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Is it crass to compare the protests in London, Cairo and Wisconsin?

The difference between Tahrir Square and Parliament Square is one of scale, but not of substance.

I'm standing in Euston Road with 150 anti-cuts protesters, who have occupied the thoroughfare after being wrestled out of Camden Council's budget meeting by a solid wall of police. "London, Cairo, Wisconsin!" yell the demonstrators. "We will fight, we will win!"

As two rows of cops contain the demonstration, an elderly lady in a woolly hat hands me a pamphlet about a local unemployed workers' caucus and invites me to pet her Yorkshire terrier. It's not exactly Tahrir Square -- but is the comparison with the Middle East uprisings really so crass?

For anyone who's seen pictures of heads split open by sniper bullets in Tripoli, claiming a common cause can't help but feel insensitive. The brave people of Libya, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia, after all, are fighting the sort of police states that skip the CS spray and stop-and-search forms and go straight to the torture and British-made machine guns.

Suddenly, it seems rather a luxury to be fighting a right-wing government that merely wishes to impose brutal cuts for which it has no mandate. Clegg and Cameron may be stabbing us in the back, but they're not yet shooting us in the head.

The desperate workers and welfare claimants occupying their local councils, however, refuse to be told that their fight is of no importance simply because more violent standoffs are taking place overseas.

"What we're fighting here is very, very different from what they're fighting in the Middle East," says Jess, a 20-year-old activist. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight."

Telling British protesters to stop whingeing because the fight for self-determination is more perilous in the Middle East is a little like telling people not to build soup kitchens in Britain because there are starving children in Africa.

There is nothing exotic, however, about inequality. It was youth unemployment, graduate unrest and soaring food prices that catalysed the toppling of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia; meanwhile, in Britain, where Muammar Gaddafi was a "close personal friend" of successive PMs, youth unemployment is almost as high as in Egypt. The demographic driving the resistance, moreover, is growing in every major world city: unemployed graduates with no future and the tools to build networks.

The difference between Tahrir Square and Parliament Square is one of scale, but not of substance. Across the world, ordinary people are being denied a voice, shut out of work and education, having their dignity trashed. While armchair liberals express sympathy with protesters in the Middle East, workers and students in Britain have begun to express something far more powerful: solidarity.

Solidarity, the watchword of this movement, hashtagged and chanted across the world, is not about pretending that there's no difference between a flashmob in London and a riot in Tripoli.

Solidarity is the shared conviction that while the disposessed lead vastly different lives across the world, those lives may yet lead them to the same place of greater freedom. It's not just a word; it's a weapon.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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