Saturday, 26 March 2011

Defying Austerity

This country shall not break nor bend to Tory toffs

The story of austerity entered another chapter today, when tens of thousands of ordinary working people took to the streets of London for a show of strength. Britain shall not be broken, they declared. Cameron and his crony Clegg should take note, writes Mark Cantrell, this is not a nation eager to doff the cap to plutocrats and toffs

THE Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg caused quite a stir when he talked about 'alarm clock Britain', though perhaps not quite as much as the wealth of austerity cuts coming from this Government.

More recently, Cleggy tried to pull back from the brink with his tactical split from his buddy Dave over electoral reform. For those observing the nation's political theatrics, it can only be seen as the LibDems' efforts to retain some semblance of the principled and idealistic party it was perceived to be before it found itself willingly breathing life into a Conservative Government, but it is all rather to late for that. They have pinned their colours to the Tory mast and dared the heavens to unleash thunder. Today, in London, it roared.

So, was Nick Clegg playing the part of Frankenstein – or was he Igor? No, don't answer that mischievous query, there's little time for frivolity because that clock is still ticking.

For all his quip about the alarm clock, for many people it's Clegg himself who is in need of an alarm call. And today, trade unionists and tens of thousands of ordinary workers gathered to give him– and the rest of his Coalition buddies – just that. Given his prolapsed popularity, though, it's already too late – he's well and truly overslept. Serves him right, you might think, for getting into bed with the Tories, but that's quite enough about little Nicky, this isn't really about him at all.

This is about Britain; this is about the kind of country we want to live in. There is such a thing as society and it is made not by a cabinet of millionaires, but by ordinary working people the length and breadth of the land.

“Never mind Nick Clegg's alarm clock Britain – this is alarm bell Britain,” said Len McCluskey, general secretary elect of the trades union Unite, talking of the cuts and austerity that the Government has launched with gusto.

“This is clear, unequivocal proof that working people striving to raise their families and do a decent job are being kicked in the teeth by this government,” McCluskey added. “It is heartbreaking to hear of workers, who are not well-paid, told their salaries will be slashed. It is take a cut or take a hike. What on Earth has this got to do with growing our economy?

“Or to learn of the elderly and vulnerable who will lose the services that make every difference to the quality of their lives. Who gave Messrs Cameron and Clegg the right to pull the rug out from under these people?”

Some might answer that we – the British electorate – gave them that right when we cast our votes at the 2010 General Election, but it's a disingenuous answer to say the least. Set aside the electoral workings of the First-Past-The-Post voting system, where the wining team generally has less votes than the combined votes for the opposing teams, even if they gained the simple majority, and let us ignore the typical nature of politicians in ministerial office to go back on their apparent pre-election word, to consider how Cameron and Clegg came to hold office. Let us also remember that nobody won the 2010 General Election.

The Labour Party lost.

The LibDems, of course, lost.

And the Conservative Party lost – they just didn't lose as badly as the other two.

That's not the same as winning. Even in the simplified terms of the voting system, they failed to secure a sufficient 'vote of confidence' to form unambiguously a full-blown Conservative Government. As the phraseology goes, they did not secure a mandate. Rather this government was negotiated into place, if not quite in a back room, certainly not far off.

The simple truth is that this Conservative Government existed only because it needed LibDem support, and so Cameron and Clegg – to cut a long story short – negotiated this Coalition Administration into office. In that crucial sense, as individual MPs they secured their seats via the electoral system – they were voted in – but the government that they have formed was not. It was wheeled and dealed into office and many are saying that the LibDems got the shit end of the deal.

Still, as Clegg is learning, they made their bed. A Faustian brew, no doubt, this sip of power, for a party that has been exiled from high political office for generations. That's by the by, of course, because for all that the LibDems have willingly grabbed the shitty end of the stick, it's been used to stir a bucket of ideological muck that is even now being poured all over the heads of the ordinary British people. And it must be said that the stink of it, and the persistent slopping out of the Tories' political guts, is leading more and more people to become heartily sick of it.

The Government has enjoyed every moment in office; they would wouldn't they? Cameron has enjoyed playing Mr Caring, Sharing Compassionate Conservative, even as his minions wield the axe and sing the mantra left to them by the previous incumbents – 'there is no money left' (except to wage a war in Libya, but that's another story). The Prime Minister has assured us time and time again that 'we are all in this together' that the vulnerable will be protected, yet the pace of change becomes bewildering as the axe swings and falls, swings and falls, and assurances made become promises of new unexpected 'reforms' and modernisations, and job losses mount, uncertainty grows and sets forth the ripening buds of fear and anger.

That's enough waxing lyrical there, time for a metaphor of another ilk. The language of the Tories set against their policies in action brings to mind the scenes of the marauding invaders from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! There they are, Cameron and Crew, running around British society, shouting through their translators 'don't run, we are your friends' even as they shoot to kill everyone around them. Yes, as Spitting Image once said of a previous, albeit pure-blooded, Tory regime, they must think we're stupid.

So, there we have it: warm words of friendship from high office, even as the the future of the NHS is up for grabs, as public sector cuts are leading to thousands of job losses; welfare benefits in line for 'reform', with payments slashed and punishments in place for those failing to find work amidst the jobs famine; social housing under 'reform, all set to price the poorest and most vulnerable out of their homes; frontline services either cut or diminished, leaving vulnerable people to fend for themselves. And this is but a small snapshot of the Conservative's enthusiastic efforts to transform the country they spun a deal to lead.

Warm words; in action a devil-take-the-hindmost attitude. Truly, they are in power, and they are determined to change the country, turn the clock back, widen and reinforce the divide between rich and poor, and encourage us to know our place so that we can be happy in our servitude to our social betters. If you would reforge Britain, first you must break it, seems to be the modus operandi – and there are those who suspect that is exactly what they are aiming to do.

Tory excuses are wearing thin however. Some people don't think a slash and burn approach is the best way to revitalise and recover the economy. They are urging the Government to back away from the brink. Today they took to the streets in their thousands, not to plead, but to demand. Not quite in the manner of the Egyptians who have recently reached out for freedom and democracy in so inspiring a way, but perhaps not far off, at least in spirit.

That's where McCluskey comes in, for those who were wondering; the trades union Unite – one of the country's largest unions – was a major player in today's mass protests in London, along with the TUC, other unions, and of course the many workers and ordinary members of the public who gathered to say no to cuts. They called it 'Don't Break Britain'.

“This wanton social vandalism will not create one penny in national wealth, in fact it will cost us in employment benefits and social despair,” McCkluskey said. “With bankers lining up to line their pockets while workers worry about every penny, we are not all in this together. This government is breaking Britain. There are more economically effective, more humane ways to address the deficit. That is why Unite will stand shoulder to shoulder with people on streets and communities up and down the country as they defend their way of lives and the services they hold dear.”

Expect recriminations to follow today's mass action; expect sneering put downs about 'dinosaur' unions and 'out of touch' workers. Expect hand-ringing laments about the tiny majority of Anarchist inspired bravos who launched into acts of provocative violence; expect anything and everything from our political elites, and their media lapdogs, to denigrate and undermine the raised voices of anger and outrage that London hosted this day.

But we mustn't forget, those assembled masses have as much a claim to represent feeling in this country as do the cronies of Cameron and Clegg, if not more. No, they weren't elected, these people who took to the streets – they were the electors, and they didn't vote for Cameron to break their homes, their communities, their livelihoods and their country.

They gathered in London to say: “Hey, Dave – this is our country and we won't stand aside and let you break it without a fight.”

Today, that fight has begun. It won't be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is, and a country that is worth living in is surely worth the struggle. So don't be alarmed, Nick, you just chose the wrong side of the bed. Now you'll just have to lie in it until you're turfed out.

Mark Cantrell,
26 March 2011

Copyright © March 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Category: COMMENT


The LibDems should take a glance across the Irish Sea; In 2007 the Irish Greens joined a coalition to (basically) keep Fianna Fáil in office. FF wrecked the country and, when the Greens finally pulled the plug, they were completely wiped out in the recent election - 0 seats.

There aren't any spoons long enough to allow one to safely sup with the devil...


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