Dark Days Ahead

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A scene from Britain today, not the 1980s.

Against all odds I got back a bit of defiant spirit last night and tried to think of how we can make any sort of progress or preserve some of the progress that had been made over the last forty years.

Sadly, thinking about it just made me more depressed.

Things look pretty bloody bleak for the near future and the people worst affected are going to be the poorest and most vulnerable. All that EU funding for deprived areas is going to vanish and if you think our (already vanished) savings from not contributing to the EU will be redirected that way I have a bridge to sell you.

The worst wing of the Tory party is likely to sail into power following Cameron’s resignation, very likely with Boris at the helm (barring the exit chickens coming home to roost rather quickly). That’s going to me super-double-turbo austerity and a rolling back of workers and human rights legislation.

Even if there’s a general election, the combination of gerrymandering, Brexit-fallout nationalism and Labour civil war (not to mention Liberal irrelevance) is likely to mean another Tory victory and likely a stronger one.

The NHS is under threat as never before. The economy is going to be uncertain – and fucked – for years.

It’s hard to see any silver lining.

All we can really hope to do is to fight to maintain the ground we currently have and in the current situation that stands little chance of success. It would take Poll Tax Riot era unrest to turn things around and that seems massively unlikely no matter how bad things get. The era of protest having an effect seems to have passed.

Perhaps we can’t hope to affect anything in the immediate future and part of the reason for that are the problems on the (broadest church) left.

While there has been racism and xenophobia on the Leave side and while a lot of people appear to have voted leave because of ignorance (in the non-pejorative sense, they just didn’t really know anything about the EU or the fallout) or because of false promises and lies (350m for the NHS, immigration control, ‘the EU isn’t democratic) I think the fault can be laid much more at the feet of the Regressive Left itself.

Many of the Leave side were not and are not racist or xenophobic. They have had legitimate concerns about their access to public services. They have legitimate concerns about Islamism, about work, about council housing, about access to the NHS. It isn’t racism so much as resentment, fear and hardship. The benefits of the EU membership were not made obvious to the people who benefited the most – as has become apparent as areas that strongly voted Leave now come begging for replacement money.

Much of the Remain camp – who tossed around insults rather than arguments have continued to do so in the wake of the referendum, as though carrying on doing the same thing would work. People have increasingly become pissed off – and even immune – to insults that portray their legitimate concerns as racist, sexist, xenophobia.

This Regressive Left bullshit has to end. This vote has made it obvious where the fractures and problems in society are and they lie in wealth, class and the uneven distribution of services and wellbeing. This is a legacy of Thatcher gutting social housing, the deliberate undermining of the NHS and all the other inequalities in our system. The smug remnants of the Middle Class are fighting on relatively petty issues that pale into insignificance compared to these massive cultural divisions and have alienated the base they need to activate to get these changes in the process. When you can’t get work or access to a doctor or dentist, when you’re relying on food banks to eat, these more esoteric concerns are meaningless.

A society can only be so liberal and tolerant as it can afford.

I’m much more frustrated with my own political ‘side’ than I am with the racist opportunists and even the softer right-wing that has re-channelled hardship into hatred and fear so they don’t have to deal with it. The sneering Guardianistas did a lot of damage looking down on people and with wealth disparity so high in this country you simply can’t afford to do that.

The left needs to cant back to dealing with the primary source of inequality – wealth.

  • Basic income.
  • Helping small businesses, start-ups, part-timers and micro-businesses.
  • Hand-Ups.
  • Wealth redistribution.
  • Economic diversification
  • Education and leadership rather than popularism.
  • Commitments to science, pragmatism and modernity.

I can’t see it happening though. Maybe there’ll be a split in the Labour party, but for all Corbyn has acted with muted class this referendum it would be a split between the Regressive Left and ‘Blue Labour’ – the Blairites. Not the split we need.

We also need societal reform in the media and in education. That is also massively unlikely to occur.

We have to fix the left/liberal side of politics before we can even attempt to fix anything else.

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The Sad Inevitability of Discussion on Belgium

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If sensible people don’t have a sensible discussion, stupid people will have a stupid one.

The conversations and stories after these all-too-common terrorism attacks are also all too common. They’re chillingly similar to the conversations that follow school shootings in America. On the one hand you have people so deep in denial they could be extras in The Mummy. On the other you have people simplistically blaming.

When it comes to the problem of Islamic terrorism, what follows these events is just as tiresomely predictable. On the one hand you have people deep in denial that Islam is part of the problem, who will not even countenance that the ideology entangled with Islam be part of the discussion and who blame everything on the west in an orgy of self-flagellation. On the other you often do have the kind of paranoid ‘white supremacy’ lunatics and racists who latch on to what isn’t a race issue (Islam being a religion and ideology adhered to by many races).

The Regressive Left will not allow a remotely nuanced or wholly inclusive discussion of the problem, because the problem includes Islam and like their opposite numbers on the far right they mysteriously see that as a racial issue, when it’s an ideological and religious one.

Unfortunately, the chilling effect of the spurious accusations of racism etc means that sensible, intelligent, nuanced people are rendered virtually unable to discuss the issue. Either because they daren’t – having seen what happens to others who do – or because they become so entangled in defending their reputation against people who will not listen, that they can’t progress the conversation.

Even calm, collected and ruthlessly rational people like Sam Harris get ‘greenwalded’ to death. Even former Islamists like Majid Nawaz get the most racist insults (porch monkey) for making more measured and complete arguments for Islamic reform and addressing the fact that the religious ideology is part of the issue.

Because the left is rendered incapable of having this discussion, that means the discussion happens on the right instead. Most especially within those circles on the far right where accusations of racism – spurious or accurate – have no meaningful impact and can’t or won’t silence people.

By not having the difficult, realistic, complete discussions we are ceding the discussion, and power, and popularity, to the right. Much of it to the far right. To the kind of paranoid lunatics who espouse ‘white genocide’ and similar conspiracy nonsense. The ones who are made credible when governments apply pressure to censor Facebook, when the police daren’t arrest rape gangs out of fear of accusations, when the news media isn’t replicating what people are reporting on the ground, then we’ve lost the argument and we lose people to the worst and most extreme elements – and we lose more and more of them.

To fixate on Islam and exclude the other factors is incomplete, but this is true the other way around as well. It has to be acknowledged that Islam is an unreformed religion with a tendency to be interpreted in absolutist and uncompromising terms. It needs a reformation, but that needs to come from within, via people like Nawaz and via more liberal interpretations of Islam as found in the smaller sects and culturally amongst people like the Kurds. The Kurds, rather than the house of Saud, is who should get Western support – they and people like them have a, frankly, more civilised interpretation of Islam that could be the vital seed for a greater reformation.

War will not solve this problem, nor will paranoiac security concerns, but in the short term these may be needed things – applied properly without overreach (which is not an easy thing to do). We won’t solve the problem by ignoring the issues people have around immigration, or treating them as stupid. We won’t solve the problem by conflating economic migrants and refugees, we’ll just help continue to demonise the second. We won’t solve the problem by failing to encourage integration, by creating (or allowing) ghettos or not encouraging or expecting people to integrate and adapt to the values of their new home.

The left, my left, seems unable to cope with Islam. Here is a religious ideology that massively and overwhelmingly counter to everything the liberal left supposedly stands for. It is elitist, repressive, genuinely patriarchal and misogynistic, violently homophobic. Everything we are supposed to be against, yet – apparently – because it’s a religious minority (in the west), largely followed by people who happen to have brown skins it is somehow beyond reproach.

People of any colour are capable of hideous deeds. Ideologies and religions frequently encourage or excuse the worst depths of poor human behaviour. We do not see the same reticence to criticise or attack other bigoted ideologies such as (genuine) neo-Nazism and the double standard on this issue is blatant.

We simply cannot afford to have these conversations only happening on the right and the far right. It’s alienating people. It’s undermining the left. It’s making us look like hypocrites.

The hard conversations need to be had.