Less than twelve months ago, the sounds of champagne corks popping could be heard across the boardrooms of the City of London following the surprise election of a Tory majority government. One year on, the Prime Minister is discredited and the Tories are weak and divided. The task now is for Corbyn and the labour leaders to use Saturday’s mass protest as a platform to go on the offensive.
Less than twelve months ago, the sounds of champagne corks popping could be heard across the boardrooms of the City of London following the surprise election of a Tory majority government. Following their victory, Cameron and co., full of hubris, immediately set upon a fresh wave of attacks against the working class and the poor. At the same time, the Labour Party was on course for a dramatic shift to the right, as the Blairites lined up to replace “Red Ed” and push the party towards the mythical “centre ground”.
What a transformation the last year has seen. Even last November in his 2015 Autumn Statement, George Osborne was boasting of the UK’s economic success – a vindication of the Tories’ austerity programme…or so the Chancellor claimed. Now, just months later, Cameron and the Tories are facing a plethora of crises, scandals, and splits, any one of which has the potential to be the final straw for this hated government.
The Labour Party, meanwhile, has undergone a radical metamorphosis with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and the Blairites have been pushed onto the back foot.
All of these dramatic changes to the landscape of British politics were on display on Saturday 16th April, as tens-of-thousands marched through the streets of London for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity’s demo in support of “Health, Homes, Jobs, and Education”.
Not only were blocs of steel workers, doctors and nurses, and teaching unions present to remind the Tories of the manifold crises they face in relation to Britain’s steel industry, the NHS, and their academisation plans, but the most visible slogan across the protest was that of “Cameron Must Go” – a message to “Dodgy Dave” expressing the mass anger that exists regarding his implication in the Panama tax-avoidance revelations.
Above all, there is a burning indignation against the whole Tory government for their hypocritical claims that “we are all in this together” – a statement that is evidently false when workers and youth have to suffer attacks and austerity, whilst the Prime Minister and his banker friends squirrel their obscene wealth away in offshore tax havens. This Conservative government is increasingly been recognised for what it is: a government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich.
As Corbyn himself stressed in a parliamentary debate on the issue, do Cameron and the Tories even recognise how they look in the eyes of ordinary people – demanding cuts to welfare and public services, whilst simultaneously dodging tax and amassing small personal fortunes?
The most striking feature of Saturday’s anti-austerity demo was the change in tone and presence in relation to the Labour leadership. At the previous People’s Assembly protest last June, where 250,000 were galvanised by the Tories’ victory at the general election, Labour’s leaders were notable by their absence. This time round, however, not only was there a strong contingent from Momentum present, but the crowd was also joined in Trafalgar Square by John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, who affirmed his and Corbyn’s commitment to make Labour a firmly anti-austerity party. The Labour leader, meanwhile, sent a video message of support and solidarity to demonstrators.
Both John McDonnell and Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite the Union, emphasised the difference between Labour’s leadership under Corbyn and that of the past. “For too long Labour leaders have been embarrassed by their association with the movement on the streets”, McDonnell stated honestly. “Whether it’s in parliament or on the picket line, this leadership will be with you.” The Unite leader, meanwhile, asserted that, “We now have a Labour leadership fighting for ordinary people in parliament and on the streets.”
Dr Yannis Gourtsoyannis and Danielle Tiplady, leading figures from the junior doctors’ struggle and the student nurses respectively, also spoke passionately from the platform in defence of the NHS, whilst McCluskey and Mark Turner, a steel worker from Port Talbot, added their voices to the chorus that is demanding that action be taken to rescue the British steel industry from its current crisis.
As well as stressing his and Corbyn’s intentions to fight austerity, McDonnell pledged that the Labour leaders would back all strike action against cuts, save British steel jobs, support the junior doctors, “halt the privatisation of our NHS”, “build the hundreds of thousands of council homes that will end homelessness”, and abolish the waste-of-billions that is Trident. “The Panama revelations demonstrate that they have been robbing us for generations now,” the Shadow Chancellor added, “We will make the rich and corporations pay their way in society.”
The task now is for McDonnell, McCluskey, and the other leaders of the labour movement to turn these words into action. The union leaders wield an enormous power, potentially, to unite the various struggles going on – from healthcare and education, to the steel industry and local government cuts – by calling for a one-day general strike. Such mass action should have as its aim not simply the removal of Dodgy Dave, but of the whole rotten Tory government.
Meanwhile, it is clear that the process of transformation that begun with Corbyn’s election must now by carried through to its completion. Whilst Corbyn and McDonnell have come out publically in support of junior doctors and in favour of scrapping Trident, it is clear that such views are not widely shared amongst the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum and throughout the labour movement, therefore, need to call for mandatory reselection and organise to demand Labour MPs who are willing to genuinely reflect the views of the anti-austerity, anti-war rank-and-file.
Kick out the Tories! Kick out capitalism!
The Panama Papers scandal could not have come at a worse time for the Prime Minister, who is already wounded from the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions secretary, and the internal battles developing inside the Conservative Party over Europe. Not only does his involvement in this international tax-dodging charade add fuel to the fire in terms the calls for his resignation emanating from ordinary people, but it is also an enormous blow to his authority inside his own party, at a time when Boris Johnson and other pro-Brexit Tories are preparing to stab him in the back.
With the Tories in crisis, the Prime Minister deeply discredited, and the government weak, wounded, and divided, there has never been a better time for Corbyn and the rest of the labour leaders to go on the offensive. Corbyn should go on the attack, demanding a snap general election and putting forward a bold socialist alternative to Cameron and his failed programme of cuts.
Instead of the distraction of the EU referendum, which is rightly viewed with disinterest, distrust, and outright disgust by most workers and youth, ordinary people should be offered a referendum on austerity.
Most importantly, the Panama revelations have not only exposed the stinking hypocrisy of the Tories, but have laid bare the corruption and decrepitude of the whole rotten capitalist system. Workers and youth are increasingly seeing through the lies of the Establishment and understanding that the system is inherently stacked in favour of the rich and wealthy.
We say: No amount of tinkering around the edges will suffice. Capitalism is corruption. Capitalism is crisis. The system has broken! We need a root-and-branch transformation of society! We need a revolution!