Platform Three

Brian Brivati addresses Martin Kettle’s centre-Left critique by clarifying the intention of the manifesto.

Martin Kettle’s response to the Euston Manifesto is right in much of what it says the manifesto and the manifesto group are not. We are not a political party. This is not a programme for government. He has also identified gaps in what the manifesto covers, and questioned its purpose. He writes that he thought he would be more sympathetic. But in the end he decided that Euston was actually about the ‘ownership of a corpse’ – the British left. Others have made similar points in their responses. A Labour Party friend asked, ‘Why don’t you just join Compass and work from the centre’. As Martin Kettle points out, what matters in electoral politics is the centre and to win the centre you must have a policy on the NHS; you must know where you stand on the environment. There was an exchange at a Euston meeting exactly along these lines. Why, someone asked, is ‘open source’ in the manifesto and the NHS not?

The answer in the discussion was that the Eustonians are not a political party and therefore they do not have to have a policy on everything. Nor do they have to fight for the political centre from within the system—though some of them spend a great deal of their time doing exactly that and are probably signed up to Compass. Others in the group are not Labour Party members or even supporters but they belong to the left, the ‘corpse’ that Martin identifies. I would suggest that while he is right to point out some holes in the document, he misunderstands our intentions as I understand them. Where he talks of a corpse and the importance of the centre, I would say rather that the nature of politics and political debate has changed. As he himself emphasizes, these are different times. The nature of that difference is that party politics and party programmes are only one way in which the national and international conversation about politics can take place at any time. The world is now full of conversations, often shouting matches, taking place virtually. Through these new media tribes of many kinds are formed and take collective actions. The Eustonians are a political representation of this kind of organic development.

Some of the Euston Manifesto Group may disagree with this, but there is also an argument to be made that the progressive consensus, to which I am committed, is not necessarily best served by a Labour Party in power, but rather by the winning of broader political arguments in the policy-making community and in the minds of the general public. Radical political change is made permanent by its incorporation into the operating consensus, whichever party is in power. It is the shape and content of that consensus which determines the quality of life in this country and the influence of this country abroad. Values of liberal internationalism informed by human rights and egalitarianism, the aspiration of eradicating social exclusion at home and fighting terrorism everywhere, can be held and articulated by people from different political backgrounds. The gradual shift from allegiance to a particular party to allegiance to certain core values that has characterized politics over the last few decades means that the nature of coalitions and the content of alliances that can now emerge may surprise us all. The Euston Manifesto represents a step along one of these new roads. For me it should be broad in its appeal.

Martin describes us as the pro-war left. Many of the group were and remain anti-war and have a range of views on the issues discussed in the Manifesto. What unites us is a belief that developments since 9/11 represent part of a broadly based assault on democracy and that this assault has to be challenged, fought and defeated. Things like the Euston Manifesto are small steps in this larger fight. To an extent the Eustonians have accomplished their mission. The volume of debate on the web and the stirrings of coverage in the mainstream media mean that this alternative left position will now resonate as a recognizable one that should be represented more prominently in future. But most of all people who agree with the broad thrust of what we are saying have a sense of being connected to others. Martin Kettle sums up very well what the message of the Euston Manifesto was for me when he writes:

There is a lot to relate to in what the manifesto says here. It is right about the core things—democracy, liberty, universality. But it is also right about the immoral excuses sometimes offered on behalf of reactionary terrorist actions under the “my enemy’s enemy must be my friend” rubric; right too about the disproportionate indignation about unjustifiable acts on the western side as compared with similar acts on the anti-western side; about the susceptibility towards anti-semitism in some discussion of Middle-Eastern issues; about the numbskull dishonesty of the left about its own crimes and failures; and about the need to champion, not scorn, the principle of international humanitarian intervention.

Perhaps, in closing, it is worth making the point that our ambitions and egos were not as grandiose as many of our critics seem to think. In getting together, producing a document and using the resources of the internet to publish it, we did not assume that we would change the world or that the document would be a blueprint for transforming society. We hoped we would provoke debate, create a space for like-minded people to meet virtually and in person, and have some influence on public discussion. In ‘The essay as form’, the usually unreadable Theodor Adorno makes the following point, which captures for me something of what the Euston project is about:

[The essay] starts not with Adam and Eve but with what it wants to talk about; it says what occurs to it in that context and stops when it feels finished rather than when there is nothing to say. Its concepts are not derived from first principles.

Maybe we should have called our manifesto an ‘essay’!

Brian Brivati is Professor of Contemporary History, Director MA Human Rights and Field Leader BA Human Rights at Kingston University, London.

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