UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won’t work


11:11 pm - May 27th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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I’m almost always supportive of UKuncut actions and took part in several during the early days last year. I also fully defend their party yesterday and think much of the faux-outrage implying the party folks “threatened and intimidated” Clegg’s kids is simply absurd. Some are even comparing to an EDL demo, which is mad (though I defended their right to march too!).

I think the street party was nevertheless counter-productive in its tactics.

By that I’m not referring to the claim it brought out sympathy for Nick Clegg. I just think it makes more sense to target Conservatives than Libdems on this issue.

The first reason is simple: there are plenty of Libdem fans of UKuncut who supported it over tax evasion and avoidance, who now feel increasingly alienated. And believe me there are still many (shy) Libdem supporters who hate Labour and Conservatives more.

UKuncut may decide it doesn’t care about alienating them, which is fair enough. But my point is simply that they are there.

The second point is more substantive. UKuncut reason that Libdems are more susceptible to public pressure in the Coalition, and may eventually put a brake on some of the Conservative-led welfare cuts. Some even think public pressure may force the Libdems out of the Coalition pre-2015.

I’ve written previously on why it makes less sense for Libdems to abandon the Coalition before 2015. It would only happen if public opinion turns so strongly against Cameron that staying within the Coalition harms their chances even further nearer to 2015. This is possible but unlikely.

But the main problem is that the Libdems are fairly supportive of the welfare cuts. Broadly their constituency doesn’t rate welfare as a key priority and there are other issues Libdem voters find more pressing. Nick Clegg will focus on social issues such as gay marriage, financial benefits such as raising the tax threshold, civil liberties and the environment to rally his base.

Welfare cuts won’t come into the Libdem equation, mostly because a majority of voters believe that some benefits cuts are needed. The leadership is too cowardly to pick a fight there and saving its political capital for other fights.

You may argue that this perception needs to be challenged and you’d be right. But that can only be done through highlighting particularly bad examples of how cuts are affecting people (disabled people, soldiers etc) – not by able-bodied people having a party outside Clegg’s house.

I’ll still happily defend yesterday’s action. I just don’t think it was a particularly effective tactic. And it might be better channelled at Tory MPs instead.

Addendum: I accept there were disabled people there too. But that wasn’t the impression from pictures (which is how most people will hear of it) and it didn’t revolve around them. My point is about how events are framed; this wasn’t like people on wheelchairs chaining themselves in Oxford Circus.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


But that can only be done through highlighting particularly bad examples of how cuts are affecting people (disabled people, soldiers etc) – not by able-bodied people having a party outside Clegg’s house.

The visibly mobility impaired people were there; you just don’t see us in the photos because we were at either end of the street. Poor paving and many people in a narrow street made it impossible to be anything other than peripheral.

Secondly: How many of those able-bodied people were disabled too? Able-bodied is not the antonym of disabled; many people with learning difficulties and mental health problems have perfectly able bodies. You’re being overly dismissive of the cuts being inflicted on them.

Then there are people who aren’t being targeted for cuts themselves, but care about people who are. I had people talk to me about their disabled mum or their disabled dad.

But finally, of course: When did you last see stories like this on the news? The press won’t listen to disabled people unless able-bodied people are present too. No-one interviewed me yesterday, but I did see journalists questioning other disabled people. Disabled people that wouldn’t have been heard without those “able-bodied people having a party outside Clegg’s house.”

There were several disabled people at this UKuncut action. Two female OAP’s gave speeches as well.

For a moment there I thought this was going to say that going to an MP’s family home was wrong in principle. (Which I think it is). I heard a woman insisting on the Stephen Nolan show last night that ”you must listen to us”. Nolan wasn’t too impressed.

“Poor paving and many people in a narrow street made it impossible to be anything other than peripheral.”

Good to see that the UKUncut’ers were keeping the whole thing as accessible as the reforms they’re protesting against then ;)

You know I’m totally on board with this view, I still don’t understand the idea of “targetting Lib Dems”, it shows a naivety in politics, either because they don’t understand who is actually pulling the strings on welfare reforms and who can really make a difference on changing the way those strings are pulled, or that they don’t understand the levels that Lib Dems are naturally, as a part of their own internal democracy at the very least, already doing at least part of what they want.

You can argue they’re not doing enough, of course, but the problem lies with the many Tory MPs up and down the country that stand behind these reforms because their constituents do not actually make their MP’s life hard on these subjects.

I too don’t understand the idea that they might pressure Lib Dems out of government, and it comes back to the paragraph above. If people are not caring enough about this subject to tell their MP that it’s unacceptable for them to support welfare reforms, then what makes you think that they’re going to look at Lib Dems breaking the coalition and applaud them when by all accounts the mood that hasn’t been adequately changed by any of the action those like UKUncut take is that “cuts are shit, but inevitable, and when it comes to welfare and the unemployed it’s just about scroungers anyway, isn’t it?”

If you think Lib Dems would break down the government for public opinion that will, especially with a bit of conservative media backing, say “Why are you putting scroungers ahead of fixing our economy” then you’re crazy.

If you want to get the Lib Dems to quit, then prepare the ground so that people will applaud them for it, rather than be confused or angry…of course that’d mean actually helping the Lib Dems, which we know full well is not what UK Uncut want either.

5. anna-rose phipps

The welfare system needed updating, to be sure. But the speed and intensity of proposed cuts are much too savage. Media portrayal of those on disability benefits has been distorted and misrepresentative, giving the impression that the vast MAJORITY of these claimants are frauds and scroungers. This is not only untrue, but tars almost everyone with the same brush, thus causing psychological suffering on top of fear.

Many of those at the UkUncut event which took place outside Nick Clegg’s place are people suffering from mental health plus other non-visible health issues, although several wheelchair users were there too.

I agree with Sunny that to have targetted certain Tory MP’s would have been more appropriate, however the logistics of doing so would have incurred further expenses, Chipping Norton is less accessible to most disabled Londoners than Putney. Besides, the sad fact is, it doesn’t really make any difference to the policies already in place.

We all know it won’t change anything that is happening. So all that is left for us to do is to show maximum RESISTANCE

6. Shatterface

Poor paving and many people in a narrow street made it impossible to be anything other than peripheral.

Poor paving is probably down to council cuts. Good to see the wealthy suburbs are shouldering their share of the burden.

After all, we are all in this together.

7. Shinsei1967

“Some are even comparing to an EDL demo, which is mad”

No one compared it to an EDL demo (at least none in your link, or any that I have read elsewhere).

The comment was would Sunny et al be just as happy to have 400 EDL people
organising a party outside an MPs house of whose policies they disapproved.

Or how about other direct action groups. What about anti-abortion campaigners having a party outside an MP’s house they associate with wanting to liberalise the abortion laws.

>I also fully defend their party yesterday and think much of the faux-outrage implying the party folks “threatened and intimidated” Clegg’s kids is simply absurd.

Nice straw man, Sunny.

It was all the other kids who aren’t in the Clegg family that people were concerned about in most of the pieces I’ve read. I’d say they were entitled to feel threatened and intimidated when this lot turned up on their doorstep without warning and pushed their way through police lines.

Glad that this time it was peaceful, though.

9. Shinsei1967

The other issue I have with UKUncut – is it a campaign group against tax avoidance (in all its various forms – corporates not paying full share, tax havens, failures with HMRC’s top management etc) or is it a campaign group against government cuts ?

I realise that the argument is “if we raised all the tax avoided we wouldn’t need cuts” but that still suggests the campaign should be directed at tax avoidance not at the cuts.

As someone on the centre right when it comes to economics I despair at how UKUncut have trivialised and misunderstood tax affairs.

There is a huge potential for a cross party popular pressure group to act with the various more mainstream groups that have been doing a lot of work on raising tax issues as a major political issue. Everyone from the Financial Times to business groups.

And there’s been successes – levies on non-doms, abolition of rules allowing stamp duty avoidance and a 500% increase in HMRC prosecutions for tax avoidance.

However populists stunts like harrassing Top Shop staff on a Saturday or setting up parties outside Clegg’s house do nothing to increase your support amongst the mainstream, quite the opposite.

Politics is no longer about winning arguments and changing minds, its simply showbiz as politicians are little more than the stooges of the rich. As a publicity stunt the protest got more attention than issuing a press release and as such it was a success. Harassing and embarrassing politicians catches the public imagination far more than a piece in a paper or the net. Politicians of all parties but especially Clegg are universally hated for their greed, cowardice and incompetence, so the public thinks they deserve anything they get. Has anyone got a bucket of diarrheoa to empty over Iain Duncan Smith?

11. Shinsei1967

@Schmidt

“As a publicity stunt the protest got more attention than issuing a press release and as such it was a success.”

Couldn’t disagree more. Yesterday was hot and almost everyone was out and about enjoying themselves. I suspect hardly anyone saw the UKUncut demo on the news (was it even on the news ?).

UKUncut would have had far more impact if they had managed to place an article by one of their more literate spokesmen in something like The Sunday Times.

If UKUncut are serious about raising the profile of tax avoidance in the UK then they need to target the sort of people who read the Sunday Times and not 17 year olds shopping at Top Shop.

I think the guy in the linked to New Statesman article was exactly right.
Nick Clegg is the deputy PM, but continues to live in an ordinary house.
So maybe the logic of this demonstration is that he should be driven out to live in a more secure building. It’s not the first time his home has been targetted. There was the other time when people went to his door with a giant viagra pill with some inane message on it about ”keeping hard” about something or other.
http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/09/16/clegg-gets-giant-viagra-pill-for-climate-inaction/

It’s just as bad as some nutter from Fathers 4 Justice climbing on top of Harriet Harman’s roof at her London home.

13. Mr S. Pill

@12

“Nick Clegg is the deputy PM, but continues to live in an ordinary house.”

And we should be so grateful for this. Fucking hell, we don’t live in the 19th century and apparently we’re in a democracy. if the deputy PM didn’t live in a normal house, well, that would be something to mention.

14. Shinsei1967

Mr S Pill

Well, the PM doesn’t live in a normal house. Nor does the Chancellor. And the Foreign Sec and Home Secretary (and others) get 24 hour police protection (often for life).

Unfortunately we aren’t in the C19th when senior public figures could go round in public like “ordinary people”.

Take a look at Blair’s house in Connaught Sq or Brown’s house in Queensferry. That will remove your delusion that senior politicians live normal lives.

“Well, the PM doesn’t live in a normal house. Nor does the Chancellor. And the Foreign Sec and Home Secretary (and others) get 24 hour police protection (often for life)”

Paid for of course out of the ever diminishing exchequer but rendered necessary sadly by 40 watt bulb “activists” like these.

Other than creating sympathy for DPM who otherwise scarcely deserves it and providing a diversion for the usual crowd of tedious bored middle class parent rebels, can someone point out what this exercise achieved?

If UKUncut are serious about raising the profile of tax avoidance in the UK then they need to target the sort of people who read the Sunday Times and not 17 year olds shopping at Top Shop.

Erm. No. The people who read the Sunday Times already broadly know about tax avoidance, and either are against it or don’t mind it. The 18-year-olds shopping at Top Shop, and the 50-year-olds shopping at Primark, who *don’t* read a quality paper, are a far more important group to target.

Paid for of course out of the ever diminishing exchequer but rendered necessary sadly by 40 watt bulb “activists” like these.

Do you seriously believe that? I really hope not.

The reason for the PM and CoE to get top-security houses is because terrorists might try to kill them; we can all reasonably agree that stopping terrorists from killing them is a Good Thing.

But (from the point of view of the country, rather than politicians who don’t like being campaigned against) the fact that the necessary measures to protect them from assassins also prevent them from being the target of harmless, good-natured peaceful protests like the Clegg event is a bug, not a feature.

17. Shinsei1967

John B:

“Erm. No. The people who read the Sunday Times already broadly know about tax avoidance, and either are against it or don’t mind it.”

Of course they will be aware that it exists but I doubt they’d have the slightest idea of its scale or of realisable methods to deal with it.

For instance, I’d be very surprised if (12 months ago) a majority of Sunday Times readers would have known that most million pound plus properties bought in London by rich foreigners avoided stamp duty.

I’ve had so many conversations over the last year where people have said “That’s crazy. Why doesn’t the government stop it ?”

18. Chaise Guevara

@ 15 Jimmy

“Paid for of course out of the ever diminishing exchequer but rendered necessary sadly by 40 watt bulb “activists” like these.”

See john b above. You must be utterly desperate to demonise your enemies if you’re going to pretend that politicians get police protection to defend them against peaceful protesters, rather than terrorists, kidnappers, and random people out for revenge/fame.

“Other than creating sympathy for DPM who otherwise scarcely deserves it and providing a diversion for the usual crowd of tedious bored middle class parent rebels, can someone point out what this exercise achieved?”

Raising awareness. Look, here we are talking about it.

“Raising awareness. Look, here we are talking about it.”

Not sure what you mean. If it’s the government’s policy then I think we were talking about it anyway, if it’s the demo itself then yes I would have to succeed that they did get themselves on tv, which I’m inclined to believe was their only real object. I suspect we may differ as to the significance of that achievement.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. joolsd

    UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won't work http://t.co/L3Wju5db

  2. Tim Hardy

    Expanding on my tweet yesterday: why @UKuncut targeting Nick Clegg won't work as a tactic http://t.co/zHFW7YFF

  3. Emil Blake

    Expanding on my tweet yesterday: why @UKuncut targeting Nick Clegg won't work as a tactic http://t.co/zHFW7YFF

  4. Liza

    UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won't work http://t.co/L3Wju5db

  5. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won’t work http://t.co/PrybgmWv

  6. Gareth Hewer

    Some good points, though would maintain that protesting houses will always be poor tactics. Counter-productive http://t.co/kNV3r6b2

  7. Foxy52

    Expanding on my tweet yesterday: why @UKuncut targeting Nick Clegg won't work as a tactic http://t.co/zHFW7YFF

  8. jeffkloy (#OYSlive)

    UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won't work http://t.co/L3Wju5db

  9. Threadbare Panda

    Expanding on my tweet yesterday: why @UKuncut targeting Nick Clegg won't work as a tactic http://t.co/zHFW7YFF

  10. Ben Mitchell

    @sunny_hundal argues that criticism of @ukuncut's actions over the wknd are absurd. Agree. But, better to target Tories http://t.co/CR6bTb0R

  11. BevR

    UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won’t work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/h6w1wqYt via @libcon

  12. Ayla Michelle Demir

    Great stuff from @sunny_hundal http://t.co/ayn16bFy

  13. Mr Creek

    UKuncut and targeting Nick Clegg: why it won't work http://t.co/L3Wju5db





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