Campaigners against austerity in the North East claim they have been given fresh hope by a mass meeting in London headed by former Labour cabinet member Tony Benn.
People from across the region travelled to London for a meeting of the People’s Assembly, a new grassroots political movement against the Government’s economic strategy.
The rally in London attended by 4,000 people follows a series of smaller meetings held in Newcastle and other cities across the UK which brought together more than 100 separate organisations fighting against Conservative budget cuts.
Ex-Labour minister and Stop the War Coalition leader Tony Benn, 88, received a three-minute standing ovation from the audience after his speech on Saturday in which he praised the fledgling movement for its strong voice for justice and peace.
Addressing the crowds at Central Hall, Westminster, he said: “We are defending the gains that were made in 1945 and we are defending them against a Government that is determined to destroy those gains and replace our society back to the system we had in the 1920s and 30s.
“We are saying to the Government no, we will not accept the cuts in benefits, we will not accept the privatisation of the NHS, we will not accept the sell-off of the post office.”
The People’s Assembly represents more than 100 separate groups from teaching and trade unions to anti-NHS privatisation organisations to authors, playwrights and poets.
Journalist and author Owen Jones has been a key figure in the movement so far and travelled up to Newcastle to meet the 250 members of the People’s Assembly North East branch in May.
Joan Hewitt, who attended the London meeting with 50 representatives from the region, including members of Newcastle’s Youth Council, said it was the first time in over decade she felt such a strong left-wing movement develop in the UK.
The 67-year-old poet from Tynemouth said: “We should not look for points of difference but that we are all on the same side. We think this Government needs to be changed.”
On July 12 Owen Jones will give a speech to the first meeting of the Durham People’s Assembly.
On September 14 there will be a Newcastle People’s Assembly festival held in the city centre and on November 5 there will be a planned day of national demonstration.