openDemocracyUK: Opinion

We must build the institutions of solidarity

And a new common sense.

Peter McColl
14 December 2019
Madragon university - part of the world's biggest co-op

I had a brief conversation with a fellow voter at the polling station. I spoke to an old friend in the supermarket, who was buying items for the school foodbank with her children.

In both conversations, I could sense that we both wanted to hope and to tell one another that there was still hope. We yearned to hope for an end to the brutal attacks on the vulnerable, an end to the hideous logic of a government committed to winning by undermining reality, an end to the nightmare of the last 10 years.

I wrote something I didn't share about that hope.

Then I watched the announcement of the exit poll, and all that hope drained away. This could be a very long 5 years.

It's incredibly hard. I feel totally empty. A deep sense that we couldn't convince people that hope was better than hate. And I expect many of you will feel like that too.

We need to look after ourselves, but we also need to be prepared for what is coming.

Brexit will be used to gear up the austerity playbook. Public services will be run down, privatised, removed altogether. More people will die so that the few can increase their already substantial wealth.

And that process will start almost immediately. The electorate, whether voters meant it or not, has given a massive endorsement to this attack on public services and the vulnerable.

So we need to understand quickly how to get back on the front foot. That means understanding what people wanted from Brexit. I read a lot of focus group transcripts. Many of those show that people think that Brexit will deliver both substantial increases in spending, and a reduction on the pressure on public services.

This is obviously untrue. We need to find a way to communicate these failures in ways that build solidarity, and most importantly, bring people with us.

When the end to austerity doesn't materialise the Tories will blame immigrants, minorities, Travelling communities, anyone but themselves. We need to stand with those under fire. We need to build a different 'common sense'.

For now that has to be based in communities, building our own ways to communicate beyond a media that will always be hostile to our aims, and creating a popular demand for change that can transform electoral politics when we next get the chance. All those tabloid headlines about how immigrants were to blame for all social evils created the political weather. We need to find a way to change the political climate. Since the union movement went into decline, we have failed to do that. The best time to have started this was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

As it becomes clear that Brexit won't 'be done' any time soon we have an opportunity to make this case.

There are other vital issues we need to build movements for change around. The most important is the climate. After the defeat of the Spanish republic in the 1930s, radicals in Spain found ways to organise outside the political system. They build massive workers' cooperatives. They lived solidarity. We need to find the ways to do those things on climate – while building political demands.

We need to argue that the reason peoples' lives aren't satisfying is because of the system. We can't do that while trying to play the system. The biggest failure of the Labour campaign was that it focused on (really good) policies to transform the way the system worked. We need to replace the system. And we need to make the way that change will work obvious – it needs to form a new 'common sense'.

We need to give people power back in their everyday lives, in the workplace, in their community, in their schools. We need to stop using centralisation as a proxy for solidarity.

So, to adapt an old saying, don't just mourn, get angry. And let's share those ideas of how we can create a new system. One that isn't prone to mass misinformation, to visiting ruthless punishment on the vulnerable for the actions of the powerful and that destroys our planet for profit.

We've found the limits of playing by the rules. And we lose. We need to change those rules. And we need to work out how we build a coalition in society to create those new rules.

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Panellists

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