We need a Labour Assembly Against Austerity

Talk of ‘tough decisions’ and ‘iron discipline’ on spending demonstrate the dominance of Tory thinking over economic policy in Westminster, even as its effects cost them support in the polls. Labour needs to start thinking and acting for itself and for the people it represents.

The Tories are tanking as the impact of austerity, trashing the economy and tearing up lives, hits home with voters. As I have previously written, the austerity agenda which has dominated the UK’s economic debate since 2010 is increasingly seen as inseparable from a stagnant economy and growing poverty and unemployment. But the response from Labour has been to triangulate and trim to this unpopular message which will not help build our support.

The Tories now propose to extend spending cuts into the next parliament and despite austerity failing, the right wing argue that Labour should accept Tory spending limits. Some senior party members are accepting a framework of economic stagnation and even Ed Miliband talks of delivering ‘with less money around’, rather than seeking to inspire voters with an alternative vision of growth.

There have been attempts to gloss over concrete commitments to maintain cuts with suggestions these could fund new projects. Labour will not convince people if its message is so clearly confused and the talk of welfare cuts and caps suggests to voters a policy framework similar to the Tories.

At the same time, our affiliated unions are campaigning against the cuts on a daily basis and urging stronger opposition to the Tories in Parliament. Many Labour MPs and members are actively opposing cuts – to local hospitals, fire stations and other vital public services – plus 36 Labour council leaders are calling on the government to scrap the bedroom tax, which has itself generated a large number of local protests.

The growing movement opposing the government’s attacks needs a forum to discuss the way forward – which the People’s Assembly Against Austerity on the 22nd June will provide. Many Labour Party activists will be in Central Hall Westminster to join in discussing the economic alternative to austerity.

This campaign against austerity needs to step up a gear within the Labour Party. Labour’s right-wing is pressing for the leadership to adopt the Tories’ austerity policies. This can only lead to the economic and political failure of a Labour government, which is why a radical alternative is needed.

Only a progressive economic policy can succeed for Labour. It is also the best way to reach out to secure a broad coalition of support. Voters living standards have dramatically declined under this coalition government. Sticking with Tory spending limits in the next Parliament would ensure their further decline and cut Labour support.

That is why Next Generation Labour is calling for a Labour Assembly Against Austerity in October 2013.

We will discuss rejecting cuts and look at the alternative policies that Labour should advance in its manifesto. The priority must be to stimulate growth, jobs and better living standards. Labour Party members are an important part of a growing broad based national movement against austerity so we should play our part in supporting the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

The Assembly is open to all party members opposed to austerity – please sign up to the statement and get involved.

Budget week protests build towards People’s Assembly

The TUC’s Pre-Budget Rally heralds a week of planning and protest against the Tory government’s austerity agenda.

Anti-cuts campaigns are springing up everywhere to oppose the bedroom tax, save hospitals, keep fire stations open, defend education.

In all cases local Labour parties and Labour MPs are showing their support and defending public services for local communities.

This new mood of opposition to Tory cuts needs to be translated into a new Labour economic policy that tears apart austerity and makes a clear and reasoned case for government-led investment to create jobs and growth.

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, called by the Coalition of Resistance, takes place on 22nd June and is rapidly gathering support. As Owen Jones wrote at the weekend, the Assembly ‘aims to unite all opponents of austerity in one movement’ and Labour members should get involved in.

Register today: People’s Assembly – Against Austerity


Budget Week of Protest

Wednesday 13th March
London Region of the NUT  Gove Must Go protest
5pm, Cathedral Piazza, Victoria St

TUC Pre-Budget Rally
6pm, Emmanuel Centre, Marsham St

Thursday 14th March
Save Westminster Fire Station public meeting
6pm, Mary Sumner House, Tufton St

Saturday 16th March
Labour members will be joining over 50 protests against the bedroom tax this Saturday.

Camden, Islington and Haringey Labour and London Young Labour are joining the Save the Whittington protest.
11.30, Highbury Corner

March to save Clapham Fire Station
12 noon, Clapham Common

Monday 18th March
Planning meeting for a London-wide Save Our Hospitals protest
6.30pm, Camden Town Hall, Judd St

Tuesday 19th March
Bring Back EMA campaign has called a Budget Day of Action

Wednesday 20th March
PCS Budget Day Strike and Rally
12-2pm, Old Palace Yard, Abingdon St

Budget Day Protest
Coalition of Resistance and Unite the Resistance
5.30pm march from Kings College to Downing St



An end to recessionomics

Across Europe, governments of all political hues imposing austerity on voters struggling through the economic crisis are losing popularity and being turfed out of office. Since 2009 we have seen it in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Greece, France and the next could be Germany. The highest profile casualties this year have been the socialist George Papandreou in Greece and Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy in France – demonstrating how this has afflicted both those on the left and the right.

But it is worth reflecting on the left governments who have lost power. Labour lost office here in the UK in May 2010, the Spanish Socialist government in November 2011 and Greece’s governing PASOK, who polled 44% to win the 2009 election, crashed to third place in the May 2012 election and dropped back further in the repeat election a month later, taking only 13%, after imposing repeated rounds of austerity. The austerity agenda has meant the same thing in every country across Europe, spending cuts in government departments are transferred into fewer available jobs, public sector pay cuts, reduced social security payments, infrastructure spending drying up.

But why is it that parties of the left are attacking the institutions they have successfully built up over the past sixty years? What is clear from the past few years is that across Europe, the neo-liberal right has been successful in framing the terms of the debate and directing the economic course of governments regardless of their political persuasion.

The right has turned the economic crisis into one of public spending and determined the default response of any government is to impose austerity. It is no surprise therefore that social democrat governments, can make no headway in attempting to prettify spending cuts that harm their core electoral base of those on lower incomes and, increasingly, the unemployed. The social democratic left has so far failed to mount an effective challenge or map out an alternative economic agenda.

It is therefore no surprise either that social democrats propelled into office as a response to austerity, rapidly lose favour if they fail to offer a serious alternative. In Ireland, the Labour Party have signed up to an austerity coalition as the junior partners to Fine Gael, while Francois Hollande who rode to power on the back of a strong anti-austerity campaign in May this year is already plummeting in the polls as he rows back from his manifesto commitments, particularly his pledge to rip up the EU Fiscal Treaty. Both will have to change direction if they have any hope of reversing their decline in support.

The clearest challenge has been from political parties to the left of social democracy, Syriza in Greece and Parti de Gauche in France – and now the trade unions are increasing their co-ordination, following the strikes and protests on the 14th November Europe-wide day of action.

As with Syriza, a new generation of left leaders are emerging in Latin America which point the direction Europe’s left should take.

Across Latin America, governments are investing public funds in developing better public services for their citizens. Housing and health in Venezuela, in the environment in Bolivia. Ecuador recently announced it would increase taxes on bank profits to fund welfare payments to the poor.

And with that investment has come renewed support. Since the start of the economic crisis, left leaders in Latin America have been re-elected. Rafeal Correa was re-elected in April 2009 with a massive increase in his vote, Evo Morales was re-elected in April 2009, Dilma Rousseff won for Brazil’s Workers Party in 2010, Christina Kirchner won in Argentina in October 2011, and Hugo Chavez was re-elected in 2012.

In Britain, without another significant left political force, Labour is riding high in the polls just two years after losing the election, such is the unpopularity of the coalition – particularly the Lib Dems who had campaigned for an alternative to austerity but who have backed George Osborne’s so-called medicine as the Tories coalition partner.

But Labour’s support is so far based on increasing disillusionment with the government, not any enthusiasm for Labour’s muddled message of ‘austerity-lite’. An impressive six parliamentary by-election wins on the trot, with a number of Labour candidates scoring over 60%, has obscured the derisory turnout as voters stay at home.

There are some welcome signs of fight with Ed Miliband suggesting he will oppose the latest round of benefit cuts announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement. It is vital that this represents not just a one-off challenge, but a rethinking of austerity and Labour’s economic approach that will make a bolder challenge.

Labour cannot win with middle England alone and it cannot take its working class electoral base for granted – it’s already done that for far too long. Labour needs to offer a clear vision with the jobs and pay and conditions that match the scale of the crisis, based on government planning long-term investment. This must include boosting pay and pensions, tackling tax avoidance, directing nationalised banks to cut bonuses and invest in infrastructure like schools, hospitals and new homes. Only then can it inspire and mobilise the army of voters struggling under austerity.