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This is a moment of hope for the labour movement - at last the unions, the left and the anti-austerity movement are getting it together, writes John Rees in the Morning Star

It's not often that you can quote Rupert Murdoch's Times as a guide to the labour movement - but an article this weekend did at least pose the right question.

Political commentator Martin Bright reported:

"Three weeks from now, the delegates of the People's Assembly will gather at Westminster Hall in Central London ...

"This meeting has been grandly trumpeted as a 'coalition of resistance' and it will certainly be a substantial show of force for those on the left campaigning for an alternative economic strategy.

"It will also throw down the gauntlet to Mr Miliband, who will need to decide whether it is he or the anti-austerity movement that is leading the left's response to the crisis."

Bright describes the People's Assembly as "an extraordinary coalition including the trade unions, the Stop the War movement, the Communist Party, CND and Socialist Resistance ... Chavs author Owen Jones acts as its most vocal cheerleader, its president is Tony Benn and Tariq Ali and Ken Loach are supporters."

For many in the labour movement this is a moment of hope.

At last the unions, the left and the anti-austerity movement are getting it together.

Bright does acknowledge the social reach of the movement that is emerging.

"The UK Uncut movement, Boycott Workfare, the People's Assembly Against Austerity, Citizens UK and the anti-racist Hope Not Hate can all, in their different ways, lay claim to the activist base well beyond the reach of the traditional labour movement."

But for Bright this movement is a danger for the Labour leadership, not an opportunity to inflict a defeat on the Tory-led government's austerity programme.

The danger comes because the new movement may undermine the efforts of the "circle around Miliband, from his most trusted adviser Stewart Wood through to guru figures such as Maurice 'Blue Labour' Glasman and the Oxford academic Marc Stears" to rebrand Ed Miliband as a leader more in touch with the people.

This rebranding is designed to present the Labour leader as a kind of "geek with a heart."

I'm not making this up.

Bright reports that

"over the past months there has been a conscious attempt to turn the Labour leader's awkwardness into a virtue.

"A narrative is developing that presents Miliband as an unlikely hero, taking on the vested interests of the early 21st century.

"In Hollywood film producers talk about 'high concept,' a short pithy premise that captures the essence of the plot.

"In Ed Miliband: The Movie the pitch would be: 'What if a geeky intellectual took on the banks, the media and the multinational corporations?'"

It's a good question.

An even better one might be "will Miliband take on the banks and corporations?"

After all, this would have to mean a little more than making some mildly critical remarks about the need for Google to pay tax.

It would, if it were to dent the massive indifference which his leadership currently inspires, have to actually help stop the destruction of the welfare state on which this government is intent.

And however much the Brand Ed team might wish it this will not happen because their leader has a Clark Kent moment in a nearby telephone kiosk.

It will only happen if a genuinely popular mass movement opposes the Tory project by engaging the support of millions of working people.

This is the only chance of stopping the Tories on any meaningful timescale.

It might also convince Miliband to abandon the so-called middle ground, join the resistance and lend a hand - or it might not.

If he did so his popularity would certainly rise. But this is not the main aim of the People's Assembly.

It is not a party political project. It is a mass movement of all left parties and many who are in none, of the unions, of the anti-austerity campaigns of all sorts.

Its aim is to stop austerity and to alter the terms of the whole national political debate around who pays for the economic crisis that began in 2008.

If the Labour leadership has not lost all contact with the people who vote for the party they will seek to benefit by identification with this movement.

But if they do not, the movement will chart its own course with the participation of thousands of Labour supporters.

Their aim is clear - no matter who governs us, austerity must end.

Far away from the glass offices of the spin doctors, in the homes of millions of working people, it is this for which they yearn.

They will judge the whole left, and every organisation within it, by whether or not we help make that happen.

John Rees is one of the organisers of the People's Assembly Against Austerity

From the Morning Star

Tagged under: Austerity
John Rees

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.


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