by David Peel
When you think of anti-austerity movements changing the face of national and international politics, you don’t think of Britain.
Greece and Spain, yes. Ireland to an extent. Portugal, Italy, and of course Iceland, where the people ousted the government, put the corrupt bankers in jail, and then rewrote the constitution. But here? Well, this is a country that once beheaded its king, and during the civil war produced movements and ideas of freedom and social justice far, far ahead of its times.
Has there been a mass character transplant of the British people in all its diversity and wondrous multi-culturalism? Have we become lambs to the slaughter?
Has there been a mass character transplant of the British people in all its diversity and
wondrous multi-culturalism? Have we become lambs to the slaughter?
Britain has seen the greatest drift of income from the poor to the rich in its history. The gap between rich and poor is wider than it has been. A million people are visiting food banks. People on benefits are going weeks without any money. Bills are not paid, nor are rents. It’s not just the global injustice of it, the inequality. It is the individual level, where so many lives are crushed daily.
If you are disabled and claiming benefits, you face the worst of all worlds. The Coalition government shares with the previous Labour government a typically capitalist view of disabled people as productive units. The profit and loss calculation they use identifies you as a loss. And for Ministers like the Department of Work and Pensions’ Iain Duncan Smith, you might as well be a dead loss.
While we all watched stunned by the ludicrous Jeremy Clarkson ‘I-punched-my-producer’ story, 700,000 disabled and terminally ill people were targeted by the Coalition with threatening letters over benefits. Mind you, the Coalition is smart. Ministers are always careful not to clobber everyone all at once. They like to pick and choose victims, and turn the rest of us against them at the same time. Still, that’s no excuse for why the British people are taking their punishment with the old Blitz spirit. Keep calm and carry on!
While we all watched stunned by the ludicrous Jeremy Clarkson ‘I-punched-my-producer’ story, 700,000
disabled and terminally ill people were targeted by the Coalition with threatening letters over benefits.
There is an anti-austerity movement, but it appears to be making little headway. It quickly sprung up in about 100 British communities and regions, but seems to have simply gathered those who would have protested anyway. Now it seems stalled. The response to this assault on people’s lives, by the rich and the establishment, has not been exclusively through one movement, but continues through hundreds of small and often effective campaigns based around single or broadly-related issues, like the bedroom tax or housing.
The jobs we have now are precarious. You don’t know when you are going to be working, when let go, when you will be double shifting, and what might happen to you if you get sick and tired — never mind wanting a holiday somewhere nice and hot, or a pension. Holiday? Pension? The words seem redolent of a bygone age.
Where are the People’s Assembly Against Austerity monster demonstrations to protest at the deaths, at the loss of the publicly funded NHS, and the pay restraint and the pay cuts, at the unemployment, child and pensioner poverty, at the starvation? I am not saying demonstrations all the time are the answer. The Iraq demonstration showed that. But the People’s Assembly is run by people who ran demos in the millions. It’s what they are good at. And yet, and yet we are waiting, waiting for something to happen.
In two months, there is a general election. Does it feel like the most involved the people have ever been in politics and elections? Once again, the British people as a whole seem mesmerised by the election process, a show put on for our entertainment. A spectacle.
Our mass anti-austerity movement, too involved at senior and in some cases local levels with one of the major election players — Labour — seems unequal to the task of really pressing home the anti-austerity message. It is holding back. And it’s obvious why.
An election focussed on austerity does not suit Labour, which is still out to prove it can manage the economy effectively and efficiently and be tougher than the Tories on benefits. It matters not to the Tories who are using this breathing space to get done all the radical things they want to get done before election purdah stops it all. I can’t even be bothered to talk about the Lib Dems. UKIP has lost its sparkle as the anti-establishment outsiders. The Greens seem poised for some sort of success, especially in Norwich South and in Bristol West. The SNP look rampant in Scotland. And Plaid is trying to make up ground. So far the only players making all the real noise on austerity, trying to keep it on the election agenda, are the small political parties like the Dandy Party in Norwich, Class War, the NHS Action Party and more. Austerity is not an economic response to the debt.
Austerity is an ideological response to the crisis of capitalism. It is the crisis of capitalism, and in the coming months of government instability, many who truly oppose austerity and capitalism, see an opportunity. We can’t just sit and wait for it to fall, like a rotten apple off the tree. We need to shake the tree. The People’s Assembly, or if not them then another movement emerging from the housing crisis, or the environment battles to come over fracking, is needed.
Austerity is bigger than the elections. We need a movement that is ambitious, fearless, uncompromising and flexible enough to bring austerity and its father and mother, capitalism, down.