New Internationalist

It’s party time!

June 2013

Steve Parry on the similarities between party politics and enforced group celebration and why the Left has a thirst for something different.

The fact that political parties are called ‘parties’ has always struck me as odd. That English is such a contrary language it could use the same word for a celebratory social gathering and a formal political organization is no surprise. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the lexicon that brought you such mind-boggling homonyms as ‘date’ (‘I’ve just been on a hot date and we ate some dried dates’) and ‘kettle’ (‘I’m desperate for a cuppa, pop the kettle on’ or, as I once experienced, ‘I’m desperate for a wee but the cops have just formed a kettle’).

Unlike the above, the definitions of ‘party’ do actually have a few similarities. For example, bad parties of both kinds tend to be predictable and boring: the same old people listening to the same staid, stuck records. While good ones are usually loud, raucous, energetic affairs that the police would like to shut down.

Political leadership can also be likened to DJ-ing. I know I’m stretching it, but bear with me. DJs who get everyone on the dance floor do so by mixing the best of old and new and by making sure the tunes fit the mood – they listen to the crowd’s requests and play what they want. It’s a dialogue. Meanwhile, a crap DJ bangs out tired old favourites, regardless of whether people are dancing or not, and throws in a few ‘modern’ numbers (from the 1980s) as a nod to the ‘youngsters’ (45s and under) they imagine might turn up.

‘The Party’ is back on the Left’s agenda and is being though about in a number of new and orginal ways

I’m persisting with my tortured analogy because in Britain ‘The Party’ is back on the Left’s agenda and is being thought about in a number of new and original ways. More than 8,000 people have responded to socialist film director Ken Loach’s call for a Left Unity party. There’s massive support for the forthcoming People’s Assembly Against Austerity*, and smaller formations such as The International Socialist Network, Counterfire and The Association of Musical Marxists are gaining traction all the time. What their music policies will be like remains to be seen, but so far things sound promising.

Part of the reason for this sudden taste for a new, dynamic, political vehicle is that the Left’s brittle old ways of building are clearly not working, despite polls showing time and again that hundreds of thousands of people relate to the core principles of ecology and socialism. These people, I believe, would relish a new political home; what they have no thirst for is a set of ready-made, off-the-peg political beliefs delivered from on high.

So while the damp squibs still currently hogging the spluttering sound systems of the Left squabble over the last slurp of tepid punch in the bowl, the cool kids have already grabbed their coats and headed out in search of a fresh new place to get their kicks. Somewhere with no intellectual dress code, where the playlist is up for grabs and where everyone’s welcome to bring a bottle of highly intoxicating ideas. The fizzier the better.

*which took place on 22 June in London

Steve Parry is a comedy writer, performer and political activist. He is Welsh and lives in north London. You can contact him on Twitter @stevejparry

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 463 This column was published in the June 2013 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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