Highlights from Occupy London protest issues demands to democratise City of London | UK news | guardian.co.uk
- An end to business and corporate block-votes in all council elections, which can be used to outvote local residents.
- Abolition of existing “secrecy practices” within the City, and total and transparent reform of its institutions to end corporate tax evasion.
- The decommissioning of the City of London police with officers being brought under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police force.
- Abolition of the offices of Lord Mayor of London, the Sheriffs and the Aldermen.
- And a truth and reconciliation commission to examine corruption within the City and its institutions.
I agree with them, but fear they’ll be outmanoeuvred by an increasingly belligerent Church of England, aided as it is by the right wing press and other apologists. Giles Fraser is gone, edged out by a Church completely indifferent to its scriptural objectives. The organisation which repeatedly bleats about losing its influence and how it faces ‘persecution’ by no longer being able to discriminate against whomever it pleases, is going to show just what lengths it’s prepared to go to to protect its privilege. Inequality? Who cares. Corruption in the City which is its home? Not a problem, because they do very well out of not challenging the neoliberal status quo.
We are at a crossroads. Our economies were broken in 2008 by a reckless banking elite, who have never been brought to account. Our neoliberal governments capitalised on the economic crash to force through the standard model of what Naomi Klein labels ‘disaster capitalism’, forcing through (with the right wing media’s help) economic and social changes which would have made Thatcher or Reagan blanche. We have a situation where the poor are being made to pay the price for the abuses of the rich, who are being allowed to pay themselves outrageous bonuses with our tax money. The Occupy movement is taking a stand against this calamity, and are under regular attack by the police in whichever Western country demonstrations begin. Everyone needs to watch this video and to learn how vital it is that we hold our leaders to account. ‘Yes we can’ said Barack Obama that very year – now beholden to the very interests he said he would hold to account (and then didn’t), the US President, British PM and others need to be shown how true that tagline is (and has to be).
The film shows senior police officers assuring members of UK Uncut who had peacefully occupied Fortnum & Mason that they would not be confused with the rioters outside, and would be allowed to go home if they left the store. They did so, and were penned, handcuffed, thrown into vans, dumped in police cells and, in some cases, left there for 24 hours.
Isn’t all that supposed to have stopped? Haven’t we entered a new era of freedom in which the government, as it has long promised, now defends“the hard-won liberties that we in Britain hold so dear”? No.
In May 2010, after becoming deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg pledged that the government would “repeal all of the intrusive and unnecessary laws that inhibit your freedom” and “remove limits on the rights to peaceful protest.” The Queen’s speech firmed up the commitment by promising “the restoration of rights to non-violent protest”. So how did this grand vision become the limp rag of a bill now before parliament?
Because a) Clegg is more interested in power than principle and b) Clegg presumed he had about as much influence as Tony Blair had over George W Bush. But there’s far more in play than just those issues. Clegg also wants to prove (apparently at any cost) that coalition politics can work in the UK, but he’s labouring under a massive misapprehension – coalitions are supposed to be based on red lines and principles, not a supine desperation for approval by the dominant party. The betrayal of UK Uncut and attack on the students in Trafalgar Square are reminiscent of the worst authoritarian excesses under New Labour, and Cameron, Clegg and Home Secretary Theresa May appear entirely comfortable with them, then again this isn’t surprising. They’ve always known their ‘savage’ cuts would cause severe social unrest – apparently free-market ‘Orange Bookers’ find that a price worth paying. If it’s a choice between liberty and the unfettered free market, we know what’s most important for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. Monbiot goes on to say:
I don’t believe Clegg’s claim, which seems to have gulled the usually sceptical Observer journalist Henry Porter, that this act is the beginning, not the end, of the coalition’s reforms; and that, in Porter’s words, “there may even be a great repeal act down the road that would look at some of the laws not addressed in this bill”. Perhaps he is unaware that the original title of the current legislation was the freedom (great repeal) bill.
This legislation shows every sign of having been stopped and searched, fingerprinted and stripped of any content that might have rebalanced the relationship between people and power.
He’s right. Clegg’s early boasts mimic Obama’s promise to close down Guantanamo Bay – they promise change to get power, which when pushed turns out to be the objective they care about most. Neither Britain nor America has the slightest chance of change we can believe in – it’s no wonder young people are fighting back.
What’s new, I hear you cry? Well in the past they’ve normally been adept at covering up their excesses. Not so after the #march26 March for the Alternative protest when they mass arrested dozens of entirely peaceful UK Uncut protesters. Watch:
Appalling. And read Adam Ramsay’s account of his arrest:
When we were inside Fortnum & Mason, the police made it clear to us: if we left, we would not be arrested. At 6pm or so, we left, together. The police kettled us outside the shop. I was towards the back, and so could not see exactly what was going on, though I could see in front of me people who had left about an hour earlier, having been let out by the police.
It then became clear that they were, one after another, leading people away to be arrested. So, we shared notes on what this was likely to involve, and sang songs to keep people cheery.
Eventually, it was my turn. I was placed in handcuffs, asked on camera for some basic details, then led down a side street by my arresting officers – one of whom later turned out to be a part time officer, full time German language student. I was told why I had been arrested (suspicion of trespass and criminal damage) and was asked a few basic questions & told we were in for a long night as they struggled to find enough places in stations to fit us all.
You have to ask yourself why the Metropolitan Police would lie like that – what’s in it for them? Then again they are an institution with a long history of deceit: blaming the crowd for Ian Tomlinson’s death at the G20 (they themselves caused it), blaming Jean Charles de Menezes for his own murder (they carried it out), to name just two recent high profile instances. Did a superior officer see a chance to get back at them for humbling them so often in recent instances of direct action? Was there political pressure to find easy scapegoats for the disorder which did occur (yet not at Fortnum & Mason)? Or (watching later scenes in the video) was there a darker motivation? Was this a blatant case of the police being used yet again as the violent means of enforcing the status quo? Did they simply change their minds to prosecute UK Uncut members for daring to challenge the political order?
Given the anger that this mass arrest caused, there’s no doubt it won’t end here and nor should it.
On Saturday I attended the highly successful #march26 March for the Alternative, and I was almost outside Fortnum & Mason when the TSG riot police blocked Piccadilly off entirely. I knew that protesters from UK Uncut had occupied the store but it was still a shock to see the sheer volume of police removing what I ‘d understood to be a sitdown protest with considerable prejudice. One of them has shared her experience, and it makes a great deal more sense now:
UK Uncut conducted itself with this peaceful etiquette throughout the three-hour occupation of Fortnum & Mason, a shop they said they had chosen because a related company allegedly avoided £40m in taxes.
Despite being detained in the store, Joan Higgins, 61, from Liverpool, described the protester’s theatrical show as “the perfect accompaniment to my tea and scones”. The exit was slightly less polite.
Police officers inside the building thanked protesters for their cooperation and promised that they could leave together without interrogation. Outside, however, riot police pushed those who exited into a small area where they were unlinked by force, photographed, arrested and led away. The protesters, who spent the night in police stations around London, believed they had been duped. Or communication between police inside and the force outside the shop had completely broken down. The riot police told me that protesters were being arrested for “aggravated trespassing” and that the customers unable to leave the shop were “scared half-to-death”. A spokeswoman for Fortnum & Mason said: “The damage is minimal. We have cleared up after the disruption and are now helping our neighbours on Piccadilly do the same. The store is open for business as usual.”
My partner and I were walking right behind the building on Jermyn Street to bypass the trouble, when a bank of TSG started marching down the street in our general direction. Clearly an order had been given by someone to secure the entire area with as much menace as possible, without any interest in differentiating between Black Bloc anarchists (who were causing significant trouble, and had done throughout the day) and anyone else. Laurie Penny said of the situation at Fortnum & Mason:
What differentiates the rioters in Picadilly and Oxford Circus from the rally attendees in Hyde Park is not the fact that the latter are “real” protestors and the former merely “anarchists” (still an unthinking synonym for “hooligans” in the language of the press). The difference is that many unions and affiliated citizens still hold out hope that if they behave civilly, this government will do likewise.
The younger generation in particular, who reached puberty just in time to see a huge, peaceful march in 2003 change absolutely nothing, can’t be expected to have any such confidence. We can hardly blame a cohort that has been roundly sold out, priced out, ignored, and now shoved onto the dole as the Chancellor announces yet another tax break for bankers, for such skepticism. If they do not believe the government cares one jot about what young or working-class people really think, it may be because any evidence of such concern is sorely lacking.
She has a point. The increase in radical behaviour on the streets can easily be tracked back (in large measure) to New Labour’s betrayal over Iraq. The power of the signal which Blair sent out in his refusal to acknowledge the will of over 2 million people who protested entirely peacefully can’t be understated, and Penny is right when she notes that a significant number of young people have understood it; peaceful protest changes nothing. Having said that, I haven’t heard a single account of the protest at Fortnum & Mason to suggest it was marred by violence (when other local premises had been attacked), and she continues:
A large number of young people in Britain have become radicalised in a hurry, and not all of their energies are properly directed, explaining in part the confusion on the streets yesterday. Among their number, however, are many principled, determined and peaceful groups working to affect change and build resistance in any way they can.
One of these groups is UK Uncut. I return to Fortnum’s in time to see dozens of key members of the group herded in front of the store and let out one by one, to be photographed, handcuffed and arrested. With the handful of real, random agitators easy to identify as they tear through the streets of Mayfair, the met has chosen instead to concentrate its energies on UK Uncut – the most successful, high-profile and democratic anti-cuts group in Britain.
UK Uncut has embarrassed both the government and the police with its gentle, inclusive, imaginative direct action days over the past six months. As its members are manhandled onto police coaches, waiting patiently to be taken to jail whilst career troublemakers run free and unarrested in the streets outside, one has to ask oneself why.
Of course the mainstream media and usual suspects will now lump UK Uncut alongside Black Bloc and others who were responsible for violence before and after this event. But Laurie Penny’s analysis of the power relations in play couldn’t be more poignant – however much those who disapprove of protest may bleat their anger about people being unable to shop at a branch or two of Boots for a spell, UK Uncut provides an invaluable means of peacefully highlighting the fraud behind the government’s ideological attack on the public sector. The ConDems’ savage cuts were not voted for, they aren’t necessary, and you do indeed have to question why the police expended so much energy against them, when the ringleaders of the violence were blatantly clear even to uninformed passers-by. I applaud anyone, young or old, who is prepared to stand up for the society they want, in the face of shock doctrine economics, and the social disaster which inevitably comes with it.
Johann Hari is outraged at Tory Westminster Council. You should be too:
the Tory-run Westminster Council, one of the richest in Britain, announced a ban on sleeping on the streets, or feeding anybody who does. They say giving Steven food only “encourages” him to be homeless. So on Tuesday night, I went on one of the soon-to-be-criminalized soup runs. I walked around the neon warrens of the West End – through the theatre-throngs, and past the fancy fashion stores – with two volunteers from the charity the Simon Community.
Cynthia Jameson and Mark Jones know by name all the homeless people they give soup, sandwiches and coffee to. They know their anxieties, their foibles, and their jokes. There’s Steven. There’s Greg, who believes he has discovered a cure for malaria, but the UN has stolen and destroyed it. There’s Andrew, shivering with heroin-withdrawal. There’s the Chinese man who can’t speak English but smiles with gratitude as he shovels five sugars into his tea. And, these days, there are new faces every time they come. Phil is a 27 year-old who has only been out on the streets for three weeks. “I worked in construction for twelve years, but this recession is so bad now there’s just no work,” he tells me. “I couldn’t pay my rent, so I got chucked out. I never thought this would happen to me. I’m so ashamed.” I tell him the Tory council believes he is “encouraged” here by the free food. He looks down at his sandwich and asks softly: “What planet are they on?”
The cop in charge of the for-profit Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has defended recent Met policing of protests in London:
Orde admitted that use of text messages, Twitter and Facebook to organise campaigns in record speed had created “a whole new dimension to public order”.
The Metropolitan police faced questions over its handling of violent student protests last December, but Orde defended the use of “hyper-kettling” – corralling activists into an area then decreasing the space – despite admitting that it could “interfere with the rights of citizens”.
“I can understand the need for it,” he admitted. “[It is done] for the greater good, and that’s the really complex part of policing.”
Orde admitted he feared protests could become more violent as public anger grew over government cuts. He claims that the use of horses to charge protesters was, when “proportionate”, a “very useful, effective tactic”.
It was certain an effective tactic at the last student tuition fees protest outside Parliament. An event which had by all accounts started more or less entirely peacefully became increasingly violent as a direct result of en entirely unnecessary horse charge. The real question is ‘the greater good’ for whom? Certainly not students, teenagers, young people from underprivileged backgrounds or protesters. It’s a strange position to take for someone who has voiced fears in the past about the police being seen as the violent agents of the status quo, and his position on kettling is downright alarming.
Orde, the head of Acpo, a limited company run by police chiefs, criticised the lack of willingness of new protest groups that have sprung up around the internet to engage with police before protests. He said if they continued to refuse to co-operate, then police tactics would have to become more extreme.
“It is not good enough to throw our hands up in the air and say ‘Oh, we can’t negotiate because there is no one to negotiate with,’” he told Prospect magazine in an interview published today. “There are lots of people we can talk to, but they need to stand up and lead their people too. If they don’t, we must be clear that the people who wish to demonstrate won’t engage, communicate or share what they intend to do with us, and so our policing tactics will have to be different … slightly more extreme.”
So what he’s saying is that if students refuse to engage with police who lie about their own tactics and intentions, then they’ll be…beaten pre-emptively around the head for no reason? The more things change…
We’re not even into the second calendar year of the ConDem coalition – you remember, the one which said it would do better than New Labour on civil liberties? – and already things are threatening to become far worse than at any point in that period. The Metropolitan Police, ever trigger and truncheon-happy, is now threatening to ban protests:
Asked at the press conference if the Met would consider banning future marches, Sir Paul replied: “That’s one of the options we have got. Banning is a very difficult step to take, these are very balanced judgments.
“We can’t ban a demonstration but we can ban a march, subject to approval by the Home Secretary.”
But he went on: “When you have got people willing to break the law in this way, what is the likelihood of them obeying an order not to march or complying with conditions on a demonstration?
“Sometimes putting that power in could just be inflaming the situation further.”
Strange, that. He seems not to understand that it’s his force which has already inflamed the situation further. That his force, embarrassed by poor planning but surprisingly good policing of the first student protest, has now embarked on a vendetta against this country’s children and young people. Pre-emptive kettling (and lying about it)? Check. Hitting children and young people (not to mention kettling them) for no reason at all? Check. Running contained protesters (and others) down? Check. Baitvans? Check. Giving protesters brain injuries, then trying to deny them medical assistance? Check. Banning further protests would of bloody course inflame the situation further. The fucking idiot should be trying to defuse the situation, not make it worse.
He said public buildings and monuments in London, such as the Cenotaph, could be boarded up to protect them during future demonstrations, as happened ahead of May Day protests in recent years.
Sir Paul conceded the events are stretching his force’s capabilities, saying: “When you are putting 3,000 people out, not just on one day but a significant number of days, the consequences of that for the rest of the organisation are quite clear.”
He said he is “very worried” about the knock-on effect on securing neighbourhoods and town centres as hundreds of officers are redeployed to Westminster.
Sir Paul said he did not want a “paramilitary model” of policing in Britain but admitted a fresh review is taking place of whether or not water cannon should be used against rioters.
“I do not want to engage in an arms race, a knee jerk reaction to thugs and hooligans who do not know how to behave when they are accompanied by an overwhelming number who want to demonstrate peacefully.
“I am most reluctant to move towards this but at the same time we should keep everything under review.”
This is the man who the other day said protesters were lucky they weren’t killed by the police that day. I don’t believe a police commissioner in any Western city should be using such language or even suggesting using additional weaponry on protests which have been wholly legitimate; angry but legitimate. Blaming angry students for grievances shared by many more people than just them, overexaggerating the violence, dismissing the violence of his own people and justifying the tactics his Commander Bob Broadhurst thinks makes sense for policing large scale protests in London; this is a return to G20 style policing without a large scale outcry. In this grudge match he no longer seems to feel the need to justify his thugs not wearing their ID badges:
Does someone have to die again before this continued abuse of their role stops? And why is most of the press complicit in it this time?
Can I just say WTF? How could a man with cerebral palsy ever have posed a threat to riot police? I’ve of course blogged earlier about Jody McIntyre and the police’s treatment of him on the #dayx3 student protest against the government’s policy to allow massive rises in university tuition fees, and am utterly shocked by Ben Brown’s behaviour – bias you’d normally expect from an Adam Boulton or a Kay Burnley. The video mostly speaks for itself, but McIntyre stands out particularly for destroying the establishment (ie. BBC) narrative on the protests, and with a grace not reciprocated by his accuser/interviewer. The BBC are still completely ignoring incidents like the attack on Alfie Meadows (and the Met’s appalling behaviour towards him afterwards) in favour of rewriting the student movement as an insurgent, ‘revolutionary’ attack on the state. For reasons known only to the BBC, they continue to report what the state gives them as fact, even when the state blatantly lies through its teeth to them. As I was reminded by John Pilger in the Q & A he gave after last night’s London screening of ‘The War You Don’t See‘, there are times that journalistic ‘neutrality’ is utterly ridiculous – in this instance there couldn’t be an equally valid alternative angle on the Met’s treatment of McIntyre. For Brown to push for one at the very least makes him and his employer look monstrously stupid, at worst it smacks of outright bias on his part.
Video of what happened to Jody McIntyre can be seen below:
In my opinion Brown is guilty of a serious breach of journalistic standards and should be held accountable for it. Suggesting McIntyre was in part responsible for student violence, and refusing to acknowledge police violence even when prompted by McIntyre to do so (and which he must have himself seen on the day), is pretty shocking. His appalling journalism across the entire #dayx3 protest story has thankfully been taken comprehensively apart by John Walker. Anyone who previously thought the BBC had any interest in challenging the state on anything should probably think again after this.
You can complain about Ben Brown’s treatment of McIntyre, if you’re minded to do so, here.
After the #dayx3 student protest, timed to coincide with the parliamentary vote to skyrocket university tuition fees, much was made in the UK press about the incident that evening involving Prince Charles and Camilla. Their Royal car had paint thrown at it and Camilla was allegedly ‘poked’ through the window by a protester. In response to that, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson allegedly offered his resignation:
According to the Sunday Times, Sir Paul Stephenson, Britain’s most senior cop, offered his resignation as Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, after the car carrying Charles and his wife was surrounded by protesters in central London last week.
Now we know that HRH, number two in a constitutional monarchy, has long had ideas on architecture, planning and whatever else swims into his appalled view – if not above his station, certainly beyond the parameters of his ‘above the fray’ non-political role. But even Charles clearly baulked at the idea that he should accept Sir Paul’s resignation.
The Met Commissioner is responsible to us, the people, through the Home Secretary. His grand-standing offer to go (he admitted to colleagues, apparently, that his resignation was unlikely to be accepted) was all of a piece with the fiasco that unfolded on Thursday during the student protests against the coalition Government’s trebling of tuition fees.
Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable that the boss of London’s police should offer to resign because the heir to the throne and his wife were a little bit upset! Why not offer to resign after his force killed Ian Tomlinson? He may not have been the Met’s boss at the time but why not resign after the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes? Robert Chesshyre goes on to add:
So the question should be: if Sir Paul is seriously thinking of quitting, ought it not to be for the consequences of failures by his force other than the upset experienced by the heir to the throne?
One student, 20-year-old Alfie Meadows, was allegedly struck so severely by a police baton that he fell unconscious and required emergency brain surgery.
That is bad enough. But the story emerging is far, far worse: that police officers prevented Alfie’s tutor summoning an ambulance; that when he finally did get to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, there was a stand-off because according to Alfie’s mother the hospital was treating injured police who didn’t want an obvious protestor, however badly hurt, treated in the same building.
Even in Afghanistan, coalition Medevac helicopters will remove injured Taliban fighters for treatment even in the heat of battle.
It was only – as Alfie’s mother, Susan Matthews, 55, herself a university lecturer and also on the demonstration reported – the intervention of an appalled ambulance man, who insisted that Alfie stayed put, that stopped him being driven away to another hospital with severe (and possibly fatal) consequences.
A senior nurse then took the stricken Alfie to a separate resuscitation room to keep him away from the police who found it “upsetting” to see protestors in the hospital.
As I’ve pointed out (and will continue to do so) the incident with Alfie was hardly an isolated incident, and it’s phenomenal that Stephenson should find it so easy to trivialise the brutal behaviour by his officers. I wasn’t at the demonstration, but I acknowledge that there was violence on both sides, however this is clearly a man who has his priorities all wrong. He’s willing to sacrifice his career to impress the heir to the throne, yet not in response to wanton, excessive violence by his uniformed thugs. Speaking of those uniformed thugs I am dumbstruck every time I hear them and their superiors complaining about the missiles thrown at them. Think this through – they have said they had snooker balls thrown at them. I know from my experience at demonstration at the Millbank Tower that the harder elements at that protest were throwing missiles, but can someone tell me why a) getting hit by a snooker ball when you have body armour on is a problem and b) how many students were likely to have gone out en masse to steal balls from snooker halls? Please. For that matter how the hell does a handful of snooker balls against riot cops merit indiscriminate attacks with batons against unarmed young people?
David Cameron has repeatedly invoked the concept of a ‘broken’ Britain; this is the surest example I’ve yet seen of one. And yes, Stephenson should go, but we all know he won’t.
George Osborne thought his smokescreen was working. It looked for a while like the people of Britain were going to accept the biggest cuts to public spending seen in the Western world in a century. He had, it seemed, delivered a sleight of hand that would impress even the most slippery magician.
The trick he’s been using to great effect is, though, an old one. It works something like this: in a crisis, people panic. They accept something big has to happen to solve it. But massive crises are complex, and a global economic collapse is particularly hard to understand – we aren’t taught the basics of economic history at school, we learn that these are matters for clever men in suits who use long words.
And so what George Osborne spotted is what right wing politicians around the world have known for the last 40 years: a disaster is a great time to radically change a country. From the privatisation of New Orleans’ schools after Katrina, to the corporate plunder of Iraq after the 2003 invasion, this trick is nothing new. Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine describes in detail how it has been used the world over.
There is a big problem. People understand this might require a big solution. And so they accept policies they would never normally countenance – policies not designed to solve the problem, but to radically change society in a way no one ever voted for.
And like this sleight of hand, Osborne’s “solutions” too are nothing new. The Conservative students I studied with at university – the generation who were born under Thatcher, and are now the researchers and aids to this government – were arguing for 30% spending cuts long before the recession. And their predecessors did too – in fact, in 1910, the Conservative Party brought down the Government rather than allow the people’s budget, the foundation of the welfare state, to pass. And they have used every opportunity since to rid this country of what they see as a dangerous socialist experiment.
And this “solution” is, of course, nothing of the sort. The idea that you solve a deficit caused by unemployment by cutting jobs is economically illiterate. Don’t take it from me – look at what is being said by the world’s leading economists, including most recent Nobel prize winners: Britain is embarking on a radical economic experiment which is not only un-necessary, but probably going to make the recession worse.
But because people have been taught that economics is too complex for us, many people seem to stop listening when you try and explain why the cuts are a bad idea. And I’ve tried lots of ways:
I’ve tried explaining that the Treasury’s debt really isn’t that big: it was bigger for most of the 20th century, and, compared to the size of our economy, is one of the lowest on earth.
I’ve tried to explain that most of the debt is owed to people in the UK: our pension funds buy government bonds. If, as the Tories predict, borrowing did get more expensive, that would just mean that Britain’s pension funds would get fatter – money the Treasury could tax back.
I’ve tried pointing out that the borrowing isn’t getting more expensive, but cheaper. And this is extra-ordinary. Before the election, the excuse that they gave for cutting public spending was that they believed we’d be punished by the bond markets if we didn’t: investors wouldn’t buy government bonds. They were wrong. What has actually happened is that investors have decided that they don’t want to risk buying shares in companies which might collapse, and so they have rushed to buy government bonds. As a result, borrowing is cheaper than it’s almost ever been. The reason they gave for cutting has evaporated. They were just plain and simple wrong.
And I’ve tried explaining the multiplier effect. The way out of a recession is to invest in jobs. Once you’ve created a job, that person buys stuff and pays taxes. The Tories like to compare the national economy to a household. But, when I buy stuff in the shop, I don’t get lots of the money back in tax. And I don’t get even more back in tax when the shopkeeper buys her stock or pays her staff. And again when the staff buy things, and so on. And so the way out of the recession is to look at the real problem – unemployment – and take advantage of record cheap borrowing, by investing. As Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz – former economist for both the World Bank and Bill Clinton – tells us, cutting now could well lead to higher long term debts.
I’ve pointed out that we tried this all before. Cutting spending to pay the debts of WW1 caused the great depression. Building the welfare state allowed us to build our way out of the debts left by WW2.
And I’ve reminded people that it wasn’t public spending which caused this crisis, but listening to crazy right wing ideologues like George Osborne who thought that we should shut down everything and hand our economy to the bankers.
And I’ve tried explaining that public services aren’t a cost to the economy but an investment in the civilisation which makes our economy possible. If we don’t invest in them now, we make our future economy less prosperous, and this will cost far more than our record cheap, very low debt.
And I’ve pointed out that the impending climate crisis means we urgently need to invest to create jobs building a new economy – this can’t wait, and the legacy we leave if we don’t will be unimaginable.
And I’ve tried many more arguments besides. And these arguments work – sometimes. A little discussion of why the great economists of our age think that George Osborne is either mad or bad or stupid often does leave people convinced.
But many turn off at the wiff of a discussion of economic theory. And you don’t get the chance to have that little conversation with everyone in Britain.
However, there is one more argument: one I haven’t yet mentioned, which doesn’t require so much explanation – an argument which convinces almost all who hear it. A fact so compelling that once shouted, it will echo throughout the country:
If the mega-rich who caused this crisis paid the same level of tax as you and me, we wouldn’t have a deficit.
And of course, all of these arguments are what the Labour Party would be explaining, if they were brave enough to challenge Britain’s entrenched corporate power. But they aren’t. And so, with the noble exception of our one Green MP, and a few on the Labour left, it it falls to us, the people, to make this case.
But that’s ok. It’s ok, because this is nothing new. Public services were won by social movements who shouted, and screamed, and withdrew their labour, and occupied, and built new political parties, and, yes, smashed windows. And it’s ok because the fact that they don’t teach economic history in school doesn’t mean that we don’t remember this lesson. It was our grandparents and our great grandparents who won a state pension, who invented the NHS and who built affordable council houses. That was their legacy to us.
And it’s ok because our thanks to them will be to use the technology that our parents with their state funded education invented for us, to organise a resistance to the Tories so strong that our children will never forget. Because the history of Britain is a history of ordinary people fighting the Tories to win a fair share of our country’s wealth and power.
And as UK Uncut have shown, it is not a history that our generation will soon forget. Because people are realising that George Osborne’s smoke screen stinks. And as we blow it away, we will have a chance to learn the lesson Osborne teaches us, and take the chance to work out, together, what kind of country we want to build from the ashes, and leave for our grandchildren. And, if nothing else, that’s worth fighting for.
Commander Bob Broadhurst, head of the Met’s Public Order Branch said: “We have seen groups of youths descending on the last few student protests as the day progresses, purely with the aim of using the event as a venue for violence and to attack police.
“It has been obvious that these particular elements are not genuine protesters and they have no intention of protesting about cuts to tuition fees or any other issue. They have turned up purely to take part in violence and disorder.
“We will work with all protesters who want to peacefully protest and we acknowledge and respect their right to do so, but I would warn them to be aware of this violent element, which could harm them and their cause.”
Mr Broadhurst called for parents to advise their children of the dangers of attending a protest as youngsters are more at risk if violence breaks out.
Check out every other occasion he’s made such predictions. Every single time Broadhurst has issued such a warning there has been no violence started by demonstrators, be they students or G20 protesters. Each time he’s simply made it up, and the time before last did everything in his power to get his TSG riot officers to incite violence. Fortunately last time the students (who no doubt will be suitably prepared this time as well) were on to him, and didn’t play ball; even the so-called ‘mass arrest’ late in the day (after the demo had already finished) was a stunt.
The last line is particularly chilling, considering how pre-emptively violent his Met officers have been to unarmed, non-violent children on their last two outings. His ridiculous weasel words about ‘working with protesters’ are particularly hollow, considering the tactics the Met tried (and failed) to implement on #dayx2. May the students continue to frustrate (and evade) the Met over the next couple of days, but more importantly continue to humiliate them. The more they can show the Met to be the tool of the state which is trying everything in its power to smash their movement, the more successful their movement will be.
Adam Ramsay offers a fantastic argument against education cuts (cross-posted from falseeconomy.org.uk):
Two days ago, I stood outside Oxford’s Cheney School as almost the entire sixth-form walked out of their classes. Their younger school-mates too had turned up that morning with placards and with marching shoes and with pre-prepared chants. But their teachers had threatened severe punishments if they joined the march.
The students complained that, as a result, there were “only” 200 of them. They marched into the city centre, and joined with 300 more school students from across Oxford before going on to occupy the county hall, shut down every bank in the city centre, and secure all of Oxfordshire’s front pages. And, of course, similar things happened across the country.
Today’s teenagers were written off as “the X box generation”. Day X has smashed that stereotype. What can have caused this? Well, it’s pretty simple. Chloe, one of the organisers from Cheney School, put it best: “Most people here come from ordinary backgrounds. We won’t be able to afford to go to university if they introduce these fees. I want to be able to go to university.”
The same, simple sentiment was expressed by those I saw kettled into Whitehall on Wednesday: “They’re taking our EMA away. How am I going to be able to finish my A-levels?”
And it was shared by the students I spoke to at the occupations of UCL, SOAS, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Oxford Universities. They use longer words, like “marketisation” and “neo-liberalism” but they mean the same thing – these cuts and fees and students debts will shut people out of their hopes and their dreams.
But there is also a basic economic problem with the massive cuts we are seeing to education. Because money spent on teaching doesn’t go into a black hole. Margaret Thatcher was famous for asset stripping – for “selling the family silver”. At the time, this meant selling physical assets – buildings, factories, whole industries.
But if the new economy is – as we are so often told – a knowledge economy, then these cuts are just a new kind of asset stripping: stripping a generation of the skills they will need to build new wealth, and a new society, from the ashes of the recession. The failure to invest in tomorrow is a classic way to destroy a company or a country. It is a failure that the government seems to be blundering into.
But it seems this generation has woken up to its plight. And, with Lib Dem MPs wobbling on fees, they might just have a victory in their sights.
Adam Ramsay blogs at Bright Green.