Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s London mayoral candidate for 2012 explains why she’s going:
I’m appalled at the damage being done to our society; the Government’s assault on our cultural life with the closure of libraries and cuts to art and film funding, and the way a whole generation of young people are having their ambitions squashed by a combination of cuts to EMA, a reduction in university places and rising tuition fees, is all quite terrifying and unfair.
Above all on the cuts agenda, I’m horrified at the perfect storm that the Government is about to unleash in London, with poorer Londoners suffering the consequences of housing shortages, a guillotine-like execution of housing benefit provision, and the drying up of funds to build social, rented housing for people earning below the average wage. This could result in the social cleansing of London, driving poorer residents out of their homes, away from their friends and relations, and into outer London boroughs that won’t want them.
I couldn’t agree more. I also couldn’t agree more with her further point:
I’m marching because I believe that the deficit is being used as an excuse for the coalition to do what Conservative governments always enjoy doing – creating small government by cutting and privatising public services.
There is money to bail out Ireland. There has been no action taken against the bankers who got us into this mess in the first place. There is a narrative being pushed that although they were responsible, they can’t under any circumstances be pressed into taking responsibility for it – the poor can and should. After all the Big Society will take care of them (except the funding needed for that is being forcibly removed too). As of yesterday small businesses can fire pregnant women or gay men and get away with it, and hey – like movies like ‘The King’s Speech’ or the excellent indie production ‘Submarine’? No more UK Film Council either – regulations and government agencies are all ‘wasteful’, as apparently is spending money on teaching in universities.
It’s time to start standing up against this assault on the economy and British public life – Jenny Jones is right when she says what the coalition is doing is ideological. Fight back, and enjoy this satirical take on just this point:
Portraying investment banks as a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, a new animation from The Great Transition campaign of nef (the new economics foundation) is launched today, Monday 6 December, aimed at increasing public pressure on government to take on the banks and not sweep the issue under the carpet.
The animation ask politicians if they have a plan to tame the banks, and if not, why not?
The one minute animation is backed by a wide range of influential pressure groups including: Compass, ResPublica, 38 Degrees, World Development Movement, Tax Research and the Post Bank campaign. The animation is part of the fast-growing counterweight to the power of the banks and is launched the day before the Eric Cantona-inspired run on the banks (bankrun2010), that has seen grassroots public campaigns spring-up in 15 nations.
Andrew Simms, Policy Director at nef said: “Who is afraid of the big, bonus-driven banks? The Coalition government it would seem. Why else, just two years after the biggest bail-out in history, are the unreformed banks still in trouble? Big investment banks were compared to giant vampire squids, wrapped around the face of humanity, feeding on anything that smells like money. Now massive spending cuts follow in their wake. The government lack a plan to tame them, and seem to wish the problem would just go away. That’s why we’ve brought the vampire squid compellingly to life to jog their memory, and ensure that no one can forget the need for urgent reform. We have a plan to take back our banks for the benefit of the public and the wider economy, where is theirs?”
Tony Greenham, head of nef’s Finance and Business programme added: “The bankers claim they earn their bonuses through creating wealth, but the reality is that modern banking is more about extracting wealth from the real economy than doing anything socially useful. We can’t go on like this; it’s time to take back the banks for the public good and not allow our politicians to be bought off with a few grudging concessions from the banking elite.”
As public services pay the price for massive private-sector failure, there is little sign that government is prepared to stand up to the banks that played such a central role in the crisis:
- Nearly £7 billion will be paid out in City bonuses this year.[i]
- £7 billion is more than the first wave of public spending cuts, and the amount the UK has committed to propping up failing Irish banks as part of the Irish bail-out package.
- Attempts to change bad bonus behaviour with a levy failed according to former Chancellor Alastair Darling, and there are already signs that the banks are preparing to return to business-as-usual on bonuses eschewing measures designed to diffuse public anger.
- We’re told that there’s no alternative to huge public spending cuts in the wake of the crisis-driven recession. Yet, add together all the taxes in the UK that go unpaid, evaded or avoided and you come to a figure of £120 billion.[ii] A vigorous effort to collect even a share of that would completely change the debate. Yet the banks, and the accountants and lawyers that win lucrative business from them, are busy finding ever more ingenious ways to help their clients pay their fair share of tax.
Gary Younge is right when he says that the students won’t likely embody a deep rebellion against the government’s austerity cuts, but they sure could inspire one:
So while it’s true that others have it worse than students, it also entirely misses the point. Protesting against tuition fees is not a sectional interest. For most, student years mark a transition from youth to adulthood, which means the burden for these increases do not just fall on individuals but families – who will already be suffering from the crisis in others ways. Thatcher’s cuts blighted isolated communities, whether they were pit villages or northern cities. These attacks are not just deeper but broader. Clearly, how students’ resistance to these cuts pans out will have ramifications for successful opposition to the entire austerity programme. That is reason enough to deserve our support.
But while students can be the spark for the broader struggles ahead, history tells us that they are unlikely to be the flame itself. Students and the young might be the most likely to protest, but they are among the least likely to vote – if indeed they are even eligible to vote – and cannot withdraw their labour to any devastating effect. McCain’s stand gave courage to the sharecroppers and domestic workers; the French students in 1968 bolstered the confidence of factory workers. The threat British students pose – much like the financial crisis bringing them on to the streets – is of contagion. That their energy, enthusiasm, militancy, rage and raucousness might burn in us all.
As the video shows, the student rebellion is succeeding in drawing wider consciousness to the double standard the ConDem coalition doesn’t want you to know about. On the one hand they’re happy to more than triple the debt students are expected to carry merely to get themselves educated (whilst making it nigh impossible for much poorer students to do so at all), on the other they’re as indifferent as ever to tax avoidance by business magnates and corporations. If they can keep demonstrating how ideological the cuts agenda is across society – not just to their interests – Younge could turn out to be right.
These protests are labelled ‘fascist’ by some – a charge which makes no sense to me. Most of the country voted against this in May, and protest is an entirely legitimate (and protected) tactic available influence public opinion and government policy. Younge argues:
This is all too easy to dismiss and disparage as a toxic cocktail of naivety and privilege. Such sleights are flawed. First, in Britain at least, the notion of students as a wealthy strata on a three-year hiatus from real life is outdated. A third of students in higher education are from working-class or lower-middle-class backgrounds, and work during term time to pay for basic needs and books and equipment. Just under one in five of those with jobs works more than 17 hours a week. One in five lives at home. Add further education and school students into the mix and you have a demographic that looks more like the characters in The Office than Brideshead Revisited.
Second, even if they were middle class, so what? Beating up on the middle-class does not help the working-class. Indeed, by eliminating the notion that education is a public good you eradicate the primary means by which working-class people can better themselves. They are not just an attack on finances, but on aspiration.
It can never be pointed out too often – if only because it is so frequently ignored – that this situation was not created by excessive public spending but by an international banking crisis brought about by an unregulated binge in the private sector. In a sordid redistribution of wealth from poor to rich, working-class kids will be denied the possibility of a university education because wealthy traders were in denial about economic reality.
I don’t think it’s just students who get this. Lib Dem ministers may toe the coalition line and refuse to talk about the bankers or debt, but the moment the equation gets embraced by the wider middle class (for it is they who determine election outcomes still) they have a serious problem. I do hope so.
No, not him.
The Robin Hood tax is something quite different. To use the campaign’s own words:
The Robin Hood Tax is a tiny tax on bankers that would raise billions to tackle poverty and climate change, at home and abroad.
By taking an average of 0.05% from speculative banking transactions, hundreds of billions of pounds would be raised every year.
That’s easily enough to stop cuts in crucial public services in the UK, and to help fight global poverty and climate change.
So by basically levying a charge on banking transactions which aren’t even needed and which don’t benefit a soul, we could in a stroke remove the need for slashing public services, decimating higher education, and cutting investment in our infrastructure just at the time we need it most. Can someone give me a very good reason why this hasn’t already happened?
Josef Stiglitz thinks it’s doable, but others disagree. David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce thinks:
“It may have potential. I’m not sure it’s the most appropriate thing. I think the main argument against it is that it’s most unlikely to be implemented globally. If a tax could be applied it would have beneficial effects … My reservation is that for the UK to engage in this unilaterally would be a very dangerous thing to do because it would destroy the country’s financial sector. People and businesses would migrate to other places. If the US and big European countries implemented it as well then it would not harm our financial sector as much.”
Any other economists, armchair or actual, who want to have a go at explaining why this shouldn’t happen? It seems unthinkable that the idea shouldn’t take off in some way, particularly considering the political capital to be made out there from the anger which persists against bankers. In the run-up to a general election where both the main parties are trying to outdo one another at brutalising the public sector (ironic when our financial woes were caused by the private sector), hopefully the campaign (which had a briefing today in the House of Commons) will gain traction.