In the second part of the discussion with sociologist, Lisa MacKenzie, anthropologist and author, Jason Hickel and middle east based journalist Sharmine Narwani, Renegade Inc. host Ross Ashcroft teased out from his guests their bold predictions about what’s in store for 2020.
In a year in which the forces that shape power were finally exposed, the discussion shifted from what in 2019 shocked the guests to what surprised them.
For many people, one of the more surprising aspects of the year, politically speaking, was the fact that voters in the north of England didn’t plump for Jeremy Corbyn’s radical vision. Jason Hickel’s contacts, who spent time on the doorstep in Hartlepool’s north-east, told him that families who had voted Labour all their lives were turning towards the Tories. For Hickel such a move is difficult to rationalize given that Corbyn’s progressive negotiating stance on Brexit would not have screwed the working class in the way that Johnson’s Brexit deal is clearly going to do.
However, Lisa Mackenzie’s took a different view. According to the sociologist, the reason why a ‘class conscious’ electorate in the north voted against their own best interests was because, on Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t considered to be trustworthy. It thus appeared, at least in MacKenzie’s universe, that such a value judgement overrides manifesto commitments that were arguably the most visionary and progressive of any Labour programme since the war.
Unrealistic or realistically anti-imperialist?
MacKenzie referred to the Labour manifesto, not as a more rigorous set of documents than its Conservative counterpart, but rather as a “fantastic third year undergraduate dissertation” that was unrealistic and lacked detail. This was despite the fact that it was widely criticised by political opponents and the media alike, as Hickel acknowledges for being “too detailed”.
Nevertheless, MacKenzie remains undeterred:
“The Labour manifesto was not realistic. People didn’t believe it”, she claims.
But as Hickel says, “it was made to appear unrealistic by the media.”
Hickel’s view chimes with Sharmine Narwani’s contention that the public were groomed by the media to adopt certain talking points such as anti-Semitism and anti-imperialist politics. “It wasn’t that he [Corbyn] was anti imperialist, rather that he was [made to appear] weak on national security. Do you see what I mean? They made it relevant to them”, says Narwani.
It was the media’s conflation of Corbyn’s anti-imperialist politics with the accusation that he was weak on national security that fed into the sensitivities of what remains a largely entrenched nativist working class culture. As Hickel says, “anti-imperialist politics is kryptonite for a certain version of British, of English in particular, identity.”
When good governance becomes ‘radical’
These factors, as opposed to any perceived lack of trust people had in Corbyn, appear to be far more of a reasonable explanation of why a large swath of the public turned against him. The notion that the manifesto was ‘radical’ when in reality it was modeled on Scandinavian style social democracy, also played into a public sense that Labour’s policies were somehow unworkable or unrealistic.
But it was precisely the media’s depiction of Labour’s policies as ‘radical’ when in fact, as Narwani acknowledges, they mean ‘good governance’, which persuaded people to vote against policies that polls actually show are popular with the electorate.
Corbyn’s “unpopularity on the doorstep” are not related to his policies, or even Corbyn per se, but rather, the media’s false characterization of the Labour leader. Ultimately, the mainstream media and corporate owned press ‘brainwash’ the public into voting in the interests of their proprietors and the establishment: “We’re seeing this in the US presidential elections with Tulsi Gabbard”, says Narwani.
But it’s not just the media that want progressive political voices silenced. Many within the Labour Party establishment itself wanted Corbyn to fail predicated on the spurious notion that centrists are sufficiently able to take up the slack. But as Hickel says:
“There’s no constituency for that centre. The country has moved beyond that. And so it’s ridiculous for them to think that this is their chance to recover the Labour Party for the Blairites. That’s not going to happen.”
Sense of hope
The tragic irony is that the very communities who had been disenfranchised and ignored by the Blairites, ended up voting against the man who aimed to redress that situation and who helped transform the party into one in which millions of young people feel connected. “I love that sense of hope. It makes me feel a lot better”, says Hickel. However, set against this hope, are the forces of reaction embodied in a Tory party that has secured power for at least another five years.
The implications for the climate, in particular, as Hickel is only too aware, are stark. The UK government’s zero emissions target by 2050 is about 20 years too slow. In 2020 Hickel predicts more climate disaster which he says will be the catalyst for a shift in tactics towards moves that are outside of the formal negotiating process that will exclude the US. Both activists and banks will play a key role in terms of shifting the debate.
In terms of the political debates, it’s the street that will become increasingly important in 2020. Concentrating on domestic and grass roots issues, Lisa MacKenzie’s focus for 2020 centres on the shock waves relating to the housing estate bubble throughout London which she claims will come under increasing pressure. MacKenzie also acknowledges the need for the UK to address class inequality.
Sharmine Narwani’s vision for 2020 takes on a more global perspective. The journalist predicts a Trump re-election and a set of new diverging international geopolitical alliances with Europe looking eastward at China and Russia. The latter two will become big players while a bellicose US will turn increasingly inwards. Moving forward, the journalist would like to see a break-up of the media and public participation in publicly funded media.
“We’re not getting the news and we know it”, says Narwani.