The Watershed: the people’s side of the political divide
Imagine a range of hills under a sky full of storm clouds. The storm breaks, the rain falls and tiny trickles of water start to work their way downhill. Further down the slopes they combine and form small streams, then bigger streams and finally, become a river. They can’t help but flow down and eventually join up.
The hills of course are the watershed that gathers all the people on this side of the hills, the slopes are where tiny rivulets merge and start the conversation. The river is where people come together, because despite their different starting points, views and ideas, they have a single aim – the common good. The river is the movement. The river is us.
I have been waiting for this moment for some time, the moment when the English in particular woke up and started talking politics. I say ‘English’ because the political problem of the Westminster bubble that we face is ‘English’ oriented. Or so the Tories think – keep control of the Shires and we control the country. But as Jeremy Corbyn reminded his audience at the Tolpuddle Festival in July, the English countryside is where trade unionism began. “Don’t write off the countryside as a Tory rural backwater!” he said.
No, we shouldn’t forget our radical roots, they run deep and the peasants can still rebel. This island’s domestic history has had several moments of revolt, times when the lowly stood up against the high and mighty. But they didn’t have what we have – instant news, the ability to travel rapidly across the country, modern communications and social media. Corbyn’s message couldn’t have spread so far and fast without all that.
Watching the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign take fire, following websites like Bella Caledonia and seeing how, despite the No vote, the political conversation went on, becoming deeper, wider and more forward looking, oh, how I envied the Scots! And I wondered what it would take for those of us south of the border to start such a conversation.
I stopped wondering when Jeremy Corbyn entered the Labour Leadership contest. If he’s done nothing else, he has helped people to realise what a huge political divide we are living with. It wasn’t just the bleak inequality we are experiencing that made us sit up. It was the sight of the other three contenders trying desperately to drag us all back into the no-think land of leaving it all to the politicians. It was, at last, for some people the gut realisation that New Labour was pretty much as rightwing as the Tories.
There is also, I think, the need to reframe the way we think and speak about politics. Corbyn’s last rally focussed on the banner “I voted for a different kind of politics.” And it does seem that the many thousands who flocked to hear him speak were genuinely looking for that kind of change. But we need not just different politics, but a different language in which to express those politics.
Surely, those who voted for Corbyn are sick and tired of being labelled ‘the hard left’, Marxists, Trotskyists and the rest. Is it beyond the wit of mainstream politicians, gazing bemusedly at the tide of people turning towards Corbyn, that what people seek is quite simply something they are not offering? A very tired ‘politics’ of money, greed, individualism and power is all they have to offer. A politics of humanity is what is sought.
Almost all the words that have been used by party politics have been overused, misused and abused. They are tired and worn ragged, hence the silliness of the phrase ‘the hard left’. Such words no longer hold any credit or any real meaning. We the people, the river, the searchers for the common good, need new words to describe who we are and where we are going.
Despite what Westminster says, people are not looking back to the old days of Labour. The Tories are doing that in their desire to return all us ‘working people’ back to serfdom. Lords, manors and villeins have had their day, but they are being replaced by corporate power. The money, and the land, is still in the hands of the few.
As voting closed on Thursday, Liz Kendal, conceding that her campaign had failed, admitted that Corbyn had started a conversation about Labour Party values that hadn’t been held for many years; but she said, “whoever is elected must recognise no leader has a mandate for untrammelled power.”
But wasn’t that what the Blairites wanted? Even the slightly less Blairite contenders, Burnham and Cooper, wanted to win, win, win. I find it strange (or is it?) that none of the mainstream Labour MPs seemed to take on board the fact that Corbyn has never sought power; he seeks power for the people, the poor and helpless, the disenfranchised. For many, when they come to think about it, it will not be important if he is ‘THE LEADER’. What is important are the values and vision that he has connected people to. If it is not too over-the-top, he has become the hillside down which we are all tumbling towards some kind of unity and people-power.
The other puzzling feature for me has been the inability of so many Labour MPs to understand that the Party which they think they run is actually made up of members who all have the right to speak, many of whom are following the vision that Corbyn has offered. And more people, who gave up their membership in disgust over Iraq, will come back if this vision can be maintained.
Corbyn has, quite definitively, won the leadership contest, and the cheer when the figures were announced must have made it clear that he has the majority of the party with him. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a campaign of dirty tricks as the old guard try to overturn the result, but the Labour Party Conference will be, to say the least, interesting – a battle between some grandee MPs and a greatly enlarged and reinvigorated membership.
Maybe the Party will destroy itself, or split; or reform itself beyond Tony Blair’s recognition. But whatever happens to Labour, too many of us have now found which side of the divide we belong; and maybe there are too many of us to be stuffed back into the box. Outside Westminster’s control, we will need the ongoing conversation and a new language.
Lesley Docksey © 11/09/15