This is our truth, tell us yours
This idea for a series of posts came from Carter, you can read the first here.
I am old enough to remember the GLC and the original “loony left”. The loony left believed in radical things like gay people weren’t evil incarnate, single mothers werent sluts, different cultures might actually be worth celebrating. Of course such ridiculous ideas were roundly mocked at the time, the idea of accepting difference was clearly something that had to be resisted.
These days Labour is determined to prove how “unloony” it is, where unloony means illiberal, unconcerned with individual rights and liberties, accepting of the status quo. Once its theme song was Things can only get better, now however we apparently live in Panglossian perfection when it comes to individual rights and civil liberties (otherwise known as “you can get gay married what more do you want”). There was always a tension between those who thought labour was the natural place to champion individual rights, and particularly the rights of minority and oppressed groups, and those for whom the party is far more about Methodism than Marxism. Now though there is not even a debate, in terms of championing the rights of the individual the Labour party is silent. Many would say it is worse than silent, the last Labour Government passing a number of measures, from the extreme porn laws to detention without trial.
There is a bigger discussion which needs to be had though about what exactly individual rights and freedoms should look like. When I asked on twitter what laws people thought showed the Labour government opposed to individual freedoms there was a wide variation in responses. Someone thought the smoking ban, despite the fact the protection of workers surely should be one of the first duties of any party who even pretends to be socialist. Another person cited the Equalities Act, since it apparently forced adoption agencies who wanted to discriminate to close.
The conversation that Labour, and the whole left, needs to have is what right does the government have to restrict or impose on your individual choices? How do we balance harm to a group against harm to an individual, and when is it acceptable to curtail the rights of some for the good of others?
I cannot write about this issue without mentioning sex work of course. Unfortunately the lack of a conversation about the rights of the individual means the discussion within Labour is dominated by people who believe their feelings about sex work should be made into laws.Their belief is that its acceptable to harm sex workers to make a moral point. People like Rhoda Grant and Mary Honeyball don’t think sex work is very nice, and therefore keep proposing laws which will actively harm sex workers. If you don’t believe Labour politicians will pass laws based on personal prejudice you need to read up on the spousal veto. The veto was a nasty little amendment to the same-sex marriage act championed by transphobes in the civil service and Labour party who believed a spouse should get to decide whether a trans person deserved human rights. (You can read more about it here by Sarah Brown). I believe it is the lack of a conversation about what a left leaning civil liberties stance is that led to such people even being in positions of power.
The conversation about civil liberties affects us all. Even if you think its acceptable to legislate what consenting adults can do in the privacy of their bedrooms the snoopers charter takes away a fundamental right to privacy from each and every one of us. We have criminalized children who sext in one moral panic, have a whole host of thought crimes as the Labour Party attempted, and failed to pander to the Daily Mail. A party which fought for the rights of so many now doesn’t even seem to want to talk about what rights look like and who should have them. That is a dangerous place to be in, and a vital conversation that is not being had.
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