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A Magazine for Sheffield

Protest: A Fight for the Welfare State

"Philosopher's Against Irrationality" read one placard on Devonshire Green as the protest on 12th March began in earnest, and when you consider that the rest of the day passed with barely a hint of any violence, the logic of Sheffield City Council spending £2 million on policing for the Liberal Democrat spring conference must be seriously called into question. What also must be queried is the figure of 10,000 expected protesters posited by 'police intelligence' (an oxymoron in its self), when the figure could not have exceeded 5,000. The brutal reality of this bears down when framed in the context of the cuts the council is making, which are harsher than any in living memory. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg paints himself as the heir of William Beveridge, the great Liberal MP who laid the foundations of the welfare state. How Mr Clegg and the Liberal Democrats who run Sheffield Council can justify this outrageous sum when there was clearly so little trouble is a matter of serious public concern. Over £3 million has been cut from the city's education budget, a staggering 30% has been cut from its total budget, some £220 million by 2014/15. Is this the face of Liberalism in the 21st century? This utter decimation of public services will leave many of the poorest in society worse off under this Conservative and Liberal government. No, Beveridge would be turning in his grave at this radical monster that has been unleashed on the British people. This government is systematically stripping away the consensus fashioned after the Second World War, where the emancipation of all British citizens was assured under the welfare state for the first time. Yet this government drips with the air of privilege and simply does not understand the plight of the everyman. How could they? Nick Clegg is distantly related to the Russian Romanov dynasty, likewise Cameron to the Queen and her merry band of freeloaders. Reports in the media in the week running up to the Liberal Democrat's spring conference in Sheffield verged on the ludicrous. The Daily Mail claimed that there was a pernicious scheme planned by students to literally run on stage when Nick Clegg was delivering his key note speech, which was live on TV, and whisk him away to some secret vault deep within the city. Even for the Daily Mail this article was completely laughable. What was incontrovertible, however, was that policing for the event cost the city a frankly unreasonable £2 million pounds. The scene was set as part of this money was spent on a huge, Orwellian fence surrounding much of the City Hall. As a civilization we must learn from one generation to the next. The government wants nothing more than to be able to castigate political protesters and exaggerate even the slightest bit of trouble to make it look like mob rule is threatening the state's very existence. But even Maggie Thatcher protected the police from cuts in the 1980s, when the force was accused of becoming politicised. The only likelihood of that happening again is against the government. The police in Sheffield are certainly to be commended, as every officer I spoke to last month was more than courteous, although when I suggested that Bob Dylan would be a better choice of protest song than Rage Against The Machine, one of them gave a deep sardonic laugh as only someone from South Yorkshire can muster. When you consider that the government is mulling over plans to cut 40% of police officers' pay by up to £4,000 a year, to say nothing of planned redundancies, it is hardly surprising that the police are not up for a fight. This protest was merely one battle, part of a war which must be fought for the very heart and soul of what Britain is to be in the 21st century. This event served as a great beacon call for how this war must be fought. It is not a war of violence, like that which marred the political struggles of the 1980s, but a battle of ideas that the left must win to ensure that this country stands for true egalitarian ideals and principles. It does not exist to serve corporate interests and sell weapons to dictators, or for our Prime Minister to embarrassingly tour regions of the world which are in the midst of rising up against elite regimes that have suppressed them for generations. After the horrors of the British Empire, after the ignominy of Iraq, can't we learn our place in the world? )

Next article in issue 37

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