by Niall Walker
"It is hard to conceive of a time in history that such consensus was found on the British left."
T-Shirts For Change Ep.1 - THTC Clothing (TWT 2019)
1. Radical change is supposed to feel uncomfortable
Amidst the applause and self-congratulation, comments by two marginalised women caused an awkward pause in the festival’s audience.
First, an unnamed black woman, who had entered the tent with her young child in a pram as Owen Jones, Becky Hudson and Ali Milani discussed Labour’s election strategy. After praising Milani - Boris Johnson’s election competitor in Uxbridge - she asked how we can guarantee greater representation of those who continue to feel marginalised from party politics. We, as festival goers, she continued, have to acknowledge that by nature of our attendance, we are privileged.
Too much comfort leads to complacency, and that is not an option when there remains so many people our movement has not reached out to. Dawn Thorpe, from the Being Heard in Government Group, turned to the applauding audience at the end of a performance by the Baked Bean Company - a group of actors with learning difficulties - and asked: it’s all well and good to clap, but what are you actually doing to make sure these people are heard?
It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. It is an inevitable feeling when you are reaching out to people and groups you are unused to. But only by connecting these unjoined dots will we build something that represents the whole of society.
2. "Our society is like Jenga: when we pull out the bottom rungs, the whole thing comes falling down"
We wish that this was our own. Instead, the credit for this powerful metaphor lies with an unknown member of the public, protesting against the cuts to the benefits system.
Disability benefits have been cut by around £5 billion in the past decade. Yet these political decisions do not come without a consequence. We have seen disabled people leading the fight against austerity because it directly impacts their lives.
Similarly, social housing tenants, the young and migrants are answering the injustices they face - not with disillusionment - but with a desire to organise and fight.
Harnessing, and supporting, the anger felt by millions across this country is the only way we can wrestle power back from the Tories. In the campaign against Johnson, it is the victims of he and his party’s legacy who must be at the forefront of the resistance.
3. A genuinely transformative movement is starting to accelerate
This year’s TWT was surely the biggest festival of political education we have seen in a generation. Having begun in a small hall in Liverpool, it now covered several venues around Brighton, and attracted thousands of people from a range of backgrounds.
Momentum, and the other movements behind the Labour leadership, have withstood an unprecedented establishment attack and have now engineered the space for radical policies - a 4 day week; ending detention centres; a green new deal - which only 5 years ago, would have been unthinkable.
We are on the cusp of the biggest transformation in British society since Thatcher. But proposals are just the beginning; for their success and implementation to be realised, another enormous collective effort is required.
4. Consensus exists on the left like it hasn’t ever before
For an event attached to the Labour party to end at an anarchist mutual aid coffee shop may seem odd. But it reflects the scope of Corbynism’s reach amongst traditional left activists.
In a context of recent historic defeats, this is understandable. We protested for tuition fees as they were driven up to £9000. We marched against austerity, as it continues insatiably to rip through our society. Locally, organising against evictions, closure of community spaces and rights of residents has been hindered by rising property prices and a vampiric approach to government.
Behind the Labour banner, you will now find anarchists, anti-fascists, Leninists, Trotskyists and environmentalists. It is hard to conceive of a time in social history that such consensus was found on the British left. Is unity a realistic long-term expectation? If/when in government, it will be the challenge of a lifetime.
5. We still have a long way to go
10 years ago, the left - and the organised street movement - seemed dead. Its resurrection will not be immediate.
Huge portions of the population who Labour are attempting to reach out to remain unconvinced. Convincing them will take courage, patience and creativity. For all the talk which reverberated around Brighton this weekend, without actions backing it up, scepticism will rightly greet our movement.
Niall Walker is the Founder and Co-Editor of The Radical Art Review