In politics it is easy to exaggerate the importance of the moment. It is easy to convince yourself that new forces are emerging and that things will never be the same. I remember being intoxicated with that feeling in 1968 when, after graduating from Lancaster University, I crossed the Atlantic to work for the peace candidate Eugene McCarthy. Youth was about to triumph. We confidently joined Bob Dylan in singing ‘The times they are a-changin’. Times didn’t change that much. On 5thNovember 1968, almost exactly fifty years ago, Richard Nixon was elected to the US Presidency; today Donald Trump holds that office.
The naïve optimism of youth has long gone and I am more measured in my assessments. Nevertheless events over the last month lead me to believe that something of significance could be happening below the surface and the tectonic plates of politics may be about to shift. One indication was the People’s Vote March that took place on 20thOctober. I was accompanied by a number of old (in both senses of the word) Labour Party friends, one of whom was concerned that his lack of mobility would hold up progress. He need not have worried: a crowd of 700,000 shuffled along in what was described as ‘the slowest Waitrose queue in history’. Yes the march was decidedly middle class. However it cut across the existing party spectrum and, I suspect, attracted a lot of people who, while well-informed, have always avoided political activism.
Curiously any new political consciousness has not been reflected in the opinion polls. Both main parties are hovering around the 38-40% mark with the Conservatives marginally ahead of Labour and the LibDems not moving at all. In his latest update, David Cowling the distinguished election specialist, simply commented: “once again one is left to marvel at this state of affairs”. My interpretation is that, while there is a high level of political concern, the existing parties fail to excite: both are hopelessly divided and Labour in particular will pay a price for an ambiguous and opportunist position on Brexit. If ever there was a time for a principled stand this was it and such a stand could well have attracted many of the 700,000 marchers.
It would be nice, at this stage to be able to offer some insights from North Norfolk. Alas this has not proved possible. Local government is continuing on as normal. The North Norfolk LibDems seem to be emerging from their torpor over Brexit, and look as though they may come out of their burrow and campaign if there is a new referendum – but this is scarcely evidence of the emergence of any ‘new politics’. The Labour Party, of which I remain a member, may well have hit the buffers. Momentum are firmly in control locally but the bombast is evaporating and they will be challenged to find sufficient candidates to fight all the District Council seats next year.
It is hard to know what to conclude from all this. Certainly the nature of activism is changing as well as the times, but, to quote from Bob Dylan:
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
I am sure he is right: there is no tellin’ (sic) who it is namin’ (sic). Fifty-two years after penning these words Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature; nobody would have predicted that outcome.
leftyoldman blogs will appear occasionally as the Brexit battle continues and the shape of post Brexit politics emerges. If you would like to receive email notification of future blogs, please press the ‘followleftyoldman’ button on the left hand side above. I continue to tweet at @eugrandparents.