On the 3rd of September I attended a demonstration called by the Sheffield Trade Union Council. This was in the form of a public meeting outside the Town Hall. This was a protest demonstration against the Con-Lib Dem Coalition's budget to address the current financial situation. A crisis brought about by the free market, no rules capitalism that has spread across the world over the past decade. The demonstration was supported by the Sheffield District Labour Party, Sheffield Labour Councillors, Paul Bloomfield MP for Sheffield Central, Sheffield Green Party, Youth Workers (92 of whom are to lose their jobs as a result of budget cuts), Sheffield Pensioners Action Group, hospital workers worried about the future of the NHS, school teachers and government workers from various offices across the City.
The crowd numbered 500 or more. This was a good turnout for a Friday early evening 5.30pm demonstration in the kind of hedonistic pleasure seeking City Sheffield is tending to these days. "Forget the problems of the world and lets have another drink" seems to be the prevailing culture. We tend to live in an anaesthetised society. Drink, drugs, television, sport, entertainment; each one diverts the mind. Reality cannot be faced, because the facts are too stark! That said it was a pleasant surprise that over 500 people turned up for the event from different walks of life. For over an hour we were able to make "common cause" and unite against the very nature of the greedy and increasingly intolerant society Britain has become.
After a decade of near silence (apart from electioneering and leafleting) the Sheffield District Labour Party are once more beginning to participate in the protests and street politics of the City. Over the years of New Labour they found themselves bound hand and foot by the Machiavellian machinations of Blairism. The great lesson which I hope has or is being learnt is that even when Labour is in office, still the Party has an important role beyond campaigning for Labour Candidates. That role is to act as a conduit for feeding into the Party the views of the people, not acting in the way Blairites had of only listening to those who had been carefully vetted. That became part of the great undoing of Gordon Brown when he ran into Mrs Duffy of Rochdale. This told him what Labour canvassers were facing on a daily basis. Ordinary party members ought to be the political watchdogs of the Party, feeding in to the Party public opinion, not just sending out the latest "On Message" so slavishly followed, even though as individuals we have little faith in the message.
One of the problems that Labour faces within the Party is tolerance, for those who feel they need to question the Party bureaucracy, policy or our elected representatives. Instead they are often regarded as trouble-makers or heaven forbid extremists. What these prevalent attitudes clearly identify is the need for some fundamental political education in the Party over what Democratic Socialism is all about. Without this basic knowledge, discussion remains at a very primitive level.
In Sheffield and elsewhere people are joining the Party, even some of our old disgruntled members are returning. We must ensure they are joining a political party that has or is genuinely learning from its past mistakes. Tony Blair's book A Journey tells a story that should be an object lesson to us all. How could a mentally dysfunctional messianic person rise to become leader of the Labour Party? While Labour did achieve some good things under his very strange form of leadership, by far the greatest beneficiaries of his years of Premiership has been Mr and Mrs Blair. Only Blair in his first year as Labour Leader described himself as the New Keir Hardie, when in effect he was the direct opposite.Returning to the subject of the September 3rd demonstration, I was struck by the significance of the date. It was on September 3rd 1939 when Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Here we were declaring our own personal war against not just the Tory-LibDem Coalition Government, but on the very serious world-wide financial system. A system which has created a world-wide free market and a few-rules system, which has a far greater risk than anything envisaged by Karl Marx. Global Capitalism left to its own devices has the potential of killing off the human race. As the late Tony Judt wrote in the opening paragraph of his very last book in 2009 Ill Fares The Land, "We can no longer continue to live our lives like this". I now write that Mankind has but a short time to respond positively and effectively. If the destruction of our natural environment and humanity itself is to be avoided!
This is a greater challenge than the Second World War which took over six weary years.
Food for thought - aimimg to provide food for humanity.
From Ken Curran, Chair Sheffield Co-operative Party Branch. Chair Manor & Castle Development Trust. Sheffield District Labour Party.