Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Progressive(?) London

While all the discussion has been about Convention of the Left, the other event last weekend was Progressive London. Farid attended and has sent the following piece about his impression of the event.

Joseph Healy

Progressive London


Three New Labour Ministers (Jowell, Harman & Lammy) and some Liberal Democrats helped ensure that this was a 'progressive' platform in the sense that conventional right of centre politicos understand.

Ken Livingstone clearly has set out to create a platform for another bid for Mayor in 2012 and is looking for cross-party support of Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Greens for that.

As a small party, the Greens obviously need to participate in a forum such as this and promote its own ideas - hopefully next time it will do so minus another gushing performance praising the EX-Mayor.

Unfortunately for those looking for something new and radical, Ken Livingstone invited these discredited MInisters and crew and therefore could not distance himself from his own culpability in his embrace of the financial sector for all those years (blemishing his very positive record on minority and women's issues).

While I enjoyed the day, and one or two of the meetings, we should keep this firmly in perspective. By all means, let's continue the engagement, as long as we understand this has a narrow agenda and has little to do with creating new Left-oriented parties or even reform the New Labour Party.

Beyond the set-piece session, various meetings took place in Congress House. Some played to a script, others didn't.

For example, Sam Tarry of Compass Youth suggested we break into four groups and come out with one issue for 'Labour' - we became one happy focus group to generate ideas for David Lammy, who then went on to explain how we should expand grassroots activism and 'the politics that matters' - much appreciated by Labour Parliamentary candidates there.

The best session for me was the one on 'Women in London' where Anni Marjoram and the panel gave an exhaustive list of Boris Johnson cutbacks.

While Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn held a packed meeting in a side room on Gaza, they might as well have been a decorative piece to please some 'Lefties' - they were not part of the 'project' and were not given a place at the high table.

For many, the one who stole the show was Professor Eric Hobsbawm. In 'the Age of Change', he called New Labour 'Thatchers in trousers' and gave a detailed analysis of their failures - Harriet Harman sat stoically next to Ken Livingstone to the right of the Professor. When she got to the stage, she gave a very poor speech exhorting us to 'fight the BNP'. It was a pitiful attempt at glossing over her party's failures and trying to divert the audience into supporting her 'team' against the menace of the BNP. Actually, I do not recall any mention of failure or regret.

Notes on a few sessions:

I could not get to all the sessions as they were running simultaneously - they ranged from 'green cities', 'multicultural London', 'blogging and the new media', 'culture in the city', 'transport for a progressive London', 'young London for a progressive future', 'forward march of Cameron halted?', what should we learn from the election of Barack Obama' and 'progressive policies for a progressive London'.

The 'Lessons of London Elections' session was packed to the gills.

Julia Clarke of IPSOS-MORI gave her take on the 2008 elections. She emphasised the racial divide in the voting, overlapped with the Outer-Inner London split, calling it thje 'doughnut effect'.

Allegedly, Londoners voted less on class than on race (she showed similar trends in Leicester).

Londoners were apparently concerned with the cost of living, transport, the NHS and roads. (I wonder this is because the Mayoral/London politicos do not deal with the true economic levers and also where the agenda was still based on an era before 'credit crunch'. I am sure future elections will be decided much more around jobs and survival and the backlash against financiers will bear the hallmarks of class, while race may be the casualty of a disgruntled electorate).

Julia Clarke said the white working class preferred Boris.... , continuing that the focus on minority and ethnic groups done by Ken L was at the expense of white groups.

She explained that while the BME constituted 35 to 40% of the population of London, many are less likely to vote (in comparison to white voters).

Other members of the panel said the Lib-Dem vote went to the COnservatives and suggested the 2008 election was based on 'trivia' (deliberate action by ES and rest of media) but that the economic crisis means this will not happen in subsequent elections - adding that 'state ownership' will be the critical issue.

FInally, Brown, Labour and KL suffer from voter fatigue and they want a change (part-explanation for 2008).

The Age of Change

This session was meant to take a look at the big picture.

KL said the challenges were a) how to rebalance the London economy and b) climate change and used examples from Germany and China as models for London to follow.

Eric Hobsbaum told the audience that 'we have not yet learnt to live in the twenty-first century'. That this crisis is more global than its equivalent in the thirties. The period of unrestrained global capitalism has ended and the future belongs to 'mixed economies' (i.e. no return to Soviet style economy either).

Hobsbaum mentioned that no figure of stature, except John Paul II (and for a different reason) had denounced capitalism over the last twenty years. He said that Brown and Blair were 'Thatchers in trousers', as were the Democrats in the US. He deflated the Obama cheerleaders pointing out Lawrence Summers and the rest's neo-liberal pedigree and role over the last fifteen years.

He continued with an important point that influential people have not given up on the market. His view on Central Banks and government (e.g. Bank of England and Browniet Cabinet) were like blind men in a maze trying to get out of this crisis.

From the floor, one trade unionist expressed his disappointment in many Trade Unions backing the third runway in Heathrow.

Women in London

WIth all the talk about green jobs, are we forgetting that many of the new jobs are engineering based and primarily male? Is anyone planning for women's participation in the new sectors (this was explained to me earlier and I have to admit I had not considered this before).

A.M. led the attack on the new Mayor, referring to how so many posts set up to protect women's interests have been disbanded over the last few months.

Interestingly, the NUS member said that the feminist movement has not been seen traditionally as representing black women. This is not because black women do not want to engage and has more to do with the perception that the movement is seen as relevant to black women. (This has a parallel with the environment movement via a vis BME in UK). SHe suggested that 'pro-choice works both ways and that not all women who want a child are 'oppressed'. Shs brought up the issue of the hijab (headress), saying that women had been unfairly criticised for this.

She called for an 'inclusive feminist movement'.

The editor of F Word (a blog) was asked to talk about the Mayor's agenda on tackling the inequality of women - she said she could not find one! All four Deputy Mayors are white men, with only one in seven Conservative London Assembly members being a woman.

The Mayor seems to have 'a vacuum about women's issues'.

A member of 'Abortion RIghts' said that feminist arguments have unfairly been used to foment racism (especially in Holland and France). She warned that the feminist movement cannot be agnostic over the general trend of politics and should be left of centre. Historically, this has not been so and she pointed that many sufragettes had gone on to join the Conservatives. (Substitute 'feminist' and 'green' movement and the positions seems very similar, in this respect).

Others advised that that this time women will lose their jobs as the service sector gets hit - this is very different from previous recessions.

Economic independence is the cornerstone of women's position and equality - this recession could undermine decades of struggle.

1 comment:

noel said...

"We became one happy focus group to generate ideas for David Lammy, who then went on to explain how we should expand grassroots activism and 'the politics that matters' - much appreciated by Labour Parliamentary candidates there."

I completely agree, people taking part in the session were happy, because for once they were involved in telling the speakers what they wanted to campaign on, rather than being lectured to.

Do focus groups get to campaign on the issues they raise? Because that is what we at Compass Youth will do

At our “young london” workshop, the room was packed out - with people but mainly with ideas - mentoring scheme for young people to get into green jobs, youth mayor for London with a capacity building budget, making CRB checks portable, a virtual youth club and cooperative schools. To be honest, with an hour an half and with four exciting speakers that we were keen to listen to as well, as well as competing against other heavweight sessions at the same time, we were scared that either no-one would turn up or not many people would want to put forward, let alone work out together what campaigns we should take forward for young Londoners.

To be even more honest, the winning idea, making CRB checks portable to enable more people (young or old!) to take part in volunteering, isn’t something that we may have thought of on our NEC, but we committed to campaign on idea that won most votes and that’s what we’ll do. In fact, we’ll support people who want to take forward the other campaigns put forward.

Maybe we should be arguing over which dead Russian we respect more, but I'm more interested in supporting people to organise their campaigns rather than lecture them on what they should do

Because if you give people an inch, they’ll give you a mile…