In another great guest post, well-known Labour activist Sarah Henney talks about her experience of Sunday’s ‘Take Back Manchester’ protest and its wider significance following Labour’s hugely positive conference last week in Brighton.
After Brighton, where next? A reality check in Manchester. By Sarah Henney
On Sunday I went to the Take Back Manchester anti-Tory Conference protest organised by the Peoples Assembly.
Still buoyed by the energy and optimism of five days in Brighton at the Labour Conference last week, I got chatting on the Liverpool-Manchester train to two fellow protesters and walked up to the start of the march together, where I met up with some friends. We chatted about the Labour Party Conference last week and about the political news of the last few days, including the shocking scenes in Catalonia.
I’d been expecting to feel really upbeat in Manchester and to a large extent I did. It’s always good for the movement to come together, feel and show the solidarity that exists and make some noise. Good people gathering to say no to the Tories can’t fail to lift one’s spirits. Horns beeped, whistles blew and placards saying Tories Out and some less polite messages were everywhere. There was a visible but low-key police presence, a strong trade union representation and I particularly enjoyed hearing from the irrepressible Mark Serwotka of the PCS union at the pre-march rally in Castlefield Arena.
So, all good then? Well, no. In truth, since I’d arrived in Manchester, something was niggling away at me; as well as the lifted spirits I felt at being there, I was feeling something else too. Then I realised what it was. It was anger. Plain and simple. Anger at the Tories – Tory government, Tory media, Tory voters. Anger at the lies they tell about Labour and Labour supporters and the Left generally. Anger at how they refuse to stare the consequences of their policies and actions in the face yet are so happy to besmirch and smear an entire political movement simply to deflect from their own abhorrence.
Anger that having just enjoyed five fantastic days down in Brighton focusing on Labour Party issues, an imminent Labour Government and exploring ideas for the ongoing development and strengthening of the Left, here I suddenly was on a rainy day in Manchester having once again to protest against a callous Tory Government and their utter contempt for the poor, hungry, homeless, disabled, sick, underpaid, struggling and vulnerable.
So I guess I was angry because I’d marched from Brighton straight into a reality check: we still have a Tory Government and we still needed to be here today in Manchester to disrupt their Conference, to create some awareness, to get them out of No 10 and Labour in.
I had seen on Sunday morning before leaving for Manchester how the Tories were going in hard on the “abusive Left” angle – this was, I felt, rather rich coming from a Government and party under investigation by the UN for human rights abuses of our disabled citizens.
If you are not familiar with the details, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) concluded that government cuts disproportionally impacted disabled people and amounted to “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities”. Shamefully for this government, Britain is the first and so far only country to be investigated by the UN for breaching the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Even worse, the Tories have ignored the recommendations from the UN CRPD report, thus completely ignoring their responsibility towards disabled people in our country.
I kept thinking about the Daily Mirror article and front page story I had seen in August 2015 which had stayed with me ever since. Rob Tomlinson, who has cerebral palsy, had been forced to bathe in a paddling pool at his home as a result of the hideous Tory bedroom tax. The shocking images that accompanied the story were emblazoned on my mind from the second I saw them and generated a deep anger and determination within me that we quite simply cannot and must not allow this treatment of our most vulnerable fellow citizens to become acceptable, or forgotten, or the norm. So when I say: “It’s time to Stand Up” – this is exactly what I am asking: to “Stand Up” against the state-sponsored bullying, cruelty, neglect and abuse of the most vulnerable people in our society and to demand that we do much, much better for and by those who need our support. To Stand Up and say: “Not in my name”. To say: “This is not OK”.
I have posted these pictures a lot these last few days – Rob’s brother and carer says that he used the photos because he wanted people to be aware of Rob’s situation so I don’t think he would mind. I have posted them under Tory MP’s tweets telling us how they listen to peoples’ problems, to CCHQ tweets talking of the “abuse” from the Left, and to Tory voters who seem to be in abject denial of the systematic abuse of individuals that their vote leads to. So deep was one such Tory voter’s denial that she refused to believe the story and photo was real when I posted it to her because it was published in the Daily Mirror.
So my message today is simply this: please, be angry, get angry, let yourself *feel*. Don’t switch off, or hide from it, or try to shut it out. It is the most human and natural reaction in the world for us to feel rage at those pictures of Rob and of the wrongs being done to so many by so few.
But let’s take that anger and use it wisely and constructively to organise and get this hideous Tory Government out.
Please seek out and stand with the growing ranks of people who feel the same as you and want to bring about immediate and lasting change for our most vulnerable.
Please join the Labour Party today if you haven’t already. Join to stand up against the tyranny of the Tories, to stand side by side with our most vulnerable citizens and say to them: “It’s ok, we’ve got you, we’re not going to let you fall.”
I have seen people fall through the gaps and I don’t want to see it happen anymore. I want to be part of a society that catches those who fall through and then works towards eliminating those gaps in the first place. Labour today offers us that chance. Please, take it.
For some it will be a no-brainer now to go and join the Labour Party and in so doing become a part of Europe’s biggest political movement in organising and campaigning in the key and marginal seats that will win us the next General Election.
I also know that the Labour Party may not be precisely how some of you want it to be right now – maybe because there are personalities within it that you don’t like or identify with or some policies that you aren’t happy with. My message to you is this: It may not be exactly what you want, but we now have a moral duty as a nation to put aside our personal and factional wish-lists and sensitivities and come together in the name of the most vulnerable people in our society to get a Labour Government into No 10 Downing Street as soon as possible.
Labour is surging in the polls but we can take nothing for granted. Please get involved and join Labour in getting organised to get the Tories out. As I say in the video clip below, it’s the best chance we will have for a very long time of having a left-wing, caring, sharing and fair Government and society.
Join Labour today: https://join.labour.org.uk
Sarah also recorded a short video on her way back from the protest:
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