June 21st will see a large march in London by supporters of the People’s Assembly from all over the country, from BBC Headquarters to the Palace of Westminster, where a rally will be held with speakers including Green M.P. Caroline Lucas, Owen Jones, Len McCluskey, leader of Unite the Union and my own trade union leader Christine Blower of the NUT. As it starts at BBC Headquarters it is to be hoped that the BBC might cover it sometime during the day, despite its clear right-wing bias, as outlined last week by Robert Peston one of its own journalists. But why are the supporters of the People’s Assembly marching?
There are those who would argue that Osborne’s policies have been proved correct. Look, they will say, the economy is growing and has been turned round. While the economy may be growing, there is a little bit more to the story than that.
Firstly, the economy was always going to bottom out and start to grow at some stage. It couldn’t have gone on flat-lining for ever. What Osborne’s austerity policies did was to delay the recovery by three years and plunge the economy into a double-dip recession, all so that an ideologically-driven policy to dismantle public services and the welfare state could be undertaken behind a smokescreen of it all being necessary.
Secondly, one of the factors which helped the economy to grow was that he finally decided to take advice from those who were saying that more had to be done to get the economy to grow and so the help-to-buy scheme was born. All this has done really, however is to cause house prices to rise sharply in the Southeast, further divide the country between that particular corner and the rest of us and cause a housing bubble to be created, which when it bursts could tip the economy back into recession. Already leading economists are warning of the possible consequences of this folly.
This brings us to the third point about Osborne’s economic policies. There is no long-term vision or plan. It is all short-term and conducted with crossed fingers, whilst ensuring that those with the most wealth get even more and those with the least get even less. Osborne will be hoping that the housing bubble doesn’t burst before next May, so that he can sell his narrative of austerity being necessary leading to an economic recovery, which he will hope will fool enough people to get the Tories elected. Watch out as well of course for tax-cuts and other bribes in the budget between now and the next election.
In the meantime the cuts are continuing to bite into marginalised communities, those whose voices are not usually heard in The Daily Mail or The Sun, millions of pounds continue to be wasted in propping up Michael Gove’s barmy ideological experiment in free schools and the stealthy privatisation of the NHS goes on day by day.
So, if Osborne and the rest of the Coalition government have little or nothing to offer the ordinary people of Britain, what measures do the People’s Asssembly say should be introduced? The March is titled ‘No More Austerity: Demand the Alternative. What exactly is the alternative demanded by the People’s Assembly?
On the People’s assembly website at http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/peoplespetition there is a petition which outlines the main demands. They are as follows:
“The Government should reverse damaging austerity, and replace it with a new set of policies providing us with a fair, sustainable and secure future. We will no longer tolerate politicians looking out for themselves and for the rich and powerful. Our political representatives must start governing in the interests of the majority. We, the undersigned, demand:
- Re-nationalise our services & remove private profit from health, education and social services
- A statutory living wage, abolish zero hour contracts, end the wage freeze
- Invest in building social housing, abolish the bedroom tax & place a cap on private rents
- A higher tax on the rich & a clamp down on tax avoidance
- Reverse all spending cuts
- Invest in creating green jobs
- Increases to welfare and pensions should be tied to inflation
- A stop to scapegoating of immigrants or those on welfare
- A publically owned, democratic banking system
- End the cost of war in blood and money: no military interventions, no Trident replacement”
These may look very radical to some, but really are quite moderate and common sense. Renationalisation of services such as the railways is so obvious it beggars belief that the Labour Party is not committed to it. As the running of East Coast has conclusively shown it is more efficient and cheaper – nationalisation actually means LESS taxpayers money being thrown at the railways as there are no greedy shareholders and other vested interests to cream the money off.
A statutory living wage would surely be just the mark of a decent, fair society which values all its citizens; not just a rich and powerful elite. This column has already discussed the digraceful Zero Hours Contracts so beloved of the likes of Mike Ashley and Buckingham Palace. They are no way to treat working people.
The decline of social housing can be traced back fully 30 years to the Thatcher government’s scheme for council house owners to buy their homes, while not replacing them with other reasonably priced rented housing. Instead of enough social housing being built, which would keep house prices at a sensible level, so preventing a housing bubble would give housing for all, immigrants, who we need to do the jobs others don’t want to do, while our society gets ever older, are being scapegoated for a problem, which has been 30 years in the making.
Let’s not forget also that a large proportion of immigrants are foreign students, who pay a lot of money to study at our universities. It is already getting harder for talented British students from poorer backgrounds to benfit from a university education. Without this income from foreign students, tuition fees might become so high that all but those from the wealthiest of backgrounds would be effectively priced out of a university education. So much for social mobility.
Linked to building of more social housing is the important provision that private rents be capped. If housing benefit is high, so becoming a drain on the public purse, this doesn’t help those on bebefits; the money just drains away to unscrupulous private landlords, the Rachmans of our era.
Clearly the rich should be taxed more. Most of them do not earn their wealth; it comes through investments they have and through the exploitation of others. Similarly tax loopholes shopuld be closed. Far, far more money is lost to the public purse through tax avoidance than through benefit fiddling. Far more.
Investing in green jobs is also an obvious policy. We need more, proper, decently-paid jobs and given the constant stream of alarming news on the ice caps and other data concerning climate change, it is also clear that these must be jobs, which must reflect the concerns 97% of the scientific community have about man-made climate change.
So, there are plenty of reasons why the demands of the People’s Assembly are really very moderate. If adopted by the Labour Party, they could see them sweeping back to power, if they could just have the clarity of vision and courage to implement them in relevant policies.
The sooner common sense policies, which respect all members of our society and allow them to live with the dignity they deserve as human beings, can be implemented the better.
© Peter Sagar June 2014
John McDonnell MP says:
“I’ll be joining the demonstration on 21st June because nobody should stand by and let this government destroy everything that makes a society civilised and decent.”
Please don’t stand by: join us!!
We need to finalise numbers for coaches, so can you please let us know ASAP if you would
like to reserve places to join us on 21st June to demonstrate and say…
NO MORE AUSTERITY – STAND UP FOR EDUCATION – SAVE OUR NHS!
Coach tickets £25 waged, £10 unwaged
NEWCASTLE – WASHINGTON – DURHAM
We have booked a coach to the national anti-cuts demonstration in London on 21 June, when thousands will march through central London saying: No more austerity, demand the alternative!
It will leave Newcastle Central Station at 6am and go via Washington Services (6.10am) and Durham (6.20am). It will return from central London at 5pm and again go via Durham and Washington Services en route.
Seats are £25 if you work and £10 if you don’t. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your seats.
SOUTH SHIELDS – SUNDERLAND – MIDDLESBROUGH
As Dennis Skinner said at the Queen’s Speech last week, let’s make this “the Coalition’s last stand”!!