Alan Moore on austerity

Alan Moore is a writer of some of the best comics of the last 35 years. Works such as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Marvelman/Miracleman, Swamp Thing, Lost Girls and From Hell have managed to redefine comics for a couple of generations by now and probably will for some time to come. He’s also someone very active in helping his local community in Northampton which after nearly eight years of cuts and austerity has suffered like many parts of the UK.

This week he spoke at the Advice Forward Partnership conference entitled  Austerity & Advice, How the advice sector can positively impact on poverty and wellbeing. With many working class and poorer communities especially being hit hard by successive government’s cuts and with the Tory government threatening to tear apart the last fragments of what was the welfare state things are going to get much worse. Moore’s speech makes some interesting points so here it is:

It’s a good speech that starts with a nice Jeremy Corbyn gag and a joke about the conference being located in Hull, but it’s a bit rambling in places (I can tell Moore’s picked up a few tricks from hanging around with Stewart Lee) though it comes together at the end to make an important point that a lack of information is also a contributor to poverty and he’s entirely right. In fact this was a major part of the debate during the Scottish independence referendum and one of the reasons why the old media in Scotland is dying, and new media like Bella Caledonia, Common Space or Wings Over Scotland are now the first place people look to find information rather than the BBC or the mainstream press. This led to the creation of The National, the first pro-indy mainstream daily newspaper (with a strong anti-austerity editorial line) that launched to massive sales in Scotland last November, so yes, you can change things if you really, really work hard at it.

An establishment controlling the release of information into the public effectively controls the way people react to their circumstances, so austerity has become something for many to not question because according to them, we need it. It doesn’t help to have Labour manage people’s expectations by also endorsing austerity but we need it to bring down the deficit right?

Wrong. As Moore says, if you give people access to information they find out the opposite of what they’re being told is often the case as many of us argued for years during the Indyref. Now the debate is on a UK level and people like are making these same arguments which were right last year, or in May, and are just as right now. Moore, or Jeremy Corbyn make the case, as does the writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce in this fantastic article in the Independent, that austerity is a busted flush. It’s ideological in the  way that it isn’t just money, services and resources it removes, but information. The Tories aren’t closing libraries to ‘save money’ but reduce what information people have access to. Fortunately we’re in the internet age and restricting information is difficult, so create your own media is the lesson to be learned.

As for Moore I’d like to hear him become more vocal now the the anti-austerity movement is growing across the UK outside of Scotland, and with Jeremy Corbyn one way or another going to shake things up he could provide a crucial voice in the years ahead as the Tories get to enact their plans.

End Austerity Now

Today is the largest mass demonstration against austerity in the UK as a march takes place in London against government austerity, and there’s also demonstrations across the UK, including another huge demo in George Square in Glasgow.

Austerity isn’t as the Tories tell you it is. It isn’t about ‘tightening our belts’ and ‘living within our means’. It’s about scrapping the welfare state and privatising everything so the rich benefit from the debt and suffering of the poor, unemployed and disabled. It’s about turning neighbour against neighbour as they fight over crumbs while the Tories wreck the country and destroy people’s lives, and make no mistake, lives are not just being wrecked but lost to the ideological policy of austerity.It is effectively an attack upon people”s rights to live.

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) is going at the end of the month.and in removing it, the lives of thousands of disabled people are going to be destroyed very, very quickly. Some might say this is hyperbole but it isn’t. In my work there are people who can no longer as of next month get to and from work, so have a choice of going on benefits or trying to make by without something that’s enabled them to live the same lives as people like myself. Of course benefits themselves are being cuts as George Osborne plans his £12 billion worth of cuts that will once and for all wreck the welfare state.

antiausteritydemo

So right now in London and Glasgow people from all walks of life are joined by unions, politicians from the SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru, and the few decent and moral Labour MP’s that stand against their own party’s support of austerity and are showing that there’s an opposition to the entire idea of austerity. They’re showing the Tories we’re not going down without a fight not just for ourselves, but for all of us together.

Follow the London even with the Livestream here, and the George Square event can be seen here.

What I thought of The Artist Taxi Driver’s ‘Westmonster’.

Mark McGowan is a performance artist who decided to take on the persona of the Artist Taxi Driver around five years ago as a way to channel his protests against the government and the general establishment in a more productive way than his previous Chunky Mark persona. As the Artist Taxi Driver, he interviews a staggering range of people in his taxi from people like Frankie Boyle, Russell Brand and Leanne Wood, to people trying to save their homes in London housing estates. This isn’t some celebrity ego trip, but a man genuinely protesting against the system as can be seen from the almost daily videos and interviews he uploads to Youtube.

His magnum opus is Westmonster, a 3 hour, 26 minute film about the British political system that takes bits and bobs of previous videos plus some I’ve not seen before, so may be totally new, to form something else. What that something else is remains in the eye of the beholder as this is at the same time as being a highly political piece of activism, is also a piece of performance art. It doesn’t have a narrative drive, so the flow of the film is scattergun which makes it at times in it’s nearly three and a half hour running time, sometimes a chore as it’s disjointed structure makes it hard to follow even if you’re totally aware of the situations being discussed, or just who McGowan is speaking to or about.

The running time doesn’t help as it drifts in and out of making a clear point, but there’s a lot McGowan is cramming in here but when it works it does so well, such as the coverage of the various grass roots campaigns across the UK be it the women fighting to avoid eviction from their homes in London, to campaigners trying to be heard in regards institutional cover up of child abuse to independence campaigners in Scotland, something McGowan in particular had drawn real inspiration from and indeed he’s dedicated the film to the people of Scotland for that reason. Indeed the name of the film comes from the term Scottish independence campaigners use for Westminster.

Stripping the film down to say, two hours and removing much of the stream of consciousness narrative would help the flaws in Westmonster, but when it hits home it does so in spectacular fashion as for example the scene where McGowan speaks to an incredibly articulate young girl about the stuff she’s putting up with in regards evictions while trying to get an education, or the protesters pointing out the flaws in the entire myth of austerity. Even the scenes with some of the celebrities are worth watching, especially an informed discussion between McGowan and Frankie Boyle which includes the bizarre detail that Ed Milliband and George Osborne’s wives are best friends and go on holidays together. Russel Brand plays his part in the film spouting his usual stuff, but it’s good to see that McGowan includes the opinions of grass roots campaigners who can see through Brand’s often misleading rhetoric.

McGowan isn’t afraid to go for the jugular and take on sacred cows of the left, especially some on the the English left who McGowan seems to see as being led astray or foolishly think Labour are going to support people on the fight against austerity. He understands that the old establishment has to be brought down and new grass roots movements have to form in order to fight the neoliberal consensus and right now that seems to be forming across the UK, and is also the subject of his next big project.

Westmonster is a flawed, overlong, often far too hyperbolic film that sometimes dives headfirst into conspiracy theory tinhattery, though some of the stories that sound fantastic are true. It is however a film that should be seen because of the masses of information (and it’s a lot of information to take in at times) in here is important, but it’s the unique voices of people on the front line of the cuts, or of austerity, or of the very reshaping of our society as it moves into an authoritarian country ruled by an elite for an even richer elite that is important.

The idea that the UK is run by a succession of increasingly corrupt governments controlled by corrupt institutions and corporations sounds like a dystopian fantasy from a Philip K. Dick novel, but in the rawest, truest sense, this is what the UK is. Both Tory and Labour governments of the last 40 or so years have performed a sort of baton race passing laws to reshape the country from the post war consensus where people from all sides of the political spectrum agreed on things like the welfare state and human rights, to one now where the welfare state and human rights are under threat. McGowan is a crucial voice in exposing the stories the establishment don’t want you to hear, not to mention he gives the people behind these stories a voice using his relatively high profile.

One of these voices is heard in the epilogue to the film discussing the Daniel Morgan murder.

There’s a lot to take from Westmonster, I’d recommend getting stuck in and take from it what you can as in the coming months there’s going to be a clear fight to keep what we have and stop it falling into the hands of the few.

An uncomfortable question for those in the English left protesting against the Tories

How many people protesting the Tories and their cuts voted for an anti-austerity party (no, I don’t mean Labour as they’re a party of austerity) last week? How many went out chapping doors for anti-austerity parties and no, I don’t mean Labour as they’re an austerity party?

How many people got their hands dirty in the schemes and estates and had the conversations needed to convince them that the Tories were not an option?

Here’s the thing as much as demos and protests are good, there is not going to be any genuine change until the left in England realises this because they do in Scotland. and they’re getting there in Wales. I’ve had a think about how the anti-austerity side failed and simply put apart from the Greens there were no anti austerity voices on the news or debates over the campaign apart from Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood.

So here’s the thing: there are groups in Scotland like Common Weal, and sites like Bella Caledonia where the talk is how the Yes campaign can help people in England on the left because demonstrations for the same of demonstrations are pointless. It’s just a shout of rage. Don’t expect Labour to suddenly get it as they’re fighting about what Blairite tosser gets the chance to lose in 2020 against Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or Teresa May.

Look at parties like Yorkshire First or Mebyon Kernow as a template for the English left to get out of dreaming about the past of Labour as if you wait for Labour to catch up let alone stop being a party of austerity then you’ll be older than the mountains themselves. No, the future is to mobilise and get behind new ideas but you need to challenge your own opinions and that won’t happen in demonstrations or the online echo chamber.

Get out in the street. Knock doors. Speak to people. You don’t have to belong to a party, just say you’re an anti-austerity campaigner and once you’ve spoken to people outside your local bubble you’ll find the route you need to actually take the fight to the Tories because Labour aren’t and 56 SNP MP’s can do only so much.

How many Labour MP’s voted against austerity cuts?

A couple of days ago the SNP detailed the 28 Labour MP’s in Scotland that voted for George Osborne’s budget and the billions of pounds in cuts he intends to unleash across the UK. There’s some predictable names in there such as Douglas Alexander, Margaret Curran and Anas Sawar, but one would be right in querying why on earth these people that represent some of the poorest, most deprived parts of not just Scotland, but the UK, can justify voting for cuts that will directly affect their constituents?

This has brought condemnation not only from parties on the left (sorry Labour, you’re no longer a party of the left) such as the SNP, Green’s and Plaid Cymru but it’s also stirred some voices within the Labour Party itself. Only five Labour MP’s had the courage to vote against the Labour whip and they were Diane Abbott, Katy Clark, Dennis Skinner, Austin Mitchell and Roger Godsiff. The rest of Labour either voted for it, or as Labour have done far, far too often against Coalition policy, they’ve chickened out and abstained so often in the past as this Wings Over Scotland article details.

So there you go. Only five Labour MP’s stood alongside the MP’s of 13 different parties in opposing austerity, so when Labour say they oppose coalition/Tory policy, they really don’t. The argument between Osborne and Balls in regards austerity isn’t whether we need it at all, but the pace parties will cut. It’s like saying to a person with an illness that that they have a choice of dying in a year of in four years instead of trying to work out if there’s a cure, or their illness can be helped in another way apart from the treatment that doesn’t work, which is exactly what austerity is.

As this election campaign builds up speed there’s going to be a lot of lies and spin flying around but never forget every single Labour MP bar five either voted for, or abstained in regards to Tory and Lib Dem austerity plans. For that, they can never be forgiven.