Lindsey German looks at twelve features of last year that will shape politics in the year ahead
This was the year that...
1Racism and immigration scares became central to British politics. The rise of Ukip had the effect of pulling the mainstream parties to the right. The BBC and other media gave every assistance to Ukip in publicising its ideas, allowing them to adopt the mantle of speaking for ‘ordinary people’. Serious debates about immigration, or the positive role of immigrants in societies like Britain, sank under the weight of prejudice.
2Everyone found out about Isis. Connected to that it was also the year when everyone discovered the war in Iraq hadn’t been won after all, but required further air strikes and troops on the ground to destroy this new enemy. Isis is monstrous to be sure, but little is said about whose monster it is, aided and abetted by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Anguish about ‘home grown terror’ led to a new wave of Islamophobia and long prison sentences for what were effectively ‘thought crimes’.
3The last words of people killed by police became demonstration slogans, as Black people in the US stood up to racism, following the killings of Michael Brown (Hands up don’t shoot) and Eric Garner (I can’t breathe). It is a sobering thought that while the US can elect its first Black president, there is absolutely no control over local police, in a way reminiscent of the policing of the Deep South in the 1960s.
4The world became more unequal than since pretty much anyone can remember. In Britain the debate is whether we are going back to Edwardian times, Victorian times or the Old Corruption of the 18thcentury. Certainly the politicians seem to model themselves on the 18thand 19thcenturies: the poor should stop breeding, eat porridge and be grateful for the scraps they receive. Luckily, many are resisting the new Poor Law, and refuse to be packed off to the workhouse just yet.
5The economy started heading for another crisis. While most of us didn’t notice the upturn, too busy working long hours, or hanging around to be offered a bit of work on our zero hours contracts for wages which have fallen in real terms, there are signs of a slowdown across Europe, Russia is suffering from sanctions and falling oil prices, and prospects of a left government in Greece are sending money markets down.
6Sexual harassment and abuse became headline news again. The government’s own inquiry into historic child abuse was challenged by survivors’ plans to set up their own after two proposed chairs of the inquiry were found wanting. Unfortunately the widespread abuse of young people is not just historic, but continues. The various cases in Rochdale, Oxford and elsewhere highlight the particular abuse of those in care. Much less focus is put on sexual abuse in the family, which is still the main centre of such abuse.
7Women played a big part in organising against injustice. They were on protests against austerity, over housing, against police racism, for justice for Palestinians, against rape. They have been central to a series of ‘do it yourself’ protests over disability, evictions, homelessness and poverty. Women have campaigned in unions, where they are now more likely to be members than men, for a living wage, against job cuts and for public services. Funnily enough, the media seems keener on reporting the campaign to have Jane Austen’s picture on banknotes.
8The movement for Palestine reached record proportions over the summer as Israel bombed the people of Gaza. The largest demonstration on Palestine ever in Britain took place over the holidays as anger mounted worldwide at Israel’s actions and the complicity of Western governments in them. Particular anger was aimed at the BBC, with demonstrations outside its Oxford Circus headquarters a regular occurrence. The impact of protest cannot be disconnected from the growing international recognition of a Palestine state, leading to Israel facing a major crisis in the context of an unravelling Middle East. The continued resistance of the Palestinian people, such as recently in Jerusalem, has ensured the question remains at the centre of the international stage.
9The surprise biggest crisis of Cameron’s premiership was the referendum in Scotland. Planned by Cameron and Osborne as a means of ending demands for Scottish independence, it had the opposite effect. A mass political movement sprung up which came close to winning a yes vote. In the end the Establishment in its entirety, from the monarch to the banks and main parties, managed to win with the surely worst ever political slogan; ‘it’s not worth the risk’. Key to winning was Labour’s Gordon Brown, then immediately shafted by Cameron, ensuring continued politicisation in Scotland.
10The prospects of destruction on a world scale became greater. Climate change is a reality. The Ebola crisis in part of Africa began to scare those in the west, although not enough to restore spending cuts to the World Health Organisation, preferring to rely on Bob Geldof’s self-aggrandising efforts. The UN cut food aid to Syrian refugee camps just as it authorised billions on air strikes and intervention there. The war in Ukraine threatened a major war between Russia and the west. Closer to home, the National Health Service was under greater threat than at any time since its founding in 1948, with already huge chunks sold off to privatisers.
11Struggles for democracy were a defining feature, connected to social and economic issues. That fight has been apparent from Hong Kong to Missouri, from London to Rio. The movements for democracy and change, for equality, against austerity, and against oppression have organised millions around the world. They have been carried out by grassroots campaigns and trade unions who will be the backbone of future struggles, as it became even more apparent that the politicians and privatisers, the banks and businesses, will concede nothing without a fight.
12The crisis of political representation became acute. The established parties were more remote from those they purport to represent than ever, although when newer parties appeared to represent real concerns they grew. But in the case of all of them they benefited from movements already taking place: Podemos from the squares movement in Spain, Syriza from the anti-austerity movement in Greece, and even the SNP and Greens in Scotland from the independence movement. The key for next year is to build unifying movements that can lead to new political formations on the left.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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