Change we’ve got to believe in.


1:29 am - May 1st 2010

by Laurie Penny    


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If you’ve been anywhere near a television over the past week, you’ll have listened to smiling, scared-looking people talk about ‘change’ to the point where the word has lost practically all meaning.

The problem with promising ‘change’ is that it’s the one thing that absolutely every politician can absolutely, 100% guarantee. The only thing that you and I know about the next five years, or indeed the next five minutes, is that some sort of change will occur. The economy will improve, or not. Social unrest will escalate, or not. You might decide you don’t like safeway instant shepherd’s pie after all. Something will change.

Promising change is easy, especially when you’re talking to a country that’s so unholy pissed off that any sort of change to the status quo will do, at least temporarily. And when you promise change you don’t have to talk in specific terms about economic fairness, social justice. When you say the word ‘change’, everybody imagines the kind of change they’d most like to see, whether it’s mass socialist uprising or the neighboorhood being as safe as it used to be before non-white people were invented, when all the locks were made of paper and God saved the queen.

Everybody can get behind change! As long as it’s not bad change, of course, the kind of change we don’t approve of. Change like people with unfamiliar faces and accents moving into our streets, change like women divorcing their husbands and demanding jobs and support, change like it not being bloody okay to be discriminate against gay people, non-white people, people with disabilities, change like it not being considered noble and brave to ask a prime minister on national television what he’s going to do about people from Eastern Europe taking all the jobs. Promising genuine change is easy. Making a better country is bloody hard in the middle of a recession.

I’m not interested in change. I’m interested in specific transformation: transformation of the parliamentary system through direct challenge to the two-party orthodoxy in this election, transformation of our creaking, illiberal democracy; transformation of the state’s attitude to women’s issues; nuclear disarmament.

It is for these reason that I am going to be voting, in my constituency of Leyton and Wanstead, for the Liberal Democrat Party. Not because of Nick Clegg’s wonderful golden tie, and not even because The Guardian says so. Because I want a new, more representative parliamentary system in which citizens can feel like their voices actually matter. I like the Lib Dems; I don’t think they were sent to save us. I’d prefer to vote for a third party that had stronger links with workers’ organisations. But the Lib Dems represent the best chance this country has for transformation on a structural level. And, of course, because I’m sick of the sight of Cameron’s soft, evil face.

I’m with the Guardian and with Sunny: if we want anything other than five years of Torygeddon, burning jobcentres and bankers’ red-cheeked sons deciding policy in private lunches with their friends from university and the nice men from Fox, then we have to vote first for the party most likely to beat the Conservatives in our particular areas. After that, or if there’s no clear and present danger of blue peril, grab a shiny off-yellow biro and vote Lib Dem.

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Reader comments


1. Strategist

“if we want anything other than five years of Torygeddon, burning jobcentres and bankers’ red-cheeked sons deciding policy in private lunches with their friends from university and the nice men from Fox, then we have to vote first for the party most likely to beat the Conservatives in our particular areas. After that, or if there’s no clear and present danger of blue peril, grab a shiny off-yellow biro and vote Lib Dem.”

Absolutely agreed. In seats where there is no danger of the Tories winning, vote against New Labour. Vote LibDem if they’re in with a shout of unseating Labour – if they’re not, then just vote for whoever you like best, or least worst. (NB Sometimes voting against New Labour means voting for the Labour candidate.)

In Labour-Tory marginals, vote Labour.
In Lib Dem-Tory marginals, vote Lib Dem.
In Labour-Lib Dem marginals, vote Lib Dem.
In safe seats of any party, vote Lib Dem.

3. Strategist

My view:

In Labour-Tory two-way battles, vote Labour.
In Lib Dem-Tory two way battles, vote Lib Dem.
In Labour-Lib Dem two way battles, vote Lib Dem
In Lab-Lib-Tory three way battles, vote LibDem
Where the Greens or Respect are in with a shout (Norwich, Brighton, Birmingham, Tower Hamlets), vote for them.

In safe seats of any party, vote for your genuine first choice of party, and join a campaign for electoral reform, to make your vote count in future.

The nuanced view that Labour should not be supported in the Tory-Labour two-way battles that Labour need to lose in order that they lose their overall majority is no longer relevant. Labour are already going to lose those.

Laurie,

with all due respect, on your website you frequently describe yourself as a socialist as well as a feminist.

The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party. They are a long, long way from that.

Personally, I am not a socialist. But I would still not vote Lib Dem for many reasons – mostly, that after working for the party for 9 months of 2009 I am convinced they cannot and will not be a force for promoting left-wing causes.

Of course everyone is pissed off with Labour. And the Party has got so, so much wrong. But you are all kidding yourselves if you think the Lib Dems are a leftwing alternative.

The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party. They are a long, long way from that

So are New Labour – in fact, further away from being socialist than the LibDems are.

“So are New Labour – in fact, further away from being socialist than the LibDems are.”

And that’s the key point. I have some sympathy for Labour activists on the ground right now – they must be having a hell of a time – but there’s no doubt that Labour has been disastrous for a lot of people who by rights expected more from the party – low paid workers who’ve been outsourced, asylum seekers, etc. It’s tragic, really, because we’ll probably end up with a Tory government that’ll be so vicious it’ll make Thatcher’s look fluffy. No doubt Labour party members will tell the likes of Laurie and Sunny ‘we told you so’ when that happens – but they’ll conveniently forget that New Labour’s rap sheet drove people to vote change, whatever the horrible outcome.

LibDems will surely want to make sure they come second in votes, so suspect they will not switch to Labour even in Lab-Con marginals?

I agree with Strategist and Paul. The LibDems are SO far from being anywhere near the ballpark of where we need to be on SO many fundamental issues, that it is pretty desperate for left-wingers to back them, except as a tactical choice in particular seats. It shows how low people’s horizons have become.
We need to raise our aim, raise our sights. Surely, in very many seats, the best option for LibCon readers is to vote Green, or (failing that) SNP or Plaid, or Respect, or independent, or socialist. Then there may be some particular Labour candidates/MPs (or LibDems) to support. Surely only after that do we get to a generalised recommendation of voting LibDem tactically in marginals to keep Tories (and New Labour sub-Thatcherites) etc out of government.

Well, I voted Green as my first vote at the Londonmayoral election and if I was in Brighton I’d vote for Caroline Lucas. So yeah, happy to vote green where applicable. Not in my are unfortunately

10. Yurrzem!

It seems to me more people want a hung parliament and electoral reform, so they won’t have this Hobson’s choice of Labour or Tory any more.

The Lib-Dems are doing well because their policy on electoral reform is a real change people want. That and the fact that Nick isn’t Gordon or Dave.

You can’t go around advising nationally to vote green or other small parties. And to be honest there are only two constituencies right now in the whole of the UK that seriously look like Greens could have a chance, so they are an exception to the rule.

But I lament at the idea that the Lib Dems aren’t being left wing:

Redistribution of money into poor areas for schooling, pay restraint that means the lowest paid will be able to get above inflation pay rises while the highest paid will get nominal rises, the redistribution of money from the top of the income chain to the bottom, removal of tax credits for high earners, shoring up capital gains to normalise it with income tax, allowing asylum seekers to work, protecting families from abuse in detention centres, a means to get current illegal immigrants in to the safety of the state, pension reform, winter fuel allowance for the disabled, extreme curbing of banking rewards in favour of increased public lending, investment in the north’s manufacturing sector, extended flexible working rights, anonymous applications, fair pay audits for medium to large size companies, scrap tuition fees, retaining bursaries in HE, attempt to guarantee places for disadvantaged well performing kids in university, fund further apprenticeships and foundation degrees, more freedom to chose your GP and have a say in your local health provision, giving front-line staff in the NHS much more say over their budgets and empowering them where possible with collective power on their ward, continue free entry to museums etc and increase free access to other facilities, reform national lottery tax to gain more for good causes, close planning loopholes to protect community spaces, improve sporting facilities and clubs, guarantee to protect the BBC, father’s rights for ante-natal appointments, absolute flexible paternal/maternal leave as they wish, aim to have 20hrs free childcare for every child, aim to increase parental leave to 18 months, minimum wage to be set as the same for all 16+ workers, end compulsory retirement ages, aim to pay all uk long-term residents a citizens pension, reform energy pricing so the first energy you use is the cheapest not the most expensive, protect consumers with maximum interest rates on store/credit cards, cut train fares, clamp down (har har) on private sector wheel-clamping and parking fine practices, pay rises for the lowest paid service personnel, better homes for forces’ families, drug addicts to be sentences to rehabilitation and support rather than prison, end the removal of asylum seekers to countries that they face persecution etc, depoliticise the asylum seeker system, restrict the use of repossession orders, powers for higher tax on second homes, local income tax instead of council tax…

They might not be quite your flavour of left wing, or not left wing enough, but any idea that this party isn’t out there for the poor, the working class and those in need is quite frankly bullshit.

Strategist

Where the Greens or Respect are in with a shout (Norwich, Brighton, Birmingham, Tower Hamlets), vote for them.

You need to specify that it’s Norwich South where the Greens are in with a shout. Here in Norwich North (and I’m sure C’llr Rupert Read will correct me if I’m wrong), the Green’s haven’t got a hope.So to keep the Tories out in Norwich North the best course is to vote for the Labour candidate John Cook.

But I have to say I’m with Paul Sagar on this, in that I’m also baffled as to how people who harp on about being lefties or socialists can be bigging up the Lib Dems: ‘cos they’re very far from being a party of the left. They’re anti-union for one thing, and they most definitely don’t represent the interests of the working class.

Well the anti-union sentiment depends on if you still believe that unions are doing the right thing for the workers. I’m all for workers’ rights, but I cannot see how the unions are helping. We need a new way of achieving fairness between employer and employee…cutting your own nose off to spite your face doesn’t cut it any more. But we did have a thread on this somewhere before I believe.

I think it’s a bit rough to describe someone as being not left wing because they don’t believe the current constructs is less and less serving it’s original left wing purpose.

Wake up people!

A lot of you sound like a bunch of unconvincing student lefties arguing the toss about leftist purity. Can’t you see it’s like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

The discredited New Labour experiment never was left-wing, and it is to the eternal shame of those on the left who tolerated them for so long, that they appear to be happy to risk a Tory victory because they doubt the LD’s progressive credentials!

If you want progressive policies, ensure a hung parliament and electoral reform. Ensure that we will never again be subjected to the unbridled, authoritarian, deeply illiberal rule of the Tories or Labour. If you think either of them are likely to deliver on ANY major issue the progressive left cares about mentioned above, you need therapy.

“bankers’ red-cheeked sons deciding policy in private lunches with their friends from university”.

I didn’t think people made judgments about people based on the colour of their skin any more. I’m trying to think of who’s got red cheeks. I’ve noticed that Tibetans tend to have redder cheeks than the Han Chinese. With regards to the area I come from, one does see quite a few red-cheeked people. Usually, they’re men who’ve spent a lot of their time working on the land and in their gardens. I can’t see anything wrong with them. Perhaps they have a different kind of red-cheeked person down in the smoke.

Torygeddon? I’ve lived under two monarchs 13 prime ministers, six Labour and seven Conservative. Life goes on, no matter who’s in government. Does anyone really buy into this “we’re all doomed” stuff, apart from young people with limited life experience?

o are New Labour – in fact, further away from being socialist than the LibDems are.

Only in the sense they are (for a few more days) in government, not opposition.

Opposition parties are, by their nature, against things. It takes a pretty extreme attraction to some particular policy (e.g. the Tories over Iraq) to break that basic rule.

I guess the main advantage of some form of PR system is everyone will be able to simultaneously claim to be in opposition. Meanwhile a small bunch of civil servants can get on with actually running the country.

This, after all, works pretty well in Germany (though not so much in Italy or Israel).

17. Thomas Greenan

@ Paul Sagar and Cath Elliott

As a lot of people are noting, a strong Lib Dem showing would be a step towards a fairer voting system. PR or some kind of PR-like system is a prerequisite for a shift to the left and giving more radical left parties representation in the system, so I think the enthusiasm for the LDs among those on the left makes perfect sense at this time. Particularly those who are in favour of social liberalism as something which can help the poor (esp. drug policy, law and order and immigration), and those who are in favour of helping the poor regardless of which parties do it, rather than being partisan.

I say this as a not particularly involved Lib Dem member fyi.

18. Matthew Stiles

In Leyton and Wanstead, the Labour candidate is John Cryer, a genuine socialist and when previously MP for Hornchurch was a member of the Campaign Group. If Laurie is a “socialist and feminist” it really should be a no-brainer to vote for John Cryer.

Well said Cath Elliot …

Re: Paul Sagar @ 4

You’re being obtuse, LP already anticipated the ‘not socialist enough’ angle. In addition to the pragmatic title, she writes:

“I don’t think they were sent to save us. I’d prefer to vote for a third party that had stronger links with workers’ organisations. But the Lib Dems represent the best chance this country has for transformation on a structural level.”

It’s only polite to actually read the entire article before commenting.

21. lespetroleuse

A vote for the Lib Dems in Leyton and Wansted is plain daft even by the lights of tactical voting. There is a clear and present danger of helping the blue peril produce Torygeddon here; it would take a 10% swing, eminently possible if the Labour vote collapses.

There isn’t a lot to choose between Lib-Dem and Tory notional votes if the 2005 result is projected to the new constituency boundaries.

What’s more, Labour candidate John Cryer, a former jounalist for both Tribune and the Morning Star is certainly not in the New Labour mould.

Vote Labour for a left Labour MP in Leyton and Wansted.
Vote Lib-Dem and take pot-luck with a fair chance of a Tory MP.

Laurie,

You are neatly buying into Labour and the LibDem’s shared narrative shared or ‘Torygeddon / Tory cuts’.

I don’t want to be the first to break it to you, but ……….. we’re in for cuts like we haven’t seen before no matter who wins.

PS: Calling David Cameron ‘evil’ is hardly the stuff of a serious writer.

I am very sceptical about this “progressive left realignment” to be achieved through PR (or Woy’s Wet Dweam as I like to call it after one of its prinicipal advocates, the late Roy Jenkins). And we had a gut full of it in the ’80s when it looked like Thatcher would be a 1000 Year Reich.

First, this notion of an “anti-Tory” majority in the country. Remember people vote for a party and there are dozens of reasons why people vote for a politcal party, voting Labour or Lib-Dem because you are “anti-Tory” is just one of them. But just because you vote Labour or Lib-Dem does not make you ipso facto part of an “anti-Tory” bloc.

Secondly, this realignment has been talked about more or less since Labour took over from the Liberals as the party of the left in the UK. And what it really boils down to is this: ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a ‘progressive’ party of bien pensant liberals and social democrats without all these horrid socialists and trade unionists’.

We wouldn’t have as you say: “…bankers’ red-cheeked sons deciding policy in private lunches with their friends from university and the nice men from Fox”. What we would have instead is Polly Toynbee, Nick Clegg and James Purnell & co deciding policy over a couple of bottles of red in the sunny Dordogne.

If you think I am exaggerating I can remember a piece in the New Statesmen in the late ’80s after Thatcher’s 1987 election victory advocating a Labour/Lib-Dem pact and saying by way of intro something like: “..if Neil Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown got together in Tuscany over a couple of bottles of red they would find they agreed on most things”.

BTW the Lib Dems may have leftish MPs and members but they are allowed nowhere near the leadership. The leadership of the Lib Dems (inclduing Vince Cable) is centre-right and puts forward the neo-liberal policies of the ‘Orange Book’ which stresses the role of the free market – to several societal issues, such as public healthcare, pensions, environment, globalisation, social and agricultural policy, local government, the European Union and prisons.

And nice ol’ Uncle Vince is positively antediluvian when it comes to trade unions. He wants more restrictions on unions including a ban on strikes in ‘essential services’ i.e. those that directly affect politicians, business leader and the metropolitan media.

PS
Before I start getting accused of being some New Labour appartachik, I would like to point out I detest New Labour. I am an unaligned old lefty, who will either not vote or, spoil his paper at the election. What if we all did that!!” you cry. Well then I’d be a damn fool not to wouldn’t I?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Change we've got to believe in. http://bit.ly/9VheRr

  2. Tim Ireland

    RT @libcon: Change we've got to believe in. http://bit.ly/9VheRr

  3. Lee Griffin

    RT: @libcon Change we've got to believe in. http://bit.ly/9VheRr <- it's more important now to stop the Tories winning than fight each other

  4. Gary Banham

    The change needed is a Liberal one. #votelibdem RT @libcon: Change we've got to believe in. http://bit.ly/9VheRr

  5. Les Crompton

    RT @libcon: Change we've got to believe in. http://bit.ly/b607C3

  6. Rev Nev

    RT @libcon: Change we've got to believe in. http://bit.ly/9VheRr

  7. business4change

    'Change we've got to believe in' clever blog from @libcon http://bit.ly/9L20Xm #ukelections #ukpolitics

  8. Mark Townsend

    RT @libcon Change we’ve got to believe in. http://bit.ly/csQjoR

  9. David Hodges

    RT @Niaccurshi: RT: @libcon Change we've got to believe in. http://bit.ly/9VheRr <- it's more important now to stop the Tories winnin …

  10. Serena Vento

    'Change we've got to believe in' clever blog from @libcon http://bit.ly/9L20Xm #ukelections #ukpolitics





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