There haven’t been very many successful marches against Cameron’s governments – few of them have caught the attention of the public at large. The majority of Britons sympathised with the motives of those who participated in the poll tax riots – even if not agreeing with the actual rioting. The majority of Britons sympathised with those marching against the Iraq War. Both of these campaigns had big impacts; for Thatcher, the culmination of her problems over Europe and the country’s mood against the poll tax led to her untimely downfall. Blair survived the onslaught he received in 2003, but his legacy has been tarnished in the eyes of the left and, should Jeremy Corbyn be elected, Blair could face prison on account of his supposed violation of international law. For the most part, the marches against austerity have not had the same impact – in June, approximately 250,000 attended marches across the country and press coverage was minimal. There were several large marches during the period of coalition government, but they contributed more to the demolition of the Liberal Democrats than actually stopping austerity.
Now, the left may have its cause. The tax credit cuts could leave Cameron’s Conservatives bruised and battered – if Corbynistas and co play their cards right. In the light of the election result in May, there were cries of ‘Don’t mourn – organise’, and that is exactly what the left ought to be doing now. The People’s Assembly, the group that organised previous marches against austerity, should be planning a mass demonstration against the cuts to working and child tax credits, but so far, all they’ve managed to achieve is getting a getting a rap on the knuckles from the mainstream press over the minority of protestors in Manchester who spat on Conservative Party Conference Attendees. The mood is ripe for action – internal criticism from Conservative MPs including both Boris Johnson and David Willetts, as well as the Sun’s Campaign against the tax credit cuts means that the embers are already in place: all that is needed is one more match (or one more march), and a fire could be ignited in Conservative HQ.
The case against the cuts is an easy one to make – the majority of people in poverty are in work. The director of the IFS has said that it is ‘arithmetically impossible’ that the rise in the National Minimum wage will make up for the tax credit cuts, with the bulk of people who are on the minimum wage not being people who currently receive tax credits. 13 million families will lose an average of £240 due to the tax credit cuts, and 3 million families will lose £1000. A more important point, however, is that the cuts do not fit in with the Conservative narrative - the ‘party of the workers’ is hurting people who are in work. The cuts to the welfare bill have done many awful things, but the idea of the cuts is palatable to the electorate if they work within the context of the Conservative narrative; ‘we need to cut welfare to live within our means and we can do that by cutting the benefits of the scroungers and giving to the workers’ is consistent with cutting JSA or ESA, but it doesn’t make sense when cutting tax credits for those in work and for children.
In decades to come, the cut to tax credits could be looked back upon as Cameron’s (or Osborne’s) Poll Tax, but the important thing is that those who oppose austerity act, and act quickly. The electorate could be appalled by the tax credit cuts if enough of a fuss is made of them, but equally they could dismiss the cuts as not doing much damage. The rational argument has been made by many – what is needed for a political fire is the passion of the protestor. Jeremy Corbyn is a protestor politician. While this reputation did not do him any favours in Manchester, it could perhaps help him if he were the keynote speaker at a demonstration against tax credit cuts. To be an effective protestor, you have to have a worthy cause that you are protesting against – tax credit cuts are that cause.
Shortly before the 2010 election, Steve Hilton, Cameron’s personal PR guru, commissioned a focus group and the result was clear – people liked Conservative policies, but did not want to vote for them after they found out they were Conservative policies. The image of the Conservatives as the nasty party was one that had become ingrained into the minds of voters. Cameron’s mission of detoxifying the Tory brand has seen mixed results – his hugging of both hoodies and huskies was met with ridicule, but in May, people voted from the Conservatives in their droves. One of the themes of the Conservative Party Conference was again focusing on making the Conservative offering acceptable to those who identify as being on the Centre-Left. However, there were two chinks in Tory armour – tax credit cuts and immigration. Theresa May’s spiel about migrants preventing a cohesive society is particularly unsavoury coming off of the back of the refugee crisis, but this protest would be unlikely to capture the general public – most people agree that immigration should be lower. This leaves tax credit cuts, and, if the chance is taken, the idea of the nasty party could be resurfacing sooner rather than later.