The Politics of Anti-Austerity in Liverpool: A More-than-Cuts Approach

Blamire, J
(2018) The Politics of Anti-Austerity in Liverpool: A More-than-Cuts Approach. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This thesis examines the politics of anti-austerity in Liverpool, UK. Through a politically-engaged activist ethnography, interviews with anti-austerity activists and city councillors, and content analysis, the research explores how both grassroots actors and Liverpool City Council conceptualise and politicise austerity, as well as how they imagine, or begin to enact, political alternatives to austerity. In response to growing calls from geographers to interrogate the situatedness of anti-austerity politics, this thesis adopts an explicitly spatial reading of the organic evolution of anti-austerity resistance. Through so doing, it illustrates how a crisis that was initially sparked by mortgage defaults in the US has resulted, a decade later, in the contested reshaping of what a Liverpudlian political identity is, or should be. Accordingly, this thesis critiques dominant structuralist accounts that depict people and place as passive victims in the roll-out of austerity politics, which lead to politically disempowering analyses. The research considers what the potentialities and limits are to the conduct of anti-austerity politics at the municipal scale, and reveals that Liverpool City Council’s strategy of austerity-inspired urban entrepreneurialism, coupled with more nuanced strategies to pursue social justice within a competitive neoliberal environment, was dominant. The voices of grassroots activists were unheard in public political debate, and their politics was constrained by a number of structural and strategic dysfunctions. The thesis advances a ´more-than-cuts’ framework which views both institutional and grassroots actors as conscious agents in the mediation and contestation of anti-austerity politics within the locale. Liverpool City Council pursued a rhetorically antagonistic/strategically cooperative relationship with successive Conservative-led central governments, through which austerity was embraced as the transformative catalyst for institutional change. Central to this was the council’s mobilising of a vision of Liverpool’s historic entrepreneurial spirit as part of an aggressive strategy to construct new relational political identities vis-à-vis national and international politics. Likewise, resistance by grassroots activists – envisioned as an assemblage – cannot be read as merely reactive, localised or defensive, despite seemingly failing to advance credible political alternatives. Although their original demands were not realised, they were able to contest the political landscape. The spatial examination that this study undertakes demonstrates how grassroots conceptions of anti-austerity were constitutive of new political identities and solidarities, and discusses how these were produced at the intersection of different trajectories of resistance, both past and present. Conceptually, the more-than-cuts framework shows how anti-austerity politics involves the articulation of wider political imaginaries. Empirically, this thesis suggests that, although the period of research represented a relatively dormant period for radical politics in the city, struggles over austerity reshaped existing local political networks, and contributed to the elaboration of a broader (national) anti-austerity politics. The assemblage helped pave the way for the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in September 2015. As a result, there is newfound potential for radical challenges to neoliberalism at the local and national scales. The research consequently identifies possibilities for the articulation of new forms of progressive localism through which political alternatives might flourish. Given the rise of both regional devolution and Brexit, which are set to impact upon Liverpool and elsewhere, this is a pressing task that must be addressed if the pursuit of social justice is to be realised.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Engineering > School of Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2018 10:06
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2024 17:21
DOI: 10.17638/03018765