Thursday, 22 March 2012

UK Uncut, Occupy & the role of idealism in public discourse.

Yesterday I went to the UK Uncut protest against the budget, forming a “dole queue” to recreate Thatcher’s “Labour isn’t working” poster with the slogan “austerity isn’t working”. It was a good protest, with lots of really lovely people, and it remained peaceful and well organised throughout. Being able to stand with a bunch of other people outside Westminster to collectively make the point that this government’s actions are unfair and wrong…that’s a powerful feeling.

There are times, however, as someone whose main form of activism is within partisan politics, that movements like UK Uncut and Occupy can seem quite distant from my way of looking at society and political change. They can seem quite extreme to someone who wants a Keynesian style stimulus, not to completely do away with capitalism. That’s not to say that everyone in movements like these is that radical, but they are defiantly idealistic, and often anti-establishment in a way that pulls them away from partisan politics; the vehicle through which, really, the greatest change can be made. They also often lack in specific alternatives; it is very clear what they are against, but less so what they are for.

But movements such as these can and do do a great deal of good; by helping to move and set the debate. Yes, they might often be idealistic, but that idealism can be of great benefit when thrown into the mix of all the other ideas and views in our public discourse. It was Occupy that gave us the rhetoric of the 99% and the 1%; though their aims might not be entirely realistic, they have done a great job and shaping this narrative and our society’s perspective on and understanding of social injustices. UK Uncut might not provide a fully thought out economic strategy, but they create a way for people to stand up and say that the government’s actions are wrong, lending strength to a movement against them by the left.

I want to see Labour in power, both nationally and locally; I think securing this is the best way to create change, which is why campaigning for the Labour Party will always, for me, be a priority over engaging in protests like the one I went to on Wednesday. But I’m glad I had a free Wednesday morning to go and support UK Uncut. Because these movements can provide a voice for an idealism that cannot come from a political party. This idealism as it stands could not manifest into social change. But when it becomes part of the wider dialogue, it moves it, improves it, and strengthens the voice of progressive politics within it.

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