NOT EVEN 10 Downing Street can pretend that democracy is working in Britain. Just 59 percent of those eligible to vote did so at the last general election—the second lowest figure in Europe.
Some 25,000 members quit New Labour in the last six months. Membership has halved since Blair was first elected in 1997.
New Labour explains this by claiming there is growing apathy towards political activity among the “lowest” social classes.
So the Guardian reports, “Downing Street believes working class people are abandoning civic life, and that the decline in political engagement is happening disproportionately in lower income groups.”
You would not think that over the last three years Britain has seen its highest ever level of protest—against Bush and Blair’s wars.
A report by the Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research, published last week, gives a damning indictment of growing poverty and inequality under Blair (see page 2). But it goes on to argue:
“People increasingly express their political preferences through personal, market-related activity, such as contacting the media rather than politicians, and boycotting products rather than signing petitions.
“Britain expresses its political convictions via the chequebook, not through direct participation.”
Yet even the Home Office “citizenship survey” admitted that there has been a staggering rise in the numbers taking part in demonstrations and signing petitions.
Blair and his cronies just don’t understand what is happening in Britain today. They inhabit a world a million miles away from ordinary people.
A majority of the British population opposed the war in Iraq. They were lied to on a scale that beggars belief—but no one in government has been brought to book.
The majority, whenever they are asked, say they reject a social agenda that champions privatisation, job “flexibility” and tax breaks for the rich. Yet none of the “mainstream” parties speak up for them.
We are not seeing a withdrawal from political activity. We are seeing a political realignment in the wake of the Iraqi war. The great political issue, which is ignored by Blair and the establishment, is class.
Oliur Rahman, pictured on the front page, is the new face of resistance in Britain. Just 23 years old, he was born in Bangladesh and raised in Limehouse, in the East End of London.
He became a low paid civil service worker at the age of 19, immediately joining the union.
He did not get involved in party politics until after he came across the Stop the War Coalition, introducing himself as a PCS union activist.
He went on to join Respect, standing in the London Assembly elections on 10 June, and going on to win a council seat in east London (see page 5).
Across Britain there are hundreds of thousands of people like Oliur—people who were active against the war, and are active in their community, college or workplace.
They are tied into much larger networks of people organised at a grassroots level.
Whenever there is a fightback you sense just how popular it is. If you look at the pictures of striking civil service workers or the Scottish distillery workers’ picket lines, you sense a carnival atmosphere as workers stand up for themselves.
Democracy, based on resistance from the bottom up, is on the rise.
We have a choice. We can move towards a US-style political system—where political choice is like choosing your favourite brand of cola, and where whole swathes of the population are simply written off by the political establishment.
Or we can gather together the currents of resistance and create a collective force for change.