In the first of a series of short contributions from figures on the left looking to the year ahead, Des Freedman hopes for a popular mobilisation against austerity in the spirit of the Iraq protests of 2003.
In the context of an all out assault on public services and the determination of the rich to make the poor bear the burden of the financial crisis, more than ever we need to rediscover the unity and anger that we saw emerge on to the streets ten years ago when millions marched to stop a war in Iraq. What happened on 15 February 2003 should remind us of what it takes to mount a serious challenge to governments who put their own interests above those of ordinary people. So I’m looking forward to the conference and cultural events organised by the Stop the War Coalition to commemorate a time when we saw a ‘second superpower’, in the words of the New York Times, take over the streets of dozens of countries.
We know that public opinion doesn’t back the government’s austerity agenda, doesn’t trust the banks and the financial sector, and doesn’t want to see some of our wealthiest companies and individuals getting away with tax avoidance. The question is how best to turn this into active resistance to welfare cuts, privatisation, managerialism and corporate greed. It won’t happen through abstract slogans but by building the biggest coalitions we can that are focused on concrete issues whether that’s defending the NHS, stopping the encroachment of the private sector into education, demanding that we redirect money spent on war into our public services or campaigning for a whole new approach to growth and investment.
Personally, I’ll be continuing to work on a whole series of fronts: for example, defending international students from attacks from the UK Border Agency and the Home Office, campaigning inside higher education to make sure that universities aren’t turned into supermarkets, and pressing for wholescale changes to our media system—including limits on ownership and levies on the richest media companies to fund new journalism projects that will challenge the cosy consensus we have—in the context of the debates around the Leveson Inquiry which have revealed the extent of the complicity between politicians, the press and the police.
The government’s austerity agenda lacks legitimacy and popular support. The left has pretty much failed to rise to the challenge so 2013 needs to be the year when we start to organise on the basis of what unites us and to link together our different movements into a meaningful opposition. Their coalition represents a tiny minority; ours represents the overwhelming majority. But if we want to rebuild that ‘second superpower’, we need to behave and organise in a way that reflects this.
Des Freedman is Reader in Communications in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of The Politics of Media Policy, co-author of Misunderstanding the Internet and co-editor of several books including The Assault on Universities and Media and Terrorism: Global Perspectives. He is chair of the Media Reform Coalition and a National Committee member of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.