Well done Stuart! Like myself, Stuart was active in the Take Back Parliament Edinburgh campaign for full proportional representation and also campaigned for the Liberal Democrats in the last election – only to be so bitterly betrayed by the advent of this illegitimate ‘coalition’ and the total sell-out of a popular democratic movement for civil liberties and social justice. We won’t get fooled again!
Telling one of Strathclyde’s finest what I was in for, I explained that I had been accused of throwing an egg full of blue paint over the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, in protest at the Lib Dems propping up the most viciously rightwing government in generations. “You should have filled it with shite,” he responded. When even a wing of the state has a robust antipathy for those in authority, you know they’re pretty damn unpopular. Alan Sugar, meanwhile, updated his Twitter stream to ask bemusedly: “isn’t blue tory colours“. Yes Alan – that’s kinda the point. Blue, Tory … geddit?
But perhaps the most frustrating, and inevitable, response came from the Scottish leader of the Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, who trotted out the same old excuse about the coalition deal: “We’re working together in the national interest, to sort out Labour’s mess.”
This is, you see, the great lie of British politics: that Britain is the on the verge of debt crisis, and this can only be remedied with a programme of deep, rapid spending cuts. Let me explain. The truth is that there should be a deficit at the moment because that is how the Keynesian fiscal stimulus approach works: in a recession, when private individuals cut back on their spending, the government steps in to resuscitate demand. Far from being unaffordable, Britain’s debt is low by historical standards: in 1945 it was over 200% of GDP, when we built the welfare state, but today, it stands at around 60% of GDP – and we’re slashing the welfare state. And the countries being punished by the bond markets are the ones that implemented austerity budgets in response to the global recession: Ireland, Greece, and Portugal.
It’s crucial this lie is exposed: it shields the government from criticism and allows them to deflect blame. Naomi Klein terms this the Shock Doctrine: a policy where rightwing politicians manufacture a crisis in order to impose hyper-capitalist policies on a population, which would not otherwise accept it. David Cameron, Clegg and George Osborne know £81bn cuts (for a crisis caused by reckless bankers) is a hard sell, so they’ll try to convince you they’re necessary.
People should be in no doubt that Clegg is propping up a profoundly malicious government. To pluck just three examples: Women’s Aid report that 50% of domestic violence services could be shut down, despite the fact that two women a week are killed by violent partners; the Supporting People’s budget (a programme designed to help the homeless) has not been ringfenced by housing minister Grant Schapps, meaning it is facing 30% cuts; and, finally, the Times reported that the government has cut the budget for ChildLine by 60%. Can someone please remind me what abused children, battered women and homeless people did to cause the financial crisis?
The so-called Lib Dem achievements are cancelled out by regressive measures elsewhere. The raising of the income-tax threshold – good though it is – is cancelled out by the VAT increase. The pupil premium – good though it is – is cancelled out by the wider cuts to schools. And the Lib Dems can hardly complain about AV: they refuse to deny they were offered a referendum on PR by Labour. They are providing the petrol for a big, blue juggernaut.
And, of course, there is the Great Betrayal: the vote on tuition fees. Setting the issues aside, what it demonstrated was a grotesque disregard for the democratic process: thousands of young people have now lost their faith in party-political democracy as a result.
People forget that Cameron did not win the election, he only got 36% of the vote, despite having every conceivable advantage available to him. Two-thirds of Lib Dems regard themselves as left wing over right wing – they wanted to keep Cameron out, not install him. Clegg has consistently refused to be responsive to the democratic demands of the British people: all that’s left is creative direct action to rein the government in, and eventually bring it down. He can continue propping up Cameron if he wants but a dead party, a lost seat and – worst of all – a social and economic disaster as a legacy, will be a far greater humiliation than a bit of blue paint.