Monday, 28 March 2011

The aftermath

I don't want to decry those who went to Saturday's "March for the Alternative" demo. After all, they did it with all the best intention in the world, and they had every right to. But, for the historical record: the demo was an undeniable car-crash for the Party, in which almost all the things discussed in my previous post (by the way, the best-read by far in the short history of The Centre Left) came to pass.

The most worrying thing of all is to read, in the gushing tributes on Labour contributor sites today, an almost wilful denial of the reality that, for those not actually taking part the result was overwhelmingly negative. And we were seen by the Great British Public as guilty by association. 
From the shots of smashing windows interspersed with Ed's speech, to the moment when the speech tried to compare the struggle against the speed of the cuts with that of the suffragettes, anti-apartheid and Martin Luther King. Oh, and the burning effigies at Oxford Circus. So far I have heard blame for the Black Bloc, UK Uncut and the media. In  fact, typically, everyone except ourselves.

How could we have let this happen? I am gathering my strength to do a longer post on this soon.

6 comments:

  1. "for those not actually taking part the result was overwhelmingly negative. And we were seen by the Great British Public as guilty by association"

    On what evidence do you base this assumption?

    The implication is that it is a mistake for Labour members to attend a protest against the government's destructive economic policy because there are mindless vandals who may turn up and attack police officers and shops.

    I don't think we can assume people not on the march are incapable of differentiating between legitimate protest and criminal activity...

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  2. On the evidence of practically every media outlet that reported it. Even those normally neutral or on our side led on the violence rather than the demo. Perhaps you are right that the "guilty" is an inference rather than a proven fact, fair enough, but I think it's a reasonable inference.

    I didn't say all demos, I said *this* demo. And I didn't say Labour members, I said Ed. There is no doubt that we would have been better off if Ed had not spoken. Everyone attending, fine by me.

    On your last point, on the contrary, I think that's precisely what we need to assume. People don't give these things much thought, not because they are stupid but because normal people (i.e. not political anoraks like you and me) have limited bandwidth and will ingest a snippet of information only on most things. We were associated - they will not care how. That is the nature of the media lens.

    Will be longer Uncut post on this this weekend re the media impact.

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  3. I'm astonished that you say we should assume people make no distinction between criminality and marching.

    Would we be better off if Ed hadn't spoken at the march? Who knows. Consider this, though - he spoke to a diverse crowd, a lot of people probably not Labour members or supporters (of the group of ten I was with, I was the only fully paid-up Labour member). We have elections coming up and we're obviously looking for people to deliver leaflets, to knock on doors...

    What I worry is this - if not for Labour's leadership showing that the way to achieve social change is through winning elections, who is?

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  4. Believe it! Expecting people to draw reasonable conclusions from the media is a game where you can only be disappointed. Most people will just have glimpsed a few images, mostly smashing windows and fires. For many people it won't have even registered.

    Re was Ed right to speak because of the big and diverse crowd, I refer my honourable friend to my forthcoming Uncut post. Conor Ryan made the same point on his blog.
    Let's see if your 9 non-members become members or deliver leaflets! Well done you if you can convert them.

    Re your worry: my advice is, don't. I don't think the youth of Britain would go to the dogs because Ed wasn't there to show them the way at one demo. In a few years almost all will have realised democracy is the only reasonable way. Just as we did.

    And direct action is quite appropriate if you are fighting for your rights, like Ghandi. But not for the speed of some cuts. You will never reach critical mass, and what's more you can damage those around you. I remember the Poll Tax non-payment direct action in the 80s and it nearly did for us.

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  5. If you think that for most people the whole thing won't have registered, I agree with you there. Which makes all the discussions about this seem a little needless. But I suppose this is a debate less about "the media" than our own approach to campaigns on spending cuts.

    I hope you are right about people currently becoming active because of these issues deciding that electoral participation is the way to go without overt appeals from the Labour leadership. I don't think this is about "the speed of the cuts" - because clearly the deprioritising of growth means were not just talking about the speed of a quantity but also the size, and in terms of quality, the kind of economic development we will experience.

    Now, as you've seen from my own ill-tempered response - for which I must again apologise - it's easy to misinterpret constructive criticism as being just criticism of single-issue campaigning. My worry is that there's plenty of others, from the black block to the Trotskyists and Greens, whose approach to the issue is much less centred on the best means of achieving change (electoral participation, naturally - and raising the need for support for private sector economic activity to reduce deficit). This matters because their activism obviously impacts on our more nuanced argument on the deficit and spending.

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  6. Yes, it is speed and depth, not just speed (I shortened for brevity more than anything).

    The activism of others DOES affect us, yes. But mainly in the sense that we have to distance ourselves from them, to varying degrees (unions a little, others completely). If we don't, our distinct message is lost, let alone our lack of control over the agenda when we are one of many participants. I'm not against joining forces for a single-issue campaign when there is a genuine shared agenda, but the issues need to be specific, ring-fenced and controllable. This, on the other hand, is a fundamental plank of our policy offering, and we don't even have the same policy as most of these guys.

    You may, by the way have found today's Uncut post a quite harsh criticism of our approach. But we need to be painfully aware of the realities of the outside world and, yes, the media, as we formulate this approach.

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