Forget opinion polls. You get a better sense of what’s going on in the electorate by sniffing the wind, sensing the affective shifts, the molecular currents, the alterations in the structures of feeling. Listen to the music, watch the TV, go to the the pubs and ride the tube. Cultural Studies trumps psephology every time.
From that perspective we had to be delusional ever to think this election was going to go our way – nothing going on in the wider culture feels like a real popular turn against neoliberalism and its norms…except in Scotland…and the contrast between the texture of the everyday there and down here should have been enough to tell us what was (or really, wasn’t) coming here.
That’s not to say that nothing is happening in English culture except a forelock-tugging deference to our oligarchic masters. The currents of resistance, of potential, of escape and of frustrated social creativity are al there. We can feel them and we know where they run, or at least where they occasionally flicker into visibility. But they clearly haven’t crystallised into a viable political opposition. Yet.
To do that, they need new machines to plug into, new sets of relations to amplify their potentialities, new way of connecting the old, still-breating institutions with a future that they cannot manifest on their own. They probably need the coming convulsions which Scottish independence and the crisis on the Right over Europe (which is now unavoidable, and scheduled for 2017) must provoke in order to fully shake them into being.
In London, it’s clear enough that we will have to look to Scotland, to radical municipalities around the world, and to our own history, to do what we’ve failed to do since 1985, finding our voice as a city, a civis, a metropolitan multitude, a people no longer willing to enslave ourselves to the City and its servants. It’s time to take back the city. It will be hard. But it must be done, for the whole country’s sake, for the sake of the poor of every country touched by the tentacles of the corporation of London.
The fight for devolution – or, more accurately, for the constitution of real forms of local social power – in Leeds, Birmingham and Newcastle will be part of the same fight as the struggle for democracy in London.
Across England and Wales we need, more than anything, a new openness between all enemies of neoliberalism, an openness which puts the defeat of our common enemy above any institutional or party loyalties. This is the bottom line: democracy vs neoliberalism. Whatever organisations you belong to, you’re either on one side or the other of that line, and you need to know which side it is and find your allies, even if they belong to different organisation, live in different places, walk and talk a different way.
If we can achieve that political openness, then we can create networks of collaboration which are porous and dynamic enough to be open to those crucial molecular currents, cultural shifts and new emergences which have to be part of any really viable movement for change. If we can’t then we’ll close ourselves off to them. Anyone who does that for long enough goes the way of Scottish Labour. If you think that doesn’t apply to you too, Trots and Anarchists well…think again. History suggests otherwise.
What does this mean in practice? It means we need even more work to overcome the sectarianisms inherited from the 19th century, from the hard left to the progressive residues of radical Liberalism. Real thinking about how to create collaboration between creative thinkers and actors in Labour, the Green Party, other parties and no party. It means a real movement to rethink and remake trade unionism for the 21st century (the precariat need unions (albeit of new kinds) now – not in 30 years, and if the TUC won’t build them for us, well – we know what we’ll have to do). It means an expansion of our own media and our network of knowledge-produciotn. We can look around the world and think about our histories and we know more or less what a movement looks like. It doesn’t look like hanging all or any hopes on the leadership of the Labour Party, or letting ourselves get despondent when it fails to deliver what it never could.