UK Uncut Holds Anti-Austerity Party Outside Nick Clegg’s House in Putney, London

27.5.12

So I’m sure you’re all aware that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year. To mark the occasion, the Whitsun Bank Holiday has been moved from May 28 to June 4, and a Diamond Jubilee Holiday has been added on June 5, making a bumper four-day holiday, in which the emphasis will be on an expensive nationalistic back-slapping celebration of Little England myopia, and no one in government will be discussing how much this orgy of manipulative jingoism will be costing, both in terms of the celebrations, or the cost in lost productivity (which would cause outrage in government, if, for example, it came about through a strike). I also suspect that there will be little visible dissent, and certainly not my preference — hordes of anarchists on black-clad bicycles, flying black and grey Union Jacks, and with pedal-driven sound systems pumping out the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” on a permanent loop at street parties up and down the country.

One organization opposed to the jubilee celebrations are the theatrical anti-austerity activists of UK Uncut, who, on Saturday, held alternative street parties up and down the country, and, in London, took over Parkfields Road in Putney, where Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lives. As they explained in a press release:

UK Uncut had previously only announced that their protest would directly confront the high profile ‘architects of austerity’, the politicians, bankers and tax avoiders they they see as responsible for the government’s cuts. The move to directly target politicians marks a significant change in tactics for the group which is well known for targeting tax avoiders, such as Vodafone, Sir Philip Green’s stores, Boots and Fortnum & Masons.

Last week, I published an article promoting UK Uncut’s Great British Street Party, in which they explained that they were contrasting the savage, cruel, and cynical ideologically-driven austerity of today with the idealism of 1948, when, as they explained:

Britain was emerging from a World War and had a huge national debt. Much bigger than the one we face today. Did we see painful cut backs and austerity measures? No, quite the opposite. We saw the birth of our National Health Service and the Welfare State. The UK was the first country to make health care, social care and financial security accessible to all.

1948 saw the launch of ground-breaking new laws designed to protect and care for everybody in our society, including universal unemployment benefits, universal child benefits, disability benefits, rights to housing and the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On Thursday, Anna Walker, a member of UK Uncut, had also explained the rationale behind Saturday’s street parties — and the wider aims of UK Uncut — in the Guardian, stating:

David Cameron wants to see “the mother of all parties”. The Queen is old — celebrate! The Olympics are in town — celebrate! But whatever you do, don’t remember the unemployment figures, the disabled people whose benefits are being stopped, the number of services you use that are being scrapped or that this government has driven us back into recession. Don’t dissent. Don’t resist. Don’t protest. If you do, you are unpatriotic, a killjoy, a “dangerous anarchist”.

UK Uncut also wants to party — but for completely different reasons. We want to undermine the government’s propaganda. The idea of UK Uncut holding street parties of resistance came from anger that the government will use jubilee celebrations as a national sedative. We want people to remember and to resist the cuts being rammed through by the government.

We want to remind people that cuts and austerity are not an economic necessity, but a political choice. If we stopped tax-dodging by corporations and the rich (£95bn/year), ended taxpayer subsidies to banks (£100bn/year) or introduced a wealth tax to raise money from the £4 trillion held by the richest in our society (£800bn), we could cover the whole of the government’s cuts programme (around £100bn) and help pay for the creation of jobs and services, providing welfare to all.

As opposed to the sedative effect of jubilee parties, UK Uncut’s street parties on 26 May are intended to wake up new ideas, new connections and new collective power. They are about defiance and the definition of a future that we want to see, a future shaped by us all, not by a cabinet of out-of-touch millionaires. Everyone’s invited.

In the end, hundreds of people gathered outside Nick Clegg’s house, and activists in Sheffield also demonstrated outside his constituency office, as UK Uncut explained in a press release. There were also ten other UK Uncut street parties at other locations throughout England, and, as the Guardian explained, “in Manchester, protesters highlighted corporate tax dodging; while in Nottingham campaigners focused on the chancellor, George Osborne, dubbed the Sheriff of Nottingham after he cut the top rate of tax and announced deeper welfare cuts in the budget.”

In Putney, just before 1pm, six activists in wheelchairs chained their wheelchairs together at each end of Parkfields Road, and then activists arrived from four different gathering points in central London — for women, for the NHS, for the welfare state, and for democracy — finally revealing the target of the day’s action, which had previously been a closely kept secret. Nick Clegg was targeted, as UK Uncut stated, for “his support of the coalition’s radical cuts programme and his parties broken election promises.”

As UK Uncut also explained, “During the family-friendly street party protest, disabled campaigners, mothers with children, public service workers and activists enjoyed music, poetry, comedy, games and held a people’s assembly to discuss the alternatives to austerity.”

Paul Jones, 32, who attended the protest in London said, “The blame for the vicious cuts to the NHS, to the welfare state and to our future lies at Nick Clegg’s door, so that’s where we’ve taken our protest. No one voted for Cameron and Clegg’s plan to make the poorest and most marginalised in our society pay for a crisis caused by the banks, yet we are all being forced to pay now. Nick Clegg and the cabinet of out of touch millionaires can’t ignore public opposition any longer, we will not stand for their lies and we will not stand for their unfair cuts.”

Sarah Evans of UK Uncut said, “The government is calling on us all to celebrate the Jubilee next weekend, but most people who are feeling the pinch and seeing their vital services cut aren’t in the mood to just celebrate and ignore the fact that this government is wrecking our future. Nick Clegg made a personal choice to cut public services, he is an architect of austerity. This isn’t what he stood for at the last election, and its not what people voted for. People feel betrayed. We aren’t prepared to let Nick Clegg and his coalition allies wreck our future – so we are here today to take action. We are celebrating the public services like the NHS that we love, and celebrating a different future, decided by us – not a bunch of millionaires.”

Another UK Uncut supporter, Jean Sandler, 42, said, “Nick Clegg is one of the architects of austerity. He’s a millionaire and lives in a million-pound home. The cuts are a political choice of this government and the cabinet of out-of-touch millionaires. They are not necessary. No one voted for Cameron and Clegg’s disastrous plan that means that we end up paying for the banks’ crisis.”

Simon Hope, who went to the party in Putney with his daughter, aged 4, also spoke about his feelings. “I came to this protest because I think the government is trying to use the jubilee next weekend to distract people from the cuts and the tough times people are facing and as a national sedative,” he said. “I think that it’s vital that we take direct action against the cuts. It’s brilliant that the party is on Nick Clegg’s road because he and the rest of the government are not listening to us, our petitions, our vigils or our marches. Today is a wake-up call. We will not stand for his lies or the government’s cruel cuts. Nick Clegg can’t ignore us now, we are bringing democracy home.”

In addition, Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said, “Our union is as one with UK Uncut activists in their fight against this government’s needless and politically-motivated cuts, and we applaud their innovative and inspirational action that takes the campaign right to the doorsteps of those responsible. We would like to see more of this kind of community campaigning, linking up with unions, arguing for the alternative to spending cuts, for investment to improve our public services and to protect our communities from what this arrogant government is trying to do.”

I agree with all of the commentators above, and hope, with the corporate overkill of the Olympics to come, and with our fractured society divided ever more into the “haves” and the “have-nots,” that there will be further dissent to come, especially if this long hot summer continues. Doing nothing implies consent, that is for sure.

Note: If you’re in Brighton next Saturday, June 2, there’s a street party there. Otherwise, watch the UK Uncut website for information on further actions.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Selma Qurshid wrote:

    LOL

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, great, eh, Selma? I did appreciate that at least people can cordon off the road where the Deputy PM lives, hold a protest party and not all be arrested. Having said that, I remember, as a child, when Downing Street was open to the public, and, more recently, I remember when protests could take place outside Parliament Square without permission from the police. Tony Blair was responsible for doing away with that liberty – and it seems like it’s a move that’s just been adopted in Quebec: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/26/montreal-casseroles-student-protests

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    cosmicsurfer wrote:

    Between Lizzie’s little bash and the London Olymp-orgie, no wonder they are implementing “austerity” on the backs of the people. Just wouldn’t be right for the monarch and wanna-be monarch to pay for their charades … NOT in Merry Olde Feudal England!

    Be careful – they might start hanging the poor in Piccadilly Circus for hunting in the Queen’s forest.

    I jest but the situation is far from funny….
    Time has come to put the queen (and her royal ass son) back in her box and the government of Cameron/ Clegg out with yesterday’s garbage

    Solidarity with my friends taking to the streets

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, cosmicsurfer. Yes, sometimes the propaganda from the bosses and the credulity of the people is so extreme that we appear to be fighting a rearguard action against the return of feudalism. Who would’ve thought that’s where we’d be in the second decade of the 21st century?

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