Last week I attended the book launch of Lisa Mckenzie’s “Getting By” in a church community centre in Longsight. I am an atheist and reluctant go into any religious venue and it is not a place that I would expect to host a meeting about a book on class and austerity.
But the launch was not organised by a campaigning group but a “think tank”, SARF. SARF is one of the many organisations that have sprung up over the last few years to research on poverty and inequality. Most of their funding is going to come from sources such as Manchester City Council so it is not surprising that one of their workers is standing as a prospective Labour MP.
Across the northwest one can see how the cuts have affected communities, particularly the poor and disadvantage, with the closure of local services, the end of decent jobs in council run services and the closing down of access to further and higher education. Not that this was evident at this event as the local Christian youth service had organised a film show and a presentation from young people about the positive side of living in an area that is officially described as “deprived”. And in innercity areas it is the new churches that are stepping into the gap left by the council, and the left, providing not just services but a Christian based view of the world.
Lisa McKenzie’s view of what do about the austerity is not quite the same! She spoke about her involvement in Class War which is an organisation that was very popular in the 80s and seems to have had a revival, particularly in London, where it is involved in campaigns around housing. Lisa is standing in the general election against Ian Duncan Smith.
This event made me think about who is representing the poor. Obviously not the Labour Party. The northwest of England is, for many people, seen as a one-party state: Labour holding the crown. But increasingly people are not voting at all as they shun a political system that is broken.
In areas such as Tameside it is the Green Party that is challenging the Labour hierarchy that is happily closing down or privatising services. It is the Labour Party that is setting bailiffs on poor people who cannot afford to pay the community tax. It is the Labour Party in cahoots with the DWP that is persecuting benefit claimants.
In Tameside it is only the Green Party that is challenging this nasty agenda. They have played an important role in publicising and challenging the vindictive nature of the Labour council and the Job Centre. Working class people such as Charlotte Hughes have joined them and become prominent activists in their anti-cuts campaign. She is standing as a Green Party candidate in the General Election.
The Green Party only have one MP; Caroline Lucas. In her new book, “Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change”, she reflects on her five years in Parliament. The whole archaic nature of Parliament is stripped bare but most telling is her description of the reaction of MPs in the House of Commons as a large student march gathers nearby.
It is November 2010 and it is the second march of students and, after a previous protest where students surrounded the headquarters of the Conservative Party, the police were determined not to lose control again. Parliament Square was closed off and thousands of protestors were penned in Whitehall as, Caroline comments, “if in a huge police cell.”
One of the reasons Caroline is popular is that she is an instinctive campaigner for justice. She had planned to go on the march that day and seeing and hearing peoples’ complaints about police tactics first hand she hurried back to Parliament.
In the House of Commons she stood up to try and get a government response to the mayhem outside. It did not happen and Labour who had instigated student fees in previous administrations were just as unforthcoming.
The responses of both parties reflect the way in which the political system is broken, unrepresentative of many sections of society and distrusted by so many voters. She sums this up. “What people want, on the really big issues of the day, is that there are parties they can vote for who represent, explain and express the differences in view that exist in the country.”
Democracy is at the heart of Caroline’s book she she points out the failures of our political system but also offers a message of hope that it is people who matter, that we can rollback the attacks on the NHS, fracking and “the war against Terror”. Her campaigning outside Parliament on many issues has not made her cynical or burnout. “We need new thinking, a new sense of realism about the threats we face, and above all a new way of working together in politics to tackle the things that really matter. That will only happen if the Parliament we elect in 2015 has radical voices, free from the shackles of traditional politics and big business.”
In the General Election I will vote Green but given the political system that we have it is not likely that they will gain many MPs. The real difference will be made by Scottish voters who hopefully will wipe out Labour and vote SNP. A coalition of Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru may be the best chance of a different kind of politics in this country.