On Sunday, the Conservative Party Conference starts in Manchester. And it’s the day that the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, with the TUC, is organising a protest march against the Tory government’s policies. This is a chance for the North (and people prepared to travel from the rest of the country) to deliver a message about the approach taken by the Conservative government since its surprise election in May.
It clearly needs that message, since for a party that won the support of less than a quarter of eligible voters, or even if viewed charitably, the support of 37% of those who chose to vote, it has been tearing ahead with a range of extreme measure. Those range from the human-rights-attacking Trade Union Bill to a concerted attack on the renewable energy industry, from slashing even further already inadequate benefits for low-paid workers to softening up on the bankers even while the fraud-ridden, corrupt sector continues to present a threat to all of our economic futures.
This, while our Conservative government’s presiding over a so-called economic recovery built on consumer debt and a housing price bubble in the South East (nothing can go wrong there then, we know from experience), and failing to rebalance the economy towards making goods and growing food, the rebalancing that we desperately need.
Unsurprisingly, as I travel the country, I’ve seen anger about its approach, about a government that’s further promoting the interests of the 1% of the richest at the cost of the rest of us, while ignoring the need to act on the critical global issue of climate change – indeed actively suppressing our renewable energy industry and pulling the rug out from under small businesses and community projects while funding the interests of its friends in the oil and gas industries.
It was in Sheffield, only 10 days after the election, that I first saw the signs of a growing resistance to the Conservative plans, a groundswell that has grown and developed in the months since.
A hastily-organised anti-austerity march then drew more than 1,000 people, and had representation from a wide range of organisations. There wasn’t just the brilliant 999 Call for the NHS, protesting the privatisation of our great national asset, and anti-eviction housing campaigns, and groups calling for a fair, humane immigration policy, but also young teachers and trainee teachers, resisting the turning of our schools into exam factories.
That’s clearly the view of more and more people around the country. The Tory government doesn’t have a mandate for its actions, it was elected through a 19th-century electoral system that’s entirely passed its replace-by date, it is impoverishing much of the country for the benefit of the few, its economic plan isn’t working even in its own terms.
There will be a chance next May to express a view about that in fair, proportional elections in Wales and Scotland, in London, and in local council elections, but the chances of this government listening are slight.
Taking to the streets, people expressing their view about the exploitation of the many by the few, about the failures of our current politics, is an essential step towards real political change – the hunger for which was shown by the green surge that’s seen Green Party membership more than treble in a year and us win 1.1 million votes in the general election, and the comprehensive victory by a left-positioned SNP against rightwing Labour in the general election in Scotland.
Judging from the response I saw at a preparatory meeting, again in Sheffield, this week, the march in Manchester on Sunday is going to be big. It’s building on the huge anti-austerity marches in June, on the massive outpouring of support for the Refugees Welcome marches last month. This is a movement that’s growing fast – people are increasingly grasping that politics should be something you do, not that’s done to you.
Sunday’s part of a series of events linked to the Tory conference – I’m particularly looking forward to the People’s Post rally on Monday night – so if you can’t make it on the Sunday, please come along another day.
Keeping up the pressure is important – the government’s ideology that can be traced back in a direct line to Margaret Thatcher is clearly on its last legs. It will fall with David Cameron and his narrow majority of 12 in the Commons.
You can help make that happen before 2020. For the sake of our economy, our society and the planet it needs to happen before 2020.
I hope to see you in Manchester.