How the People's Assembly can challenge our suffocating political consensus - and why it's vital that we do

The cartel of modern politics is only ever disrupted from the right. Now, with the help of like-minded others, I will be touring the country to set up a left-wing movement

Share
Related Topics

Sometimes it seems as though British politics is one grand cartel, or a gentleman’s agreement, if you like. Certain questions will not be asked; opposition often amounts to quibbling over the finer details or nuances of a policy, or the competence of its delivery.

Austerity is a given, though its speed and scale may be queried; all agree on selling chunks of our public services to private sector vultures, though the extent may be challenged; the fact our workers have some of the worst rights in the Western world, that large corporations sitting on a cash pile worth £750bn are expected to pay less and less, that our banks are bailed out with the public’s dosh but are not under our control – none of this is seriously questioned.

If this cartel is ever disrupted, it is from the right. Ukip has surged in part because of a widespread sense that the political establishment are all in it together, to coin a phrase. Hard-right pressure groups like the Taxpayers Alliance out-flank the Conservatives, and in doing so drive the nation’s political conversation ever rightwards.

Anti-austerity movement

With the help of supposed newspaper reporters – in reality, often thinly veiled Government propagandists – the Tories have ruthlessly redirected growing anger at ever-tumbling living standards towards our neighbours: people thrown out of work, people who still have intact pensions, disabled people suspected of inventing their conditions for benefits, and so on. The latest target are immigrants. New arrivals will be barred from joining council housing waiting lists – which most are stuck on for years as it is – for up to five years. We have a scandalous shortage of council housing. Up to five million people languish on waiting lists. But the fault lies squarely with both the Tories and New Labour for selling off stock and failing to replace it. Convenient, then, to conjure up the spectre of the scrounging foreigner instead.

Well, the great British political cartel now faces a new challenge. On Tuesday, I’ll be helping to launch the People’s Assembly with Green MP Caroline Lucas, my fellow Independent columnist Mark Steel, disability rights campaigner Francesca Martinez, Labour MP Katy Clark, and leading trade unionists. The aim of the Assembly is to unite all opponents of the horror show being inflicted on this country. On 22 June, there will be a 3,500-strong meeting at Westminster Central Hall, but in the meantime, I and others will be touring the country, encouraging local groups to be set up in every town and city.

Here’s the rationale for the Assembly. It is unacceptable that – five years on from the near-collapse of the global financial system – there is no broad anti-austerity movement. In a week’s time, the British poor will face the biggest organised mugging in generations, with the bedroom tax, cuts to working people’s tax credits, council tax benefit, housing benefit, and so on. Each year, the average Briton is poorer than the last. “Now is the period when the cost is being paid,” said Mervyn King, and that was two years ago. “I’m surprised the real anger hasn’t been greater than it has.”

There’s actually plenty of anger out there, but there’s something else missing. It was the US politician Harvey Milk who said: “I know that you cannot live on hope alone but, without it, life is not worth living.” Anger without hope tends to amount to despair, frustration and resignation – and that is what has to change.

Hope for change

Inevitably, such an initiative will have to plough through a fair amount of cynicism from both left and right. Put “left” into a sentence including “piss-up” and “brewery”, and few would disagree. But this isn’t going to fall into the trap of being a recruitment exercise for some obscure sect with newspapers to flog. It’s being driven by a formidable coalition of unions such as Unite, Unison and PCS, representing millions of workers in both the private and public sector; Labour activists and the Green Party; campaigners for disabled people, tax justice, women, BME people; and people frankly who are just stranded and without a political home. It’s not the 867th attempt to set up yet another doomed left-wing party, but a movement that will nonetheless fill a chasm in British politics.

This has implications for the Labour leadership, of course. It’s not as if there haven’t been any other determined attempts to challenge austerity: like huge strikes by teachers, health workers, bin collectors and other public-sector workers; two huge TUC-organised demonstrations against austerity; and the efforts of campaigners, such as tax avoidance crusaders UK Uncut. But there has been no sustained, permanent movement to take on the whole austerity consensus. Most pressure on Labour’s leaders comes from the right. But the appetite for a far more confident, courageous voice of opposition to the Tories’ ideological hijacking of the financial crisis exists. It will now be satisfied.

The Tories have counted on opposition being too fragmented to withstand their shock-and-awe offensive. But in doing so they have inadvertently created a potentially formidable coalition. There may be no end in sight for Britain’s depressing icy winter, but it’s springtime for opposition to the nightmare of austerity. The People’s Assembly offers the one thing missing from British politics: hope.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: NHS data-sharing is good for patients

Independent Voices
 

Daily catch-up: the old Palace of Westminster; Batman vs Superman; and more Greenery

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee