5:46 pm - January 9th 2011
Saturday’s first netrootsuk conference was an interesting attempt to bring people together to discuss the links between online and offline campaigning.
My central point was about the limits of marching-in-step unity give the scale of the diverse and plural coalition we will need. The event brought together hundreds of people, representing organisations and networks with the ability to mobilise many tens of thousands.
[links to round-up of coverage below]
I argued that we should be confident about our ability to persuade the public – based on our success in winning the fairness argument over the last six months, as I set out at Left Foot Forward yesterday. It is the “there is no alternative” argument which was increasingly preaching only to the already converted.
We are never going to agree about everything – and have to make that a strength for a broad coalition whose job is to persuade 15 or 20 million people that these cuts aren’t inevitable or fair. There is a shared project. False Economy articulate the common ground succinctly:
False Economy is for everyone who thinks the coalition is cutting too much, too fast and wants to do something about it.
How we handle inevitable disagreements within that will be one essential test of whether the movement can be a sustained and successful one. My point was along the lines of: “If you want to oppose the closure of your local library, you don’t have to produce and cost an alternative Comprehensive Spending Review, while its different if you are the Shadow Chancellor: people will expect at least the broad brush strokes of your an alternative budget”.
There are three broad points to make on this:
1. We come to these issues because we are motivated by different things. Some people want to stop their local library closing; a small number of people still hope all of this will somehow lead to the revolution. More of us will want to elect a Labour government; build up the Green party, or perhaps try to shift the LibDems towards the kind of party that many of their voters thought that they were.
2. So we are going to disagree – sometimes over really quite big questions.
Some people will think stopping half of the cuts would represent tens of billions of pounds of real change in people’s lives. Others would think that would leave tens of billions of further cuts which should be stopped too. That’s going to be an important policy argument.
For me, the biggest test of our ability to find common ground and then disagree with respect within a broad campaigning coalition is that we agree that we share responsibility for shifting public opinion against the government on the question of whether its cuts are both necessary and fair.
3. We’re not going to do is create a unified leadership that agree on everything. So I think it would be a mistake to think that it is somehow a failure on the part of Ed Miliband, Caroline Lucas, Polly Toynbee, the unions or anybody else if they haven’t somehow articulated the alternative plan for a fairer, greener economy and society which can bring everybody who opposes the government’s cuts on board.
The argument “we must have complete unity – and we will get there on the basis of everybody agreeing with me” will be futile, whether it is made by Alan Johnson, Brendan Barber, Caroline Lucas, Sunder Katwala, Laurie Penny or indeed SWP-style perspectives, perhaps captured by the passionately anti-Labour speaker from the floor, who lambasted Labour as a complete sell-out over Iraq and everything else, before saying “Of course, we want Left Unity but it will have to be about Labour coming to us”.
There is not going to be a central coordinating committee where UK Uncut, the trade unions, Age UK, Greenpeace, the Green Party or the Labour frontbench get to agree or veto the advocacy of other groups.
Obviously, my argument entails that it is entirely legitimate for everybody else to advocate entirely different strategies to both shifting public arguments and producing radical alternatives.
But I am going to (respectfully) disagree with campaign tactics or policy arguments which seem to me likely to make winning those public arguments more difficult, and I will try to reserve head-on and vocal challenges only those contributions made in a language of “betrayal”, especially where these seem designed to close down the space to build alternatives, and to persuade people to choose them.
However, disagreement with respect is going to work better where we can disagree on the basis of what people are actually arguing, rather than to caricature or misrepresent arguments, even if this facilitates Penny’s further (and entertainingly) polemical claim by Laurie Penny on Twitter that:
We’re listening politely whilst appointed arbiters of the centre-left mow the grassroots into a neat, acceptable bourgeois lawn
Not my project – though I will admit to being enormously sceptical about “bourgeois” as a rhetorical tool of political persuasion. Beyond its hoary, coalition-narrowing desire to brand all non-prole participation as illegitimate, there is some considerable dissonance in that being deployed by somebody who so identifiably represents an emerging strand of the Staggers’ proud – mainly middle-class – radical traditions.
The middle-class left have historically been one significant strand of many effective campaigns – from anti-slavery and votes for women to the creation of the NHS and the welfare state, the abolition of the death penalty, liberal equalities campaigning on feminism, apartheid and gay rights. Can anybody identify any major social change from the French Revolution onwards which did not depend on a cross-class coalition of support?)
Still, whereever the unruly, unmowed grassroots can successfully shift attitudes and appetites for greater equality, let a thousand flowers bloom, and no doubt one or two weeds too.
A longer post is at Next Left
Speeches from the event
Nigel Stanley challenges for campaigners.
Sunder Katwala on how the government lost the fairness argument at LFF.
Clifford Singer on potential alliance with angry middle of the Daily Mail.
Luke Bozier has posted his netroots presentation on engaging locally online
Jessica Riches on organising the UCL occupation.
The Guardian’s Matthew Taylor blogged across the day
OurKingdom’s preview from Niki Seth-Smith on how far online activism has come.
Shamik Das sums up the opening session – and which arguments we’re winning.
Duncan Robinson says the central theme was hacktivists of the world unite
Useful summary from Nick Anstead on both speakers and audience debate.
Nick Anstead on engaging with politicians online
Jon Worth say we could learn more from netroots Sweden than the US.
Mark Pack talks about how to do that.
Gethyn Williams has a delegate’s report and lots of handy netroots links and resources too.
Caroline Crampton found delegates wanted more practical advice and less commentary.
LFF on how freedom of information can help anti-cuts campaigns.
Raven reports for London Masala and Chips
John’s Labour blog has a quick post, with a promise of more today.
Will Straw on the growth and future challenges of the netroots movement.
Carl Packman has a report from Netroots
At Third Estate, Owen also has brief thoughts
Richard Murphy From Tax Research also writes about Netroots.
Gary Banham did not appreciate the Labour speakers.
Sam Smith thinks the networking was the best part.
Michael at Red Pepper thinks a new front is opening up in a broader social struggle.
Reuters reports on Brendan Barber’s opening contribution on building new alliances
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
· Other posts by Sunder Katwala
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Fight the cuts
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Reactions: Twitter, blogs
- Liberal Conspiracy
We have to embrace our differences when opposing cuts #netrootsuk http://bit.ly/f7AQWa
- Stephen Lintott
RT @libcon: We have to embrace our differences when opposing cuts #netrootsuk http://bit.ly/f7AQWa
- sunny hundal
@lisaansell …then that's up to you, but I won't join in that. My position is articulated by Sunder K here: – http://bit.ly/f7AQWa
- blogs of the world
We have to embrace our differences when opposing cuts #netrootsuk. by Sunder Katwala Janu… http://reduce.li/un5tkl #opposing
- Sunder Katwala
- Reply to Sunder Katwala | Student Theory
[…] to Sunder Katwala I drafted my post on NetrootsUK yesterday before I had read Sunder Katwala’s article for Liberal Conpiracy. In this post, Sunder refers to my intervention in the opening […]
- Pickled Politics » The Labour party and the Netroots – my thoughts
[…] Sunder said, there won’t be one leader, one method or one motivation behind challenging the […]
- SOCIALIST UNITY » SUNNY HUNDAL ON NETROOTS AND THE LABOUR PARTY
[…] Sunder said, there won’t be one leader, one method or one motivation behind challenging the government’s […]
- The future of Netroots: Online at the heart of all of what we do | Netroots UK
[…] of focusing on those differences, matters that (as Sunder correctly points out) we’re unlikely to be able to reconcile any time soon, we should ask ourselves what we do […]
- blogs of the world
I think that the everyday difference a Labour government is a bit more than you (though yo… http://reduce.li/nqojqe #difference
- sunny hundal
@gwenhwyfaer and if ppl get bogged down by denouncing others for disagreeing, we'll lose. see – http://bit.ly/f7AQWa
- Matt Bradley
RT @sunny_hundal: @gwenhwyfaer and if ppl get bogged down by denouncing others for disagreeing, we'll lose. see – http://bit.ly/f7AQWa
- Tim Hardy
@lisaansell Absolutely. Hate speech is dangerous extreme. @libcon can be troll-bound but I want more debates like this: http://j.mp/e1tfZB
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