Euan McColm: The really radical thing to do is to work together

Paddy Ashdown has announced the formation of More United, which takes its name from the words of the maiden speech in the House of Commons by murdered MP Jo Cox. Picture: Getty
Paddy Ashdown has announced the formation of More United, which takes its name from the words of the maiden speech in the House of Commons by murdered MP Jo Cox. Picture: Getty
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During the age of angry politics a new organisation that seeks to unite not divide is to be applauded, writes Euan McColm

There is no easier position to adopt in contemporary politics than that of the radical. It requires very little thinking and even less effort.

The radical wishes to fundamentally change – even destroy – the existing system; he wishes for there to be a revolution. In 21st century western politics, the radical’s commitment to this aim may be illustrated by little more than the establishment of a Twitter account or a Facebook page.

These new media allow the radical to post inspirational quotes from American civil rights hero Rosa Parks, or to express admiration for Ukip’s Nigel Farage, or to let like-minded souls know that he “stands with” Jeremy Corbyn.

The radical need not waste time or expend energy thinking of polices or trying to understand the many and various wishes of the wider electorate. It is enough simply to be radical or, at least, to say that one is.

Should you wish to become a radical – and it certainly looks like smashing fun – you should learn a few meaningless phrases. Try talking about “the new politics” and see how that feels. If asked to describe your objective, you should say that you are in the business of “taking back” something. This can be sovereignty, or your country, or power.

If you find your position challenged, don’t fret. The radical can answer all criticisms be pointing the finger of blame at one of the malign forces which exists in order to thwart his dreams and - by extension - the dreams of all right-thinking folk. Why not experiment with blaming the mainstream media or the establishment? If you’re feeling bolder, you could always point the finger at Zionists (though, be warned, doing so may result, for members of the Labour Party, in suspensions lasting for as long as a few weeks).

From time to time, as a radical, you may be called upon to get off your backside and go to an event. This could be the launch of a Ukip poster which demonises terrified refugees, fleeing murder, rape, and torture in Syria, it could be the bricking of the windows of a Labour MPs office in the name of a “kinder, gentler” politics, or maybe it will just be taking a selfie with Nicola Sturgeon.

Participation in these radical acts will show that you do not simply talk the talk but that you walk the walk. Attendance at events will also give you exciting new photos to post on your radical Facebook page (suggested captions: “Here’s me sticking it to the man! Lol. #struggle”; “Six-year-old Charlie wants to know why people can’t get along. #wisdomofchildren”; “You’re dead when I see you!!! #redtoryscum”).

There is, as far as I can see, nothing genuinely radical about the politics of modern, self-proclaimed radicals. Whether on the left or the right cheeks of the same political arse, those who shriek loudest about wanting to change politics are those who put the least consideration into how they might do so.

Surely the truly radical politics is that which strives to unite rather than divide? That politics requires courage, intellectual rigour, and respect for those with whom we disagree.

The new political movement More United is an interesting attempt to do something radical in British politics and, although my default position is one of scepticism, I hope it succeeds.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown announced on Sunday the establishment of the organisation, which takes its name from the words of the maiden speech in the House of Commons by murdered MP Jo Cox. Ms Cox’s assertion - that there is more that unites than divides people - has been repeated by many politicians since her death last month but our angry politics suggests nobody is listening.

Ashdown and a number of high-profile figures such at the historian Dan Snow and the dotcom entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox have created More United as a non-partisan movement which will back - with manpower and money - the campaigns of MPs who, it believes, stand up for its principle , which include support for a fair economy, close co-operation with the EU, and the celebration of diversity.

This, it could be said, is a little on the vague side. It will take time for a clearer picture of what a More United candidate might look like to emerge.

Ashdown’s involvement saw the movement instantly branded by some critics as the Lib Dem equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum group, which so successfully campaigned for him to become leader of the Labour Party last year. This criticism will linger unless those behind More United are as good as their word and get behind candidates from a range of political parties.

It is deeply unfashionable, right now, to argue in favour of centrist politics. This is why it is so important that the case for it is made. A widening gap between the dominant traditions of left and right can only create a more divided, more unequal society. History tells us that the right inevitably wins that old political battle, which surely means anyone with an interest in providing better opportunities for the poorest and most neglected in society should hope More United has some impact.

The right and the left will, of course, dismiss More Unites as, respectively, either a home for do-gooders or a home for sell-outs. But its intentions are noble.

We stand at a point when the United Kingdom risks becoming more divided than at any point since the Second World War. The desire of Corbyn and Co to rebuild Labour as a social movement rather than a parliamentary force will – if they succeed – give the Conservatives carte blanche to move further right with impunity.

Now is the time for those who truly believe that Jo Cox was right when she spoke of our shared experience to step up.

More United might not shout as loudly as groups on the left or the right – though it should feel free to do so – but in trying to find a way of making politics work for as many people as possible, regardless of their party loyalties, it is more truly radical than those on either side of that ideological divide.