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by Natalie Bennett

When back in February I and others signed the launch letter for the People’s Assembly it was an expression of strong feelings among the signatories.

We called for a “movement of opposition broad enough and powerful enough to generate successful co-ordinated action” against the government’s austerity policies.

But we couldn’t know how powerful the public response would prove to be.

At the most recent organising meeting it was great to hear people discussing the logistics of just how many marquees it was possible to cram into the space outside Westminster Hall to accommodate all the people signing up.

Yet I wasn’t entirely surprised.

When I sat in a very cold hall in Norwich in March, with snow falling outside, and saw it fill with well over 100 people – a mixture of students and campaigners from all over the city – coming to hear about the assembly and offer support, I felt sure this was going to be big.

The fact is that there is now a broad and growing understanding in society that austerity is a failed policy.

It has failed because – as the Green Party has been saying since 2010 – we can’t salvage the system that has now crashed.

What we have to do is invest in transforming our economy from the failed 20th-century model – globalisation, neoliberalism, privatisation – into a relocalised 21st-century economy that works within the environmental limits of our planet while providing a decent standard of living for all.

That means bringing manufacturing and food production back to Britain. We must renovate millions of homes to end fuel poverty and cut carbon emissions – which will create tens of thousands of jobs along the way – and force rich individuals and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.

This would be an economic transformation, not more of the same failed policies we’ve seen in 35 years of Thatcherism.

We know that we’re not going to see that delivered by this Tory-Lib Dem government – a government of the multinationals, for the multinationals which offers new tax breaks for profits stashed in offshore tax havens while it hits the poor with cuts to already miserly welfare payments.

But Labour has been deeply disappointing too.

At best it has complained that the cuts are too far or too fast, not that they are taking us in completely the wrong direction.

And it has failed to argue the fact that it was not government spending that got us into this mess, but the mad, unregulated excesses of the financial industries.

At its worst Labour has been all but complicit, particularly on welfare. Our movement against austerity has to be ready to keep fighting whatever government is elected in 2015 rather than confine itself to being an anti-coalition vehicle.

Cutting government spending on essential programmes isn’t the answer to high unemployment and underemployment, low wages and a hopelessly unbalanced economy built around the financial sector, retail, big pharma and the arms trade. This is increasingly clear.

On doorsteps around the land a couple of years ago it was obvious that many people had accepted claims that austerity was necessary, whatever the human cost.

But this fallacy has now been comprehensively debunked.

That understanding has come from hard experience – as three years of George Osborne’s austerity has brought us even greater inequality than was delivered in 13 years of Blair and Brown.

We’re now seeing projections that 20 per cent of children in Britain will be in poverty by 2020 and a government which throws money at banks, seeks to privatise everything in sight and seeks to entice people into borrowing vast sums to buy houses – policies depressingly reminiscent of those which led to the crash.

The theories behind austerity have now been rejected by academics and even by the International Monetary Fund, an unusual champion of public spending to say the least. It’s now calling on George Osborne to open the purse strings.

So it’s no wonder the marquees are being gathered for June 22, that the enrolments are flooding in and that unions and social campaigners are gathering under one banner.

This will be a genuine assembly, a participative day when we will have a chance to share our stories and ideas and unite to push forward a real alternative future for our country.

I’m sure the democratic conclusion will be that we want a society where everyone has a chance to fulfil their potential, develop their skills and abilities and be confident that they will not go hungry for want of cash, cold for fear of the gas bill or get trapped in an exploitative, zero-hours contract.

But if that’s the future we want, we’ll have to fight for it.

Natalie Bennett is leader of the Green Party

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