Party Leaders’ Debate, 15th April 2010

I suppose I should say something about the fiasco broadcast across Britain last Thursday (15th April), loath though I am to acknowledge it. On said evening I was engaged in a more genuine form of political activity, in a pub, so I missed it. But, my journalist girlfriend felt we should at least watch a bit of it (on YouTube), and I have an penchant for black comedy (otherwise I’d already have gone mad).

Below are some of the clichés we have heard about it (mostly drawn from the Guardian). Let’s take them apart one by one.

“Last night’s debate was an important moment in this campaign because it gave leaders the opportunity to address people directly sitting in their living rooms, sitting at home.”

Thursday’s debate was the most trivial and boring event in an election campaign that people were sick of before it even began. Despite this it has been reported that “the first ever UK televised leaders’ debate attracted an impressive 9.4 million viewers on ITV1 last night, beating Coronation Street and East-Enders to become the most watched programme of the day.” The Soap Opera comparison is telling: some people are so alienated that anything on TV assumes a certain reality, and any novelty is always welcomed given the monotony they must usually endure.

This is the proper perspective in which to view the implicit claim that hosting such a spectacular event is somehow “democratic” addressing “people directly”. Well, first, the TV is hardly a transparent medium, though for the thoroughly alienated perhaps it has assumed a certain “directness”. But, to what extent was this even a “debate”, nevermind a debate that engaged anyone other than the most hypothetical “common man”? The affect of a whole nation surrendered to three middle-age, upper-middle-class white men, of no better than average intelligence, presided over by another white-middle-class man invested with the full authority of the Mass-media. That is what we saw on Thursday (or whenever we watched it); not anything even approaching democracy.

The LibDems “are now the party of fairness in British politics.” and The LibDems are “more left than Labour.”

What does “fairness” mean? When politicians are forever spouting such platitudes, even familiar words become nuanced, multifaceted.

In the hands of Brown “fairness” means restricting civil rights and torturing people – quite an unusual usage. It also means demanding huge amounts of tax, even from the least well off, which will then be neatly wasted in all sorts of unfathomable ways, “necessitating” that everyone including the least well off suffer all sorts of cuts to their services and, if they work in the public sector, cuts to their pay, their pensions, and mass redundancies. Of course, this is “fair” because “we all must tighten our belts” – all, that is, except the bankers, of course, who have come out of the recession better off than they went into it, and the MPs still lining their pockets even  after the expenses-scandal.

In the hands of Cameron? Who knows what horrors. Fairness means “getting those people who are on benefits who can work back into work”. How shall we translate this? It certainly is a very politically correct shorthand way of saying something very bigoted. “Chavs on the dole should be working meaningless, petty, demeaning, systematically abusive jobs for a pittance, rather than claiming benefits”. Sometimes he mentions “training”, but he is of the “some people are stupid, and we should train them to do the meaningless jobs they can manage” school of thinking. Higher Education certainly isn’t going to get better and more inclusive under the Tories – nor will Secondary Education, in fact (if social mobility was a joke under Labour, it will soon be impossible altogether).  Fairness for the Tories also means locking this same class of people up for long amounts of time should they make some mistakes, or attempt, in the usual clumsy ways, to rebel against the system that oppresses them (e.g. getting pissed on a Friday and having a good fight). In other words, “fairness” for Cameron means “protecting decent people” (the middle classes) from the lower classes, from the disenfranchised. But, even this is a ploy – conscious or not – since the real concern is not with protecting anyone, but in protecting the system itself. Should anyone get in the way with the commodity-society they will be trampled; if one or the other must suffer, it will always be the people, the softest target. But, then, is this latter not true of all three parties?

The LibDems, then – the “third option”. Watching Thursday’s pseudo-debate was much like hearing a single note repeated over and over, and the fact that Nick Clegg insisted on his party’s difference only foregrounded this further. The first debate, on immigration, set the tone. As opposed to Labour’s strict general restrictions, including total restrictions on some professions, and the Conservatives strict general restrictions with a set cap, the LibDems proposed strict general restrictions, with regional profession restrictions. What is liberal, nevermind left-wing, about this? The difference, is rather academic: no-one pointed out that immigration is an economic necessity, that it is big business that dictates a majority of this movement, and big business that cuts British jobs (as opposed to immigrants stealing them). The proposal of all parties is that we bring in cheap labour (and some expert labour to shore up the deficits created through massive long-term underfunding of HE and skilled trades) and exploit it as much as possible. For the LibDems this is to be carried out without allowing these exploited people even the right of freedom of movement when they get here, instead treating them as second class citizens. This only makes sense from a perspective deeply conservative and fully committed to the capitalist commodity-economy for, after all, its basic premise is that foreign (and domestic) labour is a commodity with which we (i.e. big business) shall do as we please. On the entwined subjects of crime and jails the LibDems likewise echoed the other two parties, with all three peculiarly choosing to blame crime on young people. The responses of all three leaders (if you watch them again) are barely coherent, and the avoidance of addressing the causes of crime at every turn almost painful to watch. Gordon Brown seemed to blame crime on a lack of parental responsibility, Cameron on drug problems and soft judges, and Clegg on young people and youth detention “crime factories”. Strange that no-one addressed the structure of society, mass alienation, and the economic system – nor even condemned the government for failing young people (at every turn), or for failing people who need help (economic, social, medical). Crime for all three was a call for more policing, for more discipline, rather than for more care.

I could go on, with this, dissecting each question, but let us move on.

“The real choice is between the old parties and the new, different, fair politics offered by the Liberal Democrats.”

Anyone actually listening to the debate will have seen that the LibDems are just as right-wing as Labour,  sometimes more right-wing, and that they do not offer a real alternative (just as Labour are not a paletable choice for anyone of the Left). The problem of all parties is that they are deeply wedded to reactionary social policy, to a conservative-liberalism, to the commodity-economy and to an undemocratic parliamentary system. None offer a radical alternative (only the pseudo-choices between policies that amount to the same). Nor do any other of the smaller parties offer a radical alternative. To do so they would have to:

–         Put an end to private ownership of the means of production.

–         Roll-back the state, and devolve power to create a truly participatory system of democracy (one in which all have equal competency, and agency is not deferred on to bureaucracies and elected “leaders”).

–         Dismantle the commodity-economy, in favour of a more fulfilling and co-operative life.

–         Work in greater co-operation with nations throughout the world, dissolving nationalism and border control.

–         Immediately and steadily begin to roll back the military, in favour of a much smaller international peace-keeping force. Scrap Trident and dismantle nuclear deterrent.

This is the beginnings of a radical agenda – and none of the other parties even approach it. Ignore all those who present this monotony as debate, this stacked deck as a game that can be won, this democracy as one of choice.

The real choice is between capitalism, of which the old parties are guardians, and the revolution that we need.

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~ by Wit on April 17, 2010.

One Response to “Party Leaders’ Debate, 15th April 2010”

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