Austerity and Its Discontents

DISCLAIMER: The following article is the opinion of its author and does not represent the views of the People’s Assembly or of any political party

Envisaging a viable alternative, the beginning of a better future.  by Vince Lisle. (a first shot at blogging) 

So, I’m back here in the North East for the summer. After completing my hectic first year at University in Glasgow, I’m home. There is no greater pleasure than to reunite with friends, family and Mum’s famous ‘vegetable bean bake’. As much as vibrant Glasgow drew me in, with all the excitement the city has to offer, Newcastle’s unique culture and community will always make it genuinely special. Sadly though, this precious part of the country is under threat – as ruthless coalition cuts attack and devastate our society.

Government’s callous austerity drive has savaged public sector jobs; annihilated the arts budget and it continues to claw the heart out of the North East. George Osborne’s ham-fisted approach to ‘dealing with the deficit’ relentlessly hits working class communities here in the North the hardest. But sadly, this story of suffering is the same up and down the country. Local government budgets are butchered; jobs, wages, working conditions and social security come under continued assault. People face severe day-to-day hardship, all in the name of austerity and the need to ‘balance the nation’s books’.

What both the people of Newcastle and Glasgow sadly share is their deteriorating living standards, as a direct consequence of unjust government policies. The absurd ‘bedroom tax’ punishes the nation’s poor for needing state social housing support. The cuts to welfare castigate the unemployed, for the government’s own failings to create jobs and revive the economy. The blameless majority of people across the country are paying for the irresponsible greed of bankers and big business interests. And yet, government absolves these small guilty groups from blame or retribution. They continue to allow this undeserving minority at the top to accrue vast wealth at the rest of society’s expense. This government’s approach, in its attempts to ‘cut the deficit’, is unfair, misguided and, worst of all, it isn’t working!

The painful austerity unleashed over the last two years has failed to stimulate the economy. Growth has fallen, tax yields have diminished and the national debt has increased! As a nation, we are in a worse situation now than we were two years ago. Even the IMF has emphasised the need to change course to create demand in the stagnant economy. Yet,  last week, George Osborne’s spending review dished out a double dose of poisonous policies upon the population. An extra £11.5 billion further cuts were announced. It promised to throw away yet more jobs, slash already scarce local resources and eviscerate welfare protection. The first round of austerity has emphatically failed and pushed many people to the brink of despair. Rising numbers are resorting to food banks and unscrupulous payday loan sharks in order to feed their families. Yet, the coalition are cruelly and obstinately continuing down this path of austerity, with extra cuts disproportionately falling on the weak. The government continues to squeeze the vulnerable and powerless in society. But, it is clear that this eye-watering austerity isn’t working and that continued cuts clearly aren’t the cure.

Yet depressingly, despite the government’s flagrant failings, the Labour Party hasn’t offered any real hope or alternative. Labour leadership recently squeaked that, if they gain power, they will match the current government’s spending plans and preserve the planned cap on welfare. So, despite the painful social costs and contrary economic evidence, Labour’s bold opposition essentially amounts to offering more of the same! This heartbreaking reality, of no alternative and no end in sight, has left many people feeling angry and alienated. On hearing Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls openly commit to austerity on television, I felt completely powerless. There are doubtless many like me; people who would naturally be inclined to vote Labour – for fairness and social justice – now feeling apathetic and voiceless.

Worst of all, this lack of credible opposition appears to have enabled the Tories to defend their egregious cuts. They propagate the myth that spending cuts are necessary to tackle ‘the mess’ left behind after years of Labour profligacy. The idea that draconian fiscal consolidation is the only solution has gradually been allowed to permeate through wider society. Austerity, it seems, has almost become begrudgingly accepted, as spurious claims coming out of government and mendacious right-wing media suggest that these harsh cuts are the only solution. But, this just isn’t true!

Now we have the three main parties endorsing austerity, with the growing inequality and misery it causes. Yet, there are other sensible options that our politicians bluntly fail to pursue. With a different approach and different policies, a fairer and more efficient society for everyone is possible. Other more equal and successful countries around the world provide real evidence of an alternative to these unnecessary cuts. We should hope and aim for better. We need not settle for this. But tragically, it seems there aren’t enough people advancing this position or fighting for it. Myths, fathomed by the elites, are widely left unchallenged. The pessimistic public are deceived and fed lies. Consequently, these ideas spread through a dejected society. This grim situation results in ever growing despondency, hopelessness and widening inequalities.

Yet, there is still hope of a better future. Whilst browsing a newspaper last week, my eyes fortuitously fell upon Owen Jones’ article about the People’s Assembly. Despondent and desperate to engage, this article really chimed with my own response to the growing injustice in the U.K. The article described a new movement, the People’s Assembly, that aims to promote fairness, bring people together and provide real opposition to these cruel cuts. So, with nothing to lose, I bit the bullet and attended the local meeting of the People’s Assembly in Newcastle.

My waffling rant you have endured in the preceding paragraphs (if anyone is still reading that is, for which I am truly grateful – please persevere!) is something that I just had to get off my chest. You probably knew it all too well already. But, in attending the assembly, I was so pleased to meet with so many people who felt much the same. People who aren’t  prepared to passively accept the current state of society. Despite the calamitous consequences of the cuts, in fracturing communities and alienating people, I found that people could still unite together. I discovered that individuals and organisations affected by the cuts who are fighting back with various campaigns. The opposition to the cruel bedroom tax and the absurd and devious attempts by the Tories to privatise the NHS. This gave me hope – to become part of something that aims for real change. The People’s Assembly has brought together the people who are unwilling to sit and suffer austerity, and most importantly, who realise that there is an alternative!

So, we (those reading this are probably already part of the People’s Assembly movement) know that these cuts aren’t fair and that this isn’t the only option. But now we need to spread the truth and the anti-austerity message. We need to spread this hope. We need to loudly oppose and destroy the Tory lies about the deficit and welfare which strangle our society. The poor are not to blame! We need to be active and visible on a variety of platforms to show people that this widening inequality is not inevitable – that change is possible.

Ideas, and spreading them, is crucial. Working with existing structures and movements is very important. I was heartened to observe the diversity at the North East meeting. Members of different unions, political movements and parties all come together in opposition to austerity. This unity is vital. The People’s Assembly should not only be a way to gain support for these important individual causes and campaigns. It should be the main stage in its own right. I believe this movement has the potential to fuse these interests and make a real impact upon U.K politics – if we believe in it. If the populist UKIP can gain such influence (by exploiting people’s misery) then surely we, by outlining the real cause of people’s pain and offering  real alternatives, can make a serious political impact. So, we must encourage our friends, colleagues and other union and party members to join the community. We shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed about believing in a fairer society. We need to overcome this pessimism and apathy. It is vital that we champion campaigns and fight on these important issues, such as the bedroom tax, where we really can potentially make a difference now. But, we need to come up with a national strategy and keep working towards the broad goal of a fundamental transformation in society to make it fairer for all.

(I’m nearly done I promise…) Our focus should be to communicate, educate and spread our perspective to change the misinformed public attitude. It shouldn’t be just about blame, but about ideas and change. (Tory-bashing  has a cathartic effect, but it only gets us so far and this is a broader global problem). We must alter pessimistic public opinion in order to bring about widespread support for the necessary political change. We need to keep repeating our message and making our case for a fairer society: Over and over, again and again, as loudly and clearly as possible and not stop! We need to use all our links and become visible on many stages – campaigning and organising unwaveringly. Most importantly, we must come together, stay strong and sustain the necessary political resolve in order to shape our own future.

So, this is why I’m attempting to write this blog now, which I’ve been putting off for some time. I’m clearly not much good at it (so thank you for sticking with it!), and there are many who say these things better and more clearly – like the People’s Assembly champions: Owen Jones and Mark Steel. But, above all, I believe it is crucial that we communicate, spread these ideas, let them grow and build a strong community. Blogging is a brilliant way to do this, and a way in which hopefully I can make a difference. Normally in your first blog post you should probably address what you will be blogging about in the future – I’m not sure yet. But, hopefully I can have the balls to do this again, get better at it and watch this movement grow. It is really important for our societies and our future that we do everything we can to ensure that it does. So, I’ll be attending the next meeting in Durham on the 12th of July. Hopefully I’ll see you, and many more new faces, there. So: Hopers of the world, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your despair! (…sorry, couldn’t resist).

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2 Responses to Austerity and Its Discontents

  1. Beautifully put! I attended the People’s Assembly in London and was encouraged by the solidarity between so many people of so many different backgrounds. It also gave me hope that an alternative is possible. I think you’ve come up with a cracking slogan, there, too!

  2. paurina says:

    Great blog, well done. Just one point – yes, UKIP have made massive strides in popularity, but why is that? well, you only have to turn on to BBC or read some of the more popular (populist) ‘newspapers’ to get some idea why. The really huge obstacle faced by the People’s Assembly and others, and to getting the word out there to the people – who are all (whether they realise it or not) negatively affected by the politicians’ lies, deception and horrendously cruel (and selfish) policies – is the really efficient and effective propaganda machine owned and managed by the rich. Somehow we have to overcome this powerful tool used to great effect by politicians and others.

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