This is the conclusion of Maybe It’s Because, Vincent’s autobiography which has yet to find a publisher. Vincent wanted to make it available online so people could read it, share and let him know what they think. The links to each section are available on facebook or you can browse his blog, as each section has been put up there in the last few days.
The following is a description of the book:
This is both an autobiography and political observation and commentary.It is the story of a Londoner, what shaped my entry into Irish political activism and political observations drawn from this journey. It has elements of the Irish Diaspora story, with an emphasis on East London. It is about life as a Dockers son in London, growing up under the post-war social democracy of free education, the NHS etc, industrial struggle and the growing confidence of ordinary working people from the 1960′s until the late 1970′s, when I observe the changes under Thatcherism. I explain the background to my becoming involved with Irish Republicanism, my imprisonment and subsequent involvement in organising Sinn Fein in the West of Ireland, including running for election. It is therefore both political and sociological as well as telling a personal story.
Much of what I have written about in terms of my growing up in that all too short period of social democracy now has a resonance. The explanation of life at that time for people of my generation can and should serve as an illustration that it is possible to take a more civilised approach to governance and civic interaction. The term ‘people before profit’ currently commandeered by those associated or close to the Socialist Workers party in Ireland is a good phrase to use and principle to work with.
A century ago, there were those inIreland and England working for the advancement of ordinary people. They were ridiculed and attacked, imprisoned and murdered. They were dismissed as dreamers and utopians. Yet, they weren’t afraid to be bold and visionary; to be steadfast and true to goals that had to be realised. They did not feel the need to be accepted by the establishment or follow the political norms. These ‘extremists’ delivered the public parks and libraries, the end of child labour, basic healthcare and education provision and as much as anything else, helped ordinary people off their knees. We should be grateful that they didn’t try to conform to more moderate demands or play the game as set out by the great and the good of the time.
Its not often that I would quote an American republican Conservative, but from the opposite perspective it seems to ring true. He once said:
“I would remind you that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
We could spend an age debating what ‘liberty’ means. Perhaps the clue is in the use of the word ‘defence’. Progressive ideas have often had to be on the ‘offence’. They now have to be on the defence, so that quote now works for the left.
David McWilliams, the journalist and economist, has a mantra about new ideas. I paraphrase, but it’s something like -Anyone who questions a totem pole is first ridiculed and then viciously attacked before it accepted they were right all along. Well, whatever good was achieved in the last century was won by questioning and then chopping down some of those totem poles.
We can avoid being browbeaten and bamboozled by the advocates of thestatus quo and those who say any other way just cannot work. We need to remind ourselves that things have not always been this way and illustrate the examples. This single life story has plenty of examples. Almost everybody over 35 can tell a story of a time before the near globalisation of politics – the one size fits all economic system that we are told is a prerequisite of a modern society, or economy as the Right prefer to call the place we live.
If we are told often enough that there is no other way, then there is a danger that it will be believed, especially by the younger members of society who haven’t had the exposure to alternatives. The end of history as advocated by the conservative right is a dangerous proposition. They were getting away with it too until the meltdown that began in 2007/8. At least we now have a debate. The chorus denouncing Socialism after the collapse of the Soviet system in the 1990′s, has had it’s cough softened by the failure of latter day capitalism.
Maybe it is because I am from London and of certain age that this particular story might be a useful one to tell at this time. I don’t need to embellish details or exaggerate at all. My story simply paints a journey influenced by background and an ‘uppityness’ (if I may make up such a word!) that I believe is also born of background and geography. I hope that the ordinariness of my life shows that anybody could and should feel able to attempt to influence society or play any type of active role, in whatever way they can.
I certainly hope so. There is an opportunity to shout stop. The shock of a rapid drop in living standards for ordinary people has stirred a debate; a debate that is making people look at alternative economic and social models. There is a clear danger that conclusions drawn from all of this, when eventually worked through into proposals and implemented as action, will be on the heels of cuts that would have already been made and the neo-liberal project of dismantling all that was achieved for working people through the state would have already considerably moved on.
If all of this opens the prospect that the neo-liberal onslaught can be arrested at least to the point where social democracy is back on the table – whatever about more far reaching, creative and radical models, then it would have had an interesting impact on my journey.
To have come from the Social democracy (with a fair smattering of democratic Socialism too) of London in the 60′s and 70′s, been dragged through the barbarism of the last quarter of a century of untrammelled capitalism in England andIreland has been demoralising. To be equipped with arguments to highlight, not only the failure of capitalism in human costs, but also on its own terms – economics and finance – excites this Londoner.
Maybe it is because I am a Londoner that I can smile at these developments. All of the arguments that the Right have dismissed over the past number of years, can now be dusted off and used as tools to try to forge new ideas and get back on track to deliver on the hopes and dreams of people like my dad.
The sight of large scale marches and protests gives hope in this regard. They show effort and engagement. Yes, many within the fragmented left groups loose the run of themselves, but that isn’t the most important factor in these mobilisations. People come off of these marches more politicised then before. A spark can be lit and people can feel empowered to at least ask questions. At this point in history, protests – including civil disobedience – are necessary just to stand still and prevent further erosions of what has been fought for over many years.
A few days before my arrest in October 1992, I went on a march in support of Mineworkers. There was an estimated 250,000 people marching that day. I can prove that I was there, because the police were following me and logged it for use against me at the subsequent trial. My mum and Dad were also on that march. I only found that out when speaking to them by phone that evening.
There has always been a need for radicalism. From radical starting points, Social democratic measures were implemented. To reach the centre (preferably to the left of centre) the boat has to be pushed out to the left. If we start at the middle, as many ‘responsible’ political parties feel that they have to, then any movement is rightwards. The vested interests in the political and economic establishment will be pulling in the other direction.
The right started from a fundamentalist position in the late 1970′s and it took a huge effort to maintain even the vestiges of social democracy during the 80′s and 90′s. The softened face of the right in the shape of Blair, Cameron and Ahern have pulled these islands further into division and inequality. In that process, we have been conditioned that there is no alternative. At least, we have been conditioned until now.
As many ordinary families are now taken a financial hit, more people are now questioning these orthodoxies. When Irish Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan boldly states that welfare rates have to fall, because they are among the highest in Europe and far higher than ‘our nearest neighbour’, he is immediately challenged. How could they be anything other than relatively high, given the cost of living in Ireland by comparison to Britain. The parents of English children don’t have to worry about dental costs or other health costs for that matter. They don’t have to buy books and materials to supplement their children’s ‘free’ education.
What makes all of this much worse, is that ex Minister Lenihan and his ilk knew this. The arguments they used were disingenuous. The politicisation process that this economic crisis has facilitated will empower people to challenge such nonsense, just as the politicisation of ordinary working people in the 1930′s and again after the second world war, enabled the creation of welfarism throughout Europe. At least now, we won’t have to go through a horrendous phase of fascism or international conflict to reach a point where the billionaires and their friends in high places can be reigned in.
When I was born in 1963, there was a sense of modernity. There was a larger degree of protection and freedom for ordinary people than at any time. There was a sense that things would only improve. The period from the late 1970′s to date has at least woken me up to the prospect of things actually moving backwards again. There is certainly no room for complacency. Who would have thought, for example, that the theory of evolution would be challenged quite so rigorously and that schools in some parts of the USA would teach creationism.
Then, who could have foreseen George W Bush? Maybe we should have anticipated the possibility of Bush. After all, we had lived though Regan! I remember a line from a film – the Philadelphia Experiment, I think it was called. It was the story of an American navy ship which disappeared in the 1940′s only to reappear in the 1980′s. When a sailor asks a doctor who is the president of the USA, he his told Ronald Regan. The sailor looks puzzled and says ‘what, the ‘B’ movie actor?’ Yet that movie actor turned president and grocer’s daughter turned prime minister had a huge negative impact on so many lives.
I believe that there is much to learn from what can be observed from this Londoners journey through time and geography. An ordinary story – that can and is replicated by millions of others – but one that I hope is of some use as people in London and Galway alike face into a new era.
I am now comfortable telling stories. Maybe it is an age thing. I’ve lived a bit, so to speak. I certainly realise that there is a worth in ordinary people recounting life experiences. As a political animal, I also see that by making use of a personal story like my own, it is possible to arm yourself – and others who also wish to be so-armed- in a way that is challenging to the cold and bland arguments of a political and social elite who want to preserve the best for themselves at your expense.
That victories have been won against these elites is worth highlighting. That those victories were only won because people dared to be uppity is also worth repeating. What we have taken for granted can and is often lost. I would have believed that the NHS in Britain and the public health sector in Ireland could have been at least maintained, never mind built upon. I would have believed that there will always be public libraries. That all of this is under threat in these islands is alarming to me.
I have drawn on all of these experiences, both in London and in Ireland and, without sounding like some old sage, find myself incorporating observations and stories from this journey into articles and blogs that I now write. Maybe its because I am a Londoner, that this writing may be a little different from that of other Republicans or Socialists, although I believe that you can easily interchange locations for some of this story.
It was brave and creative people who challenged the unchallengeable throughout history. The enlightenment came about against the face of a brutal medieval and feudal society. Ordinary people have risen up against kings and emperors and ideas that have been brushed aside and ridiculed have ended up determining the lives of millions of people.
We should remind ourselves of this and we should reflect on our own ordinary stories, which can inform us equally well.
Maybe it is because I am a Londoner that I am doing just that.