Leicester News Round-Up #2

Yesterday Jon Ashworth “swapped his desk for a job as a milk monitor as part of a World School Milk initiative.” This Labour highflier, who seems all to happy to help enforce the Con-Dem’s brutal cuts, reminded children at Kiddisafe Playgroup, in Linden Street: “School milk provides a great boost for children because it’s such a wholesome and nutritional product.”

That milk provides a useful source of nutrition is certainly true, but the irony is, that faced with Labour’s willingness to slash public services, many parents in Leicester can’t even afford to feed their children adequately in the first place. Instead of preaching to the converted about the benefits of milk, Ashworth should get off his New Labour milk-box and start fighting the cuts in order to improve the nutrition — and thereby the educational performance — of all children in Leicester.

Ashworth is however never going to take such a principled stand against the government’s unnecessary and vicious cuts agenda, as demonstrated by his ongoing willingness to facilitate the privatisation of our schools. This is after all a careerist who was “elected in a by-election in 2011, [and] remains on Labour’s influential National Executive Committee, to which he was appointed earlier this year”; a fine fellow of a man, who just this week has been promoted by Ed Miliband to become a member of the shadow cabinet office. Lest one had missed it, this is the same political party that has just dropped Chris Herriot — a lecturer at De Montfort University — “as a Labour party candidate after he was filmed saying he would be ‘prepared to dance’ on Margaret Thatcher’s grave.”

Yet such fiery rhetoric about dancing on graves of the departed Tory depraved should be the least of Labour’s worries, where as a direct result of Thatcher’s vile policies (which were then adopted by Labour with minor variations) people are dying needlessly at this very moment. A case in point being presented by the NHS in Leicestershire, which is being (mis)managed and deliberately ground into the ground by the very same people who promoted the privatisation agenda –- one key individual killing people locally being Lord Blackwell, the chairman of Interserve. (For more on Lord Blackwell’s healthcare profiteering, see ”Thatcher’s legacy of NHS butchery”.)

As reported recently in the Leicester Mercury, Interserve, “the company responsible for cleaning at Leicester’s hospitals [since March] has failed to meet required standards, according to latest figures.” This is the same company that now runs the extortionate catering facilities at all three city hospitals, whereby: “A sandwich in Derby and in Nottingham costs about £1.95, compared to £3.75 in Leicester.”

Needless to say, it is well established that the Labour Party (for a long time now) have voiced no fundamental disagreements with the Con-Dem’s on the issue of cuts… “just a bit slower please,” they say ,”that’ll do it.” That said, Labour politicians understand the nature of this conundrum and the failure of democracy they are party to, and so are now in the process of ramping up their progressive rhetoric in the wake of their national party conference.

“New Labour” acolyte Liz Kendall, who is a proud member of the right-wing pro-privatisation pressure group known as “Progress” (which is funded courtesy of Lord Sainsbury’s wonga) makes empty promises aplenty in her most recent puff piece in the Leicester Mercury; arguing that if Labour is elected in 2015 they will help “people from all walks of life.”

By way of an example, Kendall informs us that Labour will “repeal the bedroom tax,” adding that as well as the tax penalizing the poor and disabled: “The bedroom tax doesn’t make economic sense either, because if people are forced to move into more expensive privately rented accommodation, it will push up the housing benefit bill.” Yet despite all this bluster our Labour-run Council here in Leicester is still enforcing the soon-to-be-repealed bedroom tax, and is still discussing whether they can promise their constituents that they won’t evict people who cannot afford to pay it. Surely this should be a no-brainer for a Labour Council? But sadly it is not!

Speaking on the platform at the People’s Assembly last Saturday, Labour Councillor Susan Barton informed her audience that in recent Labour meetings — non-public ones anyway –- a third of Labour Councillors have argued against the cuts (that they publicly voted through). But unfortunately this invisible “opposition” does not translate into action, and so far no Labour Councillors have been prepared to raise their voice against the full gamut of cuts they keep voting for.

This public silence is exemplified by the “discussion” at the last public Council meeting where, with no dissent all, Labour Councillors voted to privatise or close half of Leicester’s Elderly Care Homes. All too often the only controversy arising from such meetings arises when the public make presentations, or when the Labour group heckles the two lone opposition Council members (Liberal Democrat Coun Porter and Tory Ross Grant).

It is true that some Labour Councillors, for instance Susan Barton, have attended protests organized against the bedroom tax; although even “Progress” opportunists like Vijay Riyait have made one-off appearances too. But when it comes to any other controversial issue, concerning either strike action or public sector cuts, Labour politicians have been conspicuous in their absence. It is a fact that no Labour Councillors were able to lend their support to Leicester’s two most recent important industrial disputes — RF Brooke’s last year, and the ongoing struggle at Uplands Primary School.

Likewise, no Labour politicians have supported the excellent campaigning work of homelessness campaigners in Leicester (working though Street Life Action Group) who were extremely busy this year in their opposition to the Council’s savage cuts to public services. Ironically in Susan Barton’s case, I bumped into her earlier this year while canvassing for TUSC (a working-class alternative to Labour) in the Abbey Ward by-election; when to my surprise she was assisting the “Progress” Labour candidate, Vijay Riyait, in his successful bid for electoral power. Confused? So was I.

No doubt there are some Labour Councillors here in Leicester who are equally disgusted with the Council’s ongoing attacks on the working class. One can thus only hope that in the near future they start making their anger visible, in order to help others like them to build a public campaign to support all those who will take a stand against needless life-destroying cuts. There is an alternative that is worth fighting for, and it is a future free from profligate profiteering and public sector cuts.

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