Thursday 1 October 2009

Tea and sympathy.

Right now, along with most British liberals, I feel like I'm sprinting up a down escalator. There's to much to do and too much to oppose and too much to say; I'm overworked and exhausted and running on empty, to the extent that I've had a mental health crash and had to call in sick to drink strong tea, contemplate the future of the Left and watch True Blood, simultaneously the worst and most compelling show ever made. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

I mention all this partly to explain why all the posts I've been wanting to write, about gender at the Labour conference, about fucking Roman Polanski child rape apologists, about teenage mums and the notion of social justice and winning the argument on mental health and employment rights, are all boiling away in the charging ether of my hindbrain, and they're likely to stay there, because this weekend I need to chill the fuck out even more than I need to put the world to rights.

Because there's so much going on that I almost don't know where to start. It's been a bad week to be a lefty, a bad week to be a feminist, a bad week to care. Here's just some of what's made me angry this week:

Kate Harding reminds Salon readers that Polanski raped a child.

Melissa McEwan and Jill at Feministe give us the Roman Polanski defend-a-thon (trigger warning).

Anne Perkins sums up the gender agenda at the Labour conference fairly well (I was in that Tim Montgomerie event and almost threw a sausage roll at him).

...and Liberal Conspiracy uncovers Tory links to a European party with a right-wing, homophobic agenda. Hail our future lords and masters!

I've just got back from the Labour Party Conference, which was one of the most depressing events I've ever attended. Brighton was doing its tarty, gaudy best to lighten the mood, all brilliant sunshine, sparkling beaches crisply stinking of chips and sugar and the grand old seafront buildings lit up like the biggest wedding cake on the planet; but it was all to no avail. At the fringe meetings, the equality agenda was on the back foot, the feminist lobby was almost non-existent, and the loudest voices for social justice were those of the hordes of young Socialist Party members protesting outside the Conference zone on Sunday (Dave Osler has a great analysis of this over at Liberal Conspiracy).

The parties were the worst, hordes of apparatchiks drinking themselves into oblivion, staving off the terrible tory hangover we're all going to wake up with come 2010. One former MEP, hearing that I was a feminist blogger, told me that the only difference between the Tories and the Labour old guard is that the latter are 'only unofficially misogynist'.

At some point during the melee, I turned 23. And it occurred to me, not for the first time, that I'll probably be in my thirties before a nominally left-of-centre government hold the reins of my country again. From now on, being on the left is going to be a real fight. And whilst I've cut my blogging and journalistic teeth in the last days of Labour, it's all going to be a lot harder from now on, with more ideological territory at stake. John Cruddas MP summed it all up perfectly in the Fabians' Next Labour debate on Sunday, when he declared:

"There is a train coming down the track.It's brutal and it's extremely right wing. It is incumbent upon us to step up and face it."

Right now, today, that train coming down the track feels almost unstoppable. On Tuesday I walked along the seafront with Hilary Wainwright and John McDonnell whilst those two seasoned old campaigners- veterans of 1968, feminists and formerly die-hard Labour activists - mused that the future of the left lay in direct action. The left is not beaten yet, but we're flagging, caught between two parties scrabbling madly for the centre-right, with only the Lib Dems pursuing any sort of liberal platform at their conference. I feel tired before it's even begun: not because I'm ever, ever going to lie down and let them roll over me and mine and our agenda of tolerance and decency and justice. I'm tired because I know I never will, and it's going to get a lot harder from now on. Normal service will resume shortly, but right now I'm going to drink tea and collapse. I hereby give every other lefty reading this permission to do the same: we need all our faculties for the fight to come.


A small ray of sunshine: The Samosa, a new liberal-leaning, multicultural British comment site, launches today. I'm writing a column for them. You should check it out :)


  1. In that case: happy birthday to you, Future Prime Minister of the British Empire!
    Sometimes things must be hard, otherwise we won't care enough to get them done, I think.

    Also: that explains a lot about True Blood actually. I watched my first episode last night. The intro is brilliant, the rest not so much.

  2. You certainly have my sympathy. I don't have what it takes to be an activist, but I certainly care more about politics than is good for my health. Especially as I don't even get to vote in the general election because I'm not a UK citizen.

    Oh, and take a look at my own country (Germany) where we've just had a general election - with a fairly thoroughly depressing result: a coalition between the conservatives and the liberal party. Except this isn't a LibDem style party, but a right-of-centre free-market party. The social democrats have got their worst result *ever*, but then again, you might get an idea of how little real difference there was between them and the conservative party by the fact that they've been in a coalition with each other for the last four years. I still do have the faint hope that this historically disastrous result for the social democrats will convince them that competing with the conservatives for the centre-right spot isn't working, and make them aim for the left again...

    There's the slight silver lining that we now have a female head of government and (soon) a gay foreign minister, but what does that matter when they're both staunch right-wingers, one out to destroy civil liberties, the other out to destroy the welfare state...

  3. I don't want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but I don't think this is very constructive.

    The thing that makes it hard is not what some sections of media would have you believe the dominant political mood is, but the way that government and politics (and media) work. I fancy you know this already, but that wouldn't make such a nice article.

    Please. Lay off the sensationalism and the hand-wringing, and stop doing the right-wing media's job for them. You're shooting us all in the foot.

  4. Oh dude, that's a bit harsh. I'm not trying to sensationalise, or even 'write a nice article' - I'm just very depressed today, and I think there are logical and topical reasons for that. I'll be better tomorrow.

  5. Well, trying or not, it is a nice article. The bent of it just made me depressed too is all, though perhaps for different reasons. And I don't think you need to be depressed because the fight will be harder - it won't. It's always been like this.

    Hope you're feeling better.

  6. Julius-
    "There's the slight silver lining that we now have a female head of government and (soon) a gay foreign minister, but what does that matter when they're both staunch right-wingers"

    I see that womens' and gay rights only matter when they agree with you ;-)

  7. The main reason Cameron has some popularity is that Gordon Brown doesn't. I wouldn't be despondant just yet, Penny Red, the fat lady has yet to sing.

  8. Actually, I think a spell of Tory government will re-invigorate the left. In the years of New Labour government, people have forgotten both what the Tories are like, and what "left" really means. I would bet a fairly substatial amount of money that by the end of their first term, there will be a lot of disillusioned Tory voters, who thought they were voting for a change for the better and ended up with a change for the worse.

  9. You can judge a politician on where they send the kids to school.
    Harman - posh Catholic school (Oratory) and a grammar
    Abott - St Pauls private school

    Now how about Cruddas. A very posh Catholic school (Cardinal Vaughn) in Kensington and Chelsea. Why not a comp in Dagenham?

  10. why not a comp in Dagenham? Because Jon 'man of the people' Cruddas lives in Notting Hill . . .

  11. Uh.... so 'the samosa' is being funded to the tune of 15,000 quid by the British taxpayer to enable us to read something that we`d almost certainly be able to read for free, anyway.

    Thank god for the equality commission, eh.

    In the interests of fairness and ... um... equality... shouldn`t opponents of multi-culturalism recieve similar support?

  12. Little bit of advice to Mr. McDonnell: direct action is a two way street. And Britain does have a record of activists who set out and succeed in applying "direct action" to foil other attempts at "direct action."

  13. It was actually the Socialist Workers' Party and not the Socialist Party demonstrating outside of the conference-- one word different in the name, but two very different parties.

  14. I got attacked on the internet for supposedly making excuses for Polanski even though I had not done so and would not have done so. Some people deserve an award for projecting and stereotyping!

  15. What do you think of the New Labour plan to deny teenage mothers access to welfare benefits unless they accept a residential place in an institution called a foyer?

    Personally I really can't believe what my ears are telling my brain any more whenever a New Labour spokesperson opens their gob.



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