The Women’s Institute and the Bolshevik tendency

If there are climate talks, then we must be marching. I’ve been coming to the big, annual <a href="h

If there are climate talks, then we must be marching. I’ve been coming to the big, annual Campaign Against Climate Change march for years, and it has been exponentially bigger every time. This year’s event on Saturday was no exception.

The focus of CACC is to press for international agreement on effective carbon dioxide emissions cuts. So, with the US holding this up ever since George Bush took power, the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square is always the focus of activities, either starting or ending the march.

This year, we began with a rally in the square. Seize the Day provided music between speeches from, among others, CACC vice presidents Norman Baker MP, Green MEP Caroline Lucas and writer George Monbiot. George’s speech was the most startling – he warned activists sternly against too much ‘doom and gloom’ in our campaigning.

He pointed out the disturbing fact that erstwhile climate deniers are changing their strategy and attempting to switch from blocking action by pretending there isn’t any problem into blocking action by painting climate change as too far gone to bother. With most sane people now in a mid-position where we recognise the problem at the same time as recognising a lot of really obvious solutions, he argued that we should tone down our rhetoric, be positive and get some action going at last - or we’d be just as culpable for the consequences. Harsh stuff, but it was something fresh we needed to hear.

On the more political side of things, Caroline Lucas warned Tony Blair that the time for delay and fudge was over. She said that failure to negotiate a fair and effective international treaty is morally negligent and called for real UK leadership in negotiations this week at climate talks in Nairobi.

Setting off for Trafalgar Square, I was struck by the vast range of different groups marching together. Along with the familiar CACC greenhouse, Friends of the Earth flags, a big Green Party contingent and of course our own Alliance Against Urban 4×4s' lollipop man, people dedicated to campaigning on individual issues were everywhere.

I tried to emulate John Reed, author of revolutionary epic ‘Ten Days that Shook the World,’ by collecting as many leaflets and postcards as possible and I now have a fine collection of literature from the likes of Plane Stupid, RoadBlock, Group Against Motorway Expansion, Airportwatch, World Naked Bike Ride, Rising Tide, the Vegan Society, Christian Ecology Link, Stop Stansted Expansion, Come Off It, and the DOVE campaign against the Newhaven incinerator (if I missed your group – sorry!)

Also notable was the rising number of political parties in the mix. I saw placards by the Greens, LibDems, Respect, Socialist Workers and even the Bolshevik Tendency being carried, and speakers from the platform at the Embassy also included Zac Goldsmith for the Tories and Labour MPs.

Arriving at Trafalgar Square, all thoughts of party politics were banished, however, as the CACC march joined thousands of people filling the square as part of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition’s ‘I-count’ rally. Groups supporting the coalition are an even more diverse collection than the activists on the march and include the Women’s Institute.

Instinctively piqued at the lack of real political fire coming from the actors, comedians and pop stars on the stage (no politicians were allowed on the bill), I tried to put my feelings aside at the sight of the huge crowd they had brought along to the day’s set of actions, many of whom wouldn’t have felt comfortable with the radical types outside the US Embassy.

Phil Thornhill, the founder of CACC, started this traditional day of action single-handed in 2001 after the USA pulled out of the Kyoto agreement, and it is the sign of a great achievement that this day is now both a mainstream and an international event, adopted by such a wide range of groups and nations.

Forty-eight countries around the world saw demonstrations on Saturday, including 90,000 in Australia and an inaugural event in Taiwan. Maybe soon we’ll see some results.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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