I want to see the Left play dirty… also known as doing politics

Lili Bidwell 19 April 2017

So Theresa May will not be taking part in election debates in the run up to the proposed snap election on June 8th. No she isn’t “running scared” and no she doesn’t believe that meeting voters is what truly matters. She knows that a panel made up of Labour, Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru will tear itself apart, and explode into a confused suicide pact with everyone drinking the Kool-Aid. She could be there to watch, but it would be undignified and it would be unnecessary. Plus there is a risk that she might betray the complete lack of direction, unity and any sense of what is going on in her own party. Best she stays at home.

Tim Farron, ever the yappy terrier of British politics, has commented, “If the Prime Minister won’t attend – empty chair her – Corbyn can defend her position as they seem to vote the same on these matters. You have a moral duty to hold these debates.” No Tim Farron, YOU have a moral duty to unite the crumbling Left. Perhaps your tiny sliver of centrism will grow as a result of you undermining the Labour Party, but your lack of concern about where you take votes from betrays the irresponsible lack of pragmatism in the British Left, centrist or otherwise.

The division of the Left has haunted global politics over the past year. Pre-election polls in America consistently showed that Bernie Sanders supporters were moving to back Johnson or Stein, and even Trump, in numbers big enough to create a problem for Clinton. In France, a Left divided between two uninspiring hard-socialists has resulted in them trailing far behind the liberal Macron and nationalist Le Pen. In the UK the Scotland-wide transformation from Labour to SNP completed the chaotic split in the British Left.

The Right have played the game. Cameron may have watched his liberal worst-nightmare sleep-walk into reality as Britain voted to leave the EU, but his decision to call that referendum united the British Right and reabsorbed the looming threat of UKIP. Theresa May has super-glued back together a rift that should rightly have torn her party in half, with 185 of 323 Conservative MPs declaring themselves to support Remain before the historic vote.

The Right are good at getting behind their woman. (Or man.)

So why are the Left so often reduced to infighting and vision. There are a few answers. It is nice to imagine that the diverse and inclusive nature of Left wing politics leaves more room for disagreement and more opportunity for stubborn idealism. The Left is more ideological, and the people drawn to it are uncompromising in their beliefs. I think more likely the answer is pragmatic – no longer a working class movement but one left to assemble all minorities, disadvantaged groups and activists, the clamour of voices is just white noise.

The Right has time on its side – there will always be a desire for stability, arguments for freedom and rose-tinted views of the past. The Left has to change, evolve and keep up.

The Right is fundamentally pragmatic, slow-changing and slow-turning. A monument to compromise, a model of cooperation and a coalition with mediocrity.

The Right creates unity because it forgoes stubborn idealism and speaks with one voice. But there is an old forgotten tradition that beats at the heart of the Labour Party: the beauty of mass politics. The idea that there is something awe-inspiring about mass movement is inherent to the Left’s past, and must take centre stage in its future. There is beauty in a patchwork of issues sewn into one narrative, one voice.

In practice, we need to take seriously coalition politics, we need to consider voting tactically and we need political parties to cooperate with each other. We need infighting to end, we need differences to be put aside.

This must not mean the marginalization of minority voices or the diminishment of meaningful issues. It must not mean the triumph of a white, male, traditional Left-wing government with a knack for all talk and no walk. Instead, the current white, male, traditional Left-wing movement must recognize its own vulnerability and take the voices of the marginalized seriously.

But we need to be ready to play dirty. To put aside our idealism, our disparate goals and wish lists. There has to be compromise, there has to be cooperation and there has to be consensus. We have to play the game, because frankly it is being played without us. It may not be pure and it may not be perfect, but politics isn’t.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if, on the night of the election debate, a panel of the British Left’s finest minds stood together? If they announced coalition plans, and mapped out a united future. If they found their common ground and celebrated it. Then wouldn’t Theresa May wish she was there, clawing at the gaps and driving in wedges with a sledgehammer.

It may not be enough to win on June 8th. A proposed coalition may by untenable and lack legitimacy. But a rediscovered love for left wing mass movement, a pragmatic vision for a new generation, and one voice emerging, even if it is only united in what it opposes – that is a worthy goal for this general election.