Last weekend saw various marches and demonstrations across the UK against the Tory government’s further austerity plans. Pretty substantial ones in London and Glasgow by all accounts. All very good in a way, but what does it achieve? Richard Seymour has a very good, short piece on his Lenin’s Tomb blog on this, which you can read here. I am very much in agreement with Richard on this. Opposing austerity is relatively speaking easy. Write a few letters or articles, blog away about how nasty and self-defeating austerity is, and of course go on any number of marches and demonstrations. However stopping austerity is an altogether harder nut to crack.
The big problem is that the battle against austerity was lost decades ago. Ironically, as Simon Wren-Lewis points out, the one place were the austerity bandwagon has failed is in the economics profession. See this article for details of how the academic world views austerity. Alas, the same cannot be said for the world of politics and public opinion. The austerians have successfully won the battle of public opinion. The majority of people agree that the two Ds – debt and the deficit – pose a real and existential threat to the survival of our country. The image of the UK as a big family which has overspent and misspent on its credit card has struck a chord with most people. The fact that this is economic illiteracy is irrelevant. This view, backed up by just about all of our media has almost obliterated alternative views.
In this task, the right has been immeasurably helped by the complete failure of the both Labour and the LibDems to mount any kind of sustained opposition to the “austerity is needed to save our country” message from the Tories and their allies. Even worse, these two parties have either explicitly or implicitly acknowledged the key message that some degree of austerity is necessary. If all you have to offer is austerity lite, you might as well vote for the real thing and get it over with.
This is the real challenge which faces the left across the UK, and in the rest of Europe it must be said. We urgently need to find ways to challenge and replace the dominant neo-liberal consensus in the media, the mainstream political parties and most of all with the public. While the odd march and demonstration will continue to play their part in this, the real work needs to be done elsewhere. The various strands on the left, including the Greens and the SNP, Plaid etc, need to develop an alternative story as to how we got into this mess and how to get out of it. The ingredients are there – financial deregulation and the over mighty power of banks and other financial institutions for one. However as yet no simple to convey and simple to understand alternative story has made it regularly into the media and into popular perception.
It would be good if the Labour party were to become part of this counter attack on austerity. But the omens are not good. Previous Labour governments did little or nothing to anticipate or prevent the crash. Government spending did not cause the crash. However the lax attitude of Labour governments, bordering on the irresponsible, did create the regulatory framework which allowed the crash to happen. All this means that Labour are unlikely to be part of any solution. The party still seems to be in thrall to big finance and the precious role of London as a world financial centre. God bless them, they seem all to willing to admit to overspending, which they didn’t do, but unwilling to admit to favouring the rich and big business.
This is where we need the more creative and economically aware people on the left to get involved in developing an alternative and popular story. A lot is already being done and available via our exciting alternative media – Bella, Newsnet, Wings, Common Space etc. However in large measure these outlets are preaching to the converted. How do we get our message and our alternative story out into the parts of the population that the Sun et al manage to reach? And onto out TV and radio programmes?