Jack Sherwood looks at the focus and purpose of the People’s Assembly national demonstration on 16 April
In spite of how the mainstream media seem now to be making great efforts to play it down, the Panama Papers story is a huge scandal, for the global elites, but specifically for David Cameron and the Tories and their main fount of economic and political support, the City of London. The revelations it has prompted, and continues to, about David Cameron (and other Tories') tax affairs and personal wealth, crystallise the distinct class division between the latter and the mass of ordinary people in this country.
Some might may say “we knew all this before”, but in the mass exposure of these hard facts on personal finances, their links to a corrupt network of tremendous global wealth accumulation to the top and in his dogged attempts to cover them up, Cameron becomes the very embodiment of the 'one rule for the rich', arrogant and high-handed elite which seems to have got off scot-free.
It seems obvious that the huge numbers of people who now increasingly have this view on Cameron will also suspect the same of most of the rest of the Tories, and will likely generalise from his case. Driving on these revelations to become a broader political scandal - the next MPs expenses scandal if you like - as Jeremy Corbyn seems to have been attempting to - is also an essential strategy which could engulf the whole Conservative Party.
This current ‘phase shift’ in politics is built of course on a coming-together of multiple crises for the Tories – last month’s disastrous budget, resignation of IDS and prominent forced-turnaround on disability benefit cuts, the recent economic slowdown, increasing public protest and growing popularity of alternative progressive and anti-austerity economic arguments (from the Corbyn team amongst others) – which have seen public opinion turn against austerity and the Tories.
Cameron himself, though, has been the focus of huge public anger in the past week, with hundreds of thousands signing petitions of various kinds against him, and rejoicing in his labelling as 'Dodgy Dave' by Dennis Skinner in parliament on Monday.
It is essential that we gauge shifts in the public mood, such as this level of anger, and see them for the political weapons that they are – to be harnessed against Cameron, Tories and the conservative establishment.
This brings us to perhaps the key tactical point here, as part of considered radical left strategy. Putting huge pressure on Cameron to resign – through mass street protest, political calls (as Clive Lewis MP has done for instance), petitions and raising the call through other forms of resistance (such as strikes and community protests) – is the only valid choice here for a Left and a movement that is serious about getting the Tory government out urgently and replacing them with a viable left wing alternative. This is a drive which has been made all the more identifiable and concrete by resignation of the Icelandic prime minister, who was also exposed as a corrupt establishment hypocrite by the Panama Papers.
To begin with we must recognise that forcing Cameron out would put the Tories into even deeper disarray - they have no obvious popular or credible candidate as an alternative. This is happening as the apparent historic (over past 3-4 decades at least) divides (though this is simplifying) over traditional/little-Englander and neoliberal conservatism have arisen so strongly in the EU debate.
Whoever were to take over would inherit a weakened and divided party, deemed greatly out of touch with the public (neither of their EU-debate factions have been able to win any genuine public sympathy - more repugnance at their infighting, scaremongering and desperate propaganda), at a time of now majority opposition to their austerity programme and handling of the economy (the steel crisis is only making this worse).
The idea that driving Cameron out would leave things open for a golden ascendancy of the newly-proclaimed Brexiteers and occasional ‘one-nation’ Tories Boris and Gove, who might profit from a Leave vote and so on, is a nonsense.
The dominant bloc in the Tory party is still pro-EU, pro-'globalisation', pro-international big business and finance, and will remain so, for that is where the base of economic power and financial stability within the party resides. So a rebrand based on distancing the leadership from this agenda, so identified with Cameron-Osborne, in favour of a 'populist', isolationist, ‘sceptred-isle’, super-xenophobic model will be at best reluctantly supported by that dominant bloc, and will be quite transparently phony to a public who will see nothing novel about Boris, Gove (or others in that mould) - obvious rich, patronising toffs and long-time cabinet members that they are - nor buy their rhetoric in a society which is ostensibly only working for those at the top.
Put simply, the choice between seizing this rallying call – Cameron Must Go – or not doing so is a choice between driving the movement against austerity and Tories forward, or letting it stand still or slip backward.
First, this is not a call which arrived out of the blue as a knee-jerk reaction to last week’s revelations. Cameron and his group have faced significant periodic crises of their leadership over the past six years (Tuition fees, double-dip recession, the bedroom tax, A&E crisis, the bombing of Syria, for instance) and many thousands of activists and organisers, across the country, in the anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-racists movements have been pushing to force something like the current across-the-board crisis for the Tories during most of that time.
Practical experience in the movements (alongside a historical view on events such as Thatcher’s Poll Tax debacle) helps us to understand that political openings for the Left such as in the current situation must be seized decisively, not just to drive open the cracks in the Tory party/establishment and deepen their crisis, but also to build the broader antagonism between the mass of ordinary people and the most identifiable representations of the elites (Tory, business and so on) whom we are fighting.
Any serious strategy to bring an end to this government well before the next election acknowledges through past experience and present understanding that this will only be done by means of mass protest and other forms of resistance – such as support for Junior Doctors’ strikes, building mass strike action, and community dissent – and not merely through strong left wing Opposition in parliament (though this clearly helps greatly).
It is protest and resistance which demonstrate a mass opposition impossible for the media and government to ignore, heap debilitating crisis upon crisis over the latter, and build a tangible – in streets, squares, at rallies, at pickets – mass public demand for a truly progressive alternative, breaking radically from the current neoliberal capitalist model of the Tories.
In short, we will not simply embarrass the Tories out of power before 2020 (or this year for that matter), by political criticism and appealing alternative policies: we must drive them out by a mass resistance that makes it impossible for their government to properly function and drives open the cracks in their party. They do not want an election (or even a leadership contest) now - they are not ready, as we’ve seen. It must be forced, and they must be politically destroyed and driven into it by this resistance. Smashing Cameron’s leadership is a strong and decisive step towards that goal.
Jack Sherwood has been an organiser in the People's Assembly and Stop the War.
Based in Bristol, he coordinated the largest demonstrations and public meetings in the city 2014-2019: against austerity, in support of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of Labour, over the Junior Doctors' struggle and against the British bombing of Syria.
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