Donnachadh McCarthy has been arrested numerous times. Why? He was never a violent man, never a criminal of any kind. He was a classical ballet dancer until a few seconds before someone said “you were supposed to catch him just then.” Then (after a lot of physio) he got involved in a research trip to the Amazon. I don’t know what the research project was, but what McCarthy learned in the Amazon was that the end result of trans-national corporate capitalism is the horrible death of a lot of innocent people (human and non-human, robbed and left to starve or directly massacred because they’re in the way). He went home and got involved in save-the-rainforests campaigns. From there, he backed into politics, opted for social democracy and rose to be deputy leader of the Lib Dems (back in the days when they were a proper party).
For me, this is where it gets really interesting because for several years, he struggled to behave in a democratic manner in the Lib Dems. (The nice party!) He got popular following from the rank and file but any proposals that went against the privilege of lobbyists or wealthy party donors got slapped down. Eventually, he left in despair. Why does that interest me so much? Because I’ve spent so much time staring at politicians and thinking, “if you’re not a criminal, how do you stand it? Why are you not screaming at your paymasters and punching out furious press releases?”
Here, at last, is the man who did just that. His walk-out came in the 1990s, shortly after Paddy Ashdown tried to sell the Lib Dems to Tony Blair (the proposed Lib-Lab pact) against the wishes of the great majority of the party members.
Why we didn’t hear much about McCarthy’s furious walkout at the time is explained, among other things, in “The Prostitute State”…
…That is the start of a book review I wrote a few years back for Bookbuster. That was then, when we’d all given up with politicians. This is now, some years after McCarthy has become better known for being dragged out of Parliament Square by Boris Johnson’s “police”, where Caroline Lucas commented that there was better democracy, and a better standard of debate, amongst the “Occupy Democracy” activists than there was inside the Houses of Parliament.
This is now, a month after the election in which Hastings so nearly unseated the Home Secretary, and the day after McCarthy came to Hastings to discuss next steps for Progressive Alliance supporters, because many of us have picked up the politics again – most of us for one of these two reasons.
A large part of the anti-austerity movement comes into this category. In recent years, Unite Community has become a significant force in that admirable union, Unite. The Community members are retired, or disabled, or otherwise unable to manage full time, paid employment. They are the first people this ruthless government decided to write off in its drive for ‘austerity’ (the system whereby the vulnerable go without public services in order to shore up the top-heavy economic system preferred by neo-liberals). Unite Community activists are brave, creative and persistent – a cynical person might say it’s because they have ‘nothing to lose’ – not so. One wrong move by an unemployed person these days, and they are likely to find themselves sanctioned, homeless, and queuing for foodbanks. It’s more a case of ‘you can only push a person so far’ – and the vulnerable in our society have been pushed further than any UK citizens have been pushed since the shame that was the Victorian slum-economy.
Remember that scene from the John Cleese film about the headmaster who went feral, trying to keep to his timetable? He thought he’d failed, he lay flat on his back in a field and said, “Oh, don’t give me hope, it’s the hope I can’t stand.” … but he did get up and take up the fight again. People can only be relied upon to stop responding to hope when they are dead.
Many, many people in this country have spent the last two years and more desperately trying to drag the Labour Party out of the mire of corruption McCarthy writes about in The Prostitute State, and they are doing it because the parliamentary party accidentally gave them hope, in the form of an uncorrupted candidate in the party leadership contest. The membership know that Corbyn is there to hold the door of government open for the movement for clean democratic socialism that has grown around him. Like so many other people who had meant to be doing something quite different with their lives, I’m just hoping we can get a Labour government into power before I either go broke or die of exhaustion. (Funnily enough, I heard a Labour councillor a while back saying pretty much the same thing about the town he’s a councillor for. They’re holding out, with ever-decreasing budget reserves, with their eye on the next election.) Similarly, a friend of mine who has a very wearing, incurable illness, and had just been to yet another ‘are you still ill’ trial by ATOS the week before. She’s not often well enough to do activism. She’s thinking of leaving the country.
Why are people having to live this way? So that people like Amber Rudd and Theresa May can continue to pluck everything they want (oil-wars, Trident, billion pound sweeteners for the DUP…) straight off their magic money tree. A person can get quite cross.
A week in the Austerity Fight
On Monday, I went to a screening of Austerity Fight, a superb film by Phil Maxwell & Hazuan Hashim celebrating the activists who have brought the truth about corruption and ‘austerity’ into the public gaze, and determinedly hold it to the light. On Tuesday, I went to a two-hour meeting of our local Labour Party, discussing plans to hang on to the CLP’s decisions about how to run itself (democracy). Last night, I went to a talk by Donnachadh McCarthy about how we got to this stage, and how we might move forward.
My partner went to another event, run by the RMT, in celebration of a colleague who died. That evening brought together a group of train crew who have spent the last two years in an on-going battle against the degrading of jobs, training and safety, and against the endless siphoning of money into the hands of a franchise company that has lied and manipulated our local train services almost into the ground. Partner brought me back a badge the RMT has made for the train conductors who went the distance, and the activists who tried to help. It’s sitting on my desk beside me here, and making me feel all emotional.
I’m tired, and I’m running out of money but when I joined the Labour Party just a few years ago, our local party had around 400 members and I was one of the young mouthy activist ones. Now, it has over 1800 and the average age has gone down so much I’m one of the older ones, looking forward to handing over my officer role to one of the younger, mouthier activist ones.
So is this a War?
That badge, for me, is a symbol of why people like Amber Rudd and Theresa May and their colleagues (in all parties) cannot ever achieve an outright victory. The harder you push people, the stronger their emotional bonds – it’s a natural defence – they band together, they fight back for each other. We are not going to disappear. In fact, we daily become a more strongly bonded, nationwide team. They know this, and they fear it. That’s why Amber Rudd never appears in our town (her constituency) without an armed guard – but she’s got it wrong.
It’s not that kind of attack that will knock you down in the end, Amber. When you push people to a point where they can’t live reasonably, they learn to value life, and each other, more. Donnachadh McCarthy is a Gandhian – he will never use violence. Unite Community are famous for their humorous, colourful campaigns – they have choirs who invade meetings and sing at people. All this sounds like a war, and my badge feels like a hard-won campaign medal, but our long-term strength is that we aren’t the people who kill people.
McCarthy likes to finish his talks by pointing out that in his lifetime, the total number of lives – the animals and fish and trees and all the rest of it – the total of nature, has shrunk by more than half, largely due to the corporate plundering of the world by the companies the Lib Dems were in thrall to, the companies Amber Rudd’s family grows rich on. A Unite Community member is more likely to point out the number of people who’ve died whilst being hounded by the DWP, or the refugees who’ve died while Rudd’s Home Office holds the borders, and tries to avoid responsibilities like Dubbs, whilst Tory shareholders try to sell our life-saving NHS… We are the defenders against a corrupt government that kills. You can’t protect yourself from the consequences of all that by surrounding yourself with guns, Ms Rudd.
Off to polish my badge and promote Donnachadh’s book, now…
What you can do
Watch Austerity Fight http:nm//philmaxwell.org/?page_id=23785
Read The Prostitute State http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk/Read_before_voting.htm
And read Kerry-Anne Mendoza’s “Austerity”, Alex Nunns’ “The Candidate” and Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”
Get educated: drop the corporate newspapers, (Don’t watch/read the BBC – they just encourage you to sit around worrying, blaming people instead of healing them, and yourself, by getting active. Ask around on the internet and locally to find out what’s really going on… and campaign to rescue the BBC – it’s supposed to be ours!)
If you’re in work, join a trade union and get involved. https://www.tuc.org.uk/join-union
If you’re retired, self-employed, under-employed, unemployed or for any other reason, too far outside and too low-paid to join an industrial trade union, join Unite Community. http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/communitymembership/
Or join a political party or Momentum. You don’t have to find a party you 100% agree with – find the closest to your views, get active, and put your case to them on what needs to happen next.
Look around on Facebook, in shop windows and local noticeboards, and see what groups are forming in your community doing things you want done, and go and help.