Labour should learn from UK Uncut….
I can see this headline provoking all sorts of wild reactions right from the get-go so, I will deal with the objections straight off the bat. I most certainly do not approve of everything UK Uncut does; indeed, I think they have often been shown to be too porous and have allowed their actions/events too frequently to be hijacked an undemocratic and deliberately trouble-making minority. So, this post shouldn’t be seen as a blank cheque, supporting every single thing UK Uncut does. However, they have had a major impact on politics and the political discourse in this country (aided and abetted by environmental factors). Tax is now a huge political hot potato, not just, as is traditional, the rate it is set at but its avoidance and tax evasion. A definite stigma exists around those that avoid tax and that has been partially created by the effectiveness of UK Uncut in highlighting the issue.
Labour needs to analyse and absorb the lessons UK Uncut can teach us because it needs to create an effective counter-narrative to the dominant and hegemonic one. Currently, Labour is hamstrung in the economic debate not just by its own timidity but by the whole ideological framework the Coalition government has constructed around it which deflects blame from our current woes from it, onto the opposition, through the medium and the national debt and debt crisis moral panic that brought it to power and until Labour breaks that framework it has precious little chance of winning a General Election, no matter what the polls say.
UK Uncut’s message is simple but effective. It’s also simple but is backed-up by beef, which gives it more clout. It chimes with a public sentiment, that we should all pay a fair share and that’s why it’s influence is being felt beyond the relatively tiny number of people who turn-up to UK Uncut actions. This allows UK Uncut to be the proverbial pebble in the lake; one that makes bigger ripples than its size suggests it should be and whose reach and influence is wider than the borders of its own organisational capacity.
Labour’s economic message is none of these things, it’s not simple, because it tries to be two different things at once, it tries to both preserve the illusion that it’s a clear alternative while effectively accepting the terms of debate decided by the government. It kind-of chimes with a public hesitancy about the pace of cuts but doesn’t chime and seek to take people places, because it doesn’t want to rock the boat too much. Furthermore, it is based on a purely negative assessment of the governments economic performance which, while being entirely valid and also being shared by a growing number of people, supplies no real positive vision of what is to be done.
UK Uncut’s message is simple; these people avoid tax, that is wrong, they should be made to pay it. The actual activity, ie, protests, etc is positively empowering people to take ownership of this issue. Ultimately, voting, while be terrifically important and something everybody should do, is a pretty passive act and therefore simply saying ‘Vote Labour’ isn’t positively empowering in the same way. The message is basically, perform this simple act once every so often, elect somebody and watch them (hopefully) do something about your concerns. We need a way to move beyond being a machine that simply churns out good election results (though obviously, we still want to do that) and think, as a Party, about how we can positively empower people along the same lines as UK Uncut have.
Doing this will involve recognising the fundamental difference between Labour and UK Uncut; ie, UK Uncut is a campaign group whose main focus is a single issue (with a cluster of issues that branch out from that) where as Labour is a political Party which is ultimately expected to govern. However, that does not mean that we can borrow some things from the others playbook and implement them in our own practice. If our structures were more responsive and, by implication, more democratic, then community campaigning would be more effective. We then would be less susceptible to a local insurgency that deprives us of a seat in the Commons a la Bradford West. Labour should not be po-faced and snobbish about learning new ways of working from outside its borders. If we learn from the likes of UK Uncut then we will actually find ourselves back in power much sooner than expected, given the current climate.