The People's Assembly campaign has seen a huge boost following the Conservative victory at the general election. The certainty of further ideological cuts is seemingly enough to entice people to stand up and get involved. Therefore, on the 20th June, London's streets will be paved with placard-wielding lefties marching together to voice their antipathy for the ills of austerity.
Some critics have predictably denounced this march as 'anti-democratic' - somehow imagining those hoping to get involved as sore losers. This argument demonstrates a complete disregard for the nature of democracy and felicitously ignores some of the more potent anti-democratic forces in Britain. The march to end austerity, unlike some of those powerful anti-democratic forces, is a celebration, rather than a condemnation, of the democratic ideal.
These critics ostensibly believe that we should confine our democratic rights to the voting booth. Apparently, once every five years we have the right to practice democracy. We are entitled to so much more. At the core of the historical struggle for democratic representation was indeed the right to vote, yet dissenters also fought for other rights: the right to unionise, the right to free speech and, of course, the right to protest. Thus, this march, as with any form of protest - including those we find displeasing - is not 'anti-democratic', rather it is an exercise in democracy.
Even if we did confine our democratic rights to the ballot box, anti-austerity advocates could still present a counter-argument to the 'anti-democratic' premise. The right to vote hasn't yielded fair representation - in the sense of awarding each person equal power. The Conservatives only received support from 24% of Britons and only 37% from those that bothered to vote, yet the Tories control the House of Commons. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the call for electoral reform has resurfaced.
Electoral reform is unlikely to succeed. Natalie Bennett said that convincing MPs to support electoral reform is akin to asking turkeys to vote for Christmas. Essentially, we would have to persuade MPs to support legislation that might leave them unemployed. It might be morally responsible but, considering the brutal cuts to welfare, it is unlikely that many MPs will gladly join the doll queue. Moreover, politicians aren't particularly well-known for making decisions based on moral responsibility - hence, you know, austerity. If critics of the anti-austerity march wanted to focus on anti-democratic forces, they could start by addressing the problems of our electoral system.
One of the primary rights that our ancestors fought for, as mentioned, was the right to free speech. This gave way to a free press. The vast majority of the mainstream papers, often financially buttressed by wealthy tax-avoiders, supported right-wing parties in this election. Most of these outlets didn't adopt a fair, unbiased opinion. Instead, they indulged the ancient art of scaremongering - warning people that Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon, or anyone on the left would destroy Britain. David Cameron, on the other hand, was perpetuated as a white knight with the superpower of economic frugality.
Protestors are exercising the same right to free speech that is abused by the so-called free-press. The papers will inexorably condemn the anti-austerity march - favouring Tory frugality - seemingly unaware that their right to criticise is upheld by the same basic democratic principles exercised by protestors. Apparently, the media can practice free speech - through distortion and manipulation - yet it is anti-democratic when discontented voters gather to exercise the same principle.
Political finance, perhaps the most obvious anti-democratic force in Britain, also heavily favours the Tories. In 2014, according to UK Political Info, the Conservatives received donations of nearly £30 million, the Labour party received nearly £20 million and the Liberal Democrats received just over £8 million. No other party managed to reach £5 million. The majority of donations to the Conservatives came from big businesses and wealthy individuals that evidently have something to gain from a Tory victory. This form of 'rent-seeking' - an economics term that describes folks that use financial means to manipulate the system and further their profits - abuses the notion of equal representation.
Like the electoral system and the so-called free press, political finance unfairly sways political opinion towards major parties - particularly of the blue variety. If critics wanted to fight against anti-democratic forces, they could focus on the vested interests that manipulate the democratic process, rather than discontented protestors utilising their right to free speech.
The 'anti-democratic' argument is a feeble attempt to demonise those that wish to exercise their democratic rights. The People's Assembly march is a celebration of democracy and anyone that holds that ideal sacred should support, or at least tolerate, this march regardless of their political allegiance. There are plenty of anti-democratic forces in British politics - the bias electoral system, the unaccountable free-press and the tax-avoiding financiers - yet an anti-austerity protest is not one of them.
This march is an invitation for people to gather together and exchange ideas, to show solidarity for those suffering the ills of austerity and to exercise their democratic rights. On the 20th June, there will be an important march in London. I hope that all those sympathetic to the cause will get involved and help celebrate the democratic rights that we are so fortunate to enjoy.Suggest a correction