Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Why am I on the left?

Demos' Open Left is asking people on the left to explain themselves! Pitch in here and my responses are below:

What is it about your political beliefs that puts you on the Left rather than the Right?

The Right is inclined to see the failure of people to reach their full potential as a result of some personal flaw. The left sees it as mainly as a result of impediments to success or lack of opportunity. Beyond the abstractions of 'freedom' and/ or 'equality' it comes down to this: the left believes that we can improve lives through collective action. Indeed, not only this but morally we should improve things through collective action where we can and that will create a society that is fairer and more creative. All must be able to participate and thrive in this better society. That is my fundamental belief.

What do you consider made you Left wing?

My background. I look back at my family biography and see the improvements that have been made to their lives over a century or so of progressive reform. This family tale is the same as so many others- the emergence of a new professional middle-class out of striving, struggling working-class communities whose ethic of hard-work was galvanising. That was only possible as result of education, housing, healthcare, and welfare. I don't believe that my ancestors in Ireland, England and Wales lacked drive and ambition. They just had no means of moving on up. Had it not been for the left over the last century or so I would not have had the considerable life chances that I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy- nor would my parents' generation. An awareness of this was always communicated to me.

How would you describe the sort of society you want Britain to be?

A humble society that is self aware, open and generous. We realise that we are in this together and if we let millions fall by the wayside the collective and moral consequences will be dire. We will be a country in which people ask not just 'how can I benefit?' but also 'how can I contribute?'

What one or two changes would make the biggest difference to bringing that about?

What is important is that we start to vision how things can be different. We acknowledge that things can different. We start to talk about different ways of doing things- together, inclusive, open. This can't be an elitist or technocratic pursuit. We change Britain by convincing people of their value and the contribution they can make. We look into our past and show how we have rallied and made things better. Then we summon that urge for a different type of society now. Then the policies flow. But first people must feel part of something.

What most makes you angry about the way Britain is now?

The way we have turned on one another. This has actually become quite an angry nation- and that imbues a sense of cynicism. Certain groups are caricatured or demonised then marginalised and resented. Mutual suspicion and anger proliferate. So, in a sense, I'm angry about anger.

Which person, event, era or movement from the past should we look to for inspiration now?

Undoubtedly, Martin Luther King. When researching my book on Barack Obama, I looked back at that whole era of American history and what was achieved by the non-violent civil rights movement was monumental. "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." For me, that sense is the ultimate expression of hope. Beyond that, his achievements and those of his movement will stand as a beacon of human possibility.

At that time, you also had Robert F Kennedy who was as profound as King in many ways but never quite got to put it into action. And you can’t forget President Johnson either- a titan for all his flaws and foreign policy catastrophes!

But the United States from 1955 to 1968- when it spectacularly ran out of steam- is one of the most radically important places and periods of history ever. It went from the gross injustice of segregation to civil and political equality. Reverend King was a major instigator of that- if not the major instigator.

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