The General Election of June 2017 will be remembered for the shock advances made by the Labour Party and the failure of the Conservatives to gain an overall majority. The Conservative Party, led by Theresa May, then desperately struck a deal with the DUP, the party emerging from Northern Ireland’s ‘troubles’, a group with a terrorist past.
May’s speech outside No.10 on June 9 announcing this deal was disgraceful. She used ‘the appalling attacks in Manchester and London’ to legitimise her lack of legitimacy, which was utterly disgusting in itself. She is seeking power through former terrorists to attack current ones. She seeks power for power’s sake in the name of ‘cracking down on the ideology of Islamist extremism and all those who support it.’ We need to write these moments down for later, remember them, they are revelations of the elite establishment’s game of ‘ruling over’ at any cost, not ‘ruling for’. These very old underground wells of power are usually hidden, but here they are suddenly revealed, as Burroughs wrote, in ‘the frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.’
Yes, the attacks were appalling, but what have any of them got to do with the EU? And May is seeking to address the attacks with the Unionist Party? And she uses the words ‘legitimacy and ability’ and ‘certainty’? And the Queen has given assent to all of this? It is time for the full rejection of the entire elite assemblage: Here is dialectics at a standstill; the profane illumination at zero-hour, the sick freeze frame.
But I was braced to return to the sociopathic Britain on bad steroids I know: The further rise of this weird, refigured octopoid far right like a constantly morphing and returning super-flu. The privatisation of everything. The end of even the concept of a public good or a commons. A pro-laissez-faire government, for half a decade. Further advocacy that we go more Thatcherite, which isn’t even possible, even if you want it, as nobody is giving stable or worthwhile work in signficant quantity. At least if we’re all supposed to go out for the loot then give us a situation where it’s actually possible without turning to crime: But I don’t want that situation and I never did. I want a strong and fair democratic state.
We have been so far adrift from that for so long that I don’t think most of us fully realise it. Everything was a lie, but people aren’t so stupid, even if they can be gullible. The great dream of upward mobility is dead, but so is the safety net, which has turned into a prison fence in universal credit, permanent surveillance. This was the first glimpse that Labour might win, just working through the obviousness of that, and the undealt with crash of 2008. Something had to happen.
The Tories couldn’t have lost it more thoroughly if they had actively tried to. The dementia tax, ‘we will take your home if you get dementia, to “care” for you, but not anyone else.’ Trying to take Halifax at the same time as they close hospitals there, and in nearby Huddersfield: Even a tolerable death seems out of our grasp. The older have been denied the work of youth and the youth denied the possibility of getting old – culturally – and none of us can be fully adult in any of it. Even those with permanent contracts on full time hours are scared to the living death of slipping down into the chaos below. This is about everyone’s lives, it is about all our qualities of existence. Even those with lots of money, their children would have had to live with the walking dead, everyone would have been affected, not just those ‘below’ them. The situation was one in which just being a decent citizen was very hard. This situation has been partially refused, but it is only partially. Although partial is good enough for now because the only response to a Tory landslide would have been some sort of internal exile, no more ‘out there’.
But this isn’t a panacea. The continuing and escalating carpet bombing of disingenuous media, superficial messages and fragmentary images has not stopped. Labour have a very hard task, they now have to convince those who didn’t vote for them this time, should we have another General Election. This will be more of a stone-squeezing exercise than the campaign Labour have just fought. But the Tories have to deal with Brexit and stagnating wages, this toxic cauldron has not been neutralised and its impact on the country could have been scapegoated onto Labour by the right. There are great mercies here. The Tories face two opposite pressures now, to move both fast and slow. The tension might bust them. Labour equally have pressures that could buckle them internally. Try not to throw up your hands at the first thing that goes wrong, there will be screw-ups, because what is being attempted is genuinely radical.
But all over my social media I see people celebrating as though Labour actually won: They didn’t; we must be much more cautious. The tropes bang onto the timelines with little thought, creating naive imagery pileups. One quotes Marx on the Labour Party, Chartists and Utopia: Firstly, Marx and Engels were just as often sniffy about both Labour and the Chartists; secondly I could find quotes from the Marx-Engels correspondence that equally fit this moment, on the late nineteenth century failure of the north to produce anything like a revolution.
These people will no doubt bemoan my lack of ‘faith’, but I am proud of it, because properly calibrated cynicism is a potent philosophical tool, where ‘belief’ is a dangerous one. What happened here was nothing short of miraculous though. I grant you that and fully celebrate it with you: But perspective is exactly what is needed now in order to pull off the main event.
Many of the posturing ones are university workers, like me, except those universities are now run by centre right business elites, which makes the revolutionary rhetoric even more ridiculous. At 9.30 in the morning of the historic day of the election result, in which Canterbury and Kensington both went red, the Vice Chancellor of one of the universities I work for sent an email around to all staff:
‘Dear colleague’ he began, after ‘the heat and noise of the General Election campaign we now must prepare ourselves for a period of instability, with a hung parliament and a minority government.’ He then described the ‘four freedoms’, which he defined as ‘movement of people, goods, services and capital’ saying that they ‘are indivisible’ (after, of course dividing them into four parts). The ‘four freedoms’? The freedom to sell yourself or languish in a doorway. He then made a highly cryptic statement, that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’
‘The university sector cares about borderless access to students and staff, research and innovation funding’ he continued: No it doesn’t, it cares about being a business. You don’t even get access if you live right next door to the university, unless the fees are paid: You don’t need to look to national borders to find barriers to access.
‘But more will be asked of universities’ he says, we ‘will be required to demonstrate our social and economic value and to play a full role in this regard.’ So that would be the ‘four freedoms’ then? Cream surplus value for yourself or sink, and stuff everyone else. Prove there’s a worth to your work beyond what it actually is that fits into the so-called ‘four freedoms’ of capitalism. If your work does not fit this grid, force it in until it does, even if its shape is fundamentally altered through doing so.
He then says that ‘we’ have ‘always maintained that a tough stance on immigration was likely to have a significant impact on universities’, that the ‘government cannot achieve its lower net migration target without a major reduction in international student numbers.’
This statement says ‘you voted for this fundamental erosion of the game I play and now I am going to hurt you.’ These wizened neoconservatives will be crawling out from under their stones all over. I would rather remain outside academia for the rest of my life with a healthy society than stay in it under their vision: But that may simply come to pass.
This, finally, is what we have to face: That these underground wells of power we can see briefly will not magically dry up anytime soon; sinister forces really do lie behind the sliding scenery. We must of course focus our anger at that situation into our efforts to overcome them, but history is not fully on our side yet.
However, I now feel a powerful complex of staunch refusal, yearning, and an autonomously operating philosophy of active cynicism: These are not self-effacing forces, they are motive ones.