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LAST Saturday an estimated 50,000 people marched from Portland Place, adjacent to the BBC London studios, to Parliament Square.
On a glorious midsummer’s day we were protesting about austerity and the call for an alternative.
Numerous speakers at the rally challenged the need for cuts in welfare state spending, privatisation within the NHS, the treatment of those with disability, the scapegoating of migrants and asylum seekers, and the continued attack on a young generation who are suffering unemployment, underemployment and zero-hours contracts and desperately low wages.
The speakers ranged in age from teenagers to older people, and showed a unity and breadth of a political alternative in Britain which is not represented by any part of the coalition government, and only to some extent by Labour in Parliament.
The media reporting of this event was fairly limited but it did get coverage on ITV, Channel 4 and on international channels.
The BBC gave it no coverage whatsoever, until the following day when it showed a very poor-quality short video of some of the march in response to the thousands of tweet messages it got as to why it hadn’t covered it.
The reality is that most of the media only want to report political debate in terms of studio discussions, party leaders’ speeches, or sometimes what is happening in Parliament.
They never want to report trade union action — except in a negative light — or marches and demonstrations that challenge the comfort of acceptance of the economic narrative of austerity.
In a remarkably supercilious article by William Foxton in the New Statesman on June 23 he claimed there was no organised media blackout just that demonstrations aren’t much of a story.
Many would disagree with Foxton who went on to claim that the numbers were not as big as was claimed and that the left had an obsession about demonstrations, denying there is a conspiracy of silence.
Foxton’s dismissal of the role of protests and an alternative voice completely ignores the way in which social progress and change has come about in Britain.
On the basis of his dismissal of tens of thousands marching in London I assume he would dismiss the civil rights marches in the US in the 1960s, the anti-apartheid demonstrations that helped defeat the racist South African regime and the protests in the Arab world that brought down several regimes.
He needs to be sent on a course on the history of popular protest.
We’re in the midst of a media blackout on the alternatives to austerity in that most newspapers happily report that the economy is “growing.”
There are vast numbers of “new jobs” created and Britain is an economic “success.”
The reality is that very large numbers of public-sector jobs have been destroyed and replaced by zero-hours contract work in the private sector, and more and more people are dependent on the minimum wage, which has to be topped up by benefits as it falls below subsistence levels.
At the same time there is an unprecedented media interest in allegations of benefit scrounging and the apparent lifestyle choice of people to survive on DWP benefits rather than working.
Any self-respecting journalist would look at the increased levels of poverty, homelessness and numbers of people who are under Department of Work and Pensions sanctions at any one time, and thus receiving no income at all.
The other nastier side of this new supposed consensus is for there to be a constant attack on all migrants and asylum-seekers, as though
they are the cause of the economic difficulties faced.
Ukip has been reaping the benefits of this and the best way to challenge it is to demand higher wages and investment, particularly in housing, to reduce the levels of unemployment.
The anti-austerity march, if the media had bothered to report it, included many calls for proper taxation of the biggest businesses such as Vodaphone and Starbucks, and a real attack on inequality in Britain.
We will keep on marching.
There was great sadness about Gerry Conlon’s death last Saturday.
He was arrested as a young man in 1974 and forced into confessing to a crime that he did not commit. Alongside Carole Richardson, Paddy Armstrong and Paul Hill, Gerry lost 15 years of his life in prison.
He also went through the trauma of having his father die of cancer while he too was falsely imprisoned.
I got to know Gerry through prison visiting and campaigning for the Guildford Four. When he came out he was like the others, suffering post-traumatic stress, and this gave him huge problems in life.
Nevertheless he campaigned for the justice and freedom of others. By his work and that of so many others who suffered grave miscarriages of justice, we have an example of what can be achieved in the face of overwhelming odds.
Rest in peace Gerry.
THE Institute of Public Policy research produced an interesting book last week called The Condition of Britain, which opens with a very promising statement.
“Our overarching goal for society should be greater equality of social relations. We seek a society in which people relate to each other as free and equal citizens, and in which unjust hierarchies of power, esteem and standing are progressively overcome.
“This broadens the centre-left’s commitment to equality beyond purely distributional concerns, although these remain vital.”
Further in, the book makes some very effective and strong points such as the need to build more than 250,000 new homes per year, pointing out that under the last Labour government the best it managed was 190,000, and that bad housing is a cause of many problems.
The report quite rightly challenges Iain Duncan Smith and his “broken Britain” ideas from before the last election, and goes on to call for three pillars of a stronger society.
These are: first, spreading power and responsibility; second, fostering contribution to society and reciprocity; and the third, strengthening of shared institutions.
The book is written much in the style of the 1942 Beveridge Report and has more than a passing resemblance to the late John Smith’s Commission for Social Justice of 1993.
Ed Miliband was invited to launch the report and in his speech decided to emphasise the idea of increased targeting of benefits for young people and linking benefits to jobseeking. This was spun as making a potential saving of £65 million a year which in reality means taking £65m from young people.
It is more than regrettable that the concept of 18 being the age of adulthood is being undermined by removing their means for independent existence, and that young people need to be threatened with penalties rather than offered incentives.
The welfare state as a concept is fundamentally a socialist idea that the role of the community is to care for everyone in the same way as the health service does. It should prevent anyone from falling into destitution. However proposals for yet more means testing and sanctions will increase poverty.
Other parts of Miliband’s proposals are very welcome, particularly for increased house-building, and support for parental leave and universal access to nursery and pre-school education.
But poverty, made worse by the cuts in public expenditure, should not be looked at within the isolation of the DWP budget.
Defeating the coalition government in 2015 will not be easy, but it will be made far more probable by a policy alternative of hope and sharing rather than blaming and cuts.
Austerity is a political tool to advance the right in Britain, as in every other country, and promising more of it will not win votes for Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North.
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