Britain

Tepee Time in London

April 16, 2015

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Tepee Time in London

Guardian journalist Zoe Williams is worried. “Is the left in Britain still alive and well?” she asks. Apparently, “no one quite knows where it has gone, or what it looks like.” There is, she fears, a cosmic imbalance - “Just when the right reaches its climax, where is its answering call? It’s like watching Romeo with no Juliet.” Eventually, she finds herself so exercised about the neo-fascist state we’re in that she sallies out in search of shy socialists and retiring redistributors. 

Williams’ first comfort-break is a wigwam in London, into which at least one representative of this modern left has gone. This modest person is Greenpeace political adviser Rosie Rogers, a pleasant-looking twenty-something with regrettable taste in knitwear. Rosie, Zoe tells us swiftly, “...doesn’t identify as left and she rejects the idea of anybody being more important than anybody else” - but she doesn’t mind being featured in Zoe’s article, and it is safe to assume she does not vote UKIP.

Rosie is a signer of petitions, and supporter of many groups, with cross-pollinating membership and names like Reclaim the Power, UK Uncut, UK Feminista and Focus E15. These act as safety-valves as well as levers of change. They are also social networks, all-involving, electrically-charged, at times even erotic -

“The right doesn’t do solidarity. And leftists cannot separate the personal from the political.”

“In these movements, we all shag each other, we all hang out. The only time I see my 12 closest friends is at meetings. We’re probably what the labour movement was like a long time ago, but this time it’s participatory, it’s consensus-based, it’s dynamic, it’s fun and it’s got baby change and fuck loads of hummus.”

The atmosphere in the tepee having perhaps become too yeasty, Zoe departs on the next stage of her journey. She finds herself attending excruciating pow-wows with trade unionists, post-crash economics ponderers, sociology professors, cultural commentators, ex-Labour advisers, Celtic conveners, Spanish eco-feminist organiser-artists, and a whole furniture warehouse worth of “Chairs.” 

Some of these groups’ aims seem nebulous even to the author, but she soon sees that simple socialising, getting theorists to meet activists, “swapping ideas and sharing victories” can eventually coalesce into mass movements. That is, if the people concerned are sufficiently imaginative, energetic, tactically flexible, and willing to work together. They must also start from the same basic premises, one of the most important of which is cogently expressed by one of her interviewees -

“There is absolutely no point in replacing the status quo of rich, white men with lots of other rich, white men who just think a bit differently.”

One suspects that even poor white men might not be sought after as leaders of the Brave New World. This would be disputed by Robin McAlpine of Common Weal, a group with a 17th-century-sounding name but 21st-century objectives, and a clever slogan, “All of us first.” Common Weal has been successful in changing the terms of Scottish political discourse. McAlpine notes that Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is 

“...trying to outflank the SNP on the left, while the SNP is trying to outflank him on the left. And I feel a little bit like a Bond villain, saying ‘victory is ours’. Because that’s all we wanted – the pricks fighting each other, saying: ‘Who’s further left?’”

The bolshie Blofeld does not mention, or maybe he has not noticed, that Conservative politicians play the same game. 

As well as presenting things more cleverly than the non-left, the left thinks about things more systematically. They start from false premises, raising cathedrals of logic on dubious foundations, but they are patient, and offer proposals while the non-left frets and moans.


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