Sunday, March 31, 2013

Snow and Bad Wind at the Guildhall: Bedroom Tax Demo, Yesterday.

“No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party . . . So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin" - Aneurin Bevan.

The Bedroom Tax demonstration on the steps of the Guildhall in Northampton was like a Fellini-esque parade of political has-beens and hopefuls, main-chancers, radicals, honest testifiers and spectator freaks. I came away from it feeling naked and exposed because I wasn't any of those things; and more convinced than I'd been before I attended that we didn't have a hope in hell of opposing this tax or anything else, not in Northampton anyway.

Norman Adams, local organiser, local legend, was there. Paul Crofts was there too. In the Eighties Paul was the head of the Wellingborough Communists and an acquaintance of my mother's. I went to a party at the multi-cultural centre in town with Mum and the Communists once to celebrate the anniversary of the French Revolution. Won a Charles Aznavour album and a bottle of wine in a raffle and gave the Aznavour to a woman sitting in front of me; she thought I was very generous.

In addition to those guys I saw Dave Green, who chaired a union meeting I attended to listen to Dawn Primarolo's boy talk about setting up community groups affiliated to the union. Norman got the devil in him that night and slammed the guy about his mother's associations with Tony Blair. That got under his hundred and fifty quid suit.

At the demo there was Tony Clarke also, setting up behind a big Green Party banner with other local members, and people from the Socialist Workers, and at least one Labour councillor I identified, who I overheard saying, "If any member of the Liberal Democrats turns up for this today they have no shame, no shame." Sally Keeble, former Labour MP for Northampton, booted out by the electorate and now, inexplicably, selected to run again in 2015, was down on the pavement with a few young activists. I'd never seen her in the flesh before and I was surprised how short she was.

Norman told me he hadn't intended for the demo to turn into a party political affair. "It's about right and wrong, not party politics," he said. The others had blown that noble idea out of the water. It seemed like they saw it as a great chance to pick up a few stray votes and get their picture in the Chron. The political equivalent of going to the right nightclubs when you want to be famous.

But there was a lot of impassioned, if generally vague, talk about unity from the six or seven speechmakers who followed Norman, all of them  talking through a megaphone as the snow fell on our heads and the steady urban hum of cars and shoppers carried on around us. I realised when I came away, though, that nobody seemed to have agreed anything.

There had been talk, at the start, about taking names, direct action to stop bailiffs from evicting people who couldn't pay the tax, but there didn't seem to have been any specific agreement about how these things, as necessary as they are, would be organised. Maybe it's because almost everybody there knew each other already and the communication network is already in place. I hope so. But what about the folks who'd just come along, if there were any?

It didn't look like there were lots of newcomers, to be fair. Actually, the speechifiers and the photographers probably outnumbered those who'd just come along to shout and clap and show their dissatisfaction with the Borough Council. And sadly, that's usually the way. Most people only get mad enough to turn out in the cold if the policy being protested against affects them. Look at how "political" people were when the poll tax was foisted on the country. Where had most of them been in the preceding ten years?

Norman Adams really cares. That guy would lay down his life for something he believed in. I think Tony Clarke cares too. He will take his conviction back into the Guildhall and make a profound nuisance of himself, regardless of the consequences. But what will Labour do, held back by the lillywhite leadership of Ed Milliband? They were there yesterday, making fine speeches, but they can't really be counted on to oppose the tax in any meaningful way.

Will Milliband want his MPs linking arms with Socialist Workers or Occupiers  across the doorways of council houses to prevent meathead bailiffs from crossing them and dragging out the blind, the sick, the frail, the disabled, the scared, the poor? Do people attracted to the Labour Party these days even have the balls to put their bodies on the line? And, which is possibly more to the point, do I?

I want to think I do, but sometimes I suspect I'm all mouth. A political gobshite. A laptop Lenin. Do I have the guts actually to take a risk? I've thought about it, and I really don't know. When I saw the riot police coming at the student demo I went so quickly in the opposite direction any photograph taken would have shown just a blur. And I'm supposed to be one of the caring ones.

There are times - when the machinery of the State becomes truly wicked, as it is today - that peaceful civil disobedience is the only effective, honest way to do right. Everything else is just bad wind wafting around the ears of the dying. An exercise of conscience for the bathroom mirror.

History will judge, I suppose, whether we did any good by airing our principles like bedding on the line. In the meantime the evictions will begin next week.


Tony Clarke said...

Good piece Bruce, lets hope when the time comes to act that enough of us do.

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