Wednesday, April 26, 2006

THE EUSTON MANIFESTO: COUNT ME IN

It's about time I put something concrete up here about the Euston Manifesto.

If you've been living in a cave for the past two weeks (and to all intents and purposes I have) here's the skinny:
We are democrats and progressives. We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the Left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.
I remember first being approached about this and I was asked if I was a lefty or not. Which I am, in my own way. I think I replied that several causes I considered ought to belong to the true Left had been abandoned or hijacked by opportunists and fakes, from Michael Moore's description of Iraqi insurgents as "minutemen" to the SWP's position on the Iraq War that "by far the lesser evil would be reverses, or defeat, for the US and British forces."

Having just read Oliver Kamm's "Anti-Totalitarianism" I was encouraged that things hadn't always been this way and so "signed up" to see what exactly the original group had in mind.

Despite suffering from the worst flu I've had in years, I was impressed by the broad range of viewpoints present at the meeting, particularly on an issue as divisive as the Iraq War. There were some who were adamantly for it, some who'd always been against it and many whose opinions were somewhere in between. I was also impressed that it didn't seem to be some sort of think-tank for embittered card-carrying Labour Party members, although there is of course a strong Leftist vein running through the whole operation.

And why shouldn't there be? Who better to realign the Left's moral compass?

Daniel Finkelstein takes issue with this. Writing in today's Times he states:
The authors believe they are reclaiming these principles for the Left, principles that originated with Left thinkers and were fought for by Left agitators, principles that commend themselves to any Left thinker on domestic issues but somehow do not when those same people consider foreign policy. And in this, the signatories of the Euston Manifesto have a good point, of course they do.

It is not necessary to go back to the Enlightenment to find the Left defending all this. Since September 11 2001, conservatives have taken much of the heat for their advocacy of intervention and the spread of democracy. Yet some of the most articulate arguments for this position have come from those who see themselves as left-wing — from our own David Aaronovitch and Oliver Kamm, for instance, or from the American intellectual Paul Berman. And no other statesman has matched the courage with which Tony Blair has put this case.

So here’s my position on the Euston manifesto. I admire its authors, I agree with its sentiments, I think it well written and timely. I also think this — the Euston Manifesto is a gigantic waste of time and energy.
And why pray tell?
The principles outlined by the authors of the Euston Manifesto may draw on the great history of the Left, but they are not its present or its future. The group supporting it has impressive quality. But quantity? No. All the hours spent drafting such a clear statement of principles has been wasted on people who do not agree and never will.

The task of persuading the Left is also unnecessary. For if the Euston Manifesto had been published by a group of rightwingers it might attract some right-wing opposition, but support would be overwhelming on the Right. This may not be a very attractive fact for a group of left-liberal authors to come to terms with, but it is the truth nevertheless.

I know how hard this is. I had to come to terms with it myself, after years of thinking myself part of the Left, and it was difficult to do and took me a long time. But it is now more than 15 years since I realised that the Left’s failure to treat all forms of totalitarianism as if they were the same was not going to change.

The Right has its failings, Lord knows that it does. But it is a better ally in the cause that the Euston Manifesto champions. It is as simple as that.
That all seems rather defeatist to me.

Having seen the Democratic Party go to the dogs in the US with many muscular liberals leaving or defecting to the Republicans (see LGF comments circa 2001-2003 and the scorn poured by supposedly "true" Democrats on the likes of Neo-Neocon and KesherTalk), I don't want to see the same happen here. Rather than standing up to the likes of "Screw 'Em" Zuniga and his chums at DailyKos, the Democrats actually turned to them for advice. Suffice to say, the results have been rather better for the candidates they didn't endorse...

I have no intention of allowing the same to happen to the Labour Party when Tony finally puts his feet up and Cherie has to start paying for her haircuts like everybody else. Not when the only opposition is an opportunistic Tory Party that was for the Iraq war before it was against it and a ragtag bunch of eccentrics (and that's being kind) claiming to be Liberal Democrats.

Unlike the US, I don't want to see significant numbers of Leftists and liberals being forced to jump ship: I want to see them make a stand. Daniel Finkelstein may be the exception, but I've yet to meet someone of my age who has jumped into bed with the Right over this. If we can force the Sue Blackwell's of this world into retreat over her proposed AUT boycott of Israel, we can win the rest of the arguments contained within the Euston Manifesto.

But the Euston Manifesto's target audience is not just the UK - it calls for an internationalist stance that will hopefully provoke greater debate amongst Leftists globally. Why the banners equating Israel to Nazi Germany at supposedly Leftist anti-globalisation demonstrations? Why the acceptance of Bush Derangement Syndrome (see here for a particularly fine case)?

I know the regulars here are a pretty disparate bunch and wouldn't expect a number of you to go near this with a bargepole. But we've already shown that whether we're Canadian or Australian Conservatives, British Old or New Lefties, anarchists living the life of von Reilly or just plain old centrists that we share some pretty important core values that transcend our disagreements over issues like the welfare state, levels of taxation or other party political matters. It's these core values that need to be made to count.

By not focussing on economics, free markets and all the other standard Left-Right lines in the sand, but instead cementing our shared core values and encouraging those beyond the Left to join in, the Euston Manifesto has a lot going for it.

Returning to a point Daniel Finkelstein made in his piece:
If the Euston Manifesto had been published by a group of rightwingers it might attract some right-wing opposition, but support would be overwhelming on the Right.
OK. But just because support is not overwhelming from the Left does not mean it should or ought to be forever so. And let's not forget that many on the traditional Right are unashamedly isolationist, a fact that Finkelstein conveniently ignores.

The extent of the debate going on on the Left since its publication shows that the Euston Manifesto could not have come at a better time. Daniel Finkelstein may think this a wasted effort, but if it can encourage some fresh new minds on the Left and a rejection of the muddled thinking that has characterised much of Leftist thought of late, we should all be grateful.


ASIDE: My major criticism of the Euston Manifesto Group is that they choose to meet in such a poor pub. No real ale on tap - now what's that all about?

/Gets slippers and pipe...

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