We’ve had the march, but what’s the alternative?

A cohesive civil society alternative to the coalition’s cuts programme is required now more than ever after the mass demonstration on March 26th, according to the New Political Economy Network.

By Jim Milnes of the Dress to the Left blog

A cohesive civil society alternative to the coalition’s cuts programme is required now more than ever after the mass demonstration on March 26th, according to the New Political Economy Network.

Clifford Singer, of the False Economy website, definitely believes in the importance of engaging with the greater public, rather than merely the Left’s “faithful”. In doing so, he believes that the Left can further undermine George Osborne’s insistence on halving the deficit in four years.

Speaking at an NPEN event on the politics of the March for the Alternative, he reiterated how the coalition succeeded in setting the terms of the cuts debate through “simple” and “compelling” messages.

Singer said:

“There is an intuitive argument… that we have this massive deficit, and so we have to slash our spending. That’s a very hard one to beat. It goes back to Thatcher’s household budget analogies, and today’s talk about maxing out your credit card.

“Other organisations like the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which is a right-wing echo chamber, have helped. We have lacked that kind of organisation on the Left.”

Furthermore, Singer feels the ‘centralisation’ enshrined by New Labour may be forced to give way to more disparate groups in the fight against spending cuts.

He added:

“Maybe that’s a sign of where we are, with a cynicism about our political system: that parties in general don’t command that authority. Maybe it falls to civil society organisations, maybe we need new types of campaign that look outwards and have to play the role that political parties once played.”

One of those civil society organisations is UK Uncut, praised by Singer for its work despite the hijacking of their demonstration on March 26th by the Black Bloc Anarchist group.

Singer feels UK Uncut erred in holding its own occupations at the same time as the massive demo, but recognised their imaginative agenda-setting:

“You can imagine another scenario where the Black Bloc hadn’t turned up and the police hadn’t gone in for some quite brutal counter-attacks, and suddenly it would look like UK Uncut was doing this imaginative, creative protest which it’s got something of a reputation for.”

Economist and Left Foot Forward contributor Duncan Weldon saw similar government control of narrative in the Spring budget.

Weldon said:

“Osborne described this as a budget for growth, which was interesting given that the forecasts for growth last year, this year and next year were revised down. In the words [of the Office for Budget Responsibility] the economic outlook is darker than it was six months ago.

“While revising down UK growth projections, they revised up world GDP growth projections and they revised up their industrialised countries’ growth projection. So actually they are saying the world’s economy is going to grow faster, generally OECD countries are going to grow faster, but the UK is going to grow a bit slower.

“In the OBR they also do scenario analysis… [but] they were not allowed to forecast how the economy would look like with slower growth or with slower cuts in public spending. That’s the one scenario they are not allowed to test for.”

Weldon sees a “disconnect” between UK growth forecasts and world forecasts being hidden behind a spring budget that was, “in macroeconomic terms, a bit of a non-event”, one that allows the government to control the economic narratives that groups like UK Uncut and False Economy try to separate.

Osborne has refused to be persuaded away from his 2010 position by either the OBR or popular protests; as Weldon concluded:

“Osborne set out his plans in June last year. He clarified those in the Spending Review in October, and now he is updating us on ‘progress’ up to 2015.”

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