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regressive progression?

testing a feel-good progression by asking searching does-it-work questions

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
19 October 2016


Bill Law
the career-learning café 

Right-wing politics is ascendant - or so it appears.  Whether that appearance is fact or myth the political landscape is changing.  And left-wing politics is claiming to constructively to catch up with that change.  New ways forward are set out in...

The Alternative - Towards a New Progressive Politics


We'll see how new and progressive the alternative is, but it's definitely politics. And figuring who is leading and who is trailing in politics is open to question. 

The landscape 'she is a changing' alright - but not in the way either Bob Dillon or progressive policy have in mind.  Educators can't afford to ignore any of this. 


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Three basic questions prove useful...

                                         >      what's going on in politics? 

                                         >      how did things get this way?

                                         >      why would educators get involved?


Progressive politics has some of the answers - there are others.


  • questions and answers

firstly - what's going on?  The progressive movement points to an international longing for something different in politics - where all members of all societies have a say in the decisions that affect them.

secondly - how did things get this way?  Progressive reform is expanding into the agencies of civil society in ways that stand for all branches of left-wing politics. 

thirdly - why get involved?  Progressive politics has a long to-do list...

Political radicals are re-imagining the way society and economy can work from the bottom up, shifting the balance of forces away from the already powerful.

The relies on ideas for a unifying social solidarity, discarding the separation of so-called 'skivers' and 'hard-working families', and replacing that culture of suspicion with a culture of human rights.

The movement therefore supports the EU, for its support of the environment, and also for the development of infrastructure based on investment rather than on cuts.

It means bringing electoral reform into politics and a basic universal income for constituents.

It also means learning from previous failures, and  particularly persuading white liberals better to integrate with all races. 

The complexity needs unravelling in a clear story that faces up to the unpromising electoral maths which reflect a lack of interest in progressive claims and a deep attachment to familiar faces.

The complexity also needs an on-line platform where progressive politicos can find each other.

It's a feel-good agenda.  And educators clearly have roles in its realisation.  But, before you're bowled over...


  • complexity and politics

The what-how-why questions are getting feel-good answers.  But they also let loose the complexity of politics.  And in any complex position it's dangerous to make a move with one set of signposts and a small-scale map.  As a reviewer of The Alternative concludes...

'the yawning hole in this book is that it barely addresses
the awkward gap between what voters are thinking
and what progressives would like them to be thinking... 
Progressive ideas took a pasting over Brexit
and the book doesn’t seem very interested in asking why'


Right-wing answers to the 'why?' question are straight-forward.  They argue for the stabilisation of society.  And that conservative positioning leans heavily on the importance of loyalty, patriotism and tradition.  It's not too hard to get this uncomplicated message across - immediate, recognisable and feel-good.

Left-wing answers are harder to get across.  It's not thinking for stabilisation but for change - a new and disturbing 'struggle'.  Action in a changing world needs that complexity - more ideas deepens and widens the bases for action.  The repertoire is a requirement for survival.  But the complexity needs explanations for the entire 'what-how-and-why?' spectrum.  And there is no guarantee of agreement - Labour-party meetings are forever counter-poising one point-of-view with another...

           trade-union militancy          respectable non-conformity

           popular opinion                   intellectual rigour

           calls for revolution               calls for reform

           constituency claims             parliamentary claims

           left-wing audacity                 centre-ground caution

           risky principal                       electable success


Never a dull moment.  And every moment feeding into family and community issues.  They range from migration, through housing and into local schools. It can feel less like an agenda for reform and more like a hit-and-run shambles.  Not necessarily coherent, nor feel-good or progressive - but a changing world needs the vibrancy.

If there is a way of focussing this vibrancy it will be in a grassroots progressive politics, where people work out  for themselves what they can do about what ....

       brings in useful earnings

       means I can pay my way

       makes work worth the effort

       earns self respect and the respect of others

       with associations which protect our interests

       my own and my family's

       helps us find out what's going on

       and know how to deal with conflicts

       so we can feel safe

       even when things change as much as they do

       we trust and look after each other

                and I can know what my life has been worth


What's going on here?  People are taking charge of their own lives.  How did it get this way?  They got tired of misplaced advice from uncomprehending experts.  Why then should educators get involved?  We need students and educators learning from each other what we all need to know - so we can deal with what is going on in each other's lives.  It's the politics of what we-the-people, experience, recognise and can own.



  • citizens and alliances

Those politics - of experience, recognition and ownership - are variable.  Some citizens find more meaning here than others.  Some are in a better position to deal with change - they don't need help.  A shrinking minority are well enough positioned to pick and choose what suits.  A growing majority are not - they need all the help they can get, and then some.  Some see progressive politics as wasting their own time and other peoples' money.  Yet others are bored stiff by all such talk - there's more fun to be had in other ways.  The progressive agenda is not bound to click.

These are the variable pulls of the progressives agenda; there are also variable pushes.  They are revealed in the use of language.  And the uses of language are divisive - they point to insiders and outsiders.  Take the progressive advocates' urging the replacement of the term 'welfare' with 'social security'.  It is important to professional positioners.  To everybody else it's another bit of jargon, saying nothing about what will improve anybody's life.  And raising questions about who anybody can count on.

It gets worse.  The alliance's on-line platform has turned out to be a self-serving and rambling collection of incoherent opinions.  Some are hostile to the left-wing - one is toying with a new political party to displace it.  It's a listen-to-us élitism.  And that's a gift for a movement with a better grasp of what works in the here and now.  It's how it attracts working-class attention - sounding like it understands their experience, and feeling like what those people can recognise as their own.  The alliance may have heard of UKIP. 

The progressive alliance needs to be strong on the causes and consequences of what is going on in people's everyday lives.  Alliance talk of cherished appeals which foster hope passes some people's feel-good test, but it fails most people's will-it-work test.  It fails to take account of varied and often conflicting interests in its own membership.  It seems to be unaware of the damage caused by the invading, corrupting, manoeuvring and posturing alliances which are endemic to politics.  It is naive. 



  • learning and narrative

Trade unions get more than their fair share of dismissive rejection.  The perpetrators have their reasons.  But none can credibly accuse TUs of being naively unable to get organised.  And I can't help wondering how many in the progressive alliance would see TUs as offering the makings of a political move.  I've nothing against getting angry with injustice, but I can see greater gains in getting organised.  And it occurs to me that the scrutiny of 'what's going on?', 'how did it get this way?' and 'why get involved?' will find a non-naive basis for the politics of progressive alliance.

This a conversation about causes and consequences and that sequence readily moves into narrative.  Some of the alliance voices, mentioned earlier, argue for a clear narrative.  A narrative recounts one thing leading to another - moving through anticipation, departure and arrival.  And that sequence intersects accounts of shared individual and group experience.  It's not surprising, then, to find that most people can make more more sense of an unfolding narrative than they can of a categorised analysis.

A narrative enables citizens to locate and recognise left-wing failures to connect with working-class experience.  It can also enable citizens to visualise how the alliance can establish new and trustworthy relationships.  And that invites citizen action: like trade-unions not waiting for rescue but acting to get a result.  This is citizen voice on citizen's experience - visualising what's going on, how it got this way and what to do about it. 

There are critical and demanding answers lurking around questions like that.  Learning to deal with them stands where a decent education should stand - where citizens become students.  Whatever it has not done there is some critical thing that progressive politics has done.  And that is to expose how badly positioned schooling is for enabling students fully to get to grips with the what-how-and-why questions. 

That loss is because curriculum is shaped and framed to reflect the priorities of political and commercial interests - from right and left.  Most careers-work lessons are limited and banal.  Their texts are at least as much about learning to fit in as to make a difference.  Making a difference means probing, interrogating and questioning dominant interests.  Our citizen-students' education needs to be less for compliance and more for reform.  This is learning-for-living in a changing world - enabling an informed, reflective  and ready-for-anything citizenship.

It is a fulfilment for what the progressive alliance has called...

'a longing for something different'


But It is a now-and-future client-led fulfilment of that longing.  And that is not what the alliance has been envisaging - so-far.


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Dr Bill Law FRSA

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