Tony Benn on aging towards the left…

Tony Benn

Image from The Guardian

This blog has contained a lot of politics recently- and I almost began this post with an apology. However, I am too angry to apologise really. Whoever said that you should never mix religion and politics was a fool. Followers of Jesus can never absent themselves from politics, but I would argue that our politics inevitably lead us towards the poor, the broken, the sick, the old. It has to be motivated by the motivations of Jesus.

I am seized by a the feeling that we are wasting time. Perhaps this is that point of my own life when the end feels nearer than the beginning, when what we have become seems an urgent issue rather than vague possibilities.

In many ways most of my friends and I started on the left then gradually slid to the right, if only in our passive acquiescence. I hated that in myself, and at least in my thinking, currently I am heading in entirely the opposite direction.

It was such a treat then to read this interview with Tony Benn today, particularly in the wake of yesterdays post about the disengaged politics of Russel Brand. In some senses, Benn’s experience might support Brand’s assertion that democratic politics has failed. Benn became progressively more left wing as he became older, before leaving the House of Commons as he put it “To devote more time to politics.” However, Benn remains a man who believes passionately in the democratic process. Here are a few quotes;

If you look back over history, most progress has come about when popular movements have emerged led by determined men and women. They take tremendous punishment from the establishment, and then if they stick it out they win the argument.”

“How does progress occur? To begin with, if you come up with a radical idea it’s ignored. Then if you go on, you’re told it’s unrealistic. Then if you go on after that, you’re mad. Then if you go on saying it, you’re dangerous. Then there’s a pause and you can’t find anyone at the top who doesn’t claim to have been in favour of it in the first place.” It strikes me that his belief in this process must have sustained him during the long periods in which he was mocked and marginalised.

The financial crash will, he believes, eventually force a change in strategic thinking. “What happened in 2007-8 is now used by the government as an example of the failure of the Labour party. But the changes that were brought about led to a need to think about something more radical, and more radical ideas – on, for instance, public ownership and education – would win popular support if they were presented to the public.” Having been deemed mad and then dangerous, Benn reckons the moment when his ideas are claimed by others is coming.

I really hope he lives to see it…

In the meantime, this is an itch I will continue to scratch. Where it will lead me, I do not know, but I have a conviction that politics can also be pilgrimage, even accepting that getting lost along the way from time to time is inevitable.

When does concern about immigration become racism?

Today, the Limp Lettuce Leaf that heads up the opposition in our parliament spoke out.

Not against injustice, overconsumption, unsustainable lifestyles- he spoke about immigration.

In an interview with the Guardian, he concedes that immigration is being discussed in “every kitchen” and that the Labour party has been too quick to dismisses the concerns of ordinary people as “prejudice”.

He says the government should strengthen the law so that employment agencies cannot – even informally – favour foreign workers.

He was at pains to suggest that the former labour government had got it wrong on immigration- that it had ‘let too many people in’. This from the son of an immigrant- his mother, Marion Kozak (a human rights campaigner and early CND member) survived the Holocaust thanks to being protected by Roman Catholic Poles. His father, Ralph Miliband, was a Belgian-born Marxist academic, who fled with his parents to England during World War II.

With this in mind, perhaps we might take a moment to reflect on the fact that in the middle of just about every renewal and innovation in our society has always been the incomer- the outsider seeking to make good. At the middle of industry, and at the centre of our professional groups.

Also of course, doing all the jobs we do not want to do, and in times of economic success, refuse to do.

To be fair to the Leaf, if and when he does speak out on issues of justice no one listens, but when he speaks out like this he is at the top of every news bulletin.

But our kitchen has hosted no debates over immigrant labour of late- has yours?

If it did however, I might find myself suggesting that the reason why so many Eastern European people, or so many Asian people, come to this country is very simple- economics. Our lifestyle is based in the need to sustain huge inequality, some of which was enforced at the point of an imperialist bayonet. The shadow this casts is over a dozen generations or more.

In the Eastern European case however, the opening up of the borders in the European Union did indeed cause a large movement of migrant workers far beyond what was expected. Working people in some cases were simply priced out of the market as workers from the East were cheaper, and willing to work long hours.

In the past this would not have been possible, because of something called Trade Unions. But we more or less neutralised them in the name of free market economics.

So- when does concern about immigration become racism? Remember the famous spat between Gordon Brown and the redoubtable Gillian Duffy? Was she a bigot as he famously was heard calling her?

The answer of course, is probably not- but at the same time, maybe we have to acknowledge there is something about our society that is instinctively hostile to the outsider, or the other. When this becomes part of our politics, it gets ugly very quickly and the victims are usually those with the least power.

Particularly during an economic downturn- when we have the need for a scapegoat.

If the Leaf should visit our Kitchen, we can discuss it in more detail.