Tuesday 25 August 2020

Leaving Labour

Well, I have now cancelled my monthly subscription and left the Labour Party, something that I’ve had it in mind to do since Keir Starmer made his move against the Corbynite leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey back in June.  His stance on both the tearing down of Bristol’s Edward Colston statue and on recent Channel migrants has been unimpressive too.  That real push towards socialism which was Corbynism has been defeated, as much by sustained internal disruption by the Labour right-wing – the Owen Smith leadership challenge and so on – as by external electoral rejection.  I feel faintly like Morris when he abandoned the Socialist League in 1890, though for him it was the anarchist left rather than the traditional Labourite right which had taken over the party.

Where next, then, politically speaking?  I’m certainly not as confident as I was in the late 1990s, when I served as a Green Party city councillor, that the Greens are the right destination for someone of my views.  Back then, they definitely felt like a radical, if still rather inchoate alternative to Tony Blair and New Labour, though I even then knew that they didn’t sufficiently grasp the working-class issues that most concerned me (they seemed constitutionally incapable of using the term ‘capitalism’ as part of their political and economic analysis, for example).  These days I’m not sure what the complexion of the Green Party is – I shall have to do some investigating, locally and nationally.

There are other agencies out there doing absolutely crucial work, of course – Extinction Rebellion, the Black Lives Matter movement, and so on.  But I’m enough of a left-wing traditionalist to feel that the notion of a political party, challenging capitalism in some sort of totalising way across all fronts, remains crucial.  So the notion of leftwing intellectual work, in a non-attached mode, though attractive, won’t ultimately do either, and neither will the smallscale Leninist or Trotskyist parties that still exist (though they do good work in particular campaigns).  Morris’s great slogan ‘make socialists’ remains paramount, but what is the organisational form for doing that at the present time?  With retirement from my university coming up fast, I will at least soon have time to look around and think this issue through.  I'd rather not have to fall back on something like the Hammersmith Socialist Society of Morris’s last years.

Friday 7 August 2020

Microplastics in the Thames

Some twenty-odd years ago, in my most intense Green-activist phase, I published a piece in the William Morris Society Newsletter (which back then was a much less glossy effort than it is today) about levels of radioactivity in the river Thames.  In that article I drew on research from a well-known Green Party scientist of the time, Christopher Busby, which made a chilling case about radioactive pollution in the river from atomic research facilities along its banks: Aldermarston, Harwell, Amersham. 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose; for today it is the issue of microplastic pollution in the Thames which imposes itself upon us.  94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river in some of its stretches, a figure which is a good deal higher than for such European equivalents as the Danube or the Rhine.  These include glitter, microbeads from cosmetics, and plastic fragments broken down from larger items, often food packaging.  Bits of plastic are found in the stomachs of crabs living in the Thames, including fibres or microplastics from sanitary pads, balloons, elastic bands and carrier bags.  Careless disposal of Covid-related plastic, such as masks and gloves, may now make matters still worse. 

We know how much the river Thames mattered to Morris himself: salmon have returned to it at the beginning of News from Nowhere, and it contributes both a narrative thread and some of the most idyllic scenes to that utopia.  So if the William Morris Society wants to do some active campaigning, which given its status as a charity cannot be narrowly party-political, the environmental condition of the river which flows right outside the front door of its headquarters at Kelmscott House will always be a good starting point.