Before I was struck down in what is very sadly my prime I’d gone along to a public meeting that was looking to organise this march against the bedroom tax, flanked by some guy who’d told me about it and some other guy who follows me around like a second bumhole. You’ll recall the bedroom tax is the government’s latest wheeze to screw over the people who dare use the welfare system designed for people exactly like them. It looks to withhold housing benefit from people with unoccupied bedrooms, working on the assumption all those Daily Mail stories about benefit claimants in mansions are not only true but typical. It looks to hurt a disproportionate number of disabled people, this being Iain Duncan Smith’s consolation for failing to turn 101 cancer patients into that fancy coat he wanted.
It was my first time at this kind of thing. It was equal parts interesting, exciting and cringey. Certainly all the activist stereotypes were there: the worthy types getting all flustered and excited like revolution was upon us; the angry types getting all loud and ranty and shoutier than thou; the self-promoters making it all about them; the veterans still fighting Thatcher; the would-be anarchists talking up riots and vandalism, having come from the office via Pret. Lots of vanity talk. Lots of people having a moment. And not one concise fucker in the room. Everyone who spoke made a good point fairly quickly, liked the round of applause they got and banged on for ten minutes trying for another. For the budding activist looking to keep hold of modesty and self-awareness it was all a bit trying. For the cynical bastard it was all a bit fish and barrel. But cynicism kills this kind of thing. I put it aside.
Then they brought on Tommy Sheridan. You’ll recall he’s the former socialist MSP who was jailed for his folk-hero protests against the poll tax and the Faslane nuclear base. And also for his perjury in the defamation trial following the News of the World’s allegations he attended a swinger’s club. He’s a little toxic, our Tommy. He’s easy to discredit. He could, by association, discredit the campaign. He could be off-putting to people with only half an interest in it. And he could be eyeing this as his chance to get back in the spotlight. All things considered, him being involved is like taking a dump in a jacuzzi and asking everyone to jump in. That said, he was a great speaker. He made actual points. He stayed focused. He made useful comparisons to past campaigns without sounding stuck in the past. He urged the organisers to get organised. I agreed with basically everything he said, and wished someone else had said it all.
Archetypes, cynicism and Tommy notwithstanding, the meeting had a vague whiff of excitement about it. It seems spontaneous pockets of action have sprung up around the country with marches and protests planned in Bath, Belfast, Birmingham, Bolton, Brighton, Bristol, Cambourne, Camdridge, Cardiff, Carlisle, Chester, Croydon, Darlington, Dover, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Halifax, Hanley, Hastings, Hull, Ipswich, Kent, King’s Lynn, Leeds, Leicester, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Plymouth, Preston, Runcorn, Sandwell, Sheffield, Somerset, Southampton, St Austell, Teeside, Warrington, Weymouth, Whitehaven, Wigan, Wiltshire, Workington, Wrexham and York. Momentum is gathering. And organisation is on its way, this meeting setting up a committee to coordinate a national gathering of organisations. This is local, grass roots stuff turning national. The marches got decent crowds and enough coverage for people to notice them. Something has started.
On 16 April a petition is being submitted to the Scottish Parliament calling on the SNP government to use its power to counter the threat of eviction for rent arrears in local authority tenancies. I’ll be part of the crowd outside Holyrood cheering it on, assuming I’m not struck down by smallpox or gout.
Photo credit: David Thomson