Monday, 28 March 2011

We're public spirited

I was part of a 50-strong Sunderland anti-cuts contingent that joined the TUC March on Saturday. A contingent that was a microcosm of the larger march: citizens united by a long-justified hatred of the Tories and what they are doing to us.

This march of probably 500,000 people felt like the best of Britain out in force to defend valued public services against the Tory-led Coalition, with its individualistic synthesis of the Gradgrindian and Ayn Randian - barely tempered by ineffectual Liberal Democrats. A coalition of ghastly Goveians claiming to know the price of everything, yet patently knowing the value of nothing.

There was earthy humour and righteous anger at the country we are becoming, with public servants being made to pay for a crisis they did not cause; government refusing to make the tough decisions to reclaim unpaid taxes and increase progressive taxation, in order to fund vital public services. This government is trying to re-establish a dangerous and anti-academic 'Our Island Story' narrative in History lessons and - absurdly - turn the Arts and Humanities Research Council into a cheerleader for the Big Society. It is also trying to pull up the ladder for students in FE, is happy to see libraries closed and is intent upon dismantling the NHS as a managed, national service without vast disparities - opening it up to ruthless, competitive forces.

This remarkably astute song encapsulates some of the mood of Saturday; providing an instance of the sort of political hip-hop - supporting the underdog and decent values - too long absent:

The media have tried to represent a fundamentally peaceful protest as irrelevant beside the direct action of a small minority (some of which might be supported, e.g. peaceful occupations). The media are foolish to imagine that they can pull the wool over the public's eye, when the public is about to feel the affects of the Coalition's deliberately punitive and divisive cuts agenda.

Serafina Steer's wistful song captures part of the essential character of the marchers; these were not face-scarved anarchists or rent-a-megaphone fantasists. There was a cross-section of Britain in all its diversity: Christians, Greens, Labour councillors, working and middle-class families and teenagers. There were obviously Guardian-readers and long-time leftists, but they were merely one section of an enormous gathering. Tellingly, I spotted 'Charities against the Cuts' and even 'Conservatives against the Cuts', plus all manner of trade unionists, including uniformed firemen behind FBU banners. Ordinary citizens of this country showing that they care about having a society with strong provision for the social good.

'I remain optimistic
By nature [...]
No ear-plugs here,
No invitation needed;
We're public spirited,
You can hang around here
You can hang around here
Don't go quietly...'

-- With thanks to Gary Duncan for the photos

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