‘DODGY BUT STABLE’: BRINGING BACK THE PROGRESSIVE PUNCH

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by Sunetra Senior

A news-based long read of the darkening climate under Boris Johnson, and consequent examination of the solutions. 

NB: this piece was written before the announcement of the suspension of parliament. The call to progressive action is of the utmost urgency. 

Shock, horror!! Boris Johnson is Prime Minister, we are on the verge of a catastrophic No-Deal Brexit, and Trump’s ego is bigger than ever before. Prior to this, the Scandinavian Peninsula, or the magical lands of social democracy and hygge, saw the rise of a nationalist group in Finland. There were also the New Zealand shootings in a show of Islamophobia, so horrific, that the country’s PM moved to ban militarised weapons practically overnight. So, amidst this caustic circus, where is the progressive clout?  Given the gradual upheaval of the moral development of society, it’s apt to return to a timeless saying: ‘The personal is the political.’

In a mirror of the 2016 US elections, the UK’s current right-wing leader has been the product of those who’ve shouted the loudest. The Tories have used manipulative tactics – pompous personalities, mendacious campaigns, and, of course, Cambridge Analytica’s own brand of psychological invasion – to win support for their political leadership of the country, but their choice of Johnson has also been reciprocally influenced by the rising populist opinion. How else could a man with less charisma than his hair be elected? We will, of course, return to his corrosive politics later. What  is emerging, then, is a mutually affirming relationship between social consciousness and political party. This is what the left needs to understand. In a world where the barrier between public and private is rapidly collapsing, our own conviction paradoxically contains as much power as the ruling bodies trying to manufacture itWhile the public cannot directly vote for anyone at the moment, we do have an implicit say. Accordingly, then, the progressive camp must fortify the individual character that defines them to effectively push back.

This lies in a defiant honesty; a diehard commitment to the objective truth, which is the historic power of our movement. Where materialism tends to drive the politics of the right-wing, the left has been typically dedicated to upholding the virtue of social freedom, achieved through a widespread net of human enquiry. Now, more than ever before, we must preserve this. The patience and passion that it entails has always been worth the incredible social milestones of the outcomes: the abolition of slavery, the right of women in the West to vote, and the introduction of a fair minimum wage. Today, we need to protect the fundamental right to our democratic autonomy lest such incredible progress is utterly undermined: threatened by the creeping loss of everyday agency in a new, techno-political age.

Let’s not forget that prior to becoming PM, Johnson was taken to court because of the illegal amounts spent on the Leave campaign, which broke electoral law

The truth is that the manner in which Brexit is being conducted has been completely undemocratic throughout. Let’s not forget that prior to becoming PM, Johnson was taken to court because of the illegal amounts spent on the Leave campaign, which broke electoral law. The reason campaigning parties must keep to this tight budget is to ensure overall impartiality: one version of an ideological reality cannot be thrust upon the public over another. This is a form of censorship. Further to this, the Leave campaign breached the same private data laws as the US’ Republican Party in getting Trump elected – both in cahoots with Cambridge Analytica – reaching levels of public coercion akin to brainwashing.

Brexit has always been a symptom of a darkening socio-political climate. One of which, among a number of growing legislative warning signs, from former Chancellor, George Osborne’s suggestion that disabled people collect litter to remind them of the concept of ‘functionality’ to May’s passing of the ‘Snooper’s Charter,’ back in 2015, meant the UK has been  heading towards a totalitarian state. By 2019, this dystopian reality is in its first phase. If you think that’s melodramatic, think back to the rise of Hitler in fascist Germany: no one thought that the state would evolve into the horrifying tyranny of Nazi Germany. This is confirmed by the repeated rhetoric that Brexit has been “the will of the people,” when it has been legally ruled to be completely the opposite: the engineered extraction of votes. It is a frighteningly canny, explicit example of Orwellian “doublethink,” all the more rattling because it has been so brazen.

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Political front men such as Johnson are the deceptively frivolous faces of an intensifying sinister oppression. In fact, more worrying than the infamous ‘fake news’ that the he plastered across the side of a bus is the complete contradiction of freedom that Johnson embodies. It was a falsity that the EU was being paid £350 million per week that could have gone to the NHS, but yet more worrying is the fact that Johnson claimed to care so much about social welfare when he is central to a party that is strategically destroying it. The Tories are, of course, moving to privatise the country’s social flagship as we speak. They have no interest in helping those who are struggling, just in their continued exploitation as a means of retaining power.

This can now be seen clearly through Johnson’s current actions in parliament, forcing a No-Deal Brexit single-handedly to a detrimental economic degree without consulting MPs, who have, in fact, been elected by the people. Just look at the emails, which were leaked recently, emphasising “threats to medicines and social care, and higher shopping bills” in the wake of a hard Brexit, among numerous additional adverse factors. This isn’t, then, simply tampering with democratic procedure, but its corruption at the very core. People never really voted for someone who represented them: not during the original Leave campaign that was run, and certainly not recently as Johnson lays out his annihilative plan, or lack thereof. Yet, apparently, it’s wrong for the public to even reasonably ruminate on the first set of results, which have been proven to be illicit.

It has long been claimed that modern politicians have always been crooked. However, it has never been to this extreme psychological extent. We are witnessing the hijacking of the most intimate aspects of people’s minds, solid facts being publicly denied, and the actions of leaders insultingly contradicting words, not to mention the fact that such malpractice is inherently wrong to begin with, and should be prevented from escalating. There is actually footage of Trump asking then PM Theresa May, “What is the NHS?” in plain view of television cameras. He went on to publicly state that the NHS will be a financial bargaining chip in any international trade deal that the UK seeks to strike with the US.

To be plain: our current Western elite are no longer leaders, but dictators in the making. The reappearance of xenophobic and racist activity across the globe is the overt symptom of this. In the past, an amoral businessman surreptitiously took control over a large part of Europe at the expense of individual liberty economically, psychologically, and existentially. Remember, Hitler’s plan was to make Germany an economically thriving powerhouse after the devastation wrought by the First World War using hateful propaganda. Today, intensified by the ubiquitous reach of modern tech, an internationally mobilising group of narrow-minded tycoons presses for the financial fortitude of their countries by planting fear-driven stories in the global consciousness to blind people from their own iniquitous imprisonment. The financial crash of 2008 was due to the blight of unregulated banking in the West, which our current Conservative politicians continue to drive. However, people everywhere are being underhandedly distracted from this hottest of facts, creating at once a fully altered psycho-history.

Megalomania never had a nationality: it is the growing alliance between equally noxious individuals, who have had the fortune of institutional connections, a shaky financial landscape, and, consequently, a vulnerable society. It is an indulgence of the darkest aspect of humanity. Thus, it is vital that wider society debunks this whole false narrative of emancipation, vocally and resolutely, channelling a powerful humanitarian light to oppose the encroaching greed. This is surely a significant remit of the left-wing, the self-professed guardian of an equitable world. Indeed, it is not untoward to say that we must battle while an appropriate civic space still remains. Increasingly, current governments are passing laws that undermine the vital personal freedoms enshrined by past lawmakers and, which afford them absolute power.

Yet, it feels as if a worrying number of people who identify as ‘liberal’ are themselves wavering; bending to the sinister dogma that should be opposed. There has been the creation of Change UK, increasingly large turn-outs at People’s Vote marches, with the most recent protest exceeding over 1 million concerned marchers, but the vigour of the momentum is undercut by the desertion, division, and even acquiescence towards mainstream tyranny. This has, sadly, been equally responsible for the manifestation of unilateral, extreme right-wing control. For example: the formation of The Independent Group or Change UK fractured an already pressured Labour opposition, and while the ‘Revoke Article 50’ petition gained an impressive number of signatures, it too was met with a certain degree of resistance: not just, as expected, from Brexit supporters, but also shockingly, from within the liberal camp itself. People were reiterating the warped Tory propaganda, talking of ‘respecting the will of people’; expressing fear that realisation of the petition’s aim would stoke increasing far-right violence, and consequently simply conceding to an impending Brexit. But this is allowing ourselves to be bullied into submission: to enable immorality and concede our political identity. It is reminiscent of Chamberlain’s “appeasement” during the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany.

the vigour of the momentum is undercut by the desertion, division, and even acquiescence towards mainstream tyranny.

In fact, returning to the distinctly cerebral nature of the resurgence of the extreme right at this point in history, it is useful to consider an excellent article published in The Guardian which specifically discusses the emotionally abusive mechanism of gas lighting of the population. In short, an abuser will systematically negate their victim’s reality, until they question their own version of events and accept the abuser’s rendition of reality instead. The symptoms are confusion, depression, and increasing loss of self will. Essentially, one’s entire being is assaulted until their subjectivity is dissolved. This is happening within the body politic, working on our unconscious.

Gaslighting also preys, particularly, on the previously helpless and worn down, making them believe that self-destructive surrender is their only hope. As liberals then, we must be the ones to remain ideologically certain: protective of the sharper consciousness as a key regenerative tool. This can reverberate throughout society to effect a tangible progressive awakening: not out of calculated strategy, but through a pure, emotive energy. The wonderful Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has achieved this at a microcosmic level in the US during the presidential primaries, in her electoral district of NY. As shown in the well-received documentary, Knock Down the House (US, Lears, 2019), her outspoken grass-roots action and defiant dedication to forging a truly empowered world, attained an unexpectedly wide demographic, genuinely and fairly.

Her campaign included the contemporary democratic staples of quality social care, accessibility to better pay, holding financial giants responsible for the crimes of the 2008 financial crisis, and accessibility to desired jobs with the realistic conditions to achieve them. Vibrant and socially aware, her imagination was the product of an honest, committed focus that allowed people around her to envision an alternatively robust reality too. In the UK, we have a similarly real, left-wing spokesperson: Jeremy Corbyn. In an earlier article, Liberalism has Never Been Stronger, I examined the outcome of a hung parliament during the UK’s 2017 snap election, and identified Corbyn’s sincere focus on tackling the underlying class inequality that past governments had botched as the reason Labour were able to do so well.

People's Vote March, London 20/10/18

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Kris Griffiths

May’s government might have lost seats to Labour because of the party’s own faults, but Corbyn also constructively addressed the devastating hole left by austerity to garner support. As opposed to the scurrilous tactics of the Conservatives, he kept spotlights on the substantial issues of the NHS, education, and the economic concerns of local communities in addition to the merits of multiculturalism. In short, he brought forth an updated liberalism of integrated social parities, rectifying the trapping of neoliberal politics which had crept into his party. As a result, a vast array of political demographics could clearly see the hope, becoming latently united through their shared support of his policies. Thus, a modern progressive punch lies in this authentic embodiment of humanity, whole-heartedly investing in its defence. We need to remember that the proliferation of social inequality underlies the colossal distractive projects that are Brexit and the Halloween show that is Trump, fearlessly speaking the truth and brightly championing the solutions.

This can tap into a place beyond the reach of any tech because of its sheer intensity. In another of my pieces, The Troll Vote: What Tipped Trump to Victory? , I talked of how Trump’s campaign garnered votes by appealing to  base narcissism: bypassing meaningful discussion about crucial social changes, he primarily “appealed to people through their own desire to self-aggrandise; their right to self-obsession, and an excessive lifestyle.”  However, as role models, such as Ocasio-Cortez and Corbyn have demonstrated, a direct connection to public consciousness can be equally evoked through the visceral profundity of a creative, visionary warmth. Real emotion, whether it is hatred, love, antipathy or compassion, is a primal, human experience and, therefore, a natural universal vector. We have only to feel for others to intuitively respond. This is convincing because of the very reason that it cannot be faked.

See, people were never averse to the spirit of the liberal movement or the virtue of facts, but rather the calculation and condescension that has come to undercut these. Let’s take the brief example of Ed Miliband. He had good intent, but circumvented important dialogues around immigration to focus on quick fixes such as the Mansion Tax. But this is to be dismissive, acting as if people need to be talked down to, that they can’t handle the particulars and are too inept, needing to be skilfully won over. This is to practice the same contempt as the current ruling elite, who have caused such a monumental psychological rift. Internalising such right-wing cynicism was the biggest flaw of Tony Blair’s New Labour government. Not the inherent values of liberalism.

As a result, the progressive camp must now conscientiously flaunt their difference as those who do value humankind, and its higher potential, practicing veracity directly. This won’t just preach but will actively project the assets of unity and optimism, and intricate reasoning that constitutes life. Consolidating our inner conviction then differentiates a progressive counter presence in the world. To return to the opening of the piece, we are living in a strangely intimate time: one that is as rife with possibility even as it is urgent. Our minds can be moulded by the callous suggestions of the outside world, but we, as individuals, can also communicate our determined selves to, in turn, shape it. ContraPoints aka Natalie Wynne, a left-wing American You-Tuber, is already doing this, successfully talking with right-wing You-tubers of the online community to spread left-wing ideas and debunk popularised ignorant myths. To see a positive change in the world, we must carry out more of these positive, influential engagements ourselves: unequivocally signing petitions, attending marches, supporting activist friends, engaging in meaningful debates both on the streets and online, and above all, fighting with egalitarianism in mind.

Imagine this coalescing on a yet larger scale. In the UK, though this might not be the stopping of Brexit, we might still be able to work together to reshape its meaning, having effected a widespread wakefulness of the texture of true democracy over time: opening up people to the fact that they do still have a choice and this includes the legitimate possibility of a positively fulfilling world. Who knows? This could even eventually materialise in the rescuing of a healthier relationship with EU, staying in the customs union and single market after all. If more people do support proactive progressive movements, such as turning up to People’s Vote marches, this would translate into bolder coverage where the public would at least be made fundamentally aware that there is another side to Brexit; equally forceful vying sentiments, and a more complete version of the truth.

opening up people to the fact that they do still have a choice and this includes the legitimate possibility of a positively fulfilling world.

If we bravely, faithfully live the certainty, other people will follow: starting, significantly, with our own political representation. Here, Labour had recently been criticised for taking too long to announce that they would support a second referendum and back the Remain camp. However, it can be equally argued that the ambiguity demonstrated by the progressive electorate over time, in such instances as the ambiguous reception of the ‘Revoke Article 50’ petition discussed earlier, and the ongoing interrogation of Corbyn’s “electability,” has impacted on the firmness of that party’s stance too. Indeed, there has been doubt of Corbyn as a competing PM as recently as the last couple of weeks despite the fact that he has been the one to boldly hold Boris Johnson accountable for his recklessness, at a time when the Tories are at their most despotic yet.

Additionally, the Liberal Democrats had been urged to support Corbyn to secure this stand for a socially stable future, which they rejected. As a yet further consequence, the EU has started considering some of Johnson’s aggressive proposals in recent news. This is a living example of the liberal electorate’s tentative attitude coming back to haunt the movement in the form of a shaky public platform that is having a harmful knock-on effect. We must now be courageous in our dedication to the cause, first strengthening the movement internally. Detaching from the highly machinated, clinical bureaucracy of the notional politics of the right, we must make spirited democracy central to our fight. In a new time of steamrolling totalitarian rule, this would allow progressive parties to organically converge to become a robust ideological force.

This feeling principle is bigger than any single party, epitomised by the front man of Labour himself: Corbyn has withdrawn his own sceptical view of the EU to defend democracy so that his actions speak louder than words, reconnected to Labour’s traditional voter base, while continuing to respect the contributions of immigrants thereby restoring the reputation of his prior pro-establishment party, and ultimately, fortuitously stands at the head of Labour, as the only party who can most realistically challenge conservative control, in exactly the right place at the right time. We have only to believe too.

Harking back to the 2017 hung Parliament, it must be noted that the progressive alliance played somewhat of a role in challenging Tory leadership.  If the progressive camp in the UK can unite in one clear movement, we could even galvanise a happier connection with the EU as well as the other rising liberal spirits to culminate in a contending network across the world.

We needn’t divorce from a morally conscious human rights charter and the cooperative muscle that it represents. We can make huge multinational corporates responsible, and help people put food on their tables too, and we don’t need violence to govern this. A sure integrity will not only shine a light on the monstrous but ultimately empty right-wing, but also reclaim the stage for a truly stable and vibrant political order. Where Hitler used a stuffy, vociferous man by the name of Goebbels for public relations, the right wing today uses the largely flimsy domain of pop culture. At a time of tipping points and marginal numbers, we must remember that every conscious decision counts. To appreciate our relationship with the political is to defend the personal.

Featured image via ABC.net.au


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