THE angry scenes that unfolded during the mass protest in Manchester at the Tory conference were but child’s play compared to the brutal lived reality of the government’s austerity programme, which has been and continues to be akin to a mass experiment in human despair.
In a country in which two million pensioners and four million children are now living in poverty, in which the disabled, unemployed and vulnerable of every stripe have not only been subjected to a withering assault on their ability to survive but have been demonised, dehumanised and stigmatised in the process, rage is an entirely natural response.
The frog’s chorus of commentators — some with the temerity to describe themselves as on the left — that saw fit to indulge in ritual condemnation of the protesters involved in the ugly scenes that took place merely confirm that for them austerity is just a word. Some of them may oppose it, may even strenuously object to it, but none of them feel it or fully grasp its consequences.
Given the consequences — in many cases death — those commentators should be commending people in Britain for the remarkable restraint they have shown instead of condemning those who were venting their anger in Manchester.
There has always been a tension in society between those who advocate acceptable and polite opposition to injustice and those who believe in opposing it by any means necessary. Those, the majority, who opt for the former have a duty not to condemn the latter but to understand its source and point to the reasons why people refuse to accept that pelting people with eggs, even spitting on them (as disgusting as that undoubtedly is), is worse than forcing human beings into destitution as part of an ideological assault on the most vulnerable and needy.
It is not worse. In fact, it is not even equivalent.
What the political class and its commentariat echo chamber fail to grasp is that they are sitting atop a mountain of volcanic anger that has built up over the past few years in response to this ideological assault. Fortunately for them, first the SNP in Scotland and now Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party have provided a vehicle for this mounting anger to be given political expression at the ballot box. Without both acting as a pressure valve who could dispute that scenes far uglier than those that took place in Manchester at the weekend would have already ensued, perhaps on a par with or even more destructive than the riots of 2011?
The Tories do not and have never had a mandate for the violence they have been meting out to people whose only crime is that they are economically disadvantaged.
Only last week I attended a protest outside a jobcentre in Edinburgh that has been notorious for bullying and sanctioning claimants. It was organised by the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, one of a number of such groups offering solidarity with the unemployed up and down the country, carrying on a noble tradition of organising solidarity with and between unemployed workers that is always the front line of any struggle on the basis of class.
Rather than helping people back into work, jobcentres are now places where the unemployed are put on trial, convicted and punished with sanctions for the slightest infraction of Orwellian rules designed to be impossible to adhere to for any length of time.
We cannot allow ourselves as a society to accept that claiming benefits is tantamount to stealing from the taxpayer. This is a carefully calibrated narrative promoted by the right and their media acolytes to effect the demonisation of the unemployed, with the objective of building public support or acceptance for treating them as de facto criminals.
This is all being done in order to transfer the nation’s wealth from working people to the rich, a constituency which has benefited rather than suffered under austerity, adding an extra layer of repugnance to the process as each year the Sunday Times rich list parades their names and faces like mugshots in a police station.
There is no right or wrong way to protest against injustice. As Martin Luther King reminds us: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
What took place in Manchester did not come close to being a riot, yet to judge from the condemnation that has been directed at those involved you would think it was an attempt to seize power by the sans culottes.
Britain in 2015 is an ugly place. In fact, for far too many it is a living hell. Understanding that politics is not merely an intellectual game played out in TV studios, on websites, blogs, in newspaper columns and on social media has never been more essential. The physical and psychological damage wrought by austerity has been accompanied by an orchestrated campaign to divert blame away from its perpetrators onto its victims.
In a civilised country it would be those delegates walking into the Tory conference in their expensive suits, people responsible for waging war against society, who’d be held up as beyond the pale, not those standing outside hurling abuse at them.
The enemy is not and never has been people protesting against injustice. It is and always will be the hypocrisy and cant of those for whom opposition to that injustice should never offend polite society.