Mark Donne: Could a renewed activism translate into serious pressure on the Government?

 

Share
Related Topics

Twelve years ago this month the “Battle of Seattle” - a public protest in a city hosting World Trade Organisation talks - introduced the concept of anti-globalisation activity to the world.

Undeterred by media derision, savage policing and the November cold, protesters occupied the hotel lobbies of WTO delegates and premises of banks and multi-national chains to make their point. A new culture of action and discourse against globalised capitalism was born, travelling to most Western cities including London.

Occupy Wall Street has created similar impetus for thousands across Europe; again crossing the Atlantic, with our native Occupy movement setting up camp outside St Paul’s and generating PR hell for the saints and Caesars of the square mile. It looks to be the most potent political lighting rod since the dark March of 2003 and Iraq.

Before St Paul’s, and much to the gratification of many coalition politicians, mass protest had dissolved in the year since the student battles. Yet the public mood remains highly receptive to collectively saying “enough” to the visible anarchy of turbo-capitalism or the bite of coalition austerity cuts.

Could a renewed activism translate into serious pressure on the Government to consider a “Robin Hood” tax; re-visit and improve “Project Merlin” on reform of banking, or invoke a Plan B, C or D? Smaller, related actions against bank branches and high street tax-avoiders by the grass-roots UK Uncut movement extract similar, broad based public support and even stronger emotions. So the answer could be yes, but only if a new political culture replaces the current orthodoxy: "clicktivism" and online dissension.

In the past fortnight, several Lib Dems and indeed one Tory MP have told me privately in the context of “Occupy”, that sections of the Coalition remain in a state of high anxiety that the social fabric of the UK may not survive the severity of cuts, and that it is impossible to predict the scale and form of potential unrest. But what is clear to them is that “clicktivism” and the “38 degrees” model of rolling petitions, based on all kinds of topical grievances, provide an extremely convenient holding centre for disgruntled or livid voters. Most are unable or just too busy/ exhausted/lazy to attend a demonstration or occupation, but click here, “like” this and you have resisted: you (and the forces you oppose) can sleep at night.

Mindful of this, Government strategists used the interim period – before austerity cuts as an “unavoidable” concept transformed into the grim reality of library/children’s centre closures, thousands losing jobs and the insecurity of austerity hitting home – to create an additional holding process for anger; the e-petitions device.

If 100,000 others click with you,  a debate in parliament of almost no consequence can be secured.  In this way, anger and potential offline actions are neutralised by a trick of engagement, which can never give ownership of the campaign to the individual nor meaningfully engage the media for more than 20 minutes, and so cannot amplify dissenting voices into a sufficiently loud warning.

Market research-style online clicktivism options are very easy to take and just as easy for those they are directed at to ignore, and so compounded by the depth charge of summer rioting and draconian reactions of the judiciary, street actions have been given a forbidding tone. But this will not last. Mixed identity activities of the emergent, localised, occupy-your-library variety are infectious for the opposite reason that clicktivism is automatic, sometimes even thoughtless: they offer politically disempowered people an opportunity to satisfy latent cravings for both community and genuine empowerment.

I recently asked  Noam Chomsky what he thought the outcome would have been if the nearly 500,000 who have signed a yet-to-be presented petition against the privatisation of the NHS had joined the other 3,000 in occupying Westminster Bridge in late October. “You would have no bill” he responded, identifying the fact that at least to the Lib Dem side of the Coalition – ever mindful of the singular electoral bitterness of the Blair arrogance/indifference to the Iraq march - this would be untenable. Thus empowering Lib Dem politicians to apply the brakes or even use a nuclear option. Now that sounds like a strategy, one that David Cameron and  perhaps even Nick Clegg too, who predicted "Greek style unrest" if the Conservatives gained power and imposed cuts, are now hoping we all overlook.

Mark Donne is a political campaigner and film-maker

React Now

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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game