“When I turned up at St Paul's on the evening of 15th October 2011, it was partially out of curiosity and driven by a sense that, for the first time ever, there was a global movement to change the world.” – Clive Menzies
Somewhere along the way, the meaning of ‘alternative’ has been lost in translation. It has come to represent something quite false and misleading. Out of the ashes of the Great Recession has sprung the pessimistic provinciality of UKIP, an alternative that intends to extend privatisation, extend austerity and ultimately operate within the exact same political paradigm as those whom it has criticised endlessly for being ‘all the same.’ All other alternatives have the ugly face of neo-fascist and increasingly anti-Islamic tendencies, or backwards hard-left ideologies that highlight old problems with no new solutions.
Instead of searching for an alternative to the three main parties, I have delved to find an alternative to our entire political and economic foundations, a necessity implored by the crisis of 2008. At first, I thought that this alternative would lie within a Marxist, anti-capitalist movement. But a much deeper look into groups like Occupy London revealed that the alternative lies within something more.
One Occupier expressed to me that “If you ask a bunch of Occupiers what Capitalism is, what it means…a good proportion don’t know. Capitalism isn’t an everyday word.” Marxists the world over may be horrified at the thought that this revolutionary group does not target capitalism specifically, but it is the very dismissal of the term that becomes the key to this alternative.
Speaking with Clive Menzies of the London Economics Working Group and the Free University (a group that works very closely with Occupy London), he explained that “The capitalist/socialist divide is, to some degree, an ideological debate encouraged by the CRC [Criminal Ruling Class] to distract and divide, obscuring the fundamental flaws in our economic system.” From this, we can deduct that the key to a true alternative is not merely opposition to capitalism, but opposition to the innate inequality present within a neoliberal political system that uses measures such as austerity in order to maintain power.
Under normal circumstances, you could be excused for thinking that the ideas contained within groups like Occupy London and the hacktivist group Anonymous were merely recycled ideas of anarchism. However, when you find that there is a party in Europe which looks to represent a lot of these ideas through government, you see this to be a huge misjudgement.
The Pirate Party may at first seem like an unlikely challenger to our political status quo, but further inspection shows a resistance worthy of the title ‘alternative.’ When I asked them about the stringent austerity measures rolled out across post-recession Europe, they said “The UK's most obvious 'austerity' measures have not saved taxpayers money, at best they have shifted the cost to those least able to pay it. In many cases it seems cuts have simply been an excuse for privatisation with no thought for the long term health of the UK.”
The party continued to talk about the role of work in our society; an issue that has become increasingly pertinent with the rise of zero-hour contracts and rising in-work benefits. They said that “There is very little point in talking about the number of jobs created when they pay too little to keep people on their feet… A fall in unemployment does not help when workers aren’t guaranteed any working hours or pay.”
“Jobs don’t exist for the sake of jobs, they shouldn’t be there simply as another statistic, they need to represent something far more vital – they need to represent value, both to society and those who work in them. Work should pay, not just enough to survive, but enough to live.”
This is an alternative. This is politics that does not expect you to believe that the cure to your ills is a change in your individual behaviour, but says that the very ideas of the role that work plays in our society must be changed in order for people to be prosperous. “Our approach means rejecting laissez-faire capitalism where it doesn't achieve what we need. It also means rejecting any other prescriptive economic approaches that attempt to dictate a holistic approach to entire economies.”
In a continent riddled by chronic deprivation and intensifying inequality, failed by neo-liberal ‘solutions’ to neo-liberal problems, such an alternative is needed more than ever.
Clive Menzies explains that “The argument is not about whether or not we should be ‘in or out’ of Europe but the nature of government locally, nationally, regionally and globally.” The Pirate Party explains that the reason for such re-evaluation is that “A dogmatic approach to economic policy…isn’t sufficiently flexible to deal with complex, and often conflicting needs. A one size fits all approach simply means that everything fits badly.”
Although this sounds simple, almost face-smackingly obvious, its underpinning notions are radical. We crave easy explanations and one-track routes. But economics is not that straightforward, and neither is politics. We need differentiated approaches to diverse economic situations, not mindless adherence to an entrenched neo-liberal agenda.
The Occupier that I cited earlier told me that many within the group are ‘scared.’ “Deep down, they believe in TINA (there is no alternative).” I would argue that there is an alternative. An alternative to even the present ‘alternative’ if you will. It does not stand out in garish purple and yellow or assault your senses in the red, white and blue of misguided nationalism. It probably isn’t even green. It is colourless and for that reason it can be overlooked or unconsidered. But make no mistake, a true alternative for Europe is present and very powerful, and deserves your consideration on 22 May.
By Samuel Mercer