viewpoint. brett hetherington

Journalist and writer / bretthetherington.net

The rallying of the left

Elections can be strange events. The British one last month produced a mixture of results, but one thing it showed was that a genuinely democratic socialist government could be a distinct possibility the next time the nation goes to vote again.

For the first time since the mid-1940s, the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, led by underdog Jeremy Corbyn, is offering a collection of policies that are not a softer, pale imitation of the Conservatives and which roughly support the economic and social status quo.

This Labour party’s election programme (or ‘manifesto’) was full of plans to tax the richest in society and increase company tax to pay for better public funding of schools, hospitals and social care, all of which have been cut back horrifically by the Cameron and May governments since 2010. In truth, many of these severe austerity policies had actually begun under previous Labour leaders in power.

Corbyn, however, has moved his party clearly to the left, and many of his ideas proved to be popular during the last few weeks of the election campaign. Theresa May lost her majority in parliament but we simply cannot know for sure how much this was due to her bumbling campaign and how much credit Corbyn can rightly claim.

What we do know is that over 70% of young voters in the 18- to 24-age bracket voted for Labour candidates. Partly, this must have been due to Corbyn’s policy of guaranteeing free university places for all, instead of the current system, which demands exorbitant annual fees, but it seems that his appeal was wider than just this one promise.

His more concrete and costed commitments to put the rail network back in public control and reverse the creeping sell-off of the NHS public health system also appear to have found support from the young to the old. Labour’s pledge to raise the minimum wage to 10 pounds an hour was another vote winner. It showed that they have once again gone back to their red roots and are not afraid of being labelled radical by the establishment-controlled media.

Critic of conservatism

Another progressive iconoclast who has lived by his left-wing beliefs and regularly paid a price for doing so is Barcelona-born writer Juan Goytisolo, who sadly died at the age of 86, at his adopted Moroccan home in June of this year. As a critic of General Franco and conservatism in general, he was known across Europe for his books, such as “Campos de Níjar”, a travelogue that detailed the harsh social and economic conditions in 1950s Andalucia (translated into English by Peter Bush.)

As a writer, I was also inspired by Goytisolo’s autobiography, “Forbidden Territory”. It is rare to read such brutal honesty about his own evolving sexuality and highly-personal inner landscape. Through creamy prose, he makes a sharp dissection of the “ill-formed universe” of his bourgeois upbringing. We can only hope to see others follow in his wake.

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