Why I had to confront Ja­cob Rees-Mogg, and speak the truth about aus­ter­ity

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Shab­bir Lakha

Aweek ago I con­fronted Ja­cob Rees-Mogg with other pro­test­ers at a pub­lic meet­ing in Manchester, as part of the Peo­ple’s As­sem­bly Against Aus­ter­ity’s week of ac­tion against the Tories. He is an upand-com­ing fig­ure in the Con­ser­va­tive party with sup­port to be the next leader, so I am proud that I was able to con­vey di­rectly to him the mes­sage of 50,000 peo­ple who had marched through Manchester the day be­fore.

It is not just the hypocrisy of a man who is op­posed to abor­tion yet prof­its from his in­vest­ment firm’s sale of abor­tion pills; Rees-Mogg is de­spi­ca­ble for de­fend­ing aus­ter­ity with washed-up myths and straightup lies. That is why, when he at­tempted to en­gage in a de­bate with me – and par­tic­u­larly in view of the lack of cov­er­age given to the mass op­po­si­tion to aus­ter­ity – it was im­por­tant that I showed him the re­al­ity of that op­po­si­tion.

Rees-Mogg was praised by some sec­tions of the me­dia for “po­litely tak­ing on” pro­test­ers. But let’s be ab­so­lutely clear: this isn’t a gen­tle­man’s de­bate: it is a ma­te­rial fight against a rul­ing class wag­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence on work­ing-class peo­ple. As ner­vous as I was, I knew that I had to voice the op­po­si­tion to his views.

At a time when more than 8 mil­lion peo­ple are liv­ing in some form of food poverty, Rees-Mogg thinks that the ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in peo­ple de­pen­dent on food banks is “up­lift­ing”. Be­cause that’s how out of touch he and his party are with the mass suf­fer­ing they are in­flict­ing. That is the sense that I got of him up close when he tried to claim that Tory poli­cies of aus­ter­ity had ac­tu­ally “lifted peo­ple out of poverty”.

The line that he used to jus­tify aus­ter­ity was that em­ploy­ment is at its high­est lev­els since the 1970s, and the best route out of poverty. But the point I made (and which he ig­nored) is that the UK is the only ad­vanced econ­omy with stag­nat­ing wages. Seven years of the pub­lic-sec­tor pay cap, the in­crease in zero-hours con­tracts and pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment, and the Tories’ clam­p­down – through the Trade Union Act – on the abil­ity of work­ers to chal­lenge un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers (via the rise in tri­bunal fees and in­creased thresh­old for strike ac­tion) have meant that a huge pro­por­tion of peo­ple liv­ing in poverty are ac­tu­ally in work.

Ac­cord­ing to data from the Trus­sell Trust, which runs half the food banks around the coun­try, only 0.03% of peo­ple used food banks for the pri­mary rea­son of be­ing un­em­ployed; 26% re­ported low in­come as their pri­mary rea­son, and 43% pointed to de­lays or changes to their ben­e­fits.

If that isn’t a scathing in­dict­ment of aus­ter­ity in it­self – and, for the likes of Rees-Mogg, 4 mil­lion chil­dren liv­ing in poverty, or home­less­ness dou­bling since 2010, isn’t ei­ther – then what about the United Na­tions re­port that found the ac­tions of the Tory gov­ern­ment to be in vi­o­la­tion of the UN con­ven­tion on the rights of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, as well as UK leg­is­la­tion? Or the study by the IMF – the ar­chi­tects of aus­ter­ity – ad­mit­ting that aus­ter­ity does more harm than good?

There are those, such as the Tele­graph’s Tim Stan­ley, who sim­ply be­lieve aus­ter­ity en­tails col­lat­eral dam­age). That’s why it’s so im­por­tant that the Peo­ple’s As­sem­bly shows the real dam­age be­ing done, and the real op­po­si­tion to the Tories, in a week that oth­er­wise would have just been the Theresa and Boris show.

And that’s why it’s so im­por­tant that we con­tinue to chal­lenge the Tories on the streets; con­tinue to sup­port pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers, postal work­ers and fast-food work­ers tak­ing in­dus­trial ac­tion; and con­tinue to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to push the Tories out of of­fice.

We need to avoid the “po­lite”, rhetoric-filled de­bates de­void of facts that Rees-Mogg would rather en­gage in, and com­mu­ni­cate the widely felt out­rage that there are mil­lions of peo­ple suf­fer­ing at the hands of the Tories, and fight­ing them head on.

I am proud that I was able to con­vey di­rectly to him the mes­sage of 50,000 peo­ple who marched through Manchester

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