Today I did something I thought I would never ever do. I went to a Momentum meeting. I dipped my toe in the water of the left again. The proper left. Not the soft left, not the centre left. The proper left. It felt a bit odd but it also felt good.
I saw a few faces from the Labour Party and a lot of new people too. I saw a man I argued with in the street about Jeremy Corbyn last year – he had given me a beer mat and I had given him a hard time. The room was packed almost to the point of overflowing. I was glad I went.
As is usual with political meetings – especially those on the left – it was quite male dominated. But there were some good strong women there. That pleased me. And as usual I spoke out – I always feel the need.Is it ego? Maybe. But I am glad that I did as I think it is important for women to speak out in political meetings.
My main point was that I want people on the left to start talking to people – real people in the street, on buses, in parks and at work. I want people to step outside the echo chamber of social media and meetings of like minded souls and prepare to have their views challenged. I have learnt most from talking to people who don’t actually agree with a word I say. To me this is common sense.
I have been thinking a lot about the words ‘common sense’ and how they tie in with the tumultuous events of recent weeks. To the people who voted Leave, it was ‘common sense’ to do so – it was two fingers to the self appointed ‘experts’ who tell them how to live their lives. Common sense relates to how you experience your own reality rather than the reality you are told you should believe in. According to wikipedia it is is a ‘basic ability to perceive,understand, and judge things, which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without any need for debate’. It is also the title of a pamphlet by the famous eighteenth century radical Thomas Paine, which advocated American independence from Britain.
Common sense is a popular phrase used by the right wing press, along with ‘plain speaking’. The Daily Mail sets itself up as the bastion of ‘common sense’. So does Nigel Farage and so did Margaret Thatcher back in the days when she presented herself as a normal housewife with her basket of groceries to demonstrate the rising cost of living. But I don’t think common sense has to belong to the right. In the post Brexit world, where we have seen how inequality has ripped our country in two, common sense can belong to the left as well.
I say this because on Friday I was chatting to my colleagues in the staff room. We were joined by a woman who I know voted Leave and I think votes Tory as well. I was talking about how I write this blog and how it helps me formulate my ideas. She asked me if she could have a look – music to my ears.
I showed her some of the recent posts, including the last one I wrote – my letter to the Labour Party. I felt a bit self conscious, fearing that she would find my politics alienating. I watched her read what I had written, in particular my comments that we need to invest more in the regions and provide people with education that does not leave them in thousands of pounds of debt. I cringed slightly as I saw her eyes alight on the ‘s word’. Socialism.
“But that’s just common sense, Lucy,” she said. “We need to provide people with proper training and real jobs. I’d happily pay a bit more tax if I thought it would help people.”
She then went on to tell me how much debt her daughter was leaving university in and her worries for her friends’ children. She voted Leave because she doesn’t think anyone in the government cares about her or the other people she knows in her bit of outer London. I was worried that my outpourings would have repelled her but they seemed to strike a chord. She wants a world that is fair and decent and it is blindingly obvious to her that we need something new. She wants politicians to be genuine and – bizarre as it may seem – expressed great admiration for Jeremy Corbyn.
I found Corbynmania hard to cope with last summer. I felt bruised by the failure of Ed Miliband and felt going left was a mistake. I voted for Andy Burnham as he felt safe and comforting. But safe and comforting isn’t going to cut it now – not in the world as it stands today. If there is one thing that I hate more than anything it is bullying and I admire Corbyn for facing off the bullies in the PLP. I am still reluctant to buy into the cult of personality that surrounds him (not my thing) but I know that he has gained respect from people from all sides of the politcal spectrum for refusing to back down in the face of the most incredible levels of intimidation. The British people do not like bullies – common sense tells us that they are not to be trusted. Our sense of fair play makes us want to see that justice must be done.
As you can see I am using the language of another era. I am not talking about ‘inequality’ or ‘social justice’. I am not asking suggesting that we ‘check our privilege’ (even though I check mine frequently). I am taking the words used often by the right to describe the feelings I believe the left can tap into. Forget ‘progressive’, let’s be fair. Forget ‘predistribution’, lets use our common sense and be plain speaking in the way we hold our debates. Words are power and if we use them well, then the future will be ours.