Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Interview with Sunny Hundal

In mid Sept I interviewed Sunny Hundal, the Editor of the left-leaning Weblog, Liberal Conspiracy on his political journey and the political state of the blogosphere. Here is part of that interview which was in rushed circumstances but we did manage to get a lot discussed

PAUL BURGIN: You started blogging about six or seven years ago with Pickled Politics, and then you moved onto "Liberal Conspiracy", what started that? What brought you into blogging and writing something like "Pickled Politics" and moving into "Liberal Conspiracy"?

SUNNY HUNDAL: Well I started "Pickled Politics" because I used to run an online magazine at the time called "Asians in Media" which was a sort of online magazine for a particular audience and I found because a lot of people were linking to my articles at the time, which were to do with censorship and free speech and Muslims and terrorism and stuff like that and they were linking from blogs and what I found very interesting was that there was an almost, like a community there, like a whole world of blogs, lots of people were reading blogs and people were linking to each other and were having debates which was almost hidden from the mainstream media but at the same time attracting significant audiences, and also quite an interesting fresh casual style of talking about politics and discussing politics that was new, and so I thought I had to get involved in that because I want to write about these things too, but also I can engage with that audience in a way possibly that I would not be if I was sitting around waiting to write an article for The Guardian every two or three months

PAUL BURGIN: As you got more popular, you seemed to move round with your politics. Didn't you advocate supporting the Conservatives, and then you went to the Liberal Democrats for the last election, and now you are very much involved in the Labour Party! Now a lot of people flip flop between the three main parties quite easily but not in the given time frame we have just seen necessarily or during the events we have just seen. Where's the consistency in this?

SUNNY HUNDAL: Sure. I have never voted for the Conservatives. Ever! At that time I think this was a piece I wrote around 2006/2007, what I said was if people are angry at the Labour Party for curtailing their civil liberties and a lot of people were, a lot of Muslims were at this time, a lot of people on the left were as well, but of people genuinely were, not on the left but just unaligned, because I wasn't into party politics at the time. I wasn't involved in the Labour Party, I wasn't voting for anyone. I came into politics entirely from a discussion around race relations, terrorism, issues from minority communities, so party politics at that point was not my main sole frame of looking at things and I said "Hey if you are angry at what's going on then vote for a different party because the only way you're going to get the Labour Party to listen if you're angry at the way they're doing the War or attack the War on Terror is if you move to another party, there is no other way to influence a party than say , "Actually we're not going to vote for you anymore, we're voting for someone else!" So at that point my point was not to say, "Hey maybe we should vote for the Tories cos' they're the best thing ever!" I never said that, I said "This is a point about what motivates politicians to listen on issues, and if you want them to listen then you should vote for the Conservatives!" In 2005 I voted for.. I don't think I voted in 2005, although I can't remember.. I wasn't big into Lib Dem voting at the time anyway..I wasn't into party politics, I definitely was not into Labour at the time, I was massively against the Iraq War, so I don't think I voted in 2005... 2010 I obviously voted for the Lib Dems and until the last minute I was going to vote Labour. I actually campaigned for a Labour Party councillor on the day of the election, but what struck me was, and also remember this was at the height of the campaign we were getting briefings from the Labour Party, we had discussions with, amongst the bloggers, criticising what the Conservatives were doing, we were basically part of the election campaign to a certain degree, because we wanted to influence the media agenda, we wanted to bring some balance to the agenda, so I was firmly in the Labour camp, I was firmly saying we should support investment over cuts and the rest of it, but it was the three debates that got me, because I watched and listened to Gordon Brown and could not bring myself to vote for the guy because I thought to myself, "This guy has no vision of where he's going to go! He's cynical about politics, he is talking about immigration in a way I am fundamentally uncomfortable with, and it's not a positive vision for this country and the Party is intellectually just right now nowhere!" I could not bring myself to vote for this Party because it would be against what I stood for which was to have a different vision of society and I could not then say "Well the best thing to do is vote for the Labour Party!" I could not do it, so I said "I'm going to vote for the Lib Dems!" and I was clear about that. In hindsight, anyone can argue that if I voted for the Lib Dems I would have seen the Conservatives going to.. You can see in hindsight these people going into coalition with the Tories, but hindsight is always 20/20, you never know how things are going to end up.I supported the war in Afghanistan but not Iraq, and people have said to me in hindsight "You could have seen that was going to go so badly!".. So what I am saying is in hindsight, anyone can turn around and say "Well!.." But I have never joined any political party other than the Labour Party! I never voted for the Tories, I voted for the Lib Dems once and I am never going to vote for them again! From my perspective it's not that difficult, I suppose from a Labour tribalist perspective it can look kind of like, "Well what the hell are you doing?" but actually most people in this country are not that tribalist! They do actually switch between parties depending on what motivates them the most and what motivates me has changed over the past few years, it used to be much more about immigration, it's less now, and it used to be much more about issues like civil liberties which I still find very important and I still feel  frustrated that the Labour Party has not got it's head round on issues like civil liberties, and when Ed Miliband came to work for the Party and he offered something which was much more interesting, much more visionary and ticked a lot of my boxes, I felt, "Look I can support this guy! I want to support this guy and I should join the Party to do that!" and I joined the Party to support Ed Miliband and I was pleased that he won basically! So if he hadn't become leader and someone else became leader and was trotting out a lot of the same things as Gordon Brown was I probably wouldn't have joined the Party!

PAUL BURGIN: Do you think therefore with your own experience and the fact we've had the first coalition since the War, the Labour Party going through what it's going through, the Conservatives seem to be stuck with the legacy of Thatcher, the way things are turning, not just in this country, but stateside, do you think we are going through a massive seachange in politics? Not just with what's going on the surface, but in people's preferences and with what people value?

SUNNY HUNDAL: Yeah, I think there are two big changes. One is that there is no tribalism and party loyalty as there was in the past, and what that means is that, your, your.. but that actually leads to the second point which is that the rise of the third parties and smaller parties, not just the Lib Dems,  not that the Lib Dems have ever risen that much, but the point is the rise of the other parties and how people are voting has meant (it's) the hardest it's ever been to form a majority under the fptp system. So I think it means fundamentally a lot for the Labour Party too, because if you want to be a Party which is existent across all parts of the country; the North, in Wales, Scotland, and in some places where people are a lot more tribal, lets say Scotland and the North, compared to other places where, like in London, where they're not so tribal and they will actually switch votes or they just don't like tribalism, you are going to have to find a message which appeals to people in different ways, and also you are going to have to find a way which isn't just about saying "Look, the Tories are really bad, therefore you shouldn't vote for them!" So I think that, fundamentally it means something about the message, I think fundamentally it needs the way people talk, the way Labour Party talk to  constituents, and different parts of the country, I think it is very difficult, more difficult now, than ever to have a unified message across  the entire country, I think you're going to have lots of people in different parts of the country, not saying different things, but a different message, and I think we need to be open to alliances, you know I think fundamentally you have to have an alliance possibly with the Lib Dems if you don't get a majority at the next election! I think that's something we are going to have to get used to, given that Europe is already there, so I think that is something that is inevitable and we are just going to have to accept that people will make choices and then expect parties to form coalitions with others in order to get their agenda going through

PAUL BURGIN: Do you.. with regards in particular to the next three years, how do you think things will be by the next general election the way things are going at the moment?

SUNNY HUNDAL: In what way?

PAUL BURGIN: Politically I mean, do you think the coalition.. do you think the Conservatives are toast at the moment? Do you think if things continue as they are?

SUNNY HUNDAL: People always say that generally  it's the ruling party, the party in government that loses elections rather than opposition parties that win them, but I think the Labour Party is in a much stronger position than many people give it credit for!  It's unified, it's managed to attracted a whole bunch of  excellent Lib Dem voters in a very quick way and given the fact that we were responsible or at least we were in government while the massive crash happened, you do have to think "Wow a lot of people have suddenly started supporting Labour again!" even though you wouldn't expect a lot of them to do that for at least ten years because massive events like that really do affect people's perceptions for a long time, so I think actually I will say the next election is for the Labour Party to lose rather than for the Conservatives to lose, and I would say what's holding them back is a sense of conservatism actually within their own ranks, which is to say that they feel that we could just about eke out a victory if  we are able to not turn off too many people, and if we don't annoy too many people, if we have enough people on side who are angry at the Conservative Party  then we've got a winning coalition! Or at least a coalition of voters which will put us ahead of the Conservatives so we can maybe form an alliance with the Lib Dems and I think that's what the thinking is right now, whereas in other words if you really want a big Labour victory, as I do and as I am sure you do, then I think you have to be bold and you have to say to people "We are going to give you something to vote for!" Rather than "Give me something to persuade you that they are the people we should vote against!" and I think right now, the Labour Party has not sealed that deal and it needs to  in the next two and a half years, and there's plenty of time, but I think unless we do that we are not going to seal the deal! So it is still an election we can lose rather than an election the Conservatives can lose

PAUL BURGIN: We do seem to be playing it very carefully at the moment, and rightfully so

SUNNY HUNDAL: Rightfully, but I think you have to be bold, we have been bold, Ed's gone much further than many in the Labour Party would on  media change, on the banks, in calling for fundamental reforms in the way banks work

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