Election ’17: The Death of Smarmy Robot Politics?

S&C Contributing Editor JS Adams wonders, amongst other things, whether this election offers alternatives to the usual slick, tightly-managed candidates we’ve been used to ever since the Blair days. 

Ask yourself this question: What sort of world am I living in right now? If your answer is that it’s a happy, reasonable and compassionate world then read no further. This article isn’t for you. But if you find these sorts of words come to mind – what the fuck? Brexit? £350 million a week for the NHS? Trump? – then don’t despair. It means you’re still human. You still have the ability to question.

In an age when it’s harder than ever to distinguish between fact and fiction, it’s not easy understanding what’s really happening in the world. But you do have some say over what happens in the world. You have your vote.

That said, the idea that voting alone can solve the epic problems that blight our country is naive. Sensible social democratic policies – such as free education – commonplace in other developed nations have not been delivered by British democracy. Why not? Forces that we don’t get to vote for – big business being the main one – have been allowed too much control. They are responsible for the box-ticking, dollar-chasing mentality that seems to have invaded every part of our society. The vast majority of us never got a say in whether we wanted that invasion.

A couple of years ago I saw the late great socialist Tony Benn in a village in Dorset. He made one of his last and perhaps most impassioned speeches to a crowd of several thousand trades unionists. The village was Tolpuddle, the birthplace of British labour activism.

Benn believed working people only attained strength and influence when they stood together. Something else he said at that meeting has stuck with me to this day: ‘You do it [effect change] by getting away from the idea of protest. What you’re saying [with protests] is, I have lost the battle and I don’t like it. What we have to do is make demands.’

It is, in a sense, a negative act to simply march against the neoliberal assault on the NHS. If we want a properly funded, publicly owned NHS we must demand it and argue for how it can be achieved. That’s a much more positive act. It’s about knowing what you’re for and offering an alternative rather than merely being against our ‘business first, people second’ status quo.

Jeremy Corbyn was Tony Benn’s political apprentice back in the 1970s and ’80s. He seems to have inherited this belief that we must make clear, concrete demands and explain precisely how we will change the things we don’t like. A lot of people are disturbed by the prospect of Corbyn the PM, as if there’s nothing disturbing about the actions of those who have led Western nations before. Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, George W Bush and Donald Trump, for instance.

Corbyn interests me because he does none of these polished, insincere, businessman-type things that seem to be the political norm these days. And when caught on the hop on, say, the latest figures for non-means-tested child benefit for 1.3 million children, he won’t respond with an instant robotic answer. He will say something like, ‘Oh hang on a minute, I have it somewhere’ and fumble for his i-Pad. I like that, it shows he is fallible, that he’s still a human being. Maybe it’s too many of us who are robots, looking for another robot to lead us.

Tony Blair became PM in 1997 because he looked ‘prime ministerial’, at least according to the narrow criteria of the state-corporate media. He had the showbiz pizzaz, the shit-munching grin, the superficial charm for the telly. He kept saying magical sound bites like education, education, education’ and the sheep-like voters (baah! baah!) said ‘wow!’ and elected him.

Next thing we know, student fees have come in and the Iraq slaughter’s happening. Unlike Corbyn, Blair spoke slickly and normally got his figures right, but what was the use of that when you consider the damage he did to this country and others? Blair resigned in disgrace in 2007, but sadly his style still informs our politics. Now fees are even higher and we’re in Syria generating hundreds of terrorists for every bomb we drop.

By contrast, Corbyn has spent his entire career trying to end or stop pointless wars. Forget the propaganda about him supporting IRA terrorism. According to Gerry Adams – who ought to know a fair bit about the Northern Irish peace process – Corbyn was ‘fundamental’ in helping bring the Troubles to a close.

This election isn’t just about two parties, of course. There are other options such as the Green Party. Although I think they lack conviction in leadership, they’re genuine and they’ve done good work for Brighton (somewhere I used to live). The Greens’ Unconditional Basic Income policy is by far their most honourable.

Surely that’s a good idea: a basic standard of living for all that would help the needy out of the poverty trap and the unemployed out of the job centres. It might also stabilise the economy and encourage growth, at least enough so that us drones can become human again, living full lives rather than just about surviving.

Making demands and pushing for the changes to realise them is not about one politician with a beard and great ideas. It’s not even about having 650 of the right politicians all returned to parliament. It’s about doctors, nurses, scientists, psychologists, journalists, musicians, electricians artists, engineers, filmmakers, sportswomen, police officers, sailors, soldiers, firemen and women, tradesmen and women, writers, farmers, carpenters, car mechanics, dish washers, car washers, teachers, preachers, beach combers and everyone else. Collectively we must make this world more happy, reasonable and compassionate.

So use your vote, but make demands in other ways too by getting involved in grass roots activism and joining with others in the way Tony Benn wanted.

Image by JS Adams.