Saturday’s big London demonstration against the cuts matters. It matters more in the face of a Budget that, predictably enough, has favoured big business and non-doms at the expense of ordinary people – and following economic indicators showing that Osborne’s slash-and-burn economic policies are failing. Yes, marches don’t change the world. The biggest demonstration in London in recent years didn’t stop Blair going to war in Iraq. But they can and do send important messages – especially where there is more than one party of Government.
So it’s unfortunate that, by playing party politics, the TUC appears to be setting itself up to reducing the impact of that march. It appears that the only politician invited to address the rally is Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. Whether deliberate or not, the effect of that decision is to give the impression that the march is linked to the Labour Party.
But it needs to be bigger than that. The movement against cuts is vast and inclusive – involving public sector workers, people defending their libraries in small towns in middle England, passers-by cheering on activists closing down Vodafone stores. Many of those people voted for parties other than Labour – not a few voted Liberal Democrat, some will even have voted Tory on the basis of Cameron’s lies about defending the NHS.
Moreover, as the student demonstrations in London late last year showed, the game is changing. Those who said that those demonstrations meant that we were entering post-party politics were, I think, wrong; but they did show that politics, especially the politics of opposition, is being re-moulded in a way that transcends traditional party politics. The way in which the Liberal Democrats ditched overnight almost every commitment on which they fought the elections and became eager supporters of the Tory economic shock doctrine is part of that dynamic – the fact that their betrayal hit hardest an emerging generation of new voters was a key factor.
And this is about uniting all those who reject the economics of cuts and deficit extremism, and taking the economic debate into a different and new place. It’s actually a place where the Labour leadership – which fought the last election on a manifesto drafted by Ed Miliband that proposed cuts – is not yet comfortable, and is probably lagging behind its activists.
So, why just Ed Miliband? Why not Caroline Lucas, who has become a far more consistent critic of the deficit consensus than Labour? Why not other political groups like UK Uncut who have transcended the party system? It seems to me that either you have a pluralism of party political speakers, or none at all. I freely admit I have an interest in this; I’m a Green Party member (although circumstances mean my activism is about pounding the keys on my laptop than pounding the streets), and I’m proud that Caroline Lucas is my MP. But what seems to me crucial is that the TUC recognise the strength that comes from diversity and pluralism in a situation where the big issues do not split along easy political lines.