Suburban Socialism (or Barbarism)

By Oly Durose

Published by Repeater Books, 2022, rrp £12.99 from Bookbuster, Queens Road

Review by Tim Barton

Here is James Meek, in the London Review of Books (January 6, 2022): “The … coming together of localists … and liberals … the more usual source of dissidence … was required for the Eastern European revolutions of the 1990s, for the success of the Scottish National Party and, indeed, for the shutting down of the Soviet Union itself. For the authoritarian leader, keeping the localists and liberals in a state of mutual dislike is Lesson One.”

This dynamic applies here too, and between a wider social spectrum. I would include ‘suburbia’ in this. A tripartite temporary alignment of interests between ‘localists’, ‘liberals’ (what we in the UK would call ‘the left’), and a smattering of suburbanites is what got Blair into power, and a populist assault on the left is what lost Corbyn two elections.

Johnson’s latest prang, too, involves some similar alignment of interests, one strong enough that even the media cannot insulate him. Will this be enough to oust him? Will the next vampire behind the curtain be any better? Are the Tories insulated by the fact that, all things being (un)equal, the next election is some years off?

One thing is sure, for any real change an alliance, whether organised or ‘in effect’, of populists, the left, and a proportion of naturally conservative and economically acquisitive suburbanites is needed to defeat an increasingly extremist ‘right-wing’ economic agenda that is pushing more and more people into increasingly abject poverty.

BAN SECOND HOMES, CAP RENTS, REGULATE BUY-TO-LET

Oly Durose’s new book, Suburban Socialism (or Barbarism), seeks to illuminate the difficulties in recruiting much of the population of ‘suburbia’ toward developing a social conscience, and to suggest strategies to help do so. His own experience as an electoral candidate was in the unwinnable constituency of Brentwood & Ongar. 

Here in Hastings & St Leonards, too, there are areas like this, and they are growing. And will continue to do so unless, at a minimum, the council can find a way to ban second homes, cap (and reduce) rents, regulate buy-to-let so that it disallows use as holiday homes, and supplies significant amounts of real social housing. The shifting demographics may one day lose Labour control of the council, and if so, all bets are off. Yet, all towns, cities, and the suburban sprawls that surround them have impoverished areas. These areas have, historically, a low electoral turnout, and our disproportionate voting system leaves those that bother feeling as disempowered as those who already gave up.

Durose has no misty-eyed expectation that we can change the voting intention of all of suburbia, but he does supply a road-map to more inclusivity, with increased social consciousness, and perhaps a bit more ‘suburban socialism’. He notes the tendency to push the party message in urban and industrial settings, and to leave out ‘suburbia’ as a lost cause, but seeks ‘to explore uncharted paths to socialism’s electoral realisation’. At the same time he explicitly recognises that party politics, and a tick in a box once every few years, is not the only thing that matters.

BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE

He concentrates on mobilisation of the disenfranchised, and on obstacles raised to defeat such mobilisation. The latest headlines on voter ID relate to a typical attempt to reduce voter participation, as roundly proven in American Republican suppression of the less enfranchised.

The same is true here: vote counting machines trialled in Scotland are owned by a rich Tory peer, about as trustworthy as was Jeb Bush, who finagled a Republican win in (at least) Florida and Ohio back in 2001. His methods came here, literally in person, when he pitched up at Downing Street for Cameron.

This book is a powerful tool for those fighting the harms of ‘suburban capitalism’. The most powerful tool to turn a mobilised left in suburbia into parliamentary seats would be proportional representation, but collective action in your own neighbourhood is good groundwork, and a positive contribution altering the political and community consciousness of these too often ignored wards.

Gandhi once said that “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change”. We need to both ‘be the change’ and to foster the idea in others that they can too.


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