Is Radical, Progressive Politics Dead?

If not, it's certainly in full-blown retreat.

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Radical is a term currently banded round all political forums to describe many of the characters, not only in British politics, but globally. From Trump, to the popularity of individuals like Marine Le Pen. From Corbyn and his supporters, to Brexit and the ERG.

But frankly this goes to show how misused the word radical has become in politics today. After all, radical is about moving away from tradition. It’s about moving forward and shaping a future that is different and unique. It’s about fundamentally altering the nature of something. Therefore, radical politics and progressive politics not only go hand-in-hand but are one and the same. A radically progressive regime will implement policies that change the political landscape, for good or for bad, in a way not seen or thought of before.

Therefore, to refer to Jacob Rees-Mogg and his fellow Brexiteers as radical Conservatives seems not only wholly inaccurate, but inflates their comparably meagre political achievements to absurd levels. Their politics is centred around protectionism and isolationism – themes of politics we have seen in the past, before a progressive government defeated this ideology to carry the country forward. Many a time has it been joked that Rees-Mogg is a politician from the wrong century – a man who would feel more comfortable in the political and social climate of the 1800’s. There is therefore nothing radical about the anti-globalisation and self-indulgent rhetoric of a man essentially advocating a return to the attitudes that were pressed upon our ancestors over 100 years ago.

However, equally the same can be said for the other side of the house. As a student, I resent the presumption made by most that – as a young, liberal radical – I would vote for Corbyn’s Labour. The fact is that Corbyn’s Labour is as reactionary and shallow as the Conservatism propagated by Rees-Mogg. There is nothing radically progressive about returning to the same policies of 50 years ago. Like both Rees-Mogg’s Brexit vision and proposed economic policy, it is certainly bold. But, radical? No.

Whether you agree with the policies of the current Labour party at all, is irrelevant. It doesn’t change the fact that these archaic Labour policies are anything but radical – this ideological nationalisation has been seen before, and Labour has lost before. Obviously there are some very good policies featured in the Labour manifesto: scrapping the disastrous academies is long overdue. It’s a policy I am certain most involved in education – save of course those individuals who profit tremendously from their ever-growing empire of primary and high schools – would welcome with enthusiasm. But the plain fact is that these policies claim to reverse the damage which has been done since the 1980’s. So, similarly to Rees-Mogg, there is no real concrete vision. The only strategy is conveying a message to people that suggests reinstating the politics of the past is the only way to improve their lives – a sentiment not too dissimilar from Trump’s “Make America Great Again”.

In fact, the only true radically progressive politics of recent years is from the centre ground, more specifically the centre-left. The minimum wage, devolution to Scotland and Wales, the Northern Ireland peace process. Huge economic legislation such as independence of the Bank of England, to tough social decisions such as the ban on smoking in public places. Whether you agree with them or not, these decisions were radical because of their profound and permanent effect on the country.

And so it seems in 2019, the real pioneers of radical politics are not the John McDonnells or the Nigel Farages, but the Liberal Democrats. As someone who would not instinctively align myself with them, this was something that was difficult to come to terms with. It’s a thought that, initially at least, seems bizarre and completely out of sync with perceptions of most. It’s true that they are viewed – often by members of their own party – as a ‘safe and sensible’ protest vote to the main parties. Someone not as reckless on spending as Labour, but not as ruthless as the Conservatives. Something therefore that merits little admiration. But whether you believe it’s the best or worst of both worlds, most would agree, it’s not radical.

This attitude towards the Liberal Democrat ideology is wrong. After all, it is the Lib Dems who want to legalise cannabis. It’s the Lib Dems who want to radically reform the house of Lords and the house of commons, as well as completely changing how parliament represents the British people by introducing the alternative vote. Perhaps if this had been implemented sooner, the many undesirable individuals, littered like gross fungal spores on both sides of the political spectrum, would not have been able to obtain the influence and platform they now have – spreading dissent in an attempt to drag the country backwards.

Yet at the same time it’s the Liberals who have been highly inefficient at changing the rhetoric that surrounds them – with voices from within the party that convey a message that is dull and confused on everything other than it’s Brexit policy. This has undoubtedly been the chief culprit of the immense electoral defeats they’ve experienced since 2014. Admittedly ignited by the fall of so-called “Cleggmania” and the tuition fees scandal, but propagated by Tim Farron’s inability to change the reputation of, and the debate that surrounds, the Liberal Democrats after a damaging 5 years in coalition government. This was similar to the level of incompetence displayed by Ed Miliband when it came to defending the New Labour legacy – doing nothing to prevent the blame for a global economic crash being unjustly laid at the feet of Gordon Brown. And thus these men have greatly damaged the attitudes towards the political centre-ground – the brand of politics that has been solely responsible for the radical progress witnessed in the 21st, and late 20th, century.

The only thing now that will bring progressive and positive politics back from electoral oblivion is for Liberals to change the terms of the debate. To reinstate themselves in the public eye as the radical party that they are – as opposed to the tasteless and uninspiring ‘safe vote’ they have been for too long.

But to break away from such a deep set – and fundamentally incorrect – belief of what the Liberals represent is not an easy challenge. Like some confused, rambling pensioner, the Liberal Democrats make themselves very easy to be shoved into a corner and ignored. But if you take the time to listen, you may realise that the old dog has both transformative policy ideas and a clear vision of progress.

All that’s needed now is an effective leader and an effective strategy to communicate the radical nature of this vision. To communicate the message that this progressive ideology and set of policies is born out of political conviction and a desire for radical progress, not a weak compromise born from political cowardice.

Maybe then we will see the return of the positive, progressive politics our country needs.

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