On Thursday, 25 June 2015, The Times published an article by David Aaronovitch claiming "anti-austerity groupies aren't helping anyone".
Sam Fairbairn, National Secretary of the People's Assembly gives his response:
David Aaronovitch claims the organisers of the anti-austerity protests don't care about the victims of austerity. He seems more concerned about my personal appearance and the way I deliver a speech. This is irrelevant to the argument and suggests to me David hasn't got a coherent one himself.
Aaronovitch claims we have no 'strategy aimed at actually persuading the government to alter course' and kindly offers his wisdom on the matter: '...he would have to win over people the government take seriously...'
Thanks for the advice David but our strategy is about forcing the government to take ordinary people seriously, like they're supposed to do. You may surround yourself with spin doctors, CEOs and Murdoch journalists but they're not the people we're interested in talking to.
It's true, as David says in his article, I was young when I opposed the Iraq war. It's also true that David was older when he supported it. It's now clear who was right - the millions of people, like me, who protested against it. So maybe David should have a bit more humility when he offers out advice to political movements.
A government elected on less than 25% of electorate's vote, who's track record is falling living standards for the majority, tax breaks for the richest & still fails to deliver on their promise of eradicating the defect, deserves to face opposition.
The size of the demonstration and breadth of people on 20 June indicates there's clearly anger towards this government and an appetite for change that's not being satisfied by politicians. No one believes that one demonstration alone will bring down this government or austerity. But that demonstration will have a direct impact on the confidence that people feel to take further action in their communities, workplaces, universities and schools. That demonstration was just the beginning.
Protest has always played an important role in the democratic process the idea that a slim majority equals dictatorial rule for the next 5 years is badly misjudged.
Just as time told who was right and wrong about Iraq, after we protest Osborne's budget on 8 July & after we shut down Manchester during the Tory Party conference with a week-long protest from 3-8 October, time will tell who has judged the mood of people in the country correctly.
The Times Article published 25/05/2015: David Aaronovitch (original web-link):
Those who organised last weekend’s rally had no constructive ways of persuading the government to change course
According to the BBC, the most important item of national or international news last Sunday was the holding of another demonstration in London. Given that there are many such manifestations this one had (surely) to be of unusual significance. Might it be a sign of the serious pressure on the government that is yet to come? Or, given that the marchers were addressed by Russell Brand and Charlotte Church, might it very well not?
As part of the answer, I want to go back to a debate last month in which I was savagely set about by a moral philosopher. Professor Ted Honderich, whom God preserve of UCL, castigated me for being feeble-minded and weak-headed. And that was before I’d even spoken.
Honderich lives by a philosophical and ethical principle that I (being morally deficient) apparently do not. The Principle of Humanity, as he set it out, is that whatever gets and keeps people out of “bad lives” — unfree or impoverished — is the right thing to do.
I will return to the sonorous scholar later. But I’ll just say here that the idea of doing what you can to improve people’s lives seems to me to be a reasonable ethical precept. Some selfish people (of course) say they want to do it and don’t mean it, but many more say they want to do it but disagree about how to.
Let’s take, for example, welfare. What can the government reasonably and effectively do to make life easier for people trying to cope in difficult circumstances? And how can it do this without burdening the rest of us with impossible debt or counter-productive taxation? Or creating a moral hazard, by effectively rewarding sloth or benefits dependence?
This is not an issue that was settled once and for all at last month’s general election. Though the broad objective of Conservative policy (as endorsed by the voters) was made clear, the specifics most certainly were not. The £12 billion they plan to cut from annual welfare spending by 2020 was never broken down, save that working age benefits would be frozen for two years from next April.
The conversations now taking place in Whitehall about tax credits could, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, cost 3.7 million families £1,400 on average a year. That — for many of them — is a hell of a lot of money.
Mr Cameron rightly argues that it would make more sense if, instead of taking tax credits, these families were better paid by their employers in the first place. But what can he do to replace real tax credits with merely possible wage rises? We don’t know.
In other words, it is legitimate to contest almost any aspect of the welfare reductions about to be detailed by the Tories. It is respectable to find them wanting and to campaign against them in the hope of changing the government’s mind. Many of the finest souls in our land want to do just that.
But then there are the anti-austerity campaigners. Not most of the ordinary joes who express a strong aversion to what the government is planning, but people like those who organised last weekend’s anti-austerity march in London which led the BBC news bulletins.
This event was planned by a group called the People’s Assembly a month before the election. The PA’s national secretary is a rangy young man called Sam Fairbairn whose biography says that he “has been a life-long political organiser and activist since getting involved with School Students Against the War in 2003”. For various personal-historical reasons I can feel warmly towards a youthful activist called Sam (my dad Sam was a full-time communist).
Sam was one of the speakers at the rally that ended the march, together with an opulence of speakers who, between them, covered the political spectrum from A nearly halfway to B. Jeremy Corbyn nudged various Green party luminaries, who bracketed Len McCluskey, who warmed up for Owen Jones, who gave way to Russell Brand.
In fact I’d already caught a Sam speech online when, a couple of weeks earlier (with Jones and someone from the NUT) he’d addressed an audience in Milton Keynes. He was very clear on not liking austerity which, he said was “always about putting money in the pockets of the richest” (he didn’t elaborate on the mechanism), but much less forthcoming on how it would be defeated. “This is something that we need to campaign against,” he told his audience, “and this is something, er, that we need to, er, er, take on going forward.”
You think I’m being cruel? There’s worse to come for I will now bind together the youthful national secretary with the octogenarian Professor Honderich. If Mr Fairbairn genuinely cared about what he always calls the “victims” of austerity, you might expect him to develop a strategy aimed at actually persuading the government to alter course.
To do that he would have to win over people who the government takes seriously — ie, those who support it, those who voted for it at the election and their families. Yet instead of that he organises demos around impossible slogans, subjects supporters to endless speeches from superannuated Trots and naive Greens, and then exaggerates how many people attended the event (never mind 250,000; if more than 30,000 were on the march I’d be astonished).
Never mind a Syriza supporter from the University of East Anglia, where were the local authority Tories on Sunday? The campaigning Lib Dems? The mainstream Labour people? The archbishop, the cardinal, the choir of Worcester cathedral and all the other prerequisites of any against-the-odds political victory?
What you had instead was an echo chamber filled with mirrors, a great selfie of an affair in which you met yourself, watched yourself, loved yourself, and left yourself on the way out, promising to come back and do it with yourself all over again. It had nothing to do with helping other people.
Which is what I realised when I emerged from battling the professor at the event in which he had alienated his entire audience. His principle demanded that one do everything rational that one can to help improve the lot of the downtrodden — and yet he couldn’t even discipline himself to be pleasantly persuasive for an hour.