Underlying the cuts agenda there is a deeper problem with our democracy. There has been too little debate on policies and particularly these spending cuts; there has been insufficient presentation of alternatives, even within the labour party, who accept the supposed inevitability of the cuts. These policies are being presented as non-ideological economic law rather than a choice. In fact they are driven by an ideology intent on marketisation and deregulation.
Across Europe and the wider world, the same crises are occurring over and over again. Even though the figures and fine details are different. In Spain and Greece, Ireland and Italy, the Arab World and even the USA, protest struggles are being sparked by issues that have a common root. Institutions like the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Bank are using debt crises to force a managerial style of politics devoid of creativity and choice. Also complicit is the World Trade Organisation by promoting a model of government and business which does not consider the lives of the people it affects; all of us. Within all of this, there is no place for real democracy driven by the desires of the people.
Since the 1980s, all 3 main parties in Britain have increasingly positioned themselves ever closer together within this globally-dictated ideological framework. This has meant that there is little variation in political discussion, with an increased emphasis on personalities and playground squabbles rather than substance in political debate as politicians compete to score points over each other. Every area of life is now treated as a business opportunity, with politics watered down to small differences in managerial styles.
Ordinary people have been shut out of politics while enormous influence is commanded by unelected, unaccountable corporate interest. A particularly troubling example is the dropping of bribery allegations against BAE Systems, Britain’s largest arms company, with the excuse of a threat to national security. The government has begun to define national security based on economic interests ahead of the welfare of its people.
We have a biased, uninformative and sensationalist media which holds disproportionate power over our elected institutions. This means that even when there is decent debate it often fails to reach the general public. Furthermore the Media is owned and controlled by a small wealthy elite, for example, the Murdoch Empire runs a large portion of the UK and international media. One simple improvement to our democratic system would be to limit the portion of the media which one corporation or individual can own.
These corporate and political elites are detached from ordinary citizens, partly as a result of increasing inequality. This can make them out of touch with the lives of the vast majority of people, and is a barrier to pubic engagement with politics. Those making decisions hold such extreme wealth that they live in a separate world from the rest of us. Yet it is their greed which has created the economic scenario now being used to take away services ordinary people rely on.
Even during the government’s insistence that there is no alternative to cutting spending, money has been found to go to war in Libya, reorder the NHS and bail out Ireland’s banks. In addition, the new funding regime for Britain’s Universities is already proving more costly than the previous arrangements, whilst taking courses away. Through this and other policies, Britain is at risk of seeing its most talented youth leave the country and the disappearance of many previously-existing opportunities for the majority.
Most people feel that the political process shaping Britain is impenetrable, and there exist many barriers to participation. Information is not presented in a format that encourages engagement. Economics in particular is presented by both politicians and the media as too difficult for ordinary people to comprehend, leading to a lack of engagement with the issues that affect people’s lives.
Through movements like ours, we hope to draw citizens into the political process and stimulate real debate about the type of society we want to live in. Although rarely discussed in Parliament or the media, there are alternatives to their policies which would allow us to reduce the deficit without damaging our public services.
As our fellow protesters in Spain have written, ‘the priorities of any advanced society must be equality, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare and people’s happiness. These are inalienable truths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, social care, political participation, free personal development, and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life.’
The UK’s taxation policies are in need of an overhaul. Studies performed by PCS estimate that £70billion is lost each year through tax avoidance and a further £25billion through evasion by wealthy individuals and big business, equal to as much as three quarters of the annual deficit. Personal taxation also needs a re-think, as the poorest fifth of our population pay a greater proportion of their income as tax than the wealthiest fifth. A more progressive system would see more of the tax burden being levied from those most able to pay, and ensuring services can still be provided for all. This cannot happen if the government continues to pursue job cuts in Revenue & Customs.
We must take time to ask what kind of economic growth our society needs. Over the last 20 years, most growth of profits has come from stripping people of jobs or lowering wages and conditions. The smokescreen of privatisation for efficiency has allowed corporations to cream off the proceeds of taxation in profit for themselves, but left employees and service users worse off. Furthermore, through Private Finance Initiatives, the government has found a way of purchasing public services through private providers at grossly inflated, long-term cost. Why should the money we pay in taxes for our services be used to line the pockets of the already-wealthy?
When looking to solutions, we must remember that the crisis began in the banking industry. Our national deficit rose because vast sums of money were given to the banks to bail them out. Several are now owned by us the people via the treasury, which refuses to exert any influence on their operations especially in regards huge bonuses and prevention of a further collapse. A small step to redress this imbalance would be a robin-hood tax on the banking industry, as small as 0.05% on all financial transactions, which could raise £20billion a year.
In Iceland, people have been given the choice of defaulting the national debt and have chosen to make it the responsibility of the banking industry. This has stopped the spiral of endless debt restructuring seen in Greece and Ireland, with ever stricter conditions placed on these countries by the IMF, ECB and World Bank. We demand an impartial commission to assess the moral responsibility for Britain’s debt, and a referendum like that held in Iceland. National Debt which has paid for our services is ours – debt from the bank bailouts and corporate subsidies is not.
There must be a cut in real waste. The UK Trident Program costs £1.5billion every year, and its renewal will cost around £100billion over the next 30 years. Maintaining and renewing these nuclear weapon systems is both unethical and unnecessary. The War in Afghanistan now costs over £2.2billion a year, without any form of victory in sight. It’s time to draw this conflict to an end.
We need to increase investment in our public services. The cuts will leave thousands jobless, not paying taxes but instead claiming benefits, increasing the deficit . Investment will create jobs in our public sector as well as increasing the productivity of our services. We need investment in green technologies, which are essential for our adaptation to an era of dwindling resources, and their production will require the employment of many people.
As humanity, we have created many great things, yet we find ourselves facing a dead-end future.
We know alternatives exist and that they need to be heard.
We do not think that equality and justice are optional.
We want to create virtual and physical spaces for discussion and debate.
We invite people to join us in pursuing our collective vision.