James Luchte writes on the practical and impassioned genesis of the Anti-Austerity movement in the UK.
Necessity is the mother of invention.'
The disaster of austerity is well known, theoretically and in practice. In an era of inequality the welfare state is under attack and the Coalition Government gives tax cuts to the wealthy and cuts benefits to the poor: zero hour contracts, persistently high unemployment and an intensification of privatisation – all in the name of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’.
With the decisive victory of Syriza in the Greek elections in January, the half decade narrative of fiscal conservatism – austerity – has been challenged with a simple message from Alexis Tsipras, the new Prime Minister of Greece:
Austerity has proven to be an economic and social catastrophe. A catastrophe for democracy. Austerity is the crisis itself – it is not the solution to the crisis.
In other words, austerity is a false solution to a manufactured problem which punishes the poor for the mistakes of the rich.
A week before the Greek Syriza success on 25 January, the alternative voices of the Anti-Austerity UK Alliance of Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and The Green Party had won inclusion in the UK Leaders Debates for the 2015 General Election. Leanne Wood recently contended that austerity is ‘ideological’, ‘not inevitable’ and has been a ‘disaster’ for Wales. She has also warned that everyone must respect the will of the Greek people.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland (SNP) echoed Leanne Wood in her recent and excellently timed speech on austerity in which she stated, ‘Austerity economics is morally unjustifiable and economically unsustainable’.
Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton, has also attacked austerity:
It wasn’t the poor who caused the economic crisis. It wasn’t the people on job seeker’s allowance who brought down the banks. It wasn’t people with disabilities who wasted billions speculating on risky financial markets. That’s why we say, ‘Stop punishing the poor!’
In 2012, Ed Miliband called for a European-wide anti-austerity movement. This was two years into a brutal Coalition Government and there had already been several years of economically provoked protests, the intensity of which only increased with the ascension of Tory austerity policy, which was propped up by the Liberal Democrats.
For Miliband, a Syriza-type movement was already possible in 2012, one which had already met recent success in Latin America through a coalescence of mass movements on the streets and electoral representation in government in recent years.
Miliband – despite the widespread suffering of thousands of vulnerable people – inexplicably chose to abandon this path, leaving the vibrant anti-austerity movements such as the People’s Assembly, Occupy Britain, and the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts, in the lurch.
Without any credible opportunity for political expression beyond street protests, routinely ignored by the media and Westminster parties, the protests soon became less frequent, although they did not disappear entirely. It was even said in the media – which had done nothing to promote the movement – that Occupy was dead. Despite the severe reality for most families and the evidence of leading economists, there is simply an irrational consensus that austerity must continue, exacerbated by no meaningful opposition in Parliament.
In this light, we come back to ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, the words of an early Greek philosopher. Shortly after the near miss of the Scottish referendum (but as Leanne Wood has it, the beginning of the ‘democratic revolution’) the Anti-Austerity UK Alliance arose out of such necessity and from the desperate urgency of our people for an alternative to the four shades of austerity grey: Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP.
The Anti-Austerity UK Alliance provides the only credible alternative to Tory policy, which has been adopted by Labour and supported by the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, with the final failure of Miliband and the Labour Party to protect the interests of the people in the recent vote for £30billion in fresh cuts, the vote for the renewal of Trident, and their abstention from the vote on fracking, the Anti-Austerity UK Alliance has become the last, best hope for the survival and enhancement of the post-WWII ‘social contract’, and therefore, of the welfare state.
The Anti-Austerity UK Alliance, holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, will put an end to austerity. With the ominous threat of TTIP to the UK, it is more important now than ever to have a government that will protect the people and the integrity of our ever evolving democracy.
Dr James Luchte is a scholar, author, and an Ambassador for Plaid Cymru. He is also Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.
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