Never mind the narrative

Aled Dilwyn Fisher and Adam Ramsay have kicked off another little debate about the recent past and possible future of “the left”, following a total failure to seize the much-vaunted opportunity created by the massive financial crisis in 2008.

Why did anyone except the hard left – not known for their astute political realism – believe that we were likely to see a reshaping of international capitalism in 2008? Governments regulating and administering the major economic powers and their possible successors approaching national elections almost all lined up behind what Aled succinctly calls “deficit fetishism”. Even Obama’s green-tinged stimulus is undermined by States doing the exact opposite.

Adam is interested in narratives about greedy bankers and corrupt politicians, governments running out of money and youth unemployment spirally. Me too, but his writing verges on a pointless delusion – that “we”, a small rabble of bloggers and activists on the fringes of political power, can do anything to effectively resist the onslaught of cuts that the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems all signed up to during the General Election, and to bring about a fundamental reshaping of the global political economy.

When I read the language of resistance to today’s cuts, I’m reminded of Neil Kinnock’s most famous speech attacking Labour councils who brought cities to their knees in a vainglorious attempt to ignore (or in their language, resist) government cuts.

If we spend too much time fretting about our narrative we are in danger of falling into the trap of fighting an illusionary battle between the forces of the left and the right, as though they were two divided communities battling for the soul of the nation. A coalition of resistance might create a space for debate, as Romayne Phoenix has suggested, but it isn’t going to stop all the cuts. Debate will be healthy because there are many more than two positions on our current fiscal predicament, and accepting this is the first step towards focusing – as Aled suggests – on organising communities of interest to resist where there is a real chance of reversing a cut (such as housing benefits) and on getting significant sympathetic space in the media to decry cuts that are clearly abysmal and clearly unstoppable.


  1. Adam Ramsay said:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for this.

    I basically agree – this is a series that we plan to develop, and the next pieces will look at things you may see as more relevant (or maybe not) including failure to work with people standing up for themselves, etc.

    However, I would just chip in that, when I said ‘we’, I should have been more specific. I didn’t just mean the more specific lefty blogger/old P&P network that I inhabit. I include in that unions, the Labour Party progressive Lib Dems, most NGOs etc – what has historically been the broader left/progressive movement.

    And the implication of this is that I don’t believe that we could ever have had the kind of reforms I would like to have seen come from the credit crunch – mutualisation of the banking sector, etc etc. However, that we have seen a cut in corporation tax and the rate of privatization increase is, I think, fairly extraordinary, and that is what I mean by saying that we have lost.



    24th September 2010
    • Tom Chance said:

      Thanks Adam, since you are spending a lot of your time organising I had hoped you’d move onto politics in a subsequent piece.

      I do think, with Aled, that your use of “we” is mistaken if you intend to group everybody together into a “progressive” alliance or movement. Disquiet over the messaging and leadership of the Coalition of Resistance amongst many Greens shows how diverse we are. The danger of aligning everyone in terms of their agreement on one issue is that they might not all think your issue is their priority.

      For example, everybody might oppose the privatisation of the Royal Mail. But the lefty Lib Dems seem to be more concerned with civil liberties, Trident and housing, so being pragmatic folk they have gone into government and sacrified that issue.

      Or take corporation tax – in building a coherent narrative in response to the financial crisis you might expect that “we” would all agree fair taxation is a necessity. But Labour are the only party capable of getting their hands on those levers, and in power they cut it to suit their political economy.

      Narratives are well worth thinking about once you have chosen a policy or issue to prioritise. But the real world of politics will always confound you if you try to put narrative first.

      24th September 2010

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