Haven’t you heard? Today is the official launch of the People’s Assembly, a grassroots movement to amplify ‘progressive opinion’ in the public square. Think Arab Spring, but for Brits who don’t have quite as much to rage about. It’s being launched by Owen Jones, Mark Steel, Caroline Lucas, and other such luminaries. The main thrust of their campaign seems to be against cuts. ‘It’s springtime for opposition to the nightmare of austerity,’ says Jones, deftly combining metaphors. ‘The People’s Assembly offers the one thing missing from British politics: Hope.’
Hope and change! Springtime! Who doesn’t want that? The trouble is, I’m not so sure that actual people agree with the People’s Assembly’s founding premise. Polls often show that the British accept the need to tackle the deficit and reduce the debt – and I doubt that is because, as the People’s Assembly founders would suggest, they have been brainwashed by right-wing propaganda. It’s more common sense. People can also see that the government, for all its talk about tough decisions, hasn’t done nearly enough to restore sanity to the public purse. There has been no “shock-and-awe” offensive against the state, even if government cuts have indeed been more painful for some groups than others.
We already have an anti-austerity movement, UK Uncut, but they have all but fizzled out.* Why the sudden clamour for more cuts anger on the Left? It’s frustration, at heart. Conditions for a revival seem perfect: the Left faces a weak, unpopular and failing Con-Lib government. The economy is in a coma and more cuts are – we’re told – coming. And yet Ed Miliband’s party ‘offers no coherent alternative,’ to use Owen Jones’s phrase. So the Left is turning on itself, as Dan Hodges notes. The old guard – the Ken Loaches and Polly Toynbees – want a Ukip of the Left, a party that pushes Labour away from centre. Meanwhile, young radicals like Owen Jones want to bring back popular left-wing dissent. But they are all muddling their own anger at the failure of the Left with the public’s hostility towards the political and media class in general. They don’t see that they are part of the problem.
It’s all noise and signalling, sound and fury signifying nothing. The Left never really eats itself anyway. Lefties in this country are far more tribal than righties, which is one of the reasons nobody uses the word righties. They’ll agonise over the way forward but eventually agree that anything is better than more George Osborne and come together.
* The good folks of UK Uncut have pointed out to me that they are not fizzling out. They are running a bold campaign called “How to Evict a Millionaire.” Not my cup of tea, exactly, but preferable to a bunch of prominent media figures pretending to represent people on the margins.