Sunday, 5 September 2010

On Leeds Salon, libertarianism and the politics of 'red mist'

A nice view of the Cow & Calf that I use to produce calm thought

Friday teatime, sat with a pint of Leeds Best (which is the world’s first oxymoronic beer) in the sunshiny garden of the Midnight Bell and having a conversation with Paul from Leeds Salon. Now before we go on I should point out that Leeds Salon isn’t a hairdressers but a group that hosts debates in and around Leeds. Their next debate – The Myth of Racist Kids with Adrian Hart (who wrote a book with that title arguing that anti-racism campaigns in schools help create racial tensions) – is on 11th October 2010 (details here).

Anyway the conversation was around the decline in the traditional political party, libertarianism and the prospect of a real realignment in British politics. Paul (who described himself as a Marxist libertarian) believes that the traditional left is being challenged by an emerging libertarian left who reject the controlling nature of established socialist thought. And Paul cited the example of Liberty at Leeds a student organisation that organised the rejection of ‘no platform’ policies at Leeds University pulling together students from across the political spectrum in defence of free speech.

Now the more dedicated reader of this blog will know that I have written before about political parties and how they have become institutionalised so as to cover up their increasing social irrelevance. So listening to Paul – from a left-wing perspective – saying much the same thing was interesting and encouraging. Indeed, the libertarian broad church (otherwise know, I suppose, as a cat herd) might be seen to unite in opposition to some of the more illiberal policies and proposals of governments and institutions and especially those around speech, assembly and opinion.

However, my thinking (and remember that in this splittist world I’m not a libertarian) goes beyond that idea of mobilising behind particular issues. After all this is an essentially Trotskyite approach and look where it’s got them! I think we’ve to look at the wider – essentially apolitical – society and find out what pisses them off most. Is it the encroachment of the nannying, controlling, pettifogging bureaucracy? Is it bans and other ‘thou shalt not’ proposals? Or is it the unprecedented assault on free speech from so-called anti-racists, diversity campaigners and such like?

I know of almost no-body who is untouched by these actions. There are some who feel wronged because they can’t have a fag with their pint anymore even though there are people more than willing to provide such a service. Others are enraged by ‘positive discrimination’ and the associated special pleading of narrowly defined interest groups. And still other look out at the procession of uniformed gauleiters that litter our streets with offensive interference – like the Leeds “warden” I witnessed harassing a couple of pedlars for the crime of stopping so as to eat a sandwich.

This is not adherence to a coherent political philosophy but responding to ‘red mist’. Everywhere I go people say of the government – “get out of the way”. In a session entitled “what should we do about the council” that was the theme – help us to do things don’t tell us what to do and, for heaven’s sake try not to bend every sinew to stopping individual initiative and private action.

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