Message sent to me by the people organising the campaign against the government’s sell off of our forest lands:-
WE’VE WON! The government has just confirmed they’re totally scrapping the forest sell-off. The phoney consultation has been cancelled. The sinister legal changes to pave the way for privatisation have been dropped.
We did this together. Next time someone tries to tell any of us that signing petitions or emailing our MPs doesn’t work, we’ll know exactly what to say: “People power does work. Just look at the Save Our Forests campaign”.
Now I don’t want to pour cold water on what is a good victory, but why was this campaign successful while other campaigns are having less success? The privatisation of the NHS, the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowance, the punitive and destructive 25% cuts in our council’s budget- these all go on despite campaigns and petitions.
The reason has to do with class – in an old fashioned sense. This was not a campaign of the urban working class, or even particularly of the liberal intelligentsia. This was a campaign with broad support that included the tories’ core constituency, Old Rural England.
It is shocking that when environmental destruction threatens us all so profoundly, that it has still not been possible to create a campaigning alliance across the lines of class, between the country and the city, and between those of us living in the Imperial Triad core countries (North America, Europe, Japan) and those in the global South, that calls for another way of living, another way of earning, another way of using the resources of the earth.
The reason is that the campaigning focus of selling the forests is pretty easy to pinpoint, a clear demand against a policy that is not absolutely core to the Cameron-Clegg regime’s project. The wider onslaught against public services and the environmental emergency are deeper problems to deal with, constituted as they are by a system of capital accumulation that knows no stopping and that restlessly invents new ways to overcome its setbacks – at whatever the cost to human lives and the planet’s health.
Maybe though this initial success, protecting our forests does after all show us that change can be created by the will of the people (as in the Arab world just now). Perhaps we just have to expect more, finding other emblematic foci for further campaigns that allow invigoration of the movement for change by its successes, and allow the broadening of that movement (composed of those who didn’t vote for this regime, even if they might have voted for some of its members) to take in diverse and contradictory currents all running together into an irresistible flow.