Friday, 19 June 2015

Austerity, Demonstrating, Voting and History

Austerity has had a variety of cultural meanings:
It is easy to forget that Austerity Britain after WW2
Oversaw the introduction of the Welfare State,
An increase in equality and the role of the state;
1950s Tories would correspondingly portray the Labour Party
As the party of austerity, rationing and collectivism,
In their 1950s search for electoral majorities,
Private profit, increased consumption and reductions in income tax -
1950s Conservatives equated austerity with equality,
Public ownership, nationalisation and progressive income tax;
Keynsian Conservatives said we’d never had it so good –
Public spending was an investing virtue,
Not a cardinal sin.

Now in an interesting redefinition of the meaning of the word,
Conservatives now equate austerity with privatisation,
Cuts in the role of the state and cuts in taxes for the rich -
They use the word flexibly to suit their canting cause,
With the majority of the press on their side, not just on-message,
But trumpeting the virtues of austerity,
And manipulating minds:

Which brings me to the history of the Chartists and their Six Points,
And the role of demonstrations and voting in Britain today:
When the Chartists campaigned for the vote,
Secret ballot, annual parliaments and so on,
There was a working class press – and not just the Northern Star –
That provided an alternative to capitalist analysis.
There was no drip feed mind control from free ‘papers on trains and buses,
There was no ‘extreme centre’ on the BBC, or commercial radio,
And no dominant right wing discourse across so many newspapers,
As exists today.
In addition, there was a culture, convention and habit,
Of reading the radical press out loud,
With shared, collective discussion:
The literate aided the untaught, in working class education,
In kitchen and in pub,
Both women and men,
And children too
(Of whom, many were working, of course).

Alongside this campaign for universal suffrage,
The mass petitioning and the collecting of signatures,
And the warning that unless something was done
To alleviate poverty and grant democracy,
Then trouble would erupt
(Btw, remember the London riots?),
There was the demonstrating,
The creation of an alternative parliament –
The People’s Convention –
And the knowledge that without the secret ballot,
Then democracy would be a sham,
With upper class control, both aristocratic and bourgeois,
Exercised through intimidation, eviction, the sack, wage cuts, the workhouse …
The secret ballot was thus both fundamental and talismanic -
Even today, the ritualistic pencil and paper and polling booth,
Seem to suggest democratic equality and freedom of choice.

But the secret ballot is now, in many ways, an illusion.
I am not referring to the role of opinion polls,
Tantalizing as that is,
But rather the power of the press, and media in general:
Voters take all that artfully constructed
(And artfully targeted) right wing ideology
Into the booths with them, in their heads;
It’s a form of mediated intimidation,
Unimaginable to the Chartists:

And that’s why demonstrating is so vital:
Otherwise we lie supine,
While they lie, rampant;
And every five years they offer a bribe and their lies get a bit bigger,
And everything keeps rolling to the Right …
Sort of exponentially,
Unless …

No comments:

Post a Comment