Friday, 27 February 2015

Learning from failure

One thing Matthew Goodwin is right about is that, on paper, there is a large enough constituency of people in this country to form a movement that could threaten the balance of power. Goodwin thinks that movement is Ukip. It isn't, not least because it isn't a movement, and has squandered any chance it had of becoming one. It walked up a cul-de-sac from which it cannot escape.

In politics, if you take anything head on, you will fail. Politics is the art of persuasion and if you immediately set yourself up as a foe, all you'll do is talk past your opponent and accomplish nothing.

When Ukip cashed in its chips last May it gained a lot of new support, not because of its politics, but because of the reaction by the establishment to Ukip. Many on the right got caught up in the idea that there was a culture war being waged on ordinary people, and that's why they hitched their wagon to Ukip. I'm not totally convinced they're right. There's a certain element of selection bias to it, driven as much by tabloid media as anything else. I don't think there is an attack on free speech either. There are high profile sideshow spats between equally douchey entities, but on the whole I don't think public debate has ever been more lively and far reaching. But let's just suppose I'm wrong about that.

Let's say there is a liberal establishment attack on the working class (or however you want to define it). Taking it head on is a battle you will lose.

This is a lesson I have learned from my war on South Gloucestershire Council. They have the power, thus the law is what they say it is. You can achieve a few things on the way, at great expense, but anyone who has challenged authority knows that they can grind you down until you no longer have the energy. The deck is stacked.

So it then becomes a matter of taking a cold hard look at what it you want to achieve, and examining how it is to be achieved. This blog has catalogued every single failing of Ukip and I have not at any point surprised by what it does or how it panned out. They fail to understand that this battle is about power. Who has it, and how it is used.

From the start Ukip needed objectives, a body of intellectual capital and a strategy, one which recognises the obstacles and roadblocks it would have to go around, rather than fight head on. Immigration was always going to be one of them. It was game-over the moment Ukip decided to throw all its forces at the south wall. Now it is scattered, discredited and bleeding support. Hardcore kippers will fight to the last man in a heroic struggle, but in the end, they will lose.

So now we are back at square one and must now examine what didn't work.

1. Euroscepticism

What we have seen is that even when Ukip is doing well, the poll margins for winning an EU referendum are largely doing their own thing. They are independent variables. In times of a euro-crisis sentiment for leaving is high, but in any referendum campaign, those with the power can distort the debate. They can use fear, uncertainty and doubt, and they can fudge it. It doesn't look like a winnable prospect, and euroscepticism as a movement can't even unite around an alternative. On the one hand we have the Tory circle-jerk whose ideas are ill-defined at best, Ukip which is isn't even in the game, and then all us freaks and misfits who have long since been unpersoned because of our contempt for both.

2. Immigration

This was always going to be a losing prospect. The racism card is too powerful, the issues complex and the numbers games become a matter of spin and counter spin. If that culture war does really exist, then this is the front line. Against the full force of the state and the media, it's just not a winnable prospect and one that excludes too many people that a movement would need to win. It's a toxic swamp. The story arc of the BNP tells the tale, and Ukip will fail for the same reasons.

I never joined the BNP, nor did I ever have any sympathy for the blood and soil nationalism or the grubby populism it espoused. But I was a fearsome defender of their right to speak and the necessity to debate them. In the end, we had that national debate - and the BNP resoundingly lost it. As will Ukip.

3. NHS

Another unwinnable battle. There are far too many opinions, too many vested interests on both sides and no middle ground. There are too many booby-traps and it's a minefield. In fact, anything issue specific is going to be too narrow in appeal. Euroscpeticism, defence and immigration are traditionally issues owned by the right and NHS, welfare and environment owned by the left. Finding a platform on which everyone can agree is impossible if it is issue specific.

So then it falls to a set of principles rather than issues.

It has been widely remarked that the left/right divide no longer has any great meaning, but as we get closer to an election we can see that divide is still quite healthy. All party activists are useful idiots maintaining that divide because there is only one divide that really matters. There are those above the line, and those below it. What any of us actual thinks about the immigration, the EU, the NHS or anything else doesn't actually matter because we have no actual say in it. The power is not ours. Speak to anyone on the left or the right or in between and you will find broad agreement there. So that is your basis for a movement.

So it then becomes a movement that is both conservative and revolutionary. A movement to make our voices matter. That is the thinking behind the six demands of The Harrogate Agenda.

1. Recognition of our sovereignty
2. Real local democracy
3. Separation of powers
4. The people’s consent
5. No taxation or spending without consent
6. A constitutional convention

It's revolutionary, but politically uncontentious. It's simple, yet profound. You don't even have to talk about immigration of the EU because it's about democracy. Not until we have it can we have any meaningful discussions about the future of the NHS or immigration or anything else.

Modern politics is no longer about socialism or capitalism. Britain has stuck a balance - and it works too. Modern complex societies mean that government will be large and to an extent it follows it will be expensive. What sticks in the craw is that it is not value for money, nor is it accountable - and it's treading where it shouldn't and getting in the way. This is a great country, but we all know it will not remain a great country unless the powers are ours, and we can put a leash on government so at the very least it does what it is told.

But we understand that power is not surrendered easily. We have seen that the establishment knows how to deal with head on threats. We have seen how it can neutralise and discredit opposition. It is why outsiders on the left and right continue to lose every battle. If we want to win we shall have to do it with skill, patience and by stealth. Ukip have proven exactly why starting new parties doesn't work. The system is designed to protect itself - and any party that did win an outright victory would be indistinguishable from that which it replaced, if not immeasurably worse.

There is an appetite for a movement - and it can't just be a matter of tinkering with policies, it has to be a revolution in governance and our relationship with government. That is at the very heart of the Harrogate Agenda - and nothing else is going to work. We know this because everything else has been tried and has failed, and the one time something like The Harrogate Agenda was tried... it succeeded.

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