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On belonging to a lost generation

Mindless thugs or victims of the political system? (Photo: Bristol Anarchist Book Collective)

Right now is not a good time to belong to my generation; right now, it is not a good time to be a teenager or a young adult in Britain – particularly if, like myself, you are choosing or have chosen to progress onto further and higher education, or if you have currently graduated from school, college or university and are attempting to embark upon a career.

Most of us voted for the first time last May, and a fair proportion of us placed our faith in the ‘alternative’ – the Liberal Democrats. The very same Party who proceeded to jump into bed with Mr Cameron and his cronies to prop up what is essentially a Tory government, facilitating the railroading through Parliament of policies which are the diametric opposite of those which we were pledged pre-election.

We are entering into adulthood at a time of austerity. Worse, the most brutal of swathing public sector cuts are targeted, directly and indirectly, at the young and the lower-classes.
Who knows why? Of one thing I think we can be certain: these cuts are born of political ideology, not economic necessity. On the contrary, celebrated economists like Keynes agree that the only way out of a deficit is to grow one’s way out of it. To stimulate growth, one must invest – slashing spending will have the opposite effect, as demonstrated by the Republic of Ireland and as reflected in our own financial ‘progress’ – or lack thereof – which Mr Osborne tenaciously blamed on the snow.

The fact is, the Tories have always been committed to shrinking the State and are now propagating a myth – that the only way out of this deficit is to cut, cut, cut and cut again – to legitimise an agenda that was beyond even Thatcher’s wildest dreams.

As a result, my generation is needlessly being forced to bear the brunt of a recession we had no part in. For it was not we who dodged our taxes or borrowed more than we could afford. None of us maxed out our credit cards or awarded ourselves astronomical bonuses. This is not our mess; we did not bust the banks. But now, the ConDems are busting us.

So far, the axe has fallen on the Future Jobs Fund, a New Labourite scheme designed to help young people find work; EMA has also bitten the dust, and is set to be replaced by a scheme with a fraction of its budget, and the 24 percent cut from the central government grant to local authorities has resulted in councils slashing funding for Connexions. Further, the cuts to education alone exceed £620 million.

From 2012, university fees are set to treble to £27,000 for a three-year course as the coalition mercilessly pulls the plug on public funding to higher education, transferring the cost away from the State and onto the individual. Worse, this change has nothing to do with the deficit; according to the Chancellor, it will be dealt with before this scheme will have properly begun. The coalition is trying to hoodwink us into believing that a few crummy bursaries will mitigate the effect of this extortionate sum, but we all know that this ideological move is pricing prospective students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds out of the market. They are too afraid to plunge themselves into debt when they have little guarantee of a job at the end of it all, with the ConDem budget stifling economic growth and rocketing youth unemployment to record levels as young people compete with experienced public sector workers who have been made redundant for the few job vacancies that are actually out there.

In the midst of this austerity comes news of scandalous tax avoidance which the coalition has made glib promises to tackle, despite several central figures in the cabinet – including our aristocratic Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, the very man responsible for executing these savage cutbacks – allegedly being complicit in a bit of it themselves. Oh, but it’s all perfectly legal, of course. It would be, wouldn’t it?

The truth is that the Tories would have Sir Philip Green, their tax-dodging ‘efficiency’ advisor, keep the excess of £285 million he owes the public purse; unless forced, they will do nothing to retrieve the £25 billion tax-dodgers deprive the Treasury of each year. They would rather push through an extra £25 billion worth of cuts and they would rather make the little people pay for their crisis because it is in both their personal interest and ideological interest to do so. They want to make the rich richer while leaving everyone else by the wayside.

Understandably, people – particularly young people – are angry. And who can blame us? When tens of thousands of students, many of whom voted Lib Dem, demonstrated in London to pressure MPs into sticking to the pledge they made to oppose any increases in tuition fees, they voted for them anyway. Not only that, they were instrumental in facilitating the bill’s swift passage through Parliament. Surely, this would leave you feeling disenfranchised and excluded from a political system that has completely ignored you protest the decimation of access to higher education.

The coalition pulled the rug out from underneath us and kicked us hard to keep us down there. It’s where they want us to stay. And so anger turns to rage.

The Home Secretary had been defending the right to ‘peaceful protest’. But now, she’s singing from a different hymn sheet. When windows are broken and shop-fronts graffitied; when pyres are lit and activists engage in skirmishes with police, something became clear to Ms May and the rest of the coalition.

The entire population of Great Britain could march in a line from A to B in a designated protest area under the steely glare of the government stooges formerly known as the Metropolitan Police force before anyone in Parliament will consider any alternative whatsoever

Rage has radicalised a whole generation in a very short space of time. The fact is that no politician has ever given us any reason to have any faith that the democratic process can work for us; there is no reason to feel that we can have any impact on the government’s decisions, no matter how many of us march. And we have no reason to believe that Parliament cares about our opinion, and no-one in power has ever done anything to demonstrate that either of the coalition Parties give a proverbial about the young or the working-class people that they are consigning to ruin.

But we have every reason to believe the opposite. This is a generation that reached adolescence around the time that Tony Blair was leading the UK into a war against Iraq; something which went ahead regardless of the tens of thousands of people marching against it in the streets of London in 2003.

It was truly inspiring to see these scenes recreated on March 26, when half a million people from all walks of life marched through London to appeal to the government’s better nature. But some of us know the truth: Mr Cameron and Co. don’t have a better nature. Bluntly, the entire population of Britain could march in a line from A to B in a designated protest area under the steely glare of the government stooges formerly known as the Metropolitan Police before anyone in Parliament will consider any alternative.

For all the government is listening to peaceful demonstrations, they may as well be imaginary. My generation has been silenced. History has taught us that marching poses no threat whatsoever to the government and it will not budge their plans; we can protest within the rule of law until the Second Coming arrives before it will achieve anything. The rule of law does not work in our favour while it is maintained by a bunch of aristocratic millionaires who are more interested in helping their friends hoard their fortunes than caring for the basic needs and interests of the people who elected them; the ones they are supposed to be representing. Instead, they are singing their praises to a ‘brave’, truncheon-wielding police force who, at their command, are battering in the skulls of unarmed demonstrators upon the tiniest provocation – or none at all – while in the process of kettling them onto Westminster Bridge. What’s more, all sides of the mainstream political spectrum are condemning the ‘violent anarchists’ of the Black Bloc in a tone of contempt they normally reserve for the BNP, while lamenting the vandalism to a couple of defenceless shop-fronts over the police violence administered upon kids, many of whom had no part in anything other than a peaceful march through London.

Frustrating, isn’t it? If only Mr Osborne would retrieve some of that £25 billion that his Etonian chums have avoided paying in tax this year such that cuts to the public sector would be £25 billion less severe, perhaps one particular ‘anarchist yob’ wouldn’t have become so frustrated that the only way he could articulate himself was by throwing a stool through the window of a high street bank on Oxford Street.

Politicians, the vandals of the public sector, bear the responsibility for this radicalisation; this disenfranchisement, and yet write off these frustrated young people who a mere year ago were plain and ordinary, just like you and just like me. People who were members of the Labour Party or who voted Lib Dem, who held onto optimism; who held onto a hope. They have now been cast aside and ignored by a system that has dumped onto their shoulders the debt of the previous generation, and are deplored when they rebel against it, when they lash out. But is it any wonder at all that they are driven to target tax-dodging corporations by vandalising their shop-fronts? What else are they supposed to do? The government isn’t doing anything about it; is it any wonder that civil disobedience seems like the only way to make themselves heard?
Over recent months, it has become stunningly obvious that these austerity measures – the ones that they have dreamt of for decades; the ones that make them salivate – are threatened not by marches, nor by demos, but by direct action. The question is: what kind of direct action is needed?

I think that the treatment and media portrayal of the ‘violent’ demonstrators has been disgustingly misrepresentative, with MPs labeling them as ‘mindless thugs’, making no attempt to analyse why they have articulated their frustration in this way and failing to consider that the ‘thuggery’ was specifically targeted at tax-dodging companies, and with no-one asking how on Earth it came to this. But it has to be said that these tactics are counter-productive. Iconic though the images of March 26 are, vandalism of this magnitude plays directly into the Tories’ hands. It makes it possible for the establishment to amalgamate peaceful direct action with aggressive direct action, allowing the media to utterly discredit the anti-cuts movement as vicious and violent, alienating ordinary people who would otherwise become actively involved in anti-cuts campaigns.

Take the demonisation of UK Uncut – a campaign group targeting tax-dodging corporations – following March 26’s mass arrest during the Fortnum and Mason’s occupation, moments after a senior police officer described their protest as ‘sensible’ before luring them outside where they were handcuffed.

UK Uncut had managed to articulate its frustration peacefully, in far more sophisticated manner than the Black Bloc did. Therefore, it appealed to the masses with its effective tactics, which have involved occupying a Boots store and turning it into a makeshift ‘hospital’. Tactics so effective, it seems, that an order to arrest them for ‘aggravated trespass’ (whilst a few hundred metres away, high street stores and banks were being desecrated) is rumoured to have came from the very top and accusations of politically-motivated policing are rife. The only conclusion to be made is that the powers that be were threatened, that UK Uncut was deliberately targeted and that the 138 are political prisoners.

Their demonisation continued in the House of Commons in the days following the events as the Prime Minister called on a number of Labour MPs to withdraw their support from UK Uncut. This repression epitomises the class struggle. Mr Cameron is worried that he has met his match; UK Uncut are being targeted because they pose a real, fundamental threat to his austerity programme and to the established order.

All in all, it’s arguable as to whether March 26 did the anti-cuts movement a disservice or not. But what it did do was provide a glimmer of hope: it demonstrated that the establishment has a weakness and now, UK Uncut are claiming the credit for the announcement on March 28 of an investigation into corporate tax avoidance by Parliament’s Treasury select committee. The government has also halted its plans for radical NHS reforms.

For now, this is just a drop in the ocean, but if we are ever going to bring the Tories’ austerity programme crashing down around their ears, it is a weakness we must continue to exploit before our generation is truly lost.

May the struggle continue.

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