Did life as you know it come grinding to a halt during yesterday’s strike?
Probably not, unless you are a parent who had to make last-minute childcare arrangements because of the teachers walkout and school closures, or you were one of the zero reported cases of people whose houses burned down in the temporary absence of the fire brigade.
The failure of the strikers and the public sector unions to capture the public imagination and win their support is largely down to the fact that the majority of Brits generally accept the need for pay restraint and fiscal conservatism on the part of government, even if they also acknowledge that the clumsy imposition of “austerity” is causing unnecessary hardship and suffering for some of the people most reliant on a big-spending government.
As this blog argued yesterday, it is not enough for opponents of austerity to rail against the “bankers, toffs and Tory scum”, the usual bogeymen of the Left – not if they want to win the next general election. Voters rarely kick out incumbent governments when the economy is on a positive trajectory, and particularly not when the opposition struggles to articulate a convincing vision of how different life would be under their rule.
What, precisely, do the strikers and anti-Austerity demonstrators want? Is it simply a return to pre-austerity 2010 levels of government spending, as though Gordon Brown were still in office? Is it that plus inflation-busting public sector pay raises (at a time when many in the private sector cannot hope for the same)? Or is it something bigger, along the lines of the joyful hippie revolution called for by Russell Brand?
From observing and talking with some of those on strike and others supporting them, it was clear that they have no single answer, no solid idea to rally behind other than to point at the Conservative-led coalition government and say “down with this sort of thing!”
One cannot necessarily expect the grassroots and those on the cutting edge of austerity to be articulate creators of alternative government policy, but from the Labour leadership’s awkward dance around whether they supported the strikes or not, it is clear that they are also stumped for a workable, electorally viable alternative.
With the general election less than 10 months away, the opposition (both official and the activist base) looks and feels very much divided and conquered.
Here are some telling images from the strike which sum up the prevailing atmosphere, taken in London by Semi-Partisan Sam: