Contested Spaces of Hegemony: Left Alliances after the Crisis: Is It Possible to Construct Alliances in the New Landscape of the Left?

By Featherstone, Dave | Soundings, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Contested Spaces of Hegemony: Left Alliances after the Crisis: Is It Possible to Construct Alliances in the New Landscape of the Left?


Featherstone, Dave, Soundings


In what none of us could have anticipated would have been her last editorial in Soundings, in November 2015, Doreen Massey offered her reflections on austerity and the current conjuncture, arguing that although times may have been hard for the left and there had been recent defeats as well as victories: 'even five years ago most of these European challenges to neoliberalism could not have been imagined. They can now. Maybe there is here the potential fracturing of the ideological and political hegemony of neoliberalism that seemed so absent in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis'. (1) The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was, for Doreen, an important sign that there was a potential fracturing of the ideological and political hegemony of neoliberalism, something that she had worked so hard to contribute to. She felt keenly the importance of providing political support to Corbyn and to his broader project, and also the need to position his election and leadership in a wider conjunctural analysis.

Positioning Corbyn in this way is significant, given that there have been relatively few attempts to situate his leadership on these terms. Gary Younge's Stuart Hall Memorial Lecture was one insightful attempt to think about Corbyn as part of broader left alternatives such as Podemos and Syriza. He described Jeremy Corbyn as 'the unlikely beneficiary of a moment in which a resurgent left, newly oriented towards electoral politics, has surprised itself with its ability to both challenge and even win'. He argued, however, that 'what he's not is the product of a movement that can sustain that challenge once it has been made'. (2) Younge's account is a helpful attempt to think about Corbyn's rise to prominence in conjunctural terms, that is in relation to the broader political context and relations that define the current post-crisis moment.

One of the issues that makes sustaining a concerted challenge to dominant political cultures much more challenging these days is the increasing geographical fragmentation of left and centre-left politics in the UK; and this article seeks to explore the implications this has for constructing progressive alliances and hegemonic politics. Coming out of discussions I had with Doreen when she was in Glasgow in December 2015 for a Soundings workshop, this article, which we had intended to co-write, seeks to make a contribution through thinking about the relationship between attempts to fracture the dominant political hegemony and the reconfigured terrain of left/centre-left parties and movements across the UK. I discuss three key elements within this heterogeneity. Firstly, there is the geographical fragmentation of the UK lefts, with a growing challenge to the Labour Party's ability to hegemonise centre-left politics. Secondly, there is the challenge of engaging with discourses around regional inequality, and in particular with the Conservatives' attempt to develop a clear political narrative around this through their account of the 'Northern Powerhouse'. Thirdly, there is the question of how we might envision and construct alliances which build across these divisions. I argue that, while the logic of spatial division poses a number of challenges to the left, there are also possibilities for forging a post-neoliberal agenda.

Thinking hegemony and geography

Doreen's political and geographical engagements were always animated by key political questions. She worried away at key problematics and challenges and was never content to fall back on left theoretical orthodoxies. Rather, she was always concerned to push at the limits of such approaches through applying them and thinking with them. One of the key ways in which she did this was to develop a compelling set of interventions in thinking about the relations between space, place and politics. These interventions were never concerned with thinking about geography as a kind of academic exercise: Doreen was concerned with understanding the ways in which struggles over geography were integral to the making of particular kinds of political strategies and identities. …

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