Politics awaits a reckoning. In his new book, Jack Shenker suggests we find it in the everyday lives of the people excluded from the SW1 pandemonium. It acts as an antidote to the Westminster conversation by journeying through Manchester, Tilbury, Cambridge, Brighton, South Lanarkshire, Wallsend, as well as London.
Among others, he talks to Demand the Impossible activists, “McStrikers” and a pioneering generation of new union agitators. He listens to the London Renters Union and other housing insurgents organising for change post-Grenfell. He hooks up with tech-savvy right-wing nationalist activists in the north-east (suggesting this new politics isn’t exclusive to the left), Nigerian pastors building hope in south Essex and climate radicals on the south coast. Along the way we are exposed to the realities of the “hostile environment” and inhumane immigration detention centres.
Shenker contrasts a sclerotic political class with what is organically emerging—a “fierce and liberatory engagement with the way that power, money and privilege mould our lives.” His real target is a segmented media, which lacks the agility to report both on the root causes of the crisis and these new political forces. Shenker attempts to refract this new emerging politics through Momentum, the organisation that has done so much to re-radicalise the Labour Party.
It is a compelling argument: understand the crisis, listen to the voices removed from the political conversation. It is also a significant democratic intervention: to contrast a bankrupt politics with a “tired, wired and hopeful” generation alive and politically liberated. He hopes that this new chaotic politics will reshape society. I hope so, although I am not convinced, given the ascendency of authoritarian populism and the fundamental threat this poses to liberal democracy.
Now We Have Your Attention: The New Politics of the People by Jack Shenker (Bodley Head, £16.99)