. Since the exit polls came out last night, I’ve had a stream of people, with varying degrees of seriousness, asking me if they should move to Sweden. I wish I could help you fulfil your wishes, but there are far more similarities between the reality of politics today here and the British situation than you would like to believe. The work that needs to be done here is much the same as the work that needs to be done there – though, for now, the harshening grip of neoliberalism is better hidden here, and we have been spared the kind of austerity the UK has seen. But precisely because the work that needs doing is similar, maybe there are possibilities to host conversations here that bring together people from both countries who want to engage in this work. I’m certainly interested in helping to make that happen.

Alright, enough words. Be kind to each other. And be wary of the tendency to allow a situation to be defined by the oppositions present within it. This is going to be a time for redrawing the maps, a time when things we overlooked or undervalued may end up making all the difference.

46 thoughts on “The only way is down: 18 notes on the UK election”

  1. Thank you for these lucid and resonant thoughts…….they have helped drag me out of the pit I found myself in after last nights carnage when I felt there would be at least some kind of relief for the weakest in our society…..the neo-liberals really did manage to spook the masses in the middle….who as you say are going to be looking over their shoulder a lot once the dust has settled.

    I liked your comments about Sweden and agree that many folk here in England have a strange sense of life in Sweden as something that once maybe was and is not now.

    Thanks again

  2. Thank you. This is the most thoughtful and challenging yet consoling piece I’ve read today. You’ve helped me at least to hope that we can still recover a decent society even though it will be hard and sometimes painful getting there.

  3. Thanks for a profound and helpful – and healing ! – analysis. Point 16 is spot-on concerning faith communities and activism at grassroots. The churches are stirring now to campaign and promote local action on climate change. Secular Left movements need to make alliances with them. There is a lot to be learned on that front from the more thoughtful parts of ‘Blue Labour’ (see new collection on that movement ed by Adrian Pabst and Maurice Glasman).

  4. Dougald. I love your brain! Thank you for thinking hard, challenging me and simultaneously giving me hope.

    I have shared this post with political friends from all persuasions. And it resonates.

    Your points about the digitally dis-possessed are powerful: as are the remarks about the potential for groundswell movements as in Spain, Greece and Iceland.

    My beef with the UK Government is that as an overseas voter I cannot use a postal vote because there isn’t enough time for the post to get to me in New Zealand and back in the 10 days allowed.

    Frustratingly, Gov.uk has been paying to advertise onFacebook encouraging voter registration. The comments are telling. Most indicate frustration with the UK’s political classes as a reason for leaving.
    Again, thank you!

  5. Wise words – thanks – and YES to grassroots activity. And just a reminder that, for example, over a million people voted for the Green’s anti-austerity, anti-Trident and environmental agenda..So we need to remember that evolution across species may be slow but it is sure.

  6. Heartening to see your continuing deepening, while maintaining so strong a political awareness. I was surprised you did not mention anything of the Election’s avoidance of the big global issues – poverty, planetary limits, climate change. Perhaps in our present terror, we cannot lift our heads to see where we are heading: your image of the cliff.
    Thank you, Dougald.

  7. I also believe that we badly need new ways to have political conversations. Badly. One reason is your note 4, people who are into politics just don´t get it – they don´t understand how what they are saying is landing among people who are not into politics. Another reason is note 13 – a “safe space” to adress our fears and worries. There are many more of course.

    At the moment I think that new ways to have political conversations is most crucial – if we manage that in a good way we can work with the above problems, find new ways of being human together, take a part in the soul battle and think out side the political parties box.

    And yes, we have the same work to do in Sweden…

  8. A deeply thought out albeit rambling commentary on your view of the political landscape as it is post election.

    No amount of analysis of why the Guardian reading dinner party favourites didn’t win is going to help unfortunately, because the electorate have taken to heart and acted on the fact that they were deeply betrayed by Labour and the LibDems. Those proles eh? They were ignored by idealogy over common sense, Muslim and minority group pandering, open door immigration, broken promises, expense fiddling and the selling off of their beloved Royal Mail.

    They reacted, you don’t need to rethink politics, the Tories won in England and SNP won in Scotland. Labour will never recover from the huge disaster that was Gordon Brown, the LibDems have returned to what they have always been – the flies on the arse of Westminster, so please…………. move on.

  9. Sorry but this is nothing more than wisdom after the event. the truth is much simpler I’m afraid. Two academics from Goldsmiths College rated the manifestos of Tory, Lab, UKIP,LibDem & Green is terms of progressive and socially aware politics. The Greens were way out in front with their one issue (environmental sustainability) underpinning some bold and creative policies. But the British public doesn’t vote on the basis of policies an manifestos but on the basis self interest and personality. The bribe of ‘right to buy’ was bought Hol line and sinker. We don’t need a revolution, the Green Party (of which I’m not a member I might add) represent the best of labour and libdem and campaign on the basis of the single most important issue facing us all not only in the UK but the world, but people either don’t have ideals (only interests) or don’t vote for them (the stupidity and cheapness of ‘strategic voting’). We get the politicians we deserve! It was ever this ever since Socrates was made to drink the Hemlock. Also I think tere are too many people being too well paid for not doing real work nowadays; pollsters, consultants, political thinkers and analysts, salesmen (of which politicians nowadays are the chief kind). An green industrial revolution would change that, the survival of our planet and species is a great and really the only pertained that can change things, but I was castigated by my labour supporting family and friends for voting with my heart and conscience and voting Green. This is the reality. Electoral reform is obviously an issue but if people are prepared to cheapen democracy by voting strategically then serves them right. It was always obvious that the Labour Party was schizophrenic, torn between Blairite election winning strategy and idealism. In the end this is what sunk them. The sad thing is I fear that ‘ol awkward Ed was the lone idealist. Labour are already saying that he took the party too far left.

    1. I agree with most of what you say, Michael, and I’m a Green voter too – and a member. We do indeed have the best policies, and the social parts are as important as the environmental parts.

      And I agree that people often vote on the basis of what they perceive as self-interest, or even more worryingly on the basis of what they think of the leaders while ignoring the policies.

      But I’m determined not to give in to despair, and I don’t even think voting by self-interest and personality is the only way people vote.

      People who voted in the Cambridge City Council elections got the following result: 7 Labour, 5 LibDem, I Green, I Labour and Cooperative. Not a single Tory or UKIP or even independent.

      Could that be because those voters are intelligent and well-informed and have a broader perspective and understanding?

      If so then education is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities – as long as it’s education in the broadest sense, including soul as well as mind, as Dougald says.

      1. Hi Rowan,
        I’m not ready to give in to despair yet either. I think we first need electoral reform to give us PR. A lot of people I know voted strategically and although I criticised people voting on the basis of self interest, I was thinking more of Tory voters protecting their businesses rather than low to middle income voters struggling to survive, which is more understandable. Education of the soul is definitely where we need to look, and I will be attending the annual Ruskin lecture in London this week which will certainly touch these issues. But this is difficult territory. We muc remember that great men from Plato to Comfucius have wrestled with this and not succeeded because ultimately people can’t be forced to make the ‘right’ decisions. I know Cambridge reasonably well and I think that the economic situation of most people there along with an enviable geographical location (not really metropolitan) has as much to do with what you cite as anything else. Put the same people in Croydon and see how they vote! That’s not to disparage their commitment, but only to highlight the real difficulty facing society. Society is becoming more money oriented and selfish. I think university education is a major barometer. Now graduates are forced by the system to engage with universities to make it a dirty transaction of jumping through hoops for monetary gain rather than promotion of human progress through dispelling of ignorance. Cambridge is I think rather, cut off from ‘the real world’ I’m not sure souls are being educated there as much as brains.

  10. Good piece for reflection but you need to bring in our hook to consumerism which ties our hands for radical action so much of the time, as well as destroying the environment.

  11. A great essay with some intriguing insights, thank you.

    I don’t believe a new party is necessarily needed though to stimulate the kind of new politics you speak of. Assuming it survived the metaphoric cliff fall you alluded to, one of the established parties – if brave enough – could reboot its engagement at the grassroots level and build a new progressive agenda on the basis of real, two-way communication with those it seeks to serve. It would painful, involving a number of admissions, both of past mistakes and organisational / philosophical redundency that would need to be understood, dismantled and replaced. But it could be done, if the will was there. In the meantime though, work would have to continue, to protect the most vulnerable in our society, who will suffer first – and most – whilst the Tories are still in their cliffside freefall.

    I will be sharing your thoughts – and my response – with local Labour colleagues in the coming days. I think we could and should be doing this. No just because we need to evolve to stay relevant and survive, but because it needs to happen and we have the abity to make it so.

  12. While point 12 appears a vague and potentially ominous compared to the other paragraphs, the points in 2. and 13. resonate with particular significance. If just half the energy most politicians expend on the `playing´ of politics, be it jostling for position or just maintaining their posts (either of which merely elicit blanket party rhetoric of “big ideas or retail policies” which has led to broken politics in 15.), was directed toward actually looking to solve the problems that are most inappropriate for a developed country, they would at least be listenable to. They are sellers, not even of ideas any more, but of what they, or their spinners, think we want to hear, that will win a vote. This paradox, of having arrived in a position to change things while stuck in out-dated political methodologies (see 7.), renders them unable to engage in the kind of political conversation that might uncover some of the depths the author seeks, and seed their utter lack of credibilty (as underlined in 4.) with some integrity.
    As for how and where the sought after renewal of the culture of democracy might begin, and regarding how proprtionally few actually utilize religious centres, look to the one institution almost all citizens spend their formative years at. We heard last week how the education system already spends millions of unbudgeted funds on feeding, clothing and essential care of vulnerable pupils, simply beacause the educators can’t bare to see the deprivation and mess caused by present and recent governments’ continued bail-out of the financial `game´ players.
    That schools, so demonized by media and politics, demonstrate such values, while the concerns of the masses (who voted Tory, and who DID give them a majority) are bound up in securing and increasing their wedge (see 13.), highlights a potential for a shift in consciousness. Long villified for being the sorting house for preparing and maintaining the alpha, beta, gamma stratification of society, education already has the means with which to empower the populous with just such values – and with the information that will lead to reducing the necessity for schools to be the last stop social support office for the impoverished.

    inherent within this otherwise so demonized institution is in itself a glimmer of hope that all is not lost. It needs people with

  13. Margaret Thatcher may have said “Economics is the method: the object is to change the soul,” but the best in startup culture understood what that means, as it’s a key to success. Therefore one starting point for the Left would be to really take startup culture to heart. What’s their MVP?!

  14. The people most affected by the austerity measures of the last five years, and will be over the next five years, are the people least likely to use their vote. The daily struggle to make ends meet and look after themselves and their families leaves little energy to fight the establishment and why would they anyway, they can’t change anything, it’s a waste of time voting, what will be will be whatever party gets in! That’s what I hear every day from some of the strongest, most hardworking people I know.
    Religious communities, adult learning centres, neighbourhood groups, family centres and other local meeting places need to be utilised to encourage and support people to become engaged in the political process.
    There are five years for the political parties to reach out to people who, with all the strength and tenacity they’ve shown to get through the last five years, can make the next election a fairer and more inclusive process.

    1. Yes!

      Only if people involved in political parties are also involved in the kind of local meeting places you talk about, and doing our share of the hard work where it’s needed, will we persuade people that it’s worth voting and getting involved in politics in other ways, like signing petitions, writing to MPs, going to MP surgeries, and so on.

  15. This is Neo-Marxist gobbledygook. The Left is in decline because its policies have proved ruinous and are patently unsustainable. How many trials and failures do you need? How much evidence do you need that freedom and prosperity are brothers. Where capitalism is in ascendancy, poverty is in rapid decline. Where the left maintains a death grip, freedom and prosperity and community and compassion are dying, displaced by despair or rage or both.

    You imagine that your greed is different than the greed of the enemy; it is the same greed but robbed of humility, conscience and charity, leaving only violence. You hope for a revolution even though you are in charge–it is your policies which have caused the human experience to devolve into a soulless angry greedy whiny victimhood festival. When Scotland gains its “independence” and goes the way of Greece, will you begin to recognize the futility of trying to live off the product of someone else’s enterprise? Of redistributing a wealth that wouldn’t exist under your preferred regime? That is the fatal conceit–imagining you can design a system that produces the result you imagine you want. It has never been possible and it will never be possible. Who can design it?

    The soul you imagine you plumb the depths of is only a desperate emptiness because you are determined to deny God in favor of spiritual materialism or historicism or Gaia worship. Nazism is not far right — Nazism is socialism: Leftism’s apotheosis, like Maoism, Leninism, Jacobinism, just a slight variation on a theme. Leftism is despotism posing as compassion or ‘social justice’ or ‘sustainability’ or being for the working man. So when there is a glimmer of hope, when the working man sees a chance at earned prosperity, no matter how modest, the Left loses and freedom takes back a sliver of the ground.

    Miliband is right–it is a battle of ideas. The victims of any revolution would not be only the wealthy but the middle class whose labor is compensated by capital and the unfortunate and unable whose only hope is capital guided by charity. Artists and players depend on the patronage of capital. Where will you be when the wealthy are no longer there to pay your wages?

    1. This is an odd comment. It falls somewhere between troll and maxim 302: “If your critique can be applied to your own commentary, it’s probably complete crap”.

      I understand there are people who think this is a battle. But in all seriousness, we need to get past this kind of tribalism. It sticks out like a sore shoulder with a bag of chips on it.

    2. I don’t recognize your criticisms of the article as having much relation to do what Dougald actually said.

      For example, where do you get any evidence from what Dougald said that he’s ‘determined to deny God’?

      Of course freedom and prosperity go together. But capitalism isn’t about freedom for everybody, only freedom for the people with the capital, the people who own the land and buildings and infrastructure and shares. The rest of us don’t have the same freedom.

      It’s not most of us who ‘live off the products of someone else’s enterprise’ – that’s what capitalists do!

      The wealthy can only pay the wages of other people because their wealth has come from the natural resources they own combined with the work of the poorer people!

      Perhaps this is where the difference of opinion comes from. (I’m trying to understand the intellectual difference, at least. I don’t think I can even begin to understand the extreme anger that’s in your post as well.) Do you believe that rich people have created their own wealth? This is the opposite of all the evidence I’ve ever seen.

      True wealth is natural resources and work that turns those resources into beautiful and useful things and services. So we need a society that encourages those things. The last five years have shrunk that real wealth. Millions of people have been unable to get any paid work at all or have had to do paid jobs that aren’t doing anything useful and aren’t using their talents. That’s an inefficient waste of human potential that damages people’s souls.

      What I really don’t understand is why you say we can’t design something that produces the result we want. So why are you criticizing people who try? Of course there are always unedpected consequences, but do you really believe instead we should do absolutely nothing to try to make life better?

  16. @Jim
    I’m going to put as much thought into my reply to you as you put into your original comment. I’m going to express it in fewer words. Bollocks.

    There. I feel better now.

    On one specific point, you say, “Where capitalism is in ascendancy, poverty is in rapid decline.”
    Please give some details. Don’t worry about the definition of poverty. That’s a tactic people use to avoid engaging with the argument. Just give examples.

  17. well meaning, i think, but incoherent notes scattered, and let’s give attention to people not already stars like mr brand, as well meaning as he is, why echo, add

  18. What you say about this being about soul as much as ideas and knowledge is spot on, I think. And about working together, whatever our political party, and with people who aren’t in any political party but are doing real good stuff, including religious people.

    But the grassroots educational stuff is also crucial. We’re likely to see attacks on the very people and organisations who can help people learn now: public libraries, the BBC, independently thinking teachers, universities teaching any subjects that aren’t about making profits, adult education.

    I like the idea of us getting out in things like your street tours, workshops at festivals, and so on, with organisations like Positive Money, the Equality Trust and the people campaigning against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

    It’s right to point out what this government is doing that’s wrong, but even more perhaps we need to share positive visions of what life could be like, and ask people what their positive visions of the future would be.

  19. While we fret about Cameron’s heartlessness and our own impotence, we forget that we possess enormous powers: the power to change the world, simply by thinking about it differently.

    There is a zen-like process that gives us huge potential for change. It is the understanding that the world we look out at is not the real world. It is a world that we create, from moment to moment in our own heads. It is a world of experience and that experience is filtered through our sensory apparatus and represented via a series of filters: our sexual orientation, our economic status, our health and well-being, our family values, our empathy or lack of it. So what we see as the world is a creation, a mirage, a chimera.

    Think about it. Ask a friend who is depressed about the day, and they may well tell you about all the bad things that happened to them and about the consummate evil that is out there. Another friend, another perception: things are good, life is full of opportunity, rainbows are just around every corner. It’s the same day, just experienced in a very different way.

    It comes down to the way information is represented. But information can also be re-presented. If it’s re-presented in a different way, and filtered using alternative processing, then the world, to us, changes dramatically. The final result gives us a picture of our universe which can vary markedly from any previous mis/conception.

    We can choose to live in a world of heartless bankers; a world in which we are denied choice and exploited because of our weakness. Or we can live in a world in which people care about their neighbours, fight for the good of their local communities, combine in ways which empower them creatively, raise caring and compassionate children and celebrate life with joy and abandon.

    It’s not that one ‘reality’ exists and the other does not. We know that heartless bankers exist in the same way that we know good neighbours exist. It is what we focus on that determines the world in which we live. That knowledge enables us to transcend party-political boundaries as well as the cultural mores, fables and narratives that have tied us into one particular reality.Once we realise that, the fightback has already begun.

  20. a Scotland dreaming of a future as the warm south of Scandinavia

    Do you really think that the Scots would put up with the Scandinavian levels of taxation which are required for such a state? I don’t.

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