Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gamechangers and the futility of strategy

This is an interesting paraphrasing of former 'On The Blanket' editor, Anthony McIntyre (from a review of his book that he's reproduced onto his blog):

"... people are more loyal to the movement than to the aims of the movement.... therefore republicanism is whatever the leadership says it is. 'Loyalty to the Big Lad' is stronger than ideology and political consciousness."

It seems to me that this is what is eroding everywhere in political movements - and that it casts doubt upon the future of political parties (and, perhaps more pertinently in McIntyre's case, the viability of a disciplined vanguardist revolutionary movement such at the pre-Good Friday Agreement Provisional IRA).

It was always the case, even in moderate democratic movements such as the one I've always belonged to, that 'build the party' rapidly became the means to whatever ends drove us into political engagement in the first place. It reflected a touching belief in collective action and tactical success from a big movement.

Is it now, instead, the case that a well-placed disruption - a gamechanger - based upon an understanding (or conjecture) about how a mechanism works, and what happens to it when one cog starts unexpectedly turning in the opposite direction.

I can think of a few examples recently from British politics by movements that have a discernable political agenda:

1. Disclosure of expenses. Anyone who has been around Westminster politics for any length of time knew this to be a time bomb, and that the interpretation of the results will disproportionately change the game.

2. Ross / Brand. The culmination of a gradual weakening of the BBC by it's political rivals. Seizing upon this incident and dominating the headlines for a week convinced the BBCs enemies as well as it's friends that it was unable to defend itself

3. The Tax-Payers Alliance: Talking, as I do, to local government officers, it has become clear that this group now exercise a veto over almost any initiative that local authorities would engage in. The same is true to a lesser extent with central government.

These are all trifles, of course, in comparison to the bloody struggle that IRA volunteers, their enemies and their victims went though at the end of the last century. But in the face of gamechangers (and what better word could there be for black-bag operations run by deniable elements within HMG - handing over lists of known Republicans to the UVF for example), political coherence was always going to be for the fairies.

When I finally get around to reading McIntyre's book (it looks worth the read as well), I may know what he would have done instead.

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