I suppose, in the end, we have to recognise Blair was right about one thing: we have to win enough votes to win an election before we aim to do anything else. And in a world such as ours, to draft our appeal in terms of socialism, whilst guaranteeing a certain weight and moral validity, will hardly win any prizes for attracting the sensibilities of those whose votes make the difference between a lying halfway house of a Coalition government (as per the current one) on the one hand, and a proudly declamatory and transparent offering of tone and style (as per a future Labour one, perhaps) on the other.
Maybe we do need to accept that manifestos are vague pitches which most usefully encapsulate broad intentions – intentions which should be judged and perceived from such generous perspectives. If we look to such a proclamation of promises with the beady eye of “will you, won’t you” conditionality, deception and disillusionment will inevitably be our lot.
We have to be more realistic to our political class. We have, ourselves, to be far more generous to what they can deliver.
I know saying this will not make me popular. Even so, I feel it now needs to be said.
We need to give our politicos space to preach a better world – even as we know they will deliver a less good.
Instead, I think it is elsewhere we need to focus our attention – our attention, not our ire. This wave of history lapping at our feet – in particular with respect to its technological aspect – is driving our society towards a self-taught self-help socialism of determined communities, where both large and small companies and organisations various make their livings off the backs of a renewed focus on such a contextualised individualism (perhaps with every craftsperson’s right and precedent – “Artisans of the world, unite!” – to back up the way they conduct their commercial activities). In my own case, I find myself teaching people across the globe the ins and outs of my mother tongue. I feel myself to be, in a way, a victim of the zero-hour generation – and yet, at the same time, I think that I number amongst the very same generation’s most blessed of all. Whilst I am still healthy, whilst I can still live my life in a reasonably independent way, this life is perfect for me: variety of timetable, customers and content make my work and life balance quite adequate. And in my case, I have to admit, even as I accept I am suffering the curse of labour instability, that I have never been happier in this life.
I also have to recognise that without the infrastructures of the corporations, mainly American, which I have occasion to lambast most of my days, I would not be able to teach in that global context which makes my working-life so satisfactory.
So it is, then, I would like to suggest the following: if we are to continue, in our very British body politic, to have the kind of rather spurious game that pitching competing political manifestos against each other involves, maybe we should look mainly to the goal of refashioning the aforementioned tone and style through the selfsame hoary old sequence of political “promises”, this time understood by us voters in as kindly a way as we can still manage.
If Ed Miliband could just see his way to seeing our job, as a political party wishing to govern, in the light of an environmental concern (environmental, that is, in the sense of space – not in the sense of ecology), and even to seeing it as a trip, an excursion, a journey rather than a destination in itself, we could maybe, just maybe, aim to develop our electoral process to the point where instead of concentrating on the aforementioned spurious manifestos of what we should and won’t do, we could spend our time using them to honestly develop, promote and sell an appropriate tone and style for the future.
After all, leadership is so often a question of enabling others: not micromanaging their integrities, their actions and their personal contributions out of existence but giving them the freedom to lead themselves.
Precisely for the spurious political reasons and expectations I mention, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is now being expected to provide swathes of detailed solutions to a flurry of truly serious problems afflicting the country.
In reality, the political debate we choose to hold should be quite a different one: Ed Miliband’s Labour Party should be saying that in a self-learning and self-empowering generation of virtual connectednesses – even where this generation has been, and is being, persistently confused by all kinds of commercial and state-sponsored activities (both disgracefully illegitimate as well as clearly rather more sincere) – a new kind of socialism, a socialism which already exemplifies itself although we choose not to name it thus, a socialism which looks to connect evermore intelligent participants, a socialism which curiously – quite individualistically – self-engenders … this socialism I poorly describe must be the self-taught self-help philosophy on which we decide to build a better Britain.
We should not be expecting of Labour the answers to our problems. We should be expecting of Labour the recognition that we are the answers.
And in and through such a profound recognition, our political parties – all of them – could show us they have the courage to ultimately accept the implications of such a humongous shift in the dynamics of British political process.