15 May 2015

Anti-austerity activists plan ‘five years of protest’

One week after the election results hundreds of activists packed a London meeting to plan what they say will be a major fight against Tory cuts. But are they refusing to accept the democratic process?

Above: Aaron Bastani, Ashna Sarkar, Arnie Hill give their reactions to the election

Angry scenes followed last week’s election results – with hundreds of protesters gathering on Whitehall to protest the Tory election win and clashing with police.

They were accused of being undemocratic, for protesting against the mandate given to the Conservatives by voters to form a majority government.

Channel 4 News was allowed inside the packed central London hall where over 1,000 activists gathered this week to prepare what they say will be a major protest movement against any planned cuts.

If you want to talk about who has a mandate – let’s talk about the SNP. Aaron Bastani

The event was billed as a “radical assembly” claiming the election had created a “political crisis” and a “hard-right regime”.

When asked by Channel 4 News if they were refusing to accept the results of the election – a clear victory for the Conservatives – the activists pointed to Scotland as a victory for their brand of anti-austerity politics. Others shouted “the Tories won just 23 per cent of the vote”.

Aaron Bastani was one activist in attendance. His Novara Media podcast and YouTube channel tries to make sense of the far-left’s trajectory.

“This is just one meeting – but if you look at Bristol, 3,000 people took to the streets yesterday to protest – there are huge demonstrations planned,” Aaron Bastani explained.

He believes the Labour party has lost leadership of any left-wing opposition movement.

“The biggest swing in British voting history happened north of the border. If you want to talk about who has a mandate – let’s talk about the SNP.”

Populist parties

The meeting was addressed briefly by an activist from Spain’s burgeoning Podemos party – anti-austerity populists who are riding a wave of support from young voters.

Many of the activists present became involved in student politics in 2010 when student protests over tuition fees turned violent in Whitehall.

Some voted Green this time, but others say they did not vote for any party, identifying as anarchists, though members of the notorious Class War group stormed out of the meeting, declaring it “too middle class”.

When I heard the Tories were re-elected I thought – we have to move, we have to organise. Arnie Hill

Arnie Hill, a young black activist, said he has witnessed a new generation of activists coming out of London communities – mobilised by issues like housing.

“As a young black man raised by a single black mother… I know what the end of life in council housing tenancys means… When I heard the Tories were re-elected I thought – we have to move, we have to organise”.

Protests planned

The meeting announced the formation of a new organisation called M14, which will back planned anti-austerity protests in the coming months.

While the movement claims to have no leaders, the Facebook pages used to call the event were the same ones linked to last Saturday’s protests in central London.

Police say four officers, a police staff member and a number of protesters were injured during clashes at that event.

Chief Superintendent Gerry Campbell of the Metropolitan Police said: “The vast majority of those protesting did so peacefully however a small minority were intent on causing disorder and engaged in violence.”