Climate of fairness

Despite an SP and SWP presence, no one proposed the necessary solution, writes Simon Wells

The Campaign Against Climate Change held its annual demonstration on a bitterly cold afternoon last Saturday, coinciding with the latest United Nations negotiations being held in Poznan, Poland, to agree a post-Kyoto deal.

Starting from Grosvenor Square, the demonstration snaked its way via Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square to parliament. The organisers reckoned there was a turnout of 8,000, which was up on last year’s 5,000 or so.

The left was represented by a fairly large contingent of Socialist Party comrades, the usual suspects heading Respect and a few Socialist Workers Party stragglers, who must have sneaked away from the SWP’s special one-day Marxism event scheduled for the same day. There was a sizeable number of Green Party activists pushing their Green New Deal economic charter, activists from various green and social agenda charities such as Greenpeace, and a few Liberal Democrats. Also along for the ride were anarchists and assorted independents, with the sound provided by a couple of samba bands. The police were in attendance, of course, but were not in the ‘over-zealous’ mood witnessed at a few recent Stop the War Coalition rallies.

Before the demonstration got underway, I spoke to a few SWPers who did not appear phased by the recent troubles within their organisation. In fact they were quite bullish about the outlook for the coming period. They reasoned that the economic crisis provided an opportunity to get on the front foot and take more radical action than in the recent past. Taking their cue from Martin Smith’s anarchist turn, they all seemed to agree that contesting elections was not on the cards despite the space that is opening up for “our ideas”. Instead, how about occupying workplaces and shops threatened with closure, and taking militant action to prevent home repossessions?

This is certainly a change in direction compared to the Respect era - and one, I was assured, where the different left groups should agree on common actions and then think about issues such as the party question. Obviously there is bitterness following the Respect debacle - and this was certainly on display towards the SWP from Respect members, some of whom tried to interrupt our conversation. On the other hand, I did see the wiser heads of both groups talking to each other.

The placards of the Campaign Against Climate Change enthusiastically taken up by the demonstrators included the slogans, ‘Time for a Green New Deal’, echoing the Green Party’s current mantra, ‘Stop agrofuels’, ‘No new coal’ (a reference to the Kingsnorth power station) and ‘No third runway: no Heathrow expansion’. Other self-made banners featured vegetarian and peace themes. The attitude from the shoppers and tourists was a mixture of amusement, hostility and curiosity.

When the demonstration arrived in Parliament Square, it was announced that the two keynote speakers, Michael Meacher and George Monbiot, were otherwise engaged, but we were nevertheless promised an “amazing” line-up. The not very inspiring speakers were mostly from various small groups around the campaign, including Biofuel Watch, Climate Camp and Operation Noah. The biggest cheer was for a Bangladeshi activist, who spoke about the potentially devastating effects of climate change on the sub-continent. The ‘big names’ were Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and left Labour MP John McDonnell.

We were told that all the campaigning by people like us had forced the government to announce drastic cuts in carbon emissions. We were also told about the likely impact of projected climate change and the irrationality of the system that causes it. There was talk by some of civil disobedience, of breaking the law and changing it. Comrade McDonnell said we need deeds, not words - in relation to the possible Heathrow expansion, we may have to take direct action and should stand in solidarity with those affected.

Caroline Lucas said that she had been on five climate demonstrations, and was getting sick of it. If the government refuses to move, then we will take the necessary action ourselves. Which included building this country’s largest ever campaign of non-violent direct action and civil disobedience to force the politicians to respond. Nick Clegg was, naturally, more moderate, as behoves a responsible mainstream politician. He looked forward to a Britain emerging from the recession that is fairer, but made richer by the passion of green activists.

That about summed it up. The anti-capitalism that was on display (although not, evidently, from Clegg) was generally of the petty bourgeois type - in reality a ‘fairer’ capitalism. While most speakers were able to point the finger at the system, none proposed the necessary solution - that of the global working class.