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This Saturday: where does politics online go from here?


7:47 pm - February 16th 2011

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contribution by Sian Berry

This Saturday, at the Progressive London conference hosted by Ken Livingstone, I’ll be chairing a discussion on politics and new media, so I’ve been reflecting on how quickly things can change.

It’s been nearly three years since the first Blog Nation, organised by Sunny Hundal and the Guardian (pictures here). It was pretty much a crisis meeting: where the main question seemed to be (I paraphrase) ‘Why the hell is the political web so dominated by right wingers?’, with ‘and men!‘ as a strong additional current of complaint.

A lot has changed since then, including the rise of social networks. At last, I think, the progressive left has caught up online.

But what this means for political parties and the upcoming elections in Wales, Scotland, London and Westminster is very much open to debate. I hope that the session at Progressive London will discuss these questions, and many more.

Is the infrastructure our friend? Are blogs and social networks now inherently more suited to progressive ideas?

Being in opposition is a factor in our new strength (as discussed at Blog Nation, it’s easier to get an audience when you’re opposing power rather than shoring it up), but is there more to it than that? Or could a British equivalent to the Tea Party use the same platforms to spread regressive, reactionary ideas?

Can the liberal left use their new online power to win elections, and do they want to?

It’s not clear at all that influencing representative democracy should be the next step for movements like UK Uncut that thrive on leaderless, flat organisation. While parties and elections remain all about focusing power on individuals, are they anathema to these new networks? What could bring them closer together?

Who benefits? As much fun as it would be to throw out the Tories and their coalition partners after one term, would replacing them with Labour achieve what we want?

In London it’s relatively easy to see how Ken Livingstone could benefit from some of the UK Uncut-style activists swinging behind his re-election. Ken has always been an outsider within Labour, and a pluralist when in power, but it’s harder to see how the mainstream of the Labour Party could inspire active support from this new generation of campaigners.

With four years until the next general election, does the party have time to allow itself to be shaped by these new movements? Alternatively (and given the rapid changes that seem to be possible in this new climate) could minor parties or even new parties rise up to take their place?

—-
At the session on Saturday, I’ll be joined by Mark Ferguson of Labourlist, New Statesman blogger Laurie Penny, Sunny Hundal from Liberal Conspiracy, Shamik Das from Left Foot Forward, Daniel Garvin of UKuncut and Andy Newman from Socialist Unity

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Reader comments


Well I deliberately left it a few hours before commenting as I didn’t want the first post to be off-topic, but it seems like I have no choice – Sian Berry’s post is just too uncontroversial.

I posted on a thread about Labour the other day that I wouldn’t vote Labour unless they supported the Chagos Islanders going home but I have to admit, I don’t know what the Green Party policy is regarding them – Miss Berry, do you know?

I generally support the Green Party but one problem I have with the Greens is that they don’t have much to say on crime and punishment. Take this case:

“Call this justice? Teen thug who threw brick into a talented young athlete’s face, leaving her with a fractured skull, is fined just £200 [and given 12-month referral order]”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1355149/Teenage-thug-fractured-Samantha-Sadlers-skull-brick-fined-just-200.html

I don’t think for one moment that that was an appropriate resolution to that case. And over recent months and years I’ve read about many cases where I don’t consider that there has been an appropriate conclusion.

What will the Green Party do about cases like that one?

Relevant discussion of qus about activism and political power would be nice!

Matt: you should direct your questions about Green policies to *members* of the party. I can’t comment on their behalf, I’m afraid.

Are blogs and social networks now inherently more suited to progressive ideas?

What are “progressive” ideas?

Matt – that’s great but it has nothing to do with this topic. I’m afraid there won’t be any more discussion of Green party issues on this post.

Oh, I didn’t know that she’d left the party. Nevermind.

Interesting question here – my experience of blogging is that the right-wing are already making full and thorough use of it – probably more than the left.

Perhaps instead of writing for ourselves, we should be writing to attract a wider audience.

@ 4. BenSix …..this is my age showing now !

Political progressives are thought to have originated here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era

As you will see, strong Liberal base but lacking long term development as a political force.

The question about the Labour Party is the big one for me. We need to get rid of the Tories as soon as possible, the consequences of a second term would be disastrous, especially as now we seem to be heading for fixed terms of 5 years. However I do not want to replace them with Tory Lite. New Labour failed to remove illiberal and regressive laws brought in by the Tories. I want any future Labour government to be brave enough to not conveniently do the same.

@2 Matt. You should be wary of asking politicians to become involved with court decisions. It usually results in bad law and injustice.

@ Cherub

Seconded (on both counts!).

Whilst the new media can be seen as a useful adjunct, it will not in and of itself win or lose the next GE for the Labour party, or the progressive left more generally.

I can’t be the only one who thinks that the start made on de-toxifying the Labour brand is DEEPLY unimpressive. Perhaps that was always going to be the case; too many New Labour cling-ons, the corrosive effects of 13 years of illiberal authoritarianism, the necessity to chose a new leader….

and yet… where is the passion, where is the willingness to put some distance between the party and the Coalition, and the mistakes of the recent past?

The OP is right that “it’s harder to see how the mainstream of the Labour Party could inspire active support from this new generation of campaigners.”, because they don’t beleive Labour has repented, and aren’t seeing enough evidence that it won’t simply be New Labour Lite.

Sian,

But what this means for political parties and the upcoming elections in Wales, Scotland, London and Westminster is very much open to debate. I hope that the session at Progressive London will discuss these questions, and many more.

I hope you do. And I hope your delegates go away and vote for Plaid Cymru and the SNP respectively.

I can kind of see why you progressive Londoners care about Ken, but you really don’t take an interest in Iain Grey, do you? Do you know who he is, even?

Doubt you will be able to discuss that in a fair or equitable way. But I could be wrong. Have you invited any speakers from Wales or Scotland to speak?

Apparently not. Your speakers are all admirable but not one of them is qualified to talk about other options for the UK. Not indeed, how dismal Iain Grey actually is.

an unabridged version of this article is here:

http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=7719

I think the Right have the advantage here because they speak to people’s ‘gut reactions’ and perhaps most strikingly their prejudices. It is so easy to pull out a story regarding a ‘chav’ family none of whom work ‘earning’ £££££ and add whatever number you want. Or the asylum seeker in a big house etc. The left do not have any real snappy answer, because these stories are more complicated than that. You find when you dig a little deeper, you find that there is more to the issue. However, the Right are not interested in the bigger issues, they are too busy framing the narrative for that.

The Left are more interested in winning battles among ourselves than reaching out to the wider public. We are more likely to scour the Chilcot enquiry for an inconstancy than address the real issues that affect the normal lives of millions of our natural supporters. Whether Iraq, Palestine and even Afghanistan are the things that SHOULD be bringing in the punters, it isn’t. Sometimes I despair at the issues that come up on this and other sites at the topics of the day. Who is going to be impressed by a take down on Melanie Phillips’ views on gay marriage? Don’t get me wrong, gay rights issues are central to progressive politics, but no-one is going to be brought into the fold, because Melanie Phillips has been dissected on a blog are they? I mean, your average Daily Hate reader is not reading that and thinking ‘hmm, that is right, perhaps the progressive movement is for me’, on the other hand, if you deeply support gay blessing or marriage, you are already on our side anyway. Life is not fair and repeating the same post on these issues, may reinforce the converted, but the millions of people who are looking at voting BNP or not bothering to vote at all are not impressed.

Fuck me, we had a multi post debate on whether the term ‘ConDem’ was appropriate.

I listened to radio five this morning and there was palpable anger, anger because of two things, unemployment and the fear of unemployment. Well that is fine because the ‘Left’ and the ‘Labour movement’ have been attempting to address this for over a hundred years. Yet the Left have appeared silent on this. Instead of mobilising this fear and anger into a movement, the Left have appeared to be sitting on the sidelines and watching as the Tories spout out about the ‘chav’ family on benefits.

We have seen the exploitation of workers via, short term working, zero hour contracts, agencies and the like and the ‘mainstream ‘ Left have been seemingly out of the picture on this issue. When Labour was in power, these people were abandoned and now these people have no reason to come back to the fold.

Unless the progressive movement are willing to defend the weaker members of our society, then the game is up.

“With four years until the next general election, does the party have time to allow itself to be shaped by these new movements? Alternatively (and given the rapid changes that seem to be possible in this new climate) could minor parties or even new parties rise up to take their place?”

The party has the time, whether it has the will is an entirely different matter. I have my doubts about how successful the “changing from within” concept will actually be, so the idea that Labour will be significantly influenced by such outside forces seems unlikely.

If the AV referendum fails, there will be precious little reason for the usual suspects who turned the Labour party into the authoritarian husk which lost the last election to change.

Despite my distaste for the LibDems, the main reason for non-party members, and those disillusioned with the LD’s, to hope the AV referendum passes is to bring about an increased role for existing or new minor parties. We already knew the Tories and Labour weren’t fit for purpose; now we know most in the LD’s are just about as bad, we can only hope for something different to come about at the next GE.

@13 Jim

“I mean, your average Daily Hate reader is not reading that and thinking ‘hmm, that is right, perhaps the progressive movement is for me’, on the other hand, if you deeply support gay blessing or marriage, you are already on our side anyway.”

That’s only partly true; some will think that way, but as other have pointed out, it is a mistake to assume that your average Mail or Sun reader (assuming such a thing exists) uncritically swallows their editorial line. Plenty of people who self identify as left of centre read the Sun.

Similarly, whilst there is a debate to be had about our truly dreadful media, and it’s right wing bias it also true that social attitudes HAVE changed over the past decades. Leaving aside carpet biters on the right, and sundry religious wing nuts, most people now happily accept many things that drive Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells into a frothing rage.

Labour didn’t lose support because it was seen as too progressive. Yes, it lost support, and ultimately the election, partly because it was seen to abandon weaker members of society and to care less about “real” issues affecting “real” people, but also because it became, and was seen to be, deeply illiberal and authoritarian.

The challenge over the next few years will be to convince people that Labour can both convince people it cares about the issues you discuss in your post, but also that it will be progressive, radical and liberal witha small “l”. If it can’t do that it won’t succeed…and it won’t deserve to.

Good topic Sian, and I think this decides me to come on Saturday.

A big problem for many of us who have supported Ken for years or decades is that he is actually not very pluralist or keen on participatory politics when in power. The conference looked to me the same: packed to the rafters with Famous Names preaching to the converted but not so hot on spaces for debate and discussion.

But your outine for a discussion looks constructive.

PS I wish people in the UK would avoid rallying under the ‘liberal’ banner. They must be appealing to USA usage where ‘liberal’ means progressive / a bit left. But in the UK it’s totally tarnished or confused by the neo-liberal-ism of recent governments of all parties. The people I work with want to work alongside opponents of that sort of liberalism.

Michael

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 13 Jim

“Fuck me, we had a multi post debate on whether the term ‘ConDem’ was appropriate.”

Good times, good times…

18. Simon Norton

We don’t have to wait till the end of this parliamentary term to oust the Tories, and with our whole social fabric in danger (to take the issue that most concerns me, sustainable transport users face being “ethnically cleansed” from the countryside) I don’t think we can afford to. Lib Dem councillors all over the country have spoken out against the cuts, and we need to put pressure on them to make this a sticking point for the coalition, and on Labour to be willing to make deep compromises — perhaps as far as the wholesale adoption of the Lib Dem manifesto till the next general election — as the price of getting rid of the Tories. I am sure that a programme can be set out such that if the members of the Lib Dems, Labour, Greens and enough of the other smaller parties to secure a parliamentary majority were asked to choose between that programme and what’s happening now they’d jump for the former.

The highlights of the alternative coalition agreement I’d like to see are green investment paid for by green taxes, an end to public service cuts, full proportional representation and more devolution to regional and local government including full fiscal autonomy.

Cherub:
“@2 Matt. You should be wary of asking politicians to become involved with court decisions. It usually results in bad law and injustice.”

No I was talking about cases LIKE that one. There are several other cases I can think of which have had similarly poor outcomes.

Fine, this isn’t the place to discuss things like that but perhaps people can suggest a place that is which still has left-wingers on it. As one or two people above have suggested or implied, the Right actually have something to say on issues like that. And in my reckoning, a lot of people do care about them. Sian Berry, perhaps after this conference on Saturday you can write a post somewhere about cases like the following and what the Left should do, if it should be interested in doing anything at all.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1354591/Judge-blasts-ladette-culture-Amy-Leigh-Smith-17-blinds-mother-stiletto.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1350457/Career-criminal-Stephen-Benson-killed-duty-policeman-hit-run-smash.html


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    This Saturday: where does politics online go from here? http://bit.ly/f651zS

  2. sunny hundal

    This Saturday @sianberry will chair a debate at @ProLondon on where leftwing online politics/activism goes from here – http://bit.ly/f651zS

  3. Simon Fletcher

    RT @libcon: This Saturday: where does politics online go from here? http://bit.ly/f651zS #prolondon11

  4. Ken Livingstone Team

    Sian Berry on @ProLondon conference RT @libcon: This Saturday: where does politics online go from here? http://bit.ly/f651zS #prolondon11

  5. Jonathan Taylor

    RT @libcon: This Saturday: where does politics online go from here? http://bit.ly/f651zS

  6. conspiracy theo

    This Saturday: where does politics online go from here? | Liberal … http://bit.ly/gSA0ma

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    Sian Berry writes on @libcon abt online politics session at #prolondon11 http://bit.ly/f651zS

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    RT @ProLondon: Sian Berry writes on @libcon abt online politics session at #prolondon11 http://bit.ly/f651zS

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