Rural activism – Tales from the sticks – Part One.
How the Tory’s ‘Scatter-shot’ strategy has finally backfired on them and will eventually send them running for the hills.
Re-wind to 2013, The Tories are nigh-on invincible! Cameron and Osborne are riding high on a wave of their own absolute power and are three years into the biggest onslaught upon the fabric of our social structures that Britain has ever seen.
After years of a Blairite, Labour Government which oversaw UK Government’s cosying up to big business, effectively giving them free reign yet at the same time investing in public services and dishing out easy credit to keep us all quiet. the Conservatives had ridden into power on the back of the global economic crash and they had begun work like there was no time to spare!
With everything in going in their favour, they didn’t mess about. Any criticism of their economic austerity policies could be easily fended off by blaming the ‘still raw’ economic crash on Gordon Brown and their mantra that ‘there was no money left’ gave them carte-blanch to set about fulfilling their program of dismantling the state and carving up the spoils of UK assets to their friends, donors and allies among the super wealthy few who circled like vultures around the carcase of the UK public purse.
Everything was up for grabs, so Osborne wheeled out a metaphorical Gatling gun, loaded it up and began firing indiscriminately into the crowd, his new playground, the UK economy.
Cameron and Osborne knew, that our defences were down. With the failure of the 2003 Iraq demonstrations to halt Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, moral was low among activists and campaigners or at least our belief that we could make our voices heard was. Blair was hated enough because of Iraq but by drip feeding the state with investment he had created enough comfort that a gradual despondency and disenfranchisement with our political system had taken hold among many, His ‘nothing to see here’ style of politics had created the perfect storm for what was to come, and a Country which in the eyes of the Tories, was ready to be harvested.
Anyone who has scratched at the surface of the so-called Conservative’s actual policies knows that they are far from ‘conservative’ when it comes to our economy or our ecology for that matter, quite the opposite, they are short-termists, opportunists, they’ll take now and run later if its fuels the machine, the wealthy elite that feeds them, that is them.
So as Osborne continued to fire his Gatling Gun into the crowd he began hitting his targets with wanton abandon. Royal Mail – sold, NHS – dismantling, underfunding and privatisation, Probation services – privatised, Fracking sites – open for business, Welfare – slashed, Tuition fees – raised. Hospitals, Schools, libraries – closed, cut or sold off. TTIP, Trident, New Nuclear PowerStation’s and Mega prisons they were going all-out! Throw in a bit of bombing in Syria and the few activists who were combating all of this, on so many platforms were so busy fire-fighting that they could barely keep up with individual campaign’s let alone set about creating a unified opposition to the Tory’s onslaught or the Tories strategy to hit us in so many places that we couldn’t possibly fight back!
As a rural activist where I live in Pembrokeshire 2013 was a very bleak year. I travelled down to London to attend the inaugural conference of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity because the one thing I did know was that we had to start organizing and collectivising. But back home when I went to a local hospital closure meeting I was practically laughed out of the room when I mentioned austerity. Health is devolved in Wales so it was all Welsh Labour’s fault apparently! I networked with as many campaigns as I could, joined groups on Social media who were fighting cuts, privatisation, fracking, etc.. etc.. This was helpful but when I tried to disseminate our message onto wider public forums, again, I was shouted down & ridiculed. The word ‘socialism’ had become a dirty word in Britain and any talk of the need to collectivise and support the unions was met with scorn and derision. “The Unions!? Oh they ruined everything” I would be told.
The Tories seemed unstoppable, Theresa May, the ‘then’ Home Secretary was busy at work plotting and rolling out the most rancid of policies, all designed to erode our civil liberties and our civil rights while at the same time propagating anti-immigrant, racist, xenophobic narratives all fuelled by the growing popularity of the far right UKIP. Most of our media seemed to have turned into a direct channel for UKIP’s racist, ‘hate thigh neighbour’ doctrine with some bashing of disabled people who they branded as feckless and scroungers thrown in for good measure. The recent revelations surrounding Windrush epitomise the arrogance and contempt which the Tories (May) held for all of us at that time & still do. They really could do whatever they liked at that point, because there was nothing or no-one who could stop them. Even if the Windrush scandal had broken back then the media was so drunk on UKIP’s racist narrative that it would never have made the big story which it has done today. They would have spun it in UKIP’s Favour somehow, I very much doubt we’d have seen any resignations like we’ve seen with Amber Rudd.
But the one thing the Tory’s don’t ever take into consideration, mainly because they just can’t see beyond their own insatiable greed and desire to demolish any traces of equality, social justice or social conscience, and also because that arrogance is so deeply ingrained in them, is that by deploying this scatter shot strategy, they would, eventually hit so many of us and seed such a dystopian environment for us all to live in that they would create the very resistance movement they thought they were so effectively stamping into the mud from whence it had come!
Scroll on to 2015, the General election, Miliband’s hollow and lifeless, ‘austerity light’ Party was effectively a rabbit caught in the headlines of neoliberalism and had literally no-where to run. Milibands Labour had about as much drive for an equal and just society as Cameron’s Tories had to become “The greenest government ever”. Apathy among Labour supporters was tangible with the Greens, Plaid and SNP offering the only genuine socialist alternatives at that point. But churning away in the background us activists and campaigners were beginning to find our feet! Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) activists were there on the front line barricading roads from their wheelchairs and invading Parliament. Hospital groups like the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign had beaten Hunt in court and were showing others how to fight back. People were beginning to sit up and take notice, putting down their newspapers and instead turning to the likes of The Canary, and the Artist Taxi Driver to get an alternative view untainted by corporate & establishment bias of what was really going on.
As activists we were still low in numbers but each day saw a gradual shift, new people, new energy and those of us who were campaigning hard could feel that the cultural lag which had shielded the Tory’s until now was soon to catch up with them. There were also many old time campaigners waiting in the wings to show us the way and pass on their valuable activism tips and advice, importantly also, their solidarity!
Another thing that the Tory’s never had a hope of seeing coming were all the unintended consequences that their austerity policies, cuts to public services and cuts to council budgets would create. They assumed we’d all be too busy working several zero-hours contract jobs or trying to fend off homelessness for our kids to care or even notice that our communities were falling into the ground. They obviously thought that we wouldn’t care if our neighbour; the Nurse, teacher or Fire-fighter was having to turn to food banks in order to feed their family. But we did notice, and we did care! Here in Pembrokeshire local greening groups formed and began tending and planting council land that had been left to go to ruin by a council with no funds. Community waste food cafés opened, community fridges & community hubs …and all this in aid of supporting each other and building community spirit and cohesion. In times of such austerity even consumerism goes out of the window, people are forced to re-use, re-purpose and re-cycle rather than spend the money they need for food and bills on an unnecessary new settee! The Tories would never have dreamed in a million years that their own policies would actually sow the seeds for a more socially conscious and environmentally minded society!
They never banked on us looking out for each other or collectivising, but that is exactly what we did, because most of us do have humanity in our hearts and can recognise the signs of unfairness, especially when it’s being rammed down our throats and our kids can’t even afford to move out or go to university!
As someone who has always favoured ‘creative activism’ in most of its forms but was finding that our efforts to fight the Tories were being constrained by the limitations of campaigning in a large rural county which was low of activists I joined forces with a couple of other people based in different parts of Wales and we launched Stick It To The Tories; A not for profit sticker campaign that would go on to distribute 170k anti Tory stickers and 10K Badges in under two years, that was one way that we felt a few of us could make a bigger impact just working from laptops and a small print shop. By thinking outside the box, we could achieve a lot, make the maximum impact with the minimum effort and we didn’t even have to have meetings!
By 2016 our demonstrations here in Pembrokeshire were starting to be noticed by the wider public and local press, we held a demo aimed at pressurizing Stephen Crabb MP to resign his Patronage of the local Mencap charity following his vote in Parliament to cut ESA for disabled people by £30 per week. Our demo was supported by DPAC and People’s Assembly at national level. I realised then that although still small; around 40 protestors, our demo had been attended by people from the progressive Parties and supported by activists from many different campaigns and groups. We’d all got to know each other; we’d had to because we were fighting on so many fronts. We had become networked and were supporting each other’s struggles in solidarity.
Fast forward through 2016; Jeremy Corbyn, Momentum, the EU referendum and to May’s disastrous and ill-fated 2017 General election, we were getting stronger by the day. As an activist I could feel the buzz on social media in the run up to the General Election, I knew that something had shifted. Many of my friends were literally terrified of what a Tory Landslide would mean to them, their kids, their families. I tried to reassure them that I could feel that public opinion had shifted, the level of activism and debate that was taking place in support of Corbyn showed me that the Tories weren’t in for the outright victory they had set out for.. ‘Socialism’ was no longer a dirty word, it had become something we were all striving for. Even that neighbour who shunned our views a couple of years ago was coming round. Our collective voice had been not only listened to but heard and was now being repeated!
We put a rally on here in Pembrokeshire in October 2017 as part of ‘Un-seat Stephen Crabb’ day to have another nibble at his now tiny 314 vote majority. The Canary covered the story for us with a section reporting that it had been the biggest political Rally in Haverfordwest since the Suffragettes’ movement! Then just last weekend we put on a Stop the War March last following May’s bombing of Syria and with just 3 days’ notice was mobilized 200 people onto the streets for our demo. This may not sound like much but believe me, if we’d tried that even two years ago we’d never have garnered such support as this! We’re now primed and ready and growing in number by the day. The more activism we put on against the Tories the more people want to support it and to get involved too.
Osborne and Cameron’s Gatling gun approach to keeping us all down by hitting us all so hard, so fast and whilst we were already down may have worked for a time, but now they really have hit so many of us that they have themselves created the mass resistance that will eventually topple them and hopefully take 30-40 years of neoliberalism down with them.
Our job as activists right now, is to build on this movement, now more than ever, we can take them down, we can take them down hard, but we need to go keep organizing, keep mobilizing, keep pushing the snowball until we have grown it into the unstoppable force that’s needed to finish them off!
The next People’s Assembly conference is in London on June 2nd. It’s gonna be a biggy so book your place now! Let’s keep piling the pressure on, let’s keep growing the movement, and let’s send those callous, nasty Tories running for the hills!
Jim Scott is a Rural Activist & Campaigner.
Coming soon; To hear how we achieved some of what we’ve done here in Pembrokeshire and how we have built the resistance movement over the last few years please look out for my next piece; Rural activism – Tales from the sticks – ‘How we built the activist movement from nothing in rural West Wales!’