Over the past year, thousands of protesters have marched through the streets of London in 'anti-austerity' demonstrations, demanding an alternative to the greed and selfishness the previous coalition government have been accused of.
The recent general election produced what many see as an astonishing result, with the Conservative party winning an overall majority. During the election campaign, David Cameron outlined plans to cut welfare spending, weaken the power of unions and reform the education and health care sector.
Anti-austerity organisers have a more blunt view, calling these “plans to smash the welfare state, privatise the NHS, increase tuition fees and decimate local services".
With such strong rhetoric, it is easy to see why the planned demonstrations are gaining so much momentum.
I spoke to one of the key organisers of the upcoming Anti - Austerity rally that is to be held in Brighton on the 6th of June; an event designed to surge interest in the main march taking place in London on the 20th.
What made you become involved in the march and have you been involved in other demonstrations?
I am a student in my twenties struggling on little money and faced with high tuition fees. I have always been interested in politics but became actively involved at the start of the coalition government. There were student protests happening around this time and it was at this point I became politically radicalised. My first involvement in a march was an Anti EDL protest in Brighton.
There may be people out there that know very little about austerity but since the election have heard the word used more and more often. How would you explain the meaning in laymen’s terms?
Austerity is the result of a government spending too much in the boom times which has resulted in a need to now reduce the country's debt. The key words that you will hear used most often are “cut deficit”. Since gaining power this is exactly what the coalition has been attempting to do and the truth is it's bollocks. The debt is now bigger than it was. If austerity is about cutting the debt and lowering deficit then it is simply not working. All it has done is create a transfer of wealth from the lower end of society to the wealthier few. There is now a huge increase in the wealth gap.
Has the scheduled demonstration in Brighton attracted interest and how many people do you expect to attend?
It is hard to say. We hope that a minimum of 700 people will start the march but recent demonstrations have attracted thousands. The weather will play a big part so we are hoping for clear skies. We expect the demo’ to be peaceful - trouble is never welcomed. It is difficult to control though. The demonstrators will be thinking about the big companies that are not paying their taxes and making money at the expense of everyone else. This does generate a lot of anger especially when the march passes their buildings.
What kind of people do you expect to be marching? What is the demographic?
There isn’t one. A lot of the organisation is done through the people’s assembly which is a forum for all different groups. This means that people who wouldn’t usually join forces now can. It won’t just be students or the lower end of society’s wealth bracket that will be there. It will be a huge mix including the middle classes and most importantly trade unionists.
Ideally what will you hope to achieve from the demonstrations that are happening around the country?
There is a huge demonstration planned on June 20th in London, but these local demos are in place to publicise the main event as well as to get a nationwide show of force. The message we want to be heard is “do not push cuts through or people will come together and stop these unfair policies”. Shutting down roads and businesses and causing disruption is the only way the Government will listen. We are attempting to generate a spark to make bigger things happen.
Imagine for a moment that you are in Downing Street, making the big decisions. There is a huge budget deficit, how would you manage that?
A good start would be to target the big multinational tax avoiders in this country. Vodaphone, Starbucks and Amazon to name just three. Also increasing the numbers in work thus reducing the numbers claiming benefit. Most importantly the workers need to know that their hard earned money is not taken and wasted by a big spending Government. We need a caring system in place where we look after those who cannot look after themselves, not take from them.
Do you think that the Conservative party’s actions are benefiting anybody?
Yes, austerity is working for some. It is a myth to think that it simply doesn’t work because it does. It’s who it works for that is the problem. The people that voted Tory are benefiting. This is proven in the way the Government are extending buy-to-let mortgages and looking after the city of London financial sector. Basically, multiple property owners and the very wealthy are benefiting from this - the vast minority of the country’s population. I am not saying that the Government are malicious idiots - they're simply very clever. They represent that higher, minority level of society.
Since the Labour party defeat, would you say there is no longer a real left wing opposition movement?
The Labour party proved itself to be dull and uninspiring. The SNP showed in their manifesto that they are a great alternative to austerity and we need the same in England. Britain does have examples of going too far the other way. UKIP for example would be even more vicious in their approach to the cuts. The Green party is a good alternative but there is infighting within the parties support. I am a member of a relatively newly formed party called Left Unity. The clue is in the name as it encourages people to the left of politics to get together and help to end the squabbling and focus on campaigning against the right.
Would you say that in the current climate the people are afraid of the Government when really it is the Government that should be afraid of its people?
Absolutely. For example Theresa May is a rabid authoritarian. The way she wants to monitor what people do and say is very worrying. Being an activist, you are treated as an enemy within, rather than a paying citizen in a democratic country. The demonstrations we are planning have had a lot of police interest, however we don’t think it would be prudent to talk to them. We know they are simply trying to gather intelligence whilst looking to disrupt our peaceful action. It is similar to the Governments’ approach of trying to establish fear amongst us all.
If people want to get involved where should they go?
Social media is the best way. I would recommend the Facebook pages ‘Free Education Brighton’ and the ‘People’s Assembly’ which is also on Twitter.
What do you think of David Cameron and in particular George Osbourne?
Ha! Choosing my language carefully I would say they are old, aristocratic Eatonians that have somehow fooled the country into thinking they are hard-working grafters. These men have never done a day’s work in their life. They have never been sanctioned by a job centre, never struggled to find work, eat or pay bills. They were born into wealth and as a result are out of touch with the reality that is a struggle for millions of people every day.