Blacklisted by Liberty Davis

The Green candidate in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election accuses David Davis of avoiding debate

The campaign is definitely accumulating votes fast as we get our message across, and we are all aware that the opportunity cost of talking to voters when weighed against talking to the press, or going to a meeting, or even writing a blog, is seriously weighted in favour of the voters.

Friday night was a good example. My team and I went canvassing in North Newbald – an attractive village with two pubs, the Gnu and the Tiger, next to each other on the edge of a village green. Encounters ranged from ‘Oh, I’ve already voted by postal ballot - for Shan’ to ‘..but we need Menwith Hill to protect us’ (it was the eve of the 4 July demonstration). But the clincher was when I accosted a young couple entwined (yes, we are that keen) and the lad told us he was going to vote for the first time – and it will be Green. He then said, “Go and see my mum at number eight, she’s complaining that no-one’s knocked on the door.” It was virtually dark when we found number eight but the reward was another absorbing discussion – and another vote – possibly one that will spread to others.

I tried to speak to the Conservative candidate at the Cottingham Festival at the weekend. Apparently, I’m now black-listed on account of the event the other day at South Hunsley School. He informed me I had ‘behaved badly’ and one of his retinue told me that their information had been that I ‘had been invited but had declined’ to attend the meeting with the Youth Assembly! Do they really expect us to believe that? I pointed out that we were kept off the site and treated like ‘terrorists’.

‘Well of course … Cameron is the leader of the Opposition’

‘You know who I am … Greens are not terrorists’

The wiles of this Tory campaign are living up to the caricature. They are clearly using every trick in the book, and our main problem is that there are a lot of people in this area who will vote Tory just because they always have, rather than considering the issues. It’s also clear that Davis will not make himself available for a real debate on those issues.

One of the other candidates is organising a hustings and of course Davis can’t attend, probably because he’s doing another TV show elsewhere. But at least all that travelling to the studios is keeping him off the doorstep, where we Greens are busy talking to many new voters, as well as in bus shelters, in the markets, in shops, on buses and trains, in car parks, in pubs, in dramatic thunderstorms, and in blazing sun. It’s a privilege to be able to discuss the big issues with people – and we do seem to be the only Party really listening to people in this election.

Most people seem happy to take a few minutes to have their say. The most striking message from voters is that they are fed up, not only with this by-election (which many feel has been an unnecessary waste of public money) but also with politicians in general. They say there is no difference between the old parties who do not listen to the people themselves. Many express feelings of anxiety and deep disappointment about the state of Britain and several have spoken about wanting to move abroad just to get away from this country.

Other views include an almost universal agreement that our government has taken us wrongly into wars for oil, that ‘defence’ spending is out of control, that they have encouraged the domination of giant corporations, and that the social and natural environment is being decimated as a result. People agree that profit is driving what goes on in Britain (and across the world) rather than values we can be proud of. Nearly everyone agrees that things will only get worse if we continue to be taken down the same path.

So is there any hope? Yes there is. Green Party policies boil down to real local democracy so that we can decide for ourselves how we create the oil-free communities of the future, by discussion at a local level. When people have the chance to hear this idea, they are highly enthusiastic about it. They can see it is a real way forward.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times