Left standing like schoolboys

Feb 24th, 2010 | By | Category: Ireland

Student union meetings at the LSE thirty years ago were always faintly absurd.  Undergraduates with public school accents would stand up and talk about workers’ solidarity.  To have suggested they might not really understand working class people would have been to invite a tide of rhetoric accusing one of ‘false consciousness’, or ‘revisionism’, or counter-revolutionary thinking, or whatever pejorative term was in vogue amongst the intellectual radicals.

Of course, when it came to going out, they always had money in their pockets, and could always travel during the long vacation, and would generally go off to some lucrative professional or City career when graduating.  There were lines from The Jam’s song Eton Rifles that captured a sense of those middle class radicals who talked the language of the Left, while being secure in their comfortable lifestyles.

Thought you were clever when you lit the fuse,
tore down the House of Commons in your brand new shoes,
composed a revolutionary symphony,
then went to bed with a charming young thing . . .
. . . What a catalyst you turned out to be,
loaded the guns then you ran off home for your tea,
left me standing – like a guilty schoolboy.

For years, Left-wing intellectuals have adhered to the rhetoric of change, while not declining incomes generated within a social and economic system they regularly condemn.  Like barstool football fans shouting at the manager of a Champions League soccer team, while watching him on television on Wednesday night, it has not cost much pain or sacrifice to write a column for the Irish Times excoriating the Government, and then go off to a city centre restaurant for a meal that would cost much of the weekly income of an unemployed person.

Much of the critique of the ‘Wild West’ brand of capitalism, that has crippled the Irish economy, and of the Government’s bail out of those who caused the problems, has come from the Left.  However, the critique has not been accompanied by viable alternatives: there is not going to be a revolution, nor is society going to suddenly change to something caring and inclusive, where the burden of capitalism’s failure is not placed on the shoulders of working people.

It is odd that the perspective of the right of centre David McWilliams on the government’s bank bailout plans in today’s Irish Independent should sound like something from a student union meeting of long ago:

. . . permanently cheap land would impoverish the landlords and their financial backers — the very people who have got us into this mess and the very people NAMA is devised to rescue. So someone has to pay for the bailout . . . we the people — the outsiders — will plug this gap. This is grand larceny overseen by the insiders. Someone has to shout “stop”!

Shouting ‘stop’ is futile without possessing power to prevent this monster rolling onwards.  A revolution is not an option and appealing to the good nature of the government appears to have failed.

The LSE student union would passed a very finely worded resolution commanding the government what to do, and a lot of difference it would have made.

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  1. The left as a group of middle class intellectuals with English public school accents smacks more than a little of caricature.

    I think of the multitudes of brave men and women from all backgrounds who have patiently worked to build a labour movement to confront the interests of wealth and property with an alternative vision of human flourishing. In Ireland and other countries they have delivered a better life for millions over the last 100 years. Of course the job is never completed, because greedy human nature continues to drive some to ruthlessly seek their own advantage – original sin, perhaps? Now I think we are in a period of reaction in which wealth and property seek to preseve what they can in the crash their own greed has created, at the expense of the rest of us.

    I wonder why you should set up such a straw man. Surely our Christian faith should lead us to oppose the forces of reaction, to choose the option for the poor?

  2. Being a working class student at the LSE, that is how they appeared to me.

    Since the equality legislation introduced by the Wilson Government of the 1970s, the Labour Party in Britain has not delivered much of substance. A minimum wage was introduced, but it was very minimum, and even a right-wing in Ireland government managed better. The chief object during the Blair years was simply to retain power (and, bizarrely, to engage in small wars in faraway places).

    An option for the poor demands more than columns telling us what is wrong, which is all we are being offered at present. There need to be viable alternative proposals that have some potential for being realized – I firmly believe that Jesus would have been a gradualist and not a revolutionary.

  3. Those “socialists” were only a collection of opportunists trying to follow whatever bandwagon was on the roll. And socialism is great if you can push yourself into the system,and get working for some quango. It is even a more pleasant existence that working in Daddy’s old firm.

    Whatever happened to those student opportunists ? Oh, yeah they became New Labour – the Middle Class takeover of the British Labour Party….and when they took over they absorbed the worst ideas of the left and the worst ideas of the right and provided a downright awful government…….Britain is bankrupt. And you seen it happening decades ago.

  4. The gap between the rich and the poor has actually widened in recent years and working people are having to pick up the tab for the reckless greed of very rich people.

  5. You know as well as I that most of us start out as lefties and end up as pretty right wing (grumpy old men in commn parlance). Both sides rail against the percieved norm, but to no avail. Poor David Mac is well past his sell by date, I’m afraid. You have made this point before.
    I have said it here before, but surely the Church should be the body to be speaking out? Individual members may not have either the power or the ability to voice their concerns, but their organisation, the Church, should do it.
    Of course maybe all the members are happy with the status quo, happy to limp along to pension times and tea or coffee after service.
    I think Jesus may have a word or two on the matter of standing idly by.
    An unbeliever.

  6. I’m worried at the suggestion David is past his sell by date – he is a good deal younger than I am.

    I don’t believe the church will ever speak out about anything that is not in its own interest. I’m beginning to agree with the Anabaptist writer Stuart Murray’s contention that the church lost its way in the time of Constantine and has been compromised ever since.

  7. Dearest Ian. You sound more anglican than ever. With your new world in wonderful quiet pastures coming up soon I’m not sure if I envy you your quiet pen. I mean pen in two definitions of the word, writing instrument and enclosure.

  8. Changes can come from unlikely quarters!

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