One of the most surprising things about the current political situation in the UK is the absence of any effective mass campaign against the economic and social policies of the Coalition. No matter how nasty they are, there seems to be no willingness on the part of the general public to make their opposition loud and clear. Opposition and anger there is, but so far very little in the way of public demonstrations. Nothing like the strikes and demonstrations in Greece and France. Nor any new political movement such as the Tea Party in the USA.
What’s up? As I see it, there seems to be two explanations for the lack of any mass resistance. In the first place the cuts and the economic thinking behind the cuts are widely seen as either inevitable or at least necessary. All the main UK political parties advocated severe cuts in public spending. They only differed over the speed of the cuts. In addition all the mainstream media outlets have constantly banged on about the economic crisis and the absolute need for deep cuts in public spending. Finally the main global economic and financial institutions - IMF, OECD, the World Bank - also support urgent austerity measures.
Thus the writings of the many distinguished and respected economists, of both the right and the left, who have exposed the shoddy economics behind this dash to cut, are rarely heard in the mainstream media. All we ever hear or read about is endless debated about what to cut and by how much. The Labour party, now in opposition, should of course be leading the fight against this economic madness. But of course since Labour in government argued for severe cuts, they can hardly do a somersault and now argue the opposite. Especially since the majority of Labour MPs still seem to think that deep cuts in public spending is the answer. Must be a pretty silly question if that is the answer.
The result however is that there has been no sustained challenge to the dominant neo-liberal nonsense about an economy in crisis and on the verge of collapse. It is therefore hardly surprising that there has been a reluctant acceptance by the general public of the cuts agenda.
The other significant factor in all this is that so far there have been few actual cuts and probably even fewer job losses. The Coalition has played their hand very well in this respect. There have been lots of announcements and headline figures of huge cuts in public spending. But as yet the axe has only grazed a bit here and there. First of all the cuts will be phased in over the next four years, thus lessening the immediate impact. Secondly most of the actual decisions on what to cut will be left to others. In particular it will be local authorities who will have to balance the books. This of course means that many people will blame their local council instead of the Coalition. And here in Scotland most of the cuts come in the form of a reduction in the block grant. So it will be the Scottish government which has to take the first decisions on what to cut. Then will come the turn of the local councils. The Coalition clearly hope that with all these actors involved, at some of the blame will attach to them, letting the Coalition off the hook.
At the moment the political situation is a bit like the phoney war at the start of World War 11. We all something nasty is coming, but no-one knows for sure just what it will look like and when it will all start to get really bad. This of course makes campaigning against the Coalition very difficult. In this respect I am not sure that focussing on opposing the cuts is the right strategy. As explained above most people, unfortunately, accept that cuts are necessary. It is also difficult to get people fired up about opposing a generalised threat of cuts in public services. Again, unfortunately, there will always be people who are in favour of cutting some public services. I, for example, would be most happy to see a steep cut our defence budget. It can also, and will be, portrayed as special pleading. And in general terms, by focussing on resisting all cuts, you are left open to the question of well, what would you do to get us out of the economic crisis?
This in a way gets us back to the beginning of this post. More than just opposing cuts, we need to find a way to challenge the whole neo-liberal charade about the economy. No easy answers to this I’m afraid. I would suggest that campaigning should focus as much as possible on how we got into this economic and financial mess and in particular who got us all into the mess. Make the bankers pay! might make a good slogan. There is a lot of anger out there and it is this anger against the big banks and the whole parasitical financial sector, and their political lackeys that campaigns should highlight. Unfortunately this will have to be done without the active support of any of the main UK political parties. In fact all of them will be terrified of such a campaign as all of them are to some extent guilty.