What my time at an elite university taught me

When I first came to Durham University, there were three questions that dominated fresher conversations, in a universal, desperate attempt to ease the awkwardness:

  1. What did you do for A Levels?
  2. What are you studying?
  3. Where did you go to school?

The first two were standard fare, but the last? It was like seeing a question you didn’t know the answer to in an exam. A deer caught in headlights. Looking around the room to see if anyone else was stuck. No, no one is. Shit. It took me aback because I was surprised it was even being asked. What do you mean? How would knowing I went to Rush Croft School just off the North Circular help this conversation? I quickly got the hang of it: it was a way of gauging networks, hoping that they would know a friend of a friend of a friend. Because the school was supposed to be, invariably, one they had heard of, prestigious and of their circle.

It was at that moment I should have known Durham University would be an incredible culture shock. In the next three years, I had various conversations with peers about their time at boarding school, I would learn the names of The Perse school or Wimbledon School. I would learn dropping ‘t’s wasn’t a thing other people did. Even little things, like teaching others slang. Seeing pictures on Facebook of extended families in huge houses. I would even have to fight for the university’s grant not to be taken away from ‘poorer’ kids, the definition of ‘poor’ in such a circumstance extending to kids from households with the nationally median income of £23k.

The privilege of these types of Universities is as true as the fables you read. The matriculation where they swear you in with Latin. The damn formals with their damn traditions, like f*cking spooning. That means you have to hit your spoon on the table in a pattern then like, the head or president or whoever the shit changes the pattern. During this formal, if you go toilet, you’re literally fined. Drinking in a bloody castle. Getting drunk in a way only Rugby lads with their suppressed familial issues borne from a decade of boarding school can teach you. The bloody lad culture borne from boarding school misogyny. The weird cultishness emanating from this ridiculous collegiate system. The merchandise with the stupid crests. Of which I, actually, am wearing right now. The homogeneity of The Accent. Even the f*cking beautiful architecture makes me angry. At first these were novelties, but at this point I’m happily, ostentatiously, po-faced and moany about it all.

These universities feel like bubbles that exist so wealthy public school dudes don’t have to leave the nest and see the nasty, nasty world outside the greens of the village. It does, it really does drive me up the bloody wall. I will message friends about the rich-kid-of-the-day. I have moments, despite what I am about to write -and in fact these ingrained prejudices make this blog post innately and humanly contradictory-, where I find myself despising a lot of the people I live in this city with. I probably will dislike a lot of them regardless of what the message of this blog is. I don’t intend to be friends with everyone here, because while others are nice, many are made ignorant by and about their backgrounds in a way that is often impenetrable and defensive. Many may get offended at a blog post that is inherently about an institutionalised problem. That is their problem. I find inherited privilege to be an incredibly immoral and awful thing in and of itself, and I always will. Durham has affirmed that for me more powerfully in three years than living in East London did to me in seventeen.

I knew this world existed, but I never thought I’d collide with it. It’s not necessarily a hindrance, it doesn’t stop me having fun or rising up ranks or succeeding, though I’ve never quite got used to it. It is, and will remain, a source of grievance and shock and outrage and something I want to change.

Far from being an obstacle, I saw it as something to challenge. Not challenge by way of fighting my peers, dueling in a nightclub, competing with them for better grades. On the contrary, the network of friends I have now is diverse. Rather, the institutional privilege I encountered became a driver for me as an activist. More than the injustices I had seen and experienced at home, it was the lack of injustice in this cosy town that got me off my ass and empowered me to get involved in politics. And so I did. I, in essence, became radicalised. I forced myself to be empowered to fight power. Seemingly immovable power. I wanted to take on the world.

But, then, these years were punctuated, quite literally down the middle, with the general election. I was on the  campaign trial with friends, I had found a home with Labourites, a sort of sanctuary amid the clash of civilisations. I hit the ground running, fueled by the outrage whizzing through my head that my peers had the world at their fingertips just because their parents’ had it at theirs. Nothing could surely beat us on our quest to destroy this rotten system. Bloody hell, I remember walking through campus after a good poll and gleaming to myself. Everything would change, suckers.

And then that exit poll.

The radicalisation that had been building up came crashing down in a sudden and awful moment of realisation. The realisation that those in the general public, oh so different from the bubble I had populated for the past two years, were not as angry at my perceived injustices as I was. I learnt that, actually, there would be people like me, outside of Durham, that don’t compare themselves to private-schooled kids as I did now. Just as I wouldn’t have had I not attended Durham. The very privilege of attending Durham had afforded me an insight into a world that was simply incomparable to many ordinary people. So they wouldn’t compare at all. As I had written for this blog on my changing views on what it means to be radical; people compare themselves to neighbours, not to bosses. It just so happened, for two years, my neighbours had been rich. Any sort of radicalism I wanted to put to others would have to be based in the world they knew.

So my formation was punctuated, firstly, by my conflict with privilege, but then by May 2015, and the realisation that outrage at inequality itself- that pet peeve that had became all my own and so integral to who I was, nay, am- was not enough to build a convincing case to make change in the world. The realisation of the first gave me the will to change things, and the second gave me the sense of powerlessness that that ‘will’ meant nothing. How do we tackle inequality in a world where two different worlds simply don’t know nor care for the other?

But then, each step has been a learning curve. My bubble had to burst, my sense of injustice had to be challenged; both by intelligent and kind peers I would otherwise be prejudiced against; and less happily by an election that proved not everyone is as outraged as I am about the issues I care about.

That doesn’t mean I am still not outraged. I am very restless to hop aboard that train, for the last time, and leave Durham without looking back. For all the magic, and all the drunken escapades and the things I have learnt, I am very willing to leave it all behind me and get on with the rest of my life back in my modest home that I now realise I took for granted. I have still yet to grow accustomed to someone nonchalantly dropping into conversation that they attended Harrow. I have still yet to grow accustomed to wealth, to grandeur. I don’t want to get used to it.

The concept of private school still makes me upset and angry. I am very excited to leave to go back home so I can be just a little bit bitchy with old mates about the issue. A lot of them feel the same way. The thought of all the kids that could not attend Durham or Exeter or Oxford because they did not have the same resources makes me seethe with anger. Now, it still is on the verge of driving me absolutely nuts. Just the other day, I heard, and rubbed my temple at, a student professing his hatred of the ‘socialist r*tards’ that had went after Cameron over the Panama papers because they were merely jealous of his inheritance. Like, OH MY GOD. I messaged my friend, “I want to get out of here.”

But the difference now is that I want to challenge him instead of writing him off as evil. That I want to debate him into the ground. Ruthlessly, but…constructively, I guess. I would never be friends with him, I doubt, and I’d want to destroy his ideas. But I’d first have to actually engage and debate.

Just as I had never met anyone like him before, it’s likely he had never met anyone like me. It was his world versus mine. And I would now happily challenge it, probably, probably, without punching him in the face. And I’d hope it would get better results. I might not – as I said, there is impenetrable ignorance here- but I also might. An example of this is that my flatmates this year, heralding from different backgrounds to mine, have heard me recite (by the way, tragic-sounding but not meant to be) tales of why I am the way I am, and their perspectives have changed, just as mine have changed in response to their own tales. Listening, and being listened to, is far more powerful and convincing than deciding someone is wrong and bad and beyond the pale. (And, I don’t know, going after non-voters instead.)

I have matured, and I have learnt there is no point in outrage without being constructive with it. Durham bursting my bubble and exposing me to privilege was formative and necessary, I see now, but so was growing up and learning to deal with it, not seeing it as an obstacle but a challenge, and knowing that overcoming that challenge is more than moaning to confidants but rather putting it into something useful. Which is why I stood for SU president, and lost, with no regrets. Which is why I became Co-Chair of the Labour Club almost immediately after the election. Which is why I’ve chucked myself into various, reckless campaigns. Which is why I will continue to do so. Which is why I write. Which is why I am very excited to be joining a social mobility charity after graduation. If what I have got out of all of this is the necessary and pragmatic will to improve social mobility and to put my case for social mobility to whatever world I inhabit, to make sure there are new inhabitants that jump between worlds, then that is good enough for now. As the two worlds of Britain grow further apart, having the confidence to jump between both, just as I did at Durham, and make this case and also ensure others jump with me, is imperative. Even if that world is scary and out of your comfort zone. Challenge it and let it challenge you. And maybe, just maybe, those worlds will grow closer together again.

So I’ve learnt three things at my time at an elite university: I am angry at institutional privilege and it drives me; but it doesn’t drive everyone; and that my righteous mind would have to adapt to see the change I want to see. It has made me both a radical in outlook but far less dogmatic, more open-minded, more combative and happy to debate, to challenge and be challenged. I have begun to notice the power in words. The privilege I have seen I still see as an injustice, and it drives me in everything I do, but in order to overcome that injustice I will have to learn how to make constructive use of my outrage, rather than expecting everyone else to be outraged with me. I would have to convince them to be outraged. In such a way, my journey through university has shaped my journey as an activist. I hope I can change the world now, just a little bit, with a bit of vigorous and open debate about privilege and how to tackle it.

And, I suppose, as a big, fat metaphorical lesson to be applied to my philosophy, that’s the Left I want to see: confident in what it sees as injustice, but far more open to dissent and disagreement both within and without its ranks, and happier to be challenged, less morally righteous, but still the extremely pissed off kid I was at freshers’ week. I am every bit as radical as when I started University, I just hope I have learnt what to do with it.

Onwards, I guess.

It’s not in the left’s interest to pretend this week was great

I made the same mistake. I would dismiss warning signs leading up to 2015. Because it made me feel safe and good. I would see bad by-elections and hear worrying reports, but I shrugged it off out of suggestion it was mere doom-mongering. Until the exit poll. Today, I see it happening again.

The Left trying to claim the loss of more than 20 councillors -regardless of exceeded expectations- does it no favours. The Left trying to suggest that the first Opposition to go backwards since the abyss of the 80s is a victory and suggestion Jeremy will bloody be PM is delusional at best and catastrophic at worst. Not just for the Party, but for its own wing. If we continue to define ourselves and the Left by awfully bad standards, saying we beat hilariously shit expectations, then expect nothing other than ridicule.

Jeremy faces a bullish PLP and critics with no answer, that much is true. He defied them. But when we lose in 2020 because of this spectacular complacency, you will defy no-one. When they are proven right, you will defy no-one.

Worse, by defining a loss as a victory, you are betraying the very people you claim to fight for. No, defying them too. No working class person benefits from a Labour clearly headed for defeat (yes, yes it is.). You poking fingers in your ears is a betrayal. It is thoroughly middle class. As well as the art of winning, you risk handing the claim to working class representation over to Corbyn’s critics, too. And rightly.

But there are lessons too for Corbyn’s critics: if you set a low expectation, the Party will overcome it. Politics is an expectation game and even Seamus can spin this.

Thus, a total failure by most accounts – and without a doubt a clear sign of wipeout in 2020- has been rewritten into a win for Team Corbyn. Against the interest of the Party and certainly the interests of the Labour Left.

London was different, because our candidate did not play by the Party’s tactics. Sadiq’s victory is despite of the Party, not because of it. One clear example is that not only were journalists mocking the ‘son of a bus driver’ line, but we were having it parroted back to us on the doorstep – just like the Tories had in May. Sadiq locked down exceptional message discipline that I always wished for from the Leader’s office. Sadiq learnt from the mistakes of May in a way the Party leadership have failed to do. They believe they are above convention. Sadiq molded it to his favour. Sadiq, from the soft-left, proved that you can win on a leftish platform so long as you manage your rhetoric. It is the ‘bank manager’ theory. It is one John Smith exemplified and George Osborne prior to his misgivings exceeded at. The Left elsewhere in the Labour Party fails to grasp this obviously successful strategy that pushed Sadiq well over the line. He is now in a position – for the first time in my Labour membership- to make a tangible difference to the lives of millions. You are not.

It is in the interests of the Left of this Party to look back over these results with nuance. We did badly in England, ok in Wales, and awful in Scotland. Absolutely nothing suggests we will be catapulted to the highest office in the land in 2020. Only Sadiq’s campaign truly represented a winning formula, with or without its exceptional circumstances of being in a Labour city. The Left can’t cannibalise this exceptional result, it has to learn from it. And it has to learn that its triumphalism is completely misguided on both that count and in claiming victory elsewhere.

I go back to where I was under Ed: despite me shrugging off the mistakes of the Party, I was fearful that should we lose, the Right of the Party would claim moral victory and safely and easily usurp him. The Left should fear that today, too. By handing electability over to your internal enemies, you expose an incredible feat of self-defeat. By being triumphant now, in the face of bleakness, you are setting yourselves up for a very, very loud “I told you so.”

I’ve always wanted my part of the Party, the soft-left, to be more ambitious. Always the interim and never the winner, we have let ourselves be defined as a bridge to true success, “just one loss left!”. I want to see us be more than this, and I reckon Sadiq is the answer. The wider Left should have an election-winning ambition, too. It shouldn’t let other wings decide what it takes for the Party to win. It shouldn’t dismiss them on the basis of a ‘mandate’ that, should we (and we will) lose in 2020, will mean diddly-squat. Start having ambition, start self-reflection, self-criticising, and stop making yourselves look like complete revisionist fools. It is not in your interest to lose. It is not in your interest to make out these council elections were nothing more than awful.

 

A Sadiq victory would be a victory for the Labour I joined

It’s little surprise that Corbyn’s Labour does not enthrall me. I have been half-hearted in my campaigning, increasingly uncomfortable getting told on the doorstep by working class voters that Labour has lost its way, and constantly banging my head against a wall at the Leader’s Office. I feel well and truly on the opposite side of people that I want to stand up for. On the contrary, I feel like Labour as it is are as far from the ‘People’s Party’ as we have ever been.

Except for in London.

Posting my ballot for Sadiq Khan was the first sincere action I have taken since last Summer. Because I was voting for the Party I joined.

Everyone has their own version of Labour. I am in no position (not that that will stop me…) to de-legitimise any one version. But Labour today is not mine. I cannot recognise it. I cannot recognise or ally myself with a Party that dismisses genuine concerns as ‘smears’ against a leadership that has developed a cult of personality around it. It’s an exclusive party that is becoming increasingly toxic and self-absorbed. It refuses to engage with the people outside the hall.

Fair, my version failed to win the general election. I have my diagnoses just as everyone else has theirs. But Sadiq encapsulates everything that I thought Labour was supposed to stand for, without the rough edges that have come to define Corbyn’s leadership.

He is radical on housing without talking about the Falklands; he is for affordable transport without the obsession with Trident; he is a champion of the Living Wage without an inability to handle antisemitism. He is good at the media; indeed, he has overcame bias in a paper with a circulation of 900,000 without a hint of complaint on his behalf. He did so because he is a good candidate; he is a far, far better candidate than his rival.

London is different from the rest of the country, I know that. It voted by about 45 to 32 for Labour in the general election. Its demographics are favourable for Labour. It is a city where I feel most at home and need not worry too much about being in a bubble.

But we must not forget what Sadiq has faced and what he has successfully fought. This has been a racially-charged campaign against a convert to islamophobia. He has faced the Conservative machine. His campaign and his candidacy was simply superior. I do not believe for a second that Corbyn’s version of Labour could have beat it. Sadiq is a serial-winner. His version of Labour wins.

His candidacy has been superior because he has confronted issues that matter to London and to the vast majority of people. He encapsulates Labour at its most competent and its most in-touch. A left-wing progressive who talks bread and butter. Who talks inequality and housing with not a squeak of the gesture politics and distractions of the leadership. It is not an ideological difference more than it is a difference in priority. And what it has berthed is a vision for an alternative Labour administration that gets down to the grit. I am proud to campaign for it.

The best part is, I see a Labour administration under Sadiq in City Hall that is responsive to the needs of the public: and he will be the first Labour ‘leader’, as it were, in quite a while with not just a mandate from the narrower and narrower party but from the people. His victory will mean a victory for what I always presumed was what a ‘people’s party’ should look like. It is the party I joined and the party I joined for again.

I am not complacent; I am aware of the error of polls in the past. But for once I believe in this version of Labour. I believe it can win. I believe in it.

 

On why I’ll be campaigning to leave the NUS

I have friends in the NUS, in Labour Students, in the students’ movement, and further afield. It should not have to be said that when I criticize XYZ, I do not criticise them. On the contrary, there are individuals within bodies I view as defunct that work their asses off for their constituents as best as they see fit.

But I’ve rarely shied from controversy, either. Way back whenever, I stood for President for my own Students’ Union on a ticket, well, berating the union itself, and the managerial culture in which it existed. Not the people, but the culture. A culture that was closed off. As I read Yaks berating even the action of voting, I realised that for 3 years, I was them. That, despite my political nature, I never turned to the Union for a solution. The one time I did, when my grant was delayed and I found myself under considerable financial stress, they told me they couldn’t do anything about it. I instead became a co-chair of a society, and worked for activism outside of the formal framework.

In reality, I’ve never been one for student politics. I’ve always thought the best way to contribute to helping students would be through the Labour party as an ordinary activist. For two years prior to the election, I did just that, hoping to oust a Tory government that had gone out of its way to raise a generation to hate it. That, clearly, did not pan out. From thereon, I grew aware that the only thing standing between students and the government was the unions and The Union – that being the NUS.

So far, so exhausted.

There are three Bad Types of student politics that have came to be the mark of the NUS and its components, all of which grate me considerably.

The first is the Managerial. The type that has defined my own union. No matter how far the University goes, a ‘student consultation’ is the answer. I know a lot of people within the Union itself often find this grating, but no-one seems to look to activism in any form to resolve issues beyond The Consultation. I had a chat with a mate recently on what she’d do: she’d do what other Unions do successfully, which is, for want of a better description, cause havoc. Sit-ins, pranks, artistic protests that grab headlines, and proper relationships with the media, be it the student paper or The Tab. There is little tradition here in Durham for this, though our recent Funeral For Affordable Education, where we designed a coffin and held a service going through town was an example of where we should head. Other than that, there is little light at the end of the tunnel for Universities with managerial Unions.

The second are the Politicos. The main controllers of the NUS for quite a while before Malia. For the life of me, my friends in NOLS know I’m not an asshole (often), and know this is not personal, but it, does, indeed, exist in NOLS. There is nothing innately wrong with this, and its berthed some good ‘uns. A chat with Stephen Twigg is enough to convince you he deserved to be on that stage on that fateful May night in 1997. But there’s no point ignoring that this road to politics is well-tread. Far too well tread. And there is a lot of dislike for it.

The third are the Radicals. The incumbents. People who’d be great at a protest, sure, but who are too partisan, divisive, distracted, to head an organisation representing 7 million students. A passion for global politics is great, but it does little to serve or represent students who just bloody want a maintenance grant. Malia’s passion for BME issues is commendable, and she has undoubtedly done a lot of work for BME students. It is not that activism for which we should, or do, condemn. It is the rhetoric of war and peace, of global conflicts, and of moral relativism, East and West, which simply serves no-one in the NUS. Never mind the controversy surrounding the ISIS motion, why was there an ISIS motion to begin with? Will that stop the march of a death cult in the Middle East? Recognising the limits of an organisation for students, and what motions that could actually benefit campuses within the capacity of the NUS, would be a great start. It might put faith back into the movement. Instead, the Radical subset sees the NUS as a Parliament, rather than the trade union and union movement it should emulate.

None of these types serve to protect students from the ills of this government. From student consultations to motions on ISIS, there is a real reason why Unions and the NUS are facing a massive deficit in participation and enthusiasm.

Which is why, before I graduate, I will be involved in a campaign for my University to disaffiliate from the NUS. I am not a great exiter of Things and Stuff (I am of the ‘let’s reform the EU!’ persuasion, after all). But there is only one way to fight the apathy that fuels an unresponsive student politics: it’s scaring the absolute shit out of the incumbent powers that be. And that means a referendum. As always.

If it leads to the NUS and to the wider student movement pricking its ears at the prospect of a financial crisis, to get it out of its cartel of the Three Bad Types, then that’s bloody good enough for me. I don’t see any other way to get the attention of a cosy student politics that relies on low turnout than trying to enthuse the student body to tick yes or no. It’s the best way, the most exciting way, and the most democratic way, to inject a sense of realisation into a movement that bloody well needs it.

That’s gonna be my last act, then I’m totally getting the shit out of here.

When it comes to tax, we need courage

We have all heard the leftist motif that “tax is a subscription for a civilized society”, we may even roll our eyes at it, but at times like this I cannot think of a cliche more worthy of repeating until Lord Ashcroft’s ears bleed.

I am reminded this week of JK Rowling’s interview from some time ago:

I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. (x)

Wealthy people, who owe the soil they were born on for their fortunes, cannot claim the mantle of being patriots.

So it is an uncomfortable paradox for Labour to have a deficit on this.

We must ask, how is it that the Conservative party have a stranglehold over patriotism when they starve our nation of treasured public services? When they cut back the institutions we hold dear? I have written before about how we should argue that the Tories are the antithesis of ‘institutional patriotism’, that the steel industry collapsing, threatening the BBC, and NHS starvation are uniquely anti-British. Now we have another, obscene example, compromising the Prime Minister himself. Labour ought to question why we are seen as the Anti-British party.

But this time, it’s more than just party politics.

Panama, and the Tories’ inevitable inaction in its wake, provide us the perfect opportunity to reset the debate, to turn the taxation conversation off and on again. To make it about the love of your society. Not jut for a Labour rebranding, but for a rebranding of a political consensus that has seen taxation as a burden rather than a hallowed subscription.

For so long, our conversations on tax have been narrow, cautious, and conducted with eyes over the shoulder. Any talk of demanding more radical action than a 50p top rate to offset widening inequality sees our opponents retreat to the same lines over capital flight, with no-one questioning the loyalty and patriotism of those threatening to flee. We need to advocate, right now, for a renewal of the social contract, and to demand the wealthy sign up to it.

If capital flight is, as it inevitably will be, yanked out and shoved in our faces as a justification for inaction, with the equally inevitable Fraser Nelson graphs on the Laffer Curve -which is questionable at best and an entirely false pseudo-religion at worst., we should do what no-one has done in high politics for decades: ask, “what the fuck?”

“What the fuck?”. We’re supposed to roll over and accept that it’s mother nature that the rich ought to flee, that they would flee, and that our economy’s growth rests on being as hospitable as to prevent this devastating prophecy?

Look, undoubtedly, in a globalised economy, mobile assets and wealth is a problem -it’s a matter of contention for economists far smarter than me. And I am not here to argue as an economist. I would lose. I’m here to argue from the viewpoint of a writer. Albeit, not a particularly good one, but one that believes in the power of words and debate. There is a powerful debate to be had, about rolling over and accepting our fates are entangled with compromising with the super-rich just cos’. That’s fatalist bullshit. It’s also bullshit that leads to conspiracy theories about a world elite and the spontaneous explosion of far-right parties and Donald Trump. Centre-left and centre-right mainstream politics ought not to let those guys win the argument. We ought to take the mantle first, and be brave enough to question, head-on, the go-to, whiplash rebuttals we are all used to when we discuss taxing the rich, taxing capital, and simply asking for the contributory principle to extend beyond the poor. Question capital flight as the go-to riposte. It cannot be the end of the story. If it is, what is the point in an autonomous nation state that collects taxes? That’s right, this is about sovereignty too, and right back to where we started: patriotism.

In fact, it doesn’t stop at capital flight. We also roll over when we hear ‘legal loophole’. Oh, Cameron never did anything illegal, he just did what rich people always do! This shouldn’t be a reply. Again, morals, ethics, patriotism? He’s a PM, for Christ’s sake. More than that, we are all citizens that preach contribution, by God we know Cameron does. Enough rules and exemptions. Scrap that riposte too.

We also need to ignore the inevitable cries of the ‘politics of envy’ that have been making the similarly inevitable rounds in the aftermath of Cameron’s tax controversies. Basically…no? I mean, I’m not even going to bother. If you’ve ever said ‘politics of envy’, the door’s over there. We’re gonna get this shit a lot, especially from columnists in the Daily Mail who think the ‘death tax’ is a literal, valid thing to say. Someone with enough resilience is gonna have to one day dare to challenge it. Which is why strengthening Labour’s deficits on things like patriotism, but also competence and leadership are so essential – not just for winning elections, but for national debate. People listen to strong leaders.

But, as I was all too aware of at Saturday’s protest, outrage isn’t enough if we do not provide an alternative. Jeering about the ‘neoliberal consensus’ keeps us in a comfort zone. The Left is very good at grievance. I would know, I haven’t stopped moaning since I could speak the letters “smh”. As with Ed Miliband, we are good at diagnoses, but not at treatment. We can open up this debate, and we should, but we have to have rebuttals to the Right’s excuses for inaction, answers for globalisation and for the secrecy and opportunities it hands to the super-rich.

But solutions are not easy to come by.

Take inheritance tax. Inheritance tax is unpopular. George Osborne prevented a snap election way back when on the back of it. Voters often consider themselves to be middle class, or aspiring to be so, which in turn has such a wide definition that apparently a tax imposed on just the 7% richest threatens YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. Look, this sucks, but it exists. It’s there. It’s been unpopular for a long time.

We need new ideas, maybe even to replace the old, like IHT.

Once upon a time, we were masters of language. Masters of storytelling. Look at tax credits, and the nation’s disgust at the thought of cutting them even when other welfare is fair game. Language is important.  The ‘mansion tax’ was, actually, a good example, kinda, for a subset of voters. But it also spooked a lot of people. So it was also a bad idea for another subset of voters.

We need to look at options for wealth taxes and a ‘new deal’ with higher taxes on the rich. Right now is the time to demand it and to reshape the consensus. But it needs to be done masterly. If we are going to talk about a Picketty-style capital tax, not only do we have to not roll over at the first sight of someone yelling ‘BUT CAPITAL FLIGHT’, we have to be creative with the story behind it. Something that is clearly aimed at the super-rich and cannot be redefined to ‘HIT YOUR FAMILY’. And also about patriotism and duty. Call it ‘Asset Contribution’ or ‘Wealth Contribution’. Something contribution-y.  I’ll leave that up to people better than me. But I go back to what I was saying before: it should be based on patriotism, on principle, on ethics so often swept under the rug cos ‘ya’ know, rich people do this’, ‘they’ll just leave!’ and ‘it was perfectly legal!’. Let’s start questioning this bullshit, cos, you know, it really is bullshit.

Contribution is popular. Fairness is popular. Tax can be popular. Now is the time to be courageous.

 

The Greens represent an irresponsible anti-politics

You are perfectly free to despise politics and politicians. Once upon a time I did.

And then politics became necessary. A Tory government was suddenly thrust in, and the Labour government I took for granted growing up was suddenly gone, and we were all left at the mercy of Etonian men being driven to shrink the state. Suddenly ‘hating politicians’ felt like a fashion I could not afford.

Again, a lot of poorer people are apathetic and distrustful of politicians. That’s for us to change and us to convince and us to understand. My dad was a non-voter, my mum was an instinctive Labour voter who me and my brother had to remind to vote. Both had a reason to fear the Tories, but not to enthusiastically embrace Labour. That is our problem.

But then there are wealthy people, people with power and a voice, who ought to know how best to use that platform and the responsibility they have, that espouse and encourage apathy and anti-politics. The recent Green Party broadcast was just that.

It’s a cute video, perhaps just as funny as their last one. The problems with their cutesy videos are manifold, but the most striking thing on both occasions was timing. The previous broadcast -about how mainstream parties are ‘all the same’- was sent out the day Ed Miliband announced his policy to abolish the non-dom status. This new broadcast comes after months of arguments over tax credit and disability cuts, and right in the middle of a row over the Panama tax avoidance scandal, in which David Cameron has been compromised. In such circumstances, the divisions between the Tories and Labour are as stark as they’ll ever be, and any charges to the contrary appear completely disingenuous to us; but entirely reasonable to the passer-by that the Greens’ message will get heads nodding to.

Painting all ‘politicians’ as the same means that our debate over Panama and events like it will see politics tainted with a broad brush rather than the individuals and the party (the Tories) involved. It makes people angry, and there ceases to be a constructive repository for this anger.

The Greens enjoy this. They thrive off it. So often considering themselves purer than their rivals and possessing greater morals, their only way to survive -much like all populist third parties- is to lambaste their mainstream counterparts negatively. Sometimes this tactic can result in a surge of enthusiasm and support and participation: It can be Syriza or Podemos; the Pirate Party in Iceland; Sanders in America. All of these cases involve more participation. They all share in common, too, a broad base of support and voters that often touches on working class communities. They are working class movements.

The Green party is not. It achieves none of these things. It cannot stand on ‘hope’ or positivity; it thrives off a hatred of the Labour Party in particular. The worst part is that it pretends to be positive.

The Greens share this in common with other populists on the British Left, who refuse acknowledgement of the FPTP system into which they are born, all of which served to blow a hammer to Ed Miliband’s hopes of being PM and deliver a Tory majority.

They do it by raising impossible standards. And I don’t mean austerity or policy-based arguments, for those are valid and it is important to have other parties democratically pressurizing and influencing Labour from its Left (though, it makes more sense to do that from within – as Jeremy Corbyn can probably suggest), but by refusing politics. That’s right: politics. The advert was fun, it showed parliamentary politics as childish and argumentative, as it always has been and as is hard to avoid – as much as Jeremy Corbyn would like to. And it is childish, quite often, and most people don’t like it. But what we don’t need is an overwhelmingly white, middle class party thinking it can feed off that disaffection when it simply can’t. All adverts like this do when they are from the Greens, is fuel a fire that, if anyone, benefits UKIP. But, mostly, non-voting.

You think disaffected, ordinary people from modest backgrounds are going to join the Greens or Plaid or whatever next absurd and redundant leftwing party? No, because you have fucking ‘Green’ in your name.

And the worst part about the Greens and other parties to Labour’s left (that’s now contestable…) is that they consider themselves far more important than they actually are. They don’t understand that most disaffected people don’t turn to them. They demand concessions from Labour -almost all of which are unobtainable and absurdly high-maintenance, like refusing parliamentary arguing at their best and demanding policy positions that are the opposite of the general public’s at their worst. They distract Labour to their way of thinking, believing they represent the real working class voice while there are more working class people choosing to not vote than vote Green.

At the end of the day, this is not intended to be constructive, it is intended to be an expression of hatred for the mainstream and Labour’s position of Her Majesty’s Opposition. It is intended to harm ‘Westminster’, like the SNP does, but to absolutely no avail.

This type of anti-politics benefits no-one but None of The Above. All the Greens will ever achieve is, if anything, a decrease in turnout and an addition to the toxic culture of political apathy. It is irresponsible. We don’t need these type of malign messages to contest on the doorstep with contributions from middle class people who won’t have to deal with the repercussions.

That broadcast is funny, until suddenly it is not.

An expectant opposition

It’s been a busy few days, with many a Commons and Twitter spat.

With the backlash to the Budget, the resignation of IDS, and the complete disintegration of the welfare agenda, the Tories’ modernisation process, and Osborne himself, this should be a joyous occasion whereupon we bask in the realisation of the 92′-97′ folklore that many of us young ‘uns were promised would happen again.

I admitted that I was wrong on a few grounds; I thought we’d have to be careful navigating welfare, though never did I agree to agreeing with welfare cuts. I now think we should go full throttle against welfare cuts; and that we should ensure that we build our anti-austerity case and hammer this home. Maya Goodfellow wrote a great article today in LabourList about using this opportunity to build a narrative; and a competent party definitely could. I’d be really excited about this, and I’ve waited for years for an opportunity to arise that could dismantle the IDS welfare agenda.

I dug in myself on this, writing an Open Labour piece on how Iain Duncan Smith’s letter ought to be exploited, should the Leadership ever want the ostentatious advice of a twenty-something undergrad. Waving the letter across the despatch box as efficiently as the Tories did for Liam Byrne’s feels like common sense to me. This opportunity should be ours to exploit; we should give ourselves no excuses for tripping up. In fairness, a lot of the shadow frontbench have done very well; and for once the PLP forged a united front – for a while.

Nevertheless, to be joyous without reflection or critical thinking is something we should never do. Any veteran of Omnishambles will tell you as such. So I committed the unfortunate crime of questioning our triumphalism; our insistence upon patting ourselves on the back: I tweeted that Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation was not down to Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons speech. Que the horror; que the shock.

So, needless to say, there was backlash on Twitter.

This time, it was quite exceptional. I was accused of being a traitor and placating to the Tories because I was hesitant to praise the Leader on high for single-handedly bringing down the Tory empire. I have no intent to name/link the tweeter, considering said tweeter wrote a blog about it that made me uncomfortable and I intend not to pay back such a ridiculous favour, or revel in hypocrisy. Nevertheless, the logic is astounding enough that it helps build a case for something that’s been very noticeable for a while, beyond any one Twitter spat – a curious phenomena that haunts the Labour Party:

The idea that parliamentary Opposition is merely disagreement.

It’s a phenomena which made itself known during the Summer of Discontent. Undoubtedly, Andy, Yvette and Liz made a very poor choice over the welfare vote, and that added fuel to the fire. The membership demanded ‘strong opposition’, which is entirely fair and barely disagreeable. I became perplexed, then, now that the leadership fails to land any blows, why people still believed then and now that this is what we are. We make excuses, time and time again, for easy slip-ups and bad Commons performances.

I believe the reason many of us still believe we offer ‘strong opposition’ is because we as a membership seem to define opposition as ‘not in our name’ rather than actually committing to change. It is an act for feeling good about disagreeing with Toryism, which we all love to do, but not making any impact, while claiming any impact is ours alone. In fairness, placating past leaders and contenders have infuriated members and fueled a fair demand for us to be principled and oppose austerity; so of course we would be happy with a leader like Jeremy who is unequivocally and without hesitation willing to stand and fight. I get that mentality. I facepalmed plenty of times when we gave in to welfare cuts last Parliament, shouting at my TV. But, still, disagreement simply does not equate to a strong Opposition on its own.

That isn’t an Opposition. Disagreeing is a part of it: I disagree with the Tories on most things; I’m sure you do, too. The need to express that disagreement is powerful. But that’s not all that Parliament is about. Sure, a good Commons speech can change a debate. But what is more important is that the person making that speech could one day sit on a government bench. Opposition is primarily about being an alternative to the government; not just in terms of ideology but in terms of actually looking like they could one day be a government. This is not just for the goal of eventual power -far from it: it’s about scaring the government, with just a majority of 12, into acting with hesitancy should public opinion turn away from them and toward us. It prevents the excesses of Toryism. In order to make Osborne think twice, beyond his Tory rebels, you have to make him fear us as a government-in-waiting, with the ability to unseat him and his Party.

And why would he? We lost PMQs today over that ruddy list, for Christ’s sake. It managed to overshadow the torment faced by over 600,000 disabled people. We shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back any time soon; we should be banging our heads on a brick wall.

Okay, I hear you chanting, “that one-point lead on YouGov tho”, a lead that could well extend for sure. But, as always, it does not cover our butts on the deficits we have with leadership and the economy; far greater indicators of impending electoral victory. We can cheer and cheer -as I did in 2010-15- that the Tories are losing their lead, but that isn’t the same as us gaining on them, as George Eaton has written. We expect victory to fall into our hands by default, and so become idle. Instead we become a repository of protest that is inherently weak and will fall when voters are given a ballot. We may think we are strong, but we are not. Osborne knows that; so while he may fear his chances of becoming Tory leader have depleted, he does not have to fear us. He is free, at least from Labour, to do as he pleases. As his successor will be.

We have had numerous successes: Tax Credit cuts, this budget. We should aim to build on them. But the extent to which those victories can be claimed by our side rather than the Lords or Tory rebels is highly questionable, and it seems odd that questioning those claims would be controversial.

The truth is, I cannot bask in the 92′-97′ folklore coming true. I thought I’d enjoy it. I’ve been waiting for it for six torturous years. Hoping, expecting, as anyone suffering at the hands of Tories would be. But now, as Osborne and the Tories and the general public all know; there is no Labour victory at the end of it, at least not as things stand. We are not a government-in-waiting just because we disagree. So the hopeful and joyous occasion of a Tory civil war cannot be enjoyed by those of us who have waited for it for so long. By many of us that so need it.

You can blame this on disunity, fine. That’s a factor. I think the PLP and party should very much unite around an anti-austerity agenda. But there is an incompetence to this party and a devout commitment to the philosophy of disagreement rather than true parliamentary Opposition. That won’t be erased with unity. We cheer because we disagree, because our names are not tainted, but we only let Tory rebels do our job for us; to bring down legislation that wouldn’t exist in the first place if Tories weren’t so comfortable in their throne.

We won’t dethrone them with self-congratulation. This shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say if we care at all about helping people I, and we, care about.