A few years ago I wrote a fairly angry piece about fellow Lefties who celebrated Thatcher’s death.
I find myself drifting back in that direction again. You see, as a ranty, strident Lefty, you would think all of my ire would be saved for those on the other ‘side.’ You’d be wrong. My biggest problems tend to be with the left. Because ‘we’ claim to be on moral high grounds, we claim to be righteous and progressive, but we seem to abandon our principles whenever it suits us.
Let’s forget Left and Right for a moment. These labels are largely theatre. They’re distractions from the real issues, and badges that people can wear to feel like they belong in a group. I see other key divisions as the issues that really matter in modern politics.
-Inclusion VS. Exclusion.
-Honesty VS. Corruption.
-Equality VS. Exploitation.
-Poverty VS. Shared Wealth.
I want to live in a world that tackles each of these issues. And I still believe that it’s a left-leaning world view that gives the best answers. It’s on the left that we have convincing measures for tackling poverty, it’s on the left that we argue for legislation to help spread equality. It’s on the left that we point out corruption, hypocrisy and exclusion…..as long as it’s being done by the other side.
I’ve come to think that the single-most defining division I see in how we approach politics, is over whether the means justify the ends. There are a great many people, of all political persuasions, who feel that all of the means are negotiable on the way to achieving ends. I don’t get frustrated when I see this in people on the right, because they’re pretty honest about their views. I disagree with almost everything they say, but I know where they stand. On the left? Not so much.
People on the left will likely disagree with some of the items on my list. They may draw a different one, or phrase things differently. All of that is fine, of course. I value a version of the left that is an open, ongoing debate, where we don’t have to pretend to be one homogenous unit. But what’s more troubling to me, is the idea that, whatever the list, it’s made up of things for us to fix in future, when we get to the ends that we’re looking for.
The means are everything. The means are where we live. They are how we treat people in the here and now. Sure, we can talk about trying to create equality in future, but we’re full of shit if we allow that to blind us to people being discriminated against along the way. We can talk about how we can fix corruption once we get into power, but that’s blind to the very nature of corruption, and the deals we make along the way.
We pick and choose when to care about things, and that constantly drives me away from my own “side.”
We have a left that still wants to talk about Bill Clinton as progressive, and chooses to ignore the voices of Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Kathleen Willey. We have a left that will step aside and let Tony Blair into office, for the sake of power, and then years later lay all of the blame elsewhere and pretend none of us were complicit. We have a left that seems to have unanimously agreed that having a genuine lefty in charge of the Labour party is good enough reason to completely ignore his associations with Holocaust deniers and Anti-Semites (look, to even trot out the idea that he didn’t know means we have to go from thinking he’s happy to stand with Anti-Semites to, instead, thinking he’s an idiot.) We have a Scottish left, increasingly again over the past year, who are willing to look past Tommy Sheridan’s record of misogyny, lying and manipulation, because he wants one of the same things as the rest of us.
For the sake of getting one thing that we want, we will collectively sweep aside all of the other issues, because we’re happy to turn blind eyes, and because we value the ends above the means.
There’s a regular complaint amongst the left that we have a history of fracturing. That we should just be willing to stand together. I was raised with the same view. It’s such a persuasive idea, that it can be very hard to see through it to the rotten core at the heart of the argument.
Firstly, who is to say that we should all be one thing? That’s a very old-school, tribal view, where there are only two groups in politics, and those of us on the left should all agree to unite, no matter our differences, against the other side. There’s something else buried in there, too. When you hear someone say, “the left should learn to stick together,” take a few seconds to imagine it as, “the left would be better if everyone did things the way I want.” The third problem, the darkest one, comes when the sentiment is used to say people should be willing to overlook some of the nasty behaviour of our ‘own’ people, just because they know the words to the red flag or can give a good speech about social justice.
People who criticised Clinton were (and still are, now that there is a different Clinton in the news cycle) accused of splitting the left. People who complained about the earliest signs of Blairism were accused of splitting the left. People who pointed out the truth about Sheridan were accused of splitting the left. Now, those of us who like to point out the problems with Corbyn are….yes…accused of splitting the left.
How about we start to look at how the bad behaviour of those individuals is what splits the left?
Before the Independence Referendum, I had drifted away from politics. I was so disillusioned with my own ‘side’ that I wanted no part of the process. That point was rammed home when, walking home through Glasgow Green on the night Thatcher died, I saw people letting off fireworks and singing celebratory songs. Because, you know, if we stand for anything on the left, it’s celebrating the death of a human being. I was pulled back into the process by the inclusive heart of the YES camp.
Teenagers were encouraged to get involved and have opinions. Groups like Radical Independence and Generation Yes were reaching out to areas like Easterhouse, to streets and people who hadn’t seen a politician in thirty years. Women for Independence were fighting to be heard, and succeeding. The Greens were, you know, doing that middle class thing that Greens do. For the first time in my life, I was seeing a movement that was genuinely inclusive. They went to lengths to make sure people who weren’t born in Scotland felt at home in the conversation (the only thing needed to qualify for a vote, was to live in Scotland. Regardless of where you came from. As opposed to the upcoming EU referendum, which is being restricted to people with UK nationality, home and abroad. That’s dirty nationalism, surely?) More importantly, it was a group that was willing to argue back against the involvement of bigots. The one stain I could see was Brian Souttar, who had ties to the SNP, but even he was being called out for his behaviour by the very many other groups making up the campaign. Tommy Sheridan was told he was unwelcome in no uncertain terms.
Finally, I felt like I had a home again, politically.
A year later? I’m drifting away again.
I’m accused of undermining the left for not wanting to support a man who shares platforms with holocaust deniers. My position is starting to seem like being a member of some extreme fringe group. And, while most of the people who were actually involved in the YES campaign are going about the business of trying to make people’s lives better -activists, politicians, artists, going out raising money, doing politics, working with the homeless and the vulnerable- Tommy Sheridan is striding in to fill the apparent void that people see, for a referendum campaign in the absence of a referendum, and he’s starting to gain traction and support again. Coincidentally, there’s a Holyrood election coming up, and he wants to increase the profile of his Monster Raving Liar Party.
Over and over again, we overlook abuses and bigotry in the present, in the name of claiming to care about those same issues for the future.
And I’m getting pretty close to being done with it.