Thursday, 21 March 2019

Signature Politics

There was a time when a good part of my political work was organised around petitions. For calling attention to an issue and, of course, selling the ubiquitous newspapers, we found them a handy tool. As a form of activism or expression of solidarity, signing a petition is the least time consuming and cost-free type of political participation there is - bar sharing a Facebook post or retweeting something. This is why people need to calm down about the Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU petition currently ongoing and be clear about what it can achieve.

It clearly has tapped into something. After last night's disgraceful address of the nation by Theresa May, millions are incensed and exasperated at her pathetic attempt to annex the public to her project. The petition then is an outlet, of remain supporters forcing their way into the parliamentary process by the only means constitutionally afforded them inbetween elections. Speaking earlier in the Commons, Andrea Leadsom summed up the government's attitude by saying they will take a serious look at it once it has topped 17.4m signatures. At just over two million at the time of writing, there's a way to go.

Nevertheless, the petition is good organising and publicity fodder. It has dominated Twitter all day, which guarantees prime billing across all the new sites, and is good for raising awareness about this weekend's second referendum march - a demonstration likely to have a larger official(ish) Labour contingent on it than last October's. No doubt the demonstration will be very large - but is it going to make a difference?

It depends on what your objectives are and why you're on the march. While previously there were plenty of speakers and so-called notable personalities who used their remain creds to attack the Labour Party, a repeat might not be on the cards. Labour's signalled willingness to go for a second referendum over and above accepting May's deal, and Corbyn's careful refusal to rule out revoking Article 50 (who says he can't do the clever-clever?) is good position-taking from the standpoint of shoring up the party's voter coalition. We know there are (and still are) people active in the People's Vote movement whose dedication to the cause has a thing or two to do with driving a wedge between Labour's leadership and the mostly pro-remain base of Corbynism, especially among younger activists and voters. Not only has Labour's referendum and Article 50 pirouettes helped draw the sting from the issue, the decamping of Corbynism's worst critics to the absurd Independent Group has exposed their long-term intentions, put paid to their wrecking scheme and damaged their standing among their peers in the upper echelons of Remain. These people were only useful in so far as they were levers on Labour's position of "constructive ambiguity", and their use now is, well, not much.

In wider terms however, it won't make any difference to Theresa May. There could be three, four million people marching down the Embankment and surrounding Westminster and she wouldn't budge. Not because of her ruinous obstinance or "leadership", but because she knows those taking to the streets aren't her people. The march against the Iraq war, for example, was neither sufficiently aggro - as per the anti-poll tax campaign - nor composed of people who would make much of a difference in general election terms. Ever the cynic, Tony Blair knew that with the Tories four square behind his plans, the LibDems much, much smaller, and the threat from the far left derisory he calculated he could go for it and safely assume the 2005 general election wouldn't cause Labour much bother. And so it proved. May knows a demonstration of remainers, no matter how big it is, is never going to cause her party trouble - and is one reason why she's far more invested in pandering to her right flank than the liberally-Cameroony Tories of the Justine Greening/Dominic Grieve type.

Therefore, from the standpoint of putting pressure on May it won't. And with news coming through that the EU are prepared to grant an unconditional extension to 12th April, she can go about playing for time again. But in so doing, she's accelerating the welcome doom of the Tories. May is ensuring her party cops the lion share of the blame for the Brexit fiasco, and events like this Saturday's march are an episode, a moment, in consolidating a solid bloc of growing anti-Tory voters that could keep them out of government for a very long time indeed.

3 comments:

Jim Denham said...

" Corbyn's careful refusal to rule out revoking Article 50 (who says he can't do the clever-clever?) is good position-taking from the standpoint of shoring up the party's voter coalition. We know there are (and still are) people active in the People's Vote movement whose dedication to the cause has a thing or two to do with driving a wedge between Labour's leadership and the mostly pro-remain base of Corbynism, especially among younger activists and voters"

Phil, what exactly does an ability to "do the clever-clever" have to do with principled politics or serious internationalism? As for "driving a wedge between Labour's (essentially pro-Brexit)leadership and the mostly pro-remain base of Corbynism": what's wrong with that, exactly? How else is the pro-Remain campaign supposed to approach Labour?

Pleb James said...

Jim, political principles are often at odds. Corbyn's political principles are why he is (at least) ambivalent about the EU. His democratic principles would mean he respected the referendum result, or the opposite - that he respected the decision of the Labour party conference, or Labour party members. But then, if Labour MPs respect the wishes of their constituents, the majority would have to support Brexit.

If you're genuinely 50/50 on Europe but you have a whole raft of popular policies that would (go some way to) transform the country, then you should do everything you can to weather the storm until the next election.

THAT is what being clever-clever has to do with principled politics.

Brexit is continually touted as the biggest political issue since the year dot, but we will regain some perspective at some point in the future.

Boffy said...

Democracy does not at all involve "respecting" decisions. It involves recognising them, and the right of those that obtained a majority to act in a particular way based upon that decision, but nothing more. Even the latter is conditional. A "democratic" vote to ban all future votes, for example is itself undemocratic. A "Democratic" vote to restrict the right of some members of society to vote, including for example, a "Democratic" vote to put people in concentration camps and so on, is not democratic.

It is perfectly democratic, indeed is the basis of democracy, to challenge "democratic" decisions, and to continually try to overturn them, whether that is a vote held by the electorate, or a vote held by members of a party.

The obligation placed on Labour MP's in acting democratically is not to "respect" the views of their "constituents", but of their party members, as they are the ones whose representative they are. It is the party members that select the candidate to fight the seat in their name. Moreover, a sensible Labour MP does not seek to represent the views of their "constituents" because that is impossible. Their constituents include Tories, Liberals, fascists whose views will be diametrically opposed to those of the Labour voters, so unless the MP can split themselves into several different persona, it is physically impossible to represent the views of all their constituents simultaneously.

A wise Labour MP, would first ensure they are acting consistent with the views of their local party, and secondly in line with Labour voters, whilst attempting in the process thereby to convert others of their constituents to become Labour voters. No part of democracy involves simply blowing in the wind in response to public opinion, but involves shaping public opinion, by winning the battle of democracy to convert a majority to socialist ideas.

Even in the North, and Midlands, contrary to the meme that the Tories and Brexiters promote, the majority of LABOUR voters, around 60-65%, of the 2017 voters, voted Remain. Nationally, that figure is around 75%. A sensible Labour MP, would, therefore, act in concert with the 90% of Labour party members that oppose Brexit, and the majority of Labour voters, everywhere that also oppose Brexit.

Its clear now that the simplest way to do that, is to demand that Article 50 be immediately revoked.