On 19 November, the British Parliament passed a bill banning fox hunting. For most of us this was simply a case of ‘about time’. The practice is inhumane and surrounded by the pomp of the aristocracy. Despite the claims of the fox hunters, this ‘sport’ is largely an upper-class pursuit and therefore largely supported by the right in Britain. I think this is reasonable to assume if, for no other reason, than that the Tories have sworn to withdraw the law should they get re-elected.
It is therefore surprising to note that in 2002, 400 000 hunting enthusiasts marched on London in protest of the proposed ban. Moreover, last September five of these enthusiasts stormed into the House of Commons where the ban was being debated and were supported by a crowed of 10 000 protesters outside Parliament who clashed violently with police in riot gear.
The Age quoted John Jackson, chairman of the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, as saying that they would not adhere to the ban and that ‘true civil disobedience is now on the horizon’.
There is a connection here to the Australian and US elections where conservative governments have just been re-elected. A lot of commentary has pointed to the ability of the right to mobilise on a grassroots level as well as a more academic level with things like right-wing think tanks. We are now faced with something I’ve been trying to deny for a long time: the right are quite good at this sort of mobilisation. Apparently, better than the left.
As John Stauber and Sheldom Rampton (2004) noted in an Alternet article: ‘The reality, which progressives need to face if they wish to turn the tide, is that the right-wing has simply done a better job than anyone else of organizing from the grassroots up. This isn’t because their ideas are more popular or palatable they aren’t but because the right has been serious and strategic in its commitment to winning and wielding power.’
There seems to be a contradiction here (or maybe there isn’t and that’s the missing link). What is being talked about sounds like a highly democratic, grass-roots mobilisation. Surely this is the territory of the left. So why is it the right that are mobilising it so effectively? Have they learnt a lesson from the more successful struggles of the left? Say what you will about the sinister undertones and selling people something that actually harms them they are effective and have an agenda that is just as legitimate as the left’s. They are working from all levels from Andrew Bolt, to George Pell, to the Institute for Public Affairs, to grass roots organisations which ensures that every section of society is covered.
A lot has been said about the factionalism and internal divisions in the left. No doubt this has been an issue and the reason why the Global Justice Movement is such a great hope, as it has managed to unify a lot of these voices. But Australia has no serious Global Justice Movement and in the West the movement is far from a mass movement.
Does the blame lie with the ‘progressive’ party’s failure to provide a real opposition and a genuine alternative? Somewhat, but it is more than that. The right is also quite divided and factional but these sorts of campaigns are, by their nature, reasonably decentralised. Is this just a hang over from the centralist nature of the ‘progressive’ parties? Surely grassroots mobilisation has always been a key tactic of the left, even the old left when you take into consideration union organisations and organising on the shop room floor.
It is disillusionment, apathy and contempt that keep the left from realistically mobilising on this level? Perhaps they are factors.
The reality is that the right is putting forward its agenda at every opportunity and the left is not, whether it is because they have been silenced by conservative governments or because we are trying to be sensitive. Whatever the case may be, unless we get active and raise conscience levels we will lose election after election. If the Labor Party cannot win the next election, we’ll have to win it for them.
‘Fox hunting ban forced through’, in The Age, 19 November 2004
‘Learning from the winners’, John Stauber and Sheldom Rampton (2004) Alternet, 15 November 2004
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