Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Getting lost in the violence

I recently read an interesting article written by a friend of mine titled 'Don't ignore the violence it's all we have left' supporting the recent protests against austerity cuts. It argued that the violence that ensued shouldn't be written off as the actions of a few renegade students trying to grab the headlines, but as a group willing to resort to violence to stand up against perceived injustices.

While much of the debate around the fairness of the fees increase or the recent finance settlement for local government is a road well travelled in the media, I think a simpler question could be asked- Should political activism include violence?

There is a part of me that thinks violence should be a tool we can use to defend that which we value, although at the time I felt it wasn't doing a very good job of defending anything. Defacing the cenotaph maybe a great way to get on the front of the Daily Mail but it's hardly a way to endear the electorate to your cause- even if that cause involved protecting the Care-Bears from Mumm-ra's Doomsday cannon.

I think understanding what constitutes an effective symbolic gesture is something the left lacks, and if they are to succeed they must understand that media attention and media sympathy exist in very different ballparks. I think if everyone in receipt of the EMA spent one pound and sent a letter to the treasury saying “How much does your independence cost?” I think the 2 million letters arriving at the treasury would hardly slide past the 24 hour media. It would show a unified voice of protest without tainting it with violence.

Along with making effective symbolic gestures, it also pays to realise what your political objectives are. They are not destroying Conservative HQ and not burning effigies of Nick Clegg, It's to get the current government out and make Labour look like a reasonable alternative.

Shooting the government down now is incredibly easy- Osbornomics is a widely perceived economic gamble, which is ironic because reckless fiscal gambling contributed to the mess we're in. Not to mention the axing of the arts council and regional development funds which actually raised government revenue not depleted it. Doesn't being a good Conservative involve knowing what to Conserve?

The list could go on- Cameron's aides involved in illegal journalism, Lord Young saying 'we've never had it so good' Grayling's defence of homophobic motel owners (rewarded with a ministerial post no less). When Brown made similar mistakes the media barked on for months over lost gold reserves, bottling elections and 'that bigoted woman'.

The fact remains if you want the current government out you don't shotgun the libdems, you target the Cons and the amount of ammunition they've provided over the last nine months far outweighs that of Clegg's reneged pledge. It's also worth spelling out that many of the Lib-dem seats that will be lost at the next election will probably move into conservative hands.

This lack of vision in hijacking the media against Liberals only undermines the lefts political agenda, and yet they blithely go along with it. Understanding that activism involves picking effective political targets and not making crass ideological statements is another lesson that needs to be learned by Britain's austerity left.

Finally the political statement made by flying the red flags, placards with Iron Fists and attacking the royal family suggests the modern-day left idolises the revolution embodied by political violence. This can only bring associations of the current and past regimes of Communism, which I think uncontroversially can be called the 20th century's biggest failed social experiment. Millions left to rot in Gulags, Freedoms trampled worldwide, Continents enslaved whilst protecting an immovable oligarchy of complete moral bankruptcy is hardly a historical legacy worth holding onto.

Remove your association with Communism immediately- it's unnecessary, extreme, immature and associates your movement with one of the darkest chapters in modern political history. The good news is that Social Democracy is a far nobler ideology encompassing a respect for individuals, a faith in democracy and defined role for the government dictated by and for the people.

Idealising the roots from which a movement came might sound nice but ask your media team if it's good idea to associate your product with Communism and I think they'll politely ask you to check into the local re-education centre.

The lessons for the left must firstly be violence grabs headlines but not sympathy, violence only creates fear and disaffection with those who don't understand your message. Effective symbolic messages require thoughtfulness and media accessibility -do something different- don't just resort to violence and do something they don't expect, remember Gandhi brought down a government by not fighting back.

Secondly the Conservatives record in government has involved the usual fuck-ups and reversal of positions of any parliament and concentrating fire on the Lib-Dems will help you lose the next election not win it. If you want to attack the Cons now is the time to do it- Cameron’s lost a powerful media ally and his spin team is currently without leadership. Give him all the mercy they Gave Brown- None.

Lastly remember kids, put the Lenin T-shirts and motorcycle diaries aside- Communism isn't cool.