As the third anniversary of the coalition government’s formation approaches, it has become clear that the foundations of ‘cuts consensus’ it was based upon are shakier than ever.
Opinion polls leading up to last month’s budget suggested that 58% of the British electorate believed that austerity had been ‘harmful to the economy’, compared to only 20% in support.
This tide of public opinion has not only turned on austerity, but the parties sticking to it- polls have consistently shown a Labour lead over over the Tories for around two years, with the Lib Dems even slipping into single figures at times.
However, Unite’s Len McCluskey is correct to warn that Labour will not be able to capitalise on this trend unless it is prepared to break from the failed framework of austerity.
Traditional parties of the left in Europe have all too often been afraid to question the fundamental logic of driving down the living standards of the majority as a solution to the crisis, abandoning the interests of core and potential supporters for the sake of a supposed ‘credibility’ which looks less credible by the day.
Such an approach paves the way to electoral failure- see the collapse in support for the government of the French Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande following his implementation of the harshest austerity measures since the Second World War (with around 66% of the electorate holding a negative view), the slump in the Irish Labour Party vote in the Meath East by-election following its imposition of austerity in coalition with the right-wing Fine Gael, or the near obliteration of PASOK as a political force in Greece.
It is therefore vital that Ed Miliband’s leadership does not follow the same disastrous path, instead articulating policies that reject attacks on the bulk of the population. The task for all those in Labour opposed to a capitulation to austerity must be to create the political space for an alternative.
It is with this in mind that the People’s Assembly Against Austerity on June 22nd is a key initiative.
The event provides an opportunity for Labour members committed to a rejection of austerity to link up with trade unionists, campaigners and other progressives who are seeking to fight the economic offensive of the government.
The recent anti-bedroom tax protests provided a glimpse at the potential of these alliances, with Labour members often playing a significant role in community campaigns.
A united movement against austerity can provide a political home to the countless swathes of people opposed to the war waged on public services and the squeezing of living standards of millions, and provide a counterweight to voices such as Tony Blair who urge the Labour leadership to stick to Tory economic policy.
It is therefore a crucial priority to support and build the People’s Assembly as a step towards advancing that movement.