A Response to: The Fabian Society, ‘Being Human: Is Greater Authenticity in Politics Possible?’
To answer the title question – ‘Is greater authenticity in politics possible?’ – it is first necessary to interrogate the question itself: what does ‘authenticity’ mean here? Why is its possiblity in doubt?
Cutting to the chase, the real story here is about the decline, over the last 40 years, of the organised labour movement; of labour having a central role within the Labour Party; and of participation by ordinary people in institutional politics (e.g. party memberships down, voting down, &c.) Add to that the decline in working-class people’s standards of living over the last few decades – increasing wealth inequalities, declining wages, high inflation, increasing indebtedness – and you can see why many ordinary people feel antipathetic towards politicians. For, there is a real sense that neither New Labour nor the ConDems have their interests at heart.
What does ‘inauthenticity’ mean in this context, then? First, it means less working-class people participating in politics; second, it means less representation of working-class issues in politics. Consequently, it also means that the electioneering attempts of political parties to ‘appeal to voters’ come across as cynical and patronising attempts by political elites to wink and wave across the gaping disconnect between them and the electorate.
Note: this void is not simply a formal or technical problem, to be solved by ‘changed behaviour’. Rather, this disjunction between the electorate and the elected is highly charged with the politics of class, gender and ethnicity.
If we want ‘authenticity’ in politics we need parties that are really ‘of the people’. Nigel Farage and Ukip’s success is partly based on this desire. But, ultimately, Farage represents only a flimsy and demeaning impersonation of ‘ordinary people’, no more substantial than ‘Vicky Pollard’ or ‘Lauren Cooper.’ He is sure to come unstuck – if not through some gaffe then through the crucial fact that Ukip does not represent the real interests of working-class people.
But, does Miliband’s Labour Party?
The question of ‘inauthenticity’ and of ‘appealing to voters’ is a cynical and blinkered way of approach the real question, at stake here. This question is: how do we locate and cultivate the political agency to the working-class?
The question that necessarily follows from this, however, is exactly the one that Labour organisers don’t want to pursue, as they shuffle towards the next election. That is, ‘is the Labour Party still a means through which the working-class are able to realise their political agency?’ And, given that the clear answer to this is no – ‘can the Labour Party become a means by which the working-class are able to realise their political agency?’
This is still to be decided. But, it won’t happen whilst we look wistfully at Farage’s clowning populism and clothe our envy in the political baby-talk of ‘inauthenticity’, phlegmatically tempered with ‘a firm commitment to door-knocking’.
Jessica Asato, ‘Being human: Is greater authenticity in politics possible?’ (24 March, 2014) Fabian Society Essays, Fabian Society Website. <http://www.fabians.org.uk/being-human-is-greater-authenticity-in-politics-possible/>