Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Still haven't found what they've been looking for

I went to the Soundings/Comment is Free debate 'Who owns the progressive future?' on Monday and the deal was that after going along, I would respond to the discussion and help create and define a debate online.

Guy Aitchison has a good summary here of what each of the speakers said. It was a slightly odd discussion in that all four speakers (Red Ken, Caroline Lucas, Beatrix Campbell and Aditya Chakrabortty) agreed that the economic crisis might not, in fact, be a great opportunity for the left.

What I thought was most interesting was the discussion that followed the contributions, which showed that liberal leftie Guardian readers share the same values, but disagree with each other about how to analyse the current political situation and what needs to be done next.

Ken Livingstone, who introduced himself as 'the once and future Mayor of London' got a warm response, but criticism for his praise of the Chinese government. Caroline Lucas was very impressive, speaking about how the idea of 'owning' the progressive future was all wrong and we should be thinking and taking action to share the progressive future, but I think most people were unpersuaded about the effectiveness of supporting the Green Party. Chakrabortty and Campbell had more to say about what the left were doing wrong than about what we should be doing.

There was even some, unexpected support for New Labour - one member of the audience saying that they helped elderly people live their lives with dignity, that waiting times for health treatment were much shorter and that tax credits and the minimum wage meant that people who she advised as a volunteer were better off in work - though many others were critical. And, of course, just about every mention of Barack Obama got a round of applause. But overall I think it is fair to say that the liberal lefties present at the debate still haven't found what they're looking for in terms of a political party, leader or movement in the UK which fully embodies their values in the way that Labour did in the 1980s and 1990s.

John Harris summed up the evening by asking all the panelists to recommend a particular policy or report which everyone should be aware of. All members of the panel recommendeded the 'Green New Deal', and I think they are right to do so (our government should just steal the policies recommended in it and pass them off as their own, no one would really mind). Caroline Lucas quite rightly said that as well as looking for policies and reports, we should be inspired to take part in campaigning action, citing the campaign against the Third Runway.

And Chakrabortty made the point that internationally, lefties in Britain tend to look at what is happening in the USA, in Europe and increasingly at China. But we should also do more to learn from and work with the world's largest socialist, secular, democratic republic - India.

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