I originally wrote about this way back in February 2011, and though the political landscape has changed since then, the point still needs to be made: the Left, specifically Labour, cannot focus on a narrow pure economic set of arguments and expect to get majority support.
It’s the 21st century, people. The “identities” which have been traditionally used to demean, oppress, and sometimes enslave or kill people are real, because those people – women, people of colour, people with disabilities, the whole wide world of QUILTBAG – have been given no choice but to say “Yep, that’s what I am, now you have to deal with me.”
Old white dudes like John Ansell complain about how we should live in a “colour-blind” society, but that’s because for once, for the smallest period of time, and in a time when old white dudes still pretty much rule the roost, people whose colour and origins have been used to keep them down aren’t staying down any more.
They – and many other historically shat-on groups – are demanding that we acknowledge the reality: some people have faced systematic, institutional oppression which has at the very least disadvantaged them and stopped them achieving their potential the way they could’ve if they’d been born … well, as old white dudes.
This has economic factors to it, sure – strangely enough, capitalist societies are really, really good at using economic pressure against people – but it’s not a pure old-school Labour ideal of The Workers vs. The Owners.
For Labour to survive, it has to embrace fairness. It’s certainly claiming to, at the moment, but it’s a narrow, nasty kind of fairness, a very John Ansell definition of fairness: fairness defined by old white dudes who don’t realise – who choose not to see – that comparatively they have it pretty damn good in life.
It’s the kind of fairness that gets twisted very easily into ignoring all that uncomfortable historic systematic oppression. Just like this: Why should a person who can paint his roof on a specific day get a handout from the government, just because our entire economy is based on people working flat-tack 40 hours a week if you’re lucky, just because employers aren’t willing to put up with the unpredictability and extra effort needed to hire someone with a chronic illness?
If you agree with this for no other reason, please consider this: as soon as you start using the principle of “fairness” to mean fairness for one group of people and not another, you’re being a dick and opening yourself up to attack from the Right – a group who have been far more successful at this game throughout history.
The Left needs to include feminism – and all the other movements for people’s basic human rights – because it should be about “fairness”. It should be about the many and varied ways in which capitalism controls us and screws us, not just our meal breaks.
Labour, specifically, needs a vision. A vision of all people being treated with dignity, all people’s situations being considered in compassionate and non-judgey ways, all people being supported and looked after by our society as a whole. A vision of a society whose members understand that we are all pulling together and we are all more successful when we help each other, even if sometimes this means that on the surface one person is “getting more” than another. To each according to their need, innit?
Remember, visions are like Excalibur. If you use them right, they pretty muchmake you the king.