When the principles and aims of the anti-austerity left are often purposely manipulated, warped and discredited by the time they reach the mainstream – it has been encouraging to see figures of influence take a stand lately and publicly voice their disillusionment with our current political system.
Russell Brand, during his sudden burst of political relevancy, managed to use his celebrity and popular appeal to push left wing arguments onto a growing following of intrigued youth, with his brutally honest Question Time performance dominating social media traffic for the night that it aired. Actors Emma Thompson and Greg Wise took a practical stand against our culture of banker privilege when they refused to pay tax in the wake of the HSBC tax evasion scandal, and the HMRC’s subsequent refusal to carry out a criminal investigation. Even more recently, Charlotte Church – the soprano vocalist with the “voice of an angel” – has found herself on the picket line, addressing anti-austerity rallies and being ushered onto media platforms as the latest darling of the left.
However, following the mass demonstrations that took place outside the Tory party conference this weekend – Charlotte Church has taken it upon herself to act as an apologist and has somehow cemented herself as the spokesperson of the march, promising to “…write an open letter on behalf of the majority of people who were protesting that day just to say we are really sorry” for those who chanted “scum” (which Church would “never have called anybody”) as Tory officials entered the conference, and for those who spat on journalists.
There were several other instances in Manchester this weekend that the mainstream media have chose to focus on. Disability campaigners threw plastic balls at Boris Johnson as he walked into the conference and a Tory youth activist was egged. Remember: here in Scotland, we all saw the media storm that was created when a high profile right winger had an egg thrown at him in Kirkcaldy during the referendum campaign.
It’s no surprise, that on a day when 100,000 people took to the streets to protest against their own government, the headline stories across mainstream media are all centred around the actions of a minority at the demonstration. The main points have been entirely missed, and this again highlights the constant spin of the right wing media, and it’s ability to divert the public’s attention away from the real issues. Those of us on the left should really be aware that such manoeuvres are simply distraction techniques. What we need to do is focus less on writing open letters of apology, spurred on by media pressure, and carry on with organising against this government.
What has been missing from many of the headlines is outcry at the disgusting tax credit cuts that Cameron has just announced are still going ahead, despite all of the controversy. The IFS has stated that these cuts will result in 13 million families losing an average of £240 a year, and a further 3 million losing £1,000 or more, when they come into effect in April. Jeremy Hunt, in defence of the scheme, argued that they will encourage people to work harder. How more out of touch can these people get?
The Tories and their sycophantic cheerleaders are peddling the myth that the introduction of a “national living wage”, and improved access to free childcare, will balance out the effects of the tax credit cuts. They’ve conveniently forgotten that the cuts have been rolling out since 2010, whilst the living wage will not come into full effect until 2020.
If we take this argument at face value – then what are those who are detrimentally affected by this scheme supposed to do for the next four years? Advocates of the “national living wage” act like it is the saving grace that will soften the blow. So what, then, are we left with? Four years of The Hunger Games, whereby those who survive this testing period can claim their reward – a £9 per hour wage?
In light of this ideologically driven attack on the poor; we have individuals with life limiting conditions who are the subjects of a state driven persecution, some of whom are likely to have scraped together what’s left of their scant finances to travel to Manchester – just to get the opportunity to throw some plastic balls at the very oppressors who have made some of their lives unbearable. Many of them exist in a constant state of fear; wondering where the next attack is going to come from, and how the next batch of cuts are going to affect them.
In all honesty, isn’t it a very sad state of affairs when the only resistance and fightback that many people have is to throw eggs and balls, or occasionally chant scum, at a group of untouchable politicians who live in something of an ivory tower – far away from the pain, anguish and suffering that has been unleashed on ordinary people below them – many of whom have extraordinary needs.
Spitting, throwing balls, hitting people with eggs, shouting scum… all of these acts that the media use to evoke hysteria, are – in essence – outlets of working class anger and frustration. This poses the question: can we condemn people for actions like this, when many of them are on the brink of desperation?
Perhaps what those who are quick to judge the desperate actions of protestors should remember is the amount of blood that covers the hands of this Tory government. Let’s remember the stories of those who have suffered directly from the brutal, draconian policies of the state: Mark Wood, a 44 year old man who starved to death four months after his sickness benefits were taken away, weighed just 5st 8lbs when he died. He had been living on £40 a week. Jacqueline Harris, a 53 year old former nurse who had severe difficulty walking, was also found fit for work and subsequently took her own life as a result. Stories like this are far too common: we could go on. The DWP’s own figures show that between December 2011 and February 2014, an average of 90 people per month died within two weeks of having their ESA benefits sanctioned.
If the left starts to condemn people for throwing eggs – what do we then say about those who smashed up Millbank? What about those who occupy city council buildings? Rather than castigate people for their reactions, perhaps we should begin to question why they are attempting to fight back – and look at the conditions that people are forced to endure under the brutality of this regime.
For the record, here’s the dictionary definition of the word “scum” – “…a worthless or contemptible person or group of people”.