The rise of the anti-austerity movement

One has to be wary of seeing trends based on a few data points but there does seem to be a glimmering of hope that people around the world are fed up with the severe austerity policies that have been strongly pushed by a coalition of the transnational oligarchy, conservative politicians, and neoliberal organizations like the IMF and World Bank in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008. These austerity policies that have cut benefits and services while reducing taxes on the rich have created austerity for only the middle classes and the poor, while hugely enriching the already wealthy and the elites of the financial sector.

The election of the Syriza government in Greece on an anti-austerity platform was one such sign. Today comes the news that Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has been removed as Liberal party leader and thus loses his position as prime minister.

The decision comes two years after Abbott led the Coalition to an election victory and seven months after Abbott’s “near death experience” in the last attempted leadership spill. The Coalition has been lagging behind Labor in major published opinion polls since last year, when the government’s first budget carried unpopular measures to cut health and education spending, deregulate university fees and introduce a Medicare co-payment.

Other signs are the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in the UK, the strong showing of Bernie Sanders in the US, and the possibility of the NDP gaining power in next month’s Canadian elections.

Corbyn’s victory is a significant indicator because the fact that the Labour Party under Tony Blair had won three consecutive elections is now taken as proof that his neoliberal way was the best way for Labour forever, rather than as something that happened to resonate with voters at one time but may no longer. (See this site that takes a closer look at Labour and British elections over a longer period and undermines the dogma that the Blair way is a sure-fire winner.)

You might think that the drubbing the Labour Party just got in the most recent elections after decades of adopting the Tory-lite, warmongering, neoliberal policies of Blair was a signal that voters had got fed up with that approach and wanted something different. But that is not how elite opinion works. If Labour had done well in the last election, that would have been taken as evidence in favor of a continuation of the Blairite agenda. But when they lost badly, it was argued that it was because they were not Blairite enough.

It’s a classic ‘heads we win, tails you lose’ mentality that had resulted in the Labour Party moving steadily to the right over the years. One sees this in the US too in the way that the Democratic Party has become more Republican. It is essentially mainstream dogma that the Democratic party should always ‘move to the center’ (i.e., adopt more and more right wing policies) if they are to win, and thus Bernie Sanders is the wrong way to go. It does not matter what voters may say.

Corbyn himself has written an op-ed explaining his stances on various issues, how they have appealed to a younger demographic, and it is refreshing to read because it is an explicit repudiation of the austerity model.

The hope of change and bringing big ideas in is now back at the centre of politics: ending austerity, tackling inequality, working for peace and social justice at home and abroad. That’s why the Labour party was founded more than a century ago.

This election has given that founding purpose a new force for the 21st century: a Labour party that gives voice to the 99%.

Everybody aspires to an affordable home, a secure job, better living standards, reliable healthcare and a decent pension. My generation took those things for granted and so should future generations.

The Conservatives are introducing a trade union bill that will make it harder for workers to get a fair deal at work, to fight for fair pay and for a better work-life balance. Trade unions are a force for good – a force for a more equal society. United, Labour will vote against this anti-democratic attack on trade union members.

On Tuesday, the government will set out regulations to cut tax credits, leaving thousands of working families worse off. Tax credits are a vital lifeline to many families and Labour will oppose these cuts.

It is clear, too, that the prime minister will soon again be asking us to bomb Syria. That won’t help refugees, it will create more.

Isis is utterly abhorrent and President Assad’s regime has committed appalling crimes. But we must also oppose Saudi bombs falling on Yemen and the Bahraini dictatorship murdering its democracy movement, armed by us.

For the Conservatives, the deficit is just an excuse to railroad through the same old Tory agenda: driving down wages, cutting taxes for the wealthiest, allowing house prices to spiral out of reach, selling off our national assets and attacking trade unions. You can’t cut your way to prosperity, you have to build it: investing in modern infrastructure, investing in people and their skills, harnessing innovative ideas and new ways of working to tackle climate change to protect our environment and our future.

Laurie Penny writes in the New Statesman that Corbyn’s election represents an emphatic rejection of the Blairite dogma and that is why the mainstream is freaking out.

Corbyn, however, has been re-elected by the people of Islington North consistently since 1983 and, like Bernie Sanders in the US, seems as surprised as anyone suddenly to be reaping the rewards of a lifetime of sticking to his principles – principles that once put Corbyn on the moderate left of Labour and now make him look, at least in the estimation of much of the press, like the nightmare offspring of Che Guevara and Emma Goldman dressed up in a Stalin costume. And all for proposing a modest increase in the top rate of income tax.

The old centre left is at odds with its electorate because it decided for itself the limits of what was politically possible a decade ago.

Today’s voters are not the voters of 1997 or 2005. We are digital and post-geographic; we mobilise fast and we want more. We are not wedded to the electoral machine. Our disenfranchisement has been mistaken for apathy for too long by a political class that claims to want young people to vote but turns out to want young people to do as they’re told and vote for it or not at all.

We want someone to remember that democracy does not begin and end at the ballot box. We want someone to represent the interests of the young, the poor and the marginalised in parliament. These are simple, modest demands. And the most damning indictment on the British political machine is the way in which these simple, modest demands look like a revolution.

The parallels with Bernie Sanders’s agenda in the US are obvious. This is why the US media has freaked out about Corbyn’s victory and sees it as a danger sign for the US.


  1. NL says

    Just to put the Australian situation into perspective… Tony Abbott is an extreme right ideologue, think if the Tea Party ever got control of the US… that’s been Australia for the last two years… sheer incompetence. His replacement, Malcolm Turnbull is still a Tory, although more moderate than Tony.

    Our main opposition Labor party is currently ruled by their right wing faction, who installed their preferred leader over the rank and file party members who voted for a left faction member.

    So, yeah, half a dozen of one six of the other, really.

  2. mnb0 says

    The pre-elections of the Democrats are the most important and most exciting since 3½ decades, I say. Will Jimmy Carter be proven wrong?

    This is why Bernie Sanders matters, way more than Jeremy Corbyn. It always has been relatively easy to correct Labour when it shift to the right too much. During the Thatcher and the Blair years there was for instance Ken Livingstone.
    Things go similar in Germany and France.
    In The Netherlands it’s a bit different though. Whenever the social-democrat party PvdA shift to the right too much there are split offs that “eat” it at the left side: CPN, PSP and PPR in the 70’s and 80’s, GL and SP from 1990 on. Especially the latter has been successful.

    Compared to GL and SP Bernie Sanders is very, very moderate.

  3. sigurd jorsalfar says

    The NDP can no longer be considered an anti-austerity party. Their current leader, Tom Mulcair, is on record defending the policies of Margaret Thatcher, and he claims that if elected he will balance the budget, which is an austerity measure.

    Currently Justin Trudeau is the only party leader whose policies can be said to be anti-austerity to any degree. Harper meanwhile is crowing about a budget surplus and much of the idiot media claims this is going to help him with the electorate.

    We’ll have to see who gets elected in October before we can say whether Canada is home to a significant anti-austerity movement.

  4. Nick Gotts says

    It always has been relatively easy to correct Labour when it shift to the right too much. During the Thatcher and the Blair years there was for instance Ken Livingstone. -- mnb0@2

    Sorry, but this just shows you have a very limited understanding of UK politics. The shift to the right began in the 1980s, and continued for at least 20 years. That does not suggest something easily “corrected”. As leader of the Greater London Council and later as Mayor of London, Livingstone’s power was quite limited -- certainly he could do nothing to block the privatizations, attacks on the welfare state, buildup of the security state, or illegal wars. Nor could he “correct” the Labour shift to the right, which continued throughout his time in office. Corbyn’s election was the entirely unintended outcome of a change in the electoral procedure for the Labour leader, which was in fact pushed through by the right in order to limit the power of the trades unions, which they opposed in principle, and also blamed for the election of Ed Milibland rather than his slightly more right-wing brother David. It also depended on a number of Labour MPs nominating Corbyn, who did not in the least want or expect him to win (36 nominations from MPs were required to enter the contest), but thought there should be a left candidate to ensure broad debate, or so that there could be no complaints from the left of being excluded. Once nominated, Corbyn’s election was the result of a genuine grassroots movement, which AFAIK no commentator from any part of the political spectrum (nor Corbyn himself) expected until polls and packed meetings showed the strength of his support. He is still in a very difficult position, with the vast majority of Labour MPs opposed to his key policies -- it would be no surprise to see him pushed out before the next general election in 2020, if Labour is still trailing in the polls by the start of 2019.

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