A Tale of Trust, Sham Consultations, and Public Resistance

The ability of elected representatives to maintain trusting relationships between themselves and the public is a fundamental prerequisite for democracy; this goes a long way towards explaining the current popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and his ideas. In contrast to most other careerist politicians, Corbyn’s long record in parliament is exemplary in its commitment to both democracy and social justice.

Of course, the trust that Corbyn is able to elicit among the public is abnormal within the profession; recent polling by Ipsos MORI shows that “politicians” are amongst the least trusted in the UK, with only 21% of people polled saying that they “would generally trust” politicians “to tell the truth”. Others professions that polled consistently low are journalists (25%), business leaders (35%), and bankers (37%).

Clearly one of the key reasons for this lack of trust is the lack of real working class representation in parliament, but an important, and related, way in which institutional powerbrokers actively undermine public trust is by engaging in sham consultations.

Sadly, four high-profile fake consultations are currently ongoing in Leicester.

The first example is provided by local food manufacturer, Samworth Brothers, who after consulting their workforce via their undemocratic and phoney “Staff Consultation Committees” have proceeded to attack on the pay and conditions of their employees. This is all taking place within a climate of intense anti-union propaganda on the part of the Samworth bosses, who are adamant that they do not need to engage in collective bargaining with the workers union of the choice, the Bakers Union.

Second up is the government’s ongoing attempt, coordinated by NHS England, to save money by closing down a number of heart units across England, including Leicester’s very own Glenfield heart unit. NHS England’s initial intention had been to simply close the Glenfield heart unit with no consultation; however, a public campaign of opposition was initiated that subsequently forced a consultation onto the table. Nevertheless, as the ongoing debate around this issue rages on, it is plain to see that NHS England plan to ignore any evidence that stands in the way of their plans to close Glenfield heart unit.

Sign and share the petition to save Glenfield heart unit here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/160455

The third faux-consultation in progress relates to the University of Leicester’s proposals to close the Vaughan Centre of Life Long Learning. The alleged consultation began with a pronouncement — out of the blue, as always — that the Centre was running an unsustainable deficit and hence its closure would be imminent. The consultative exercise, it seems, is purely concerned about how this undemocratic fait accompli may be carried through with minimal public resistance. Yet the growing popular campaign against this closure has made it abundantly clear that the Vaughan Centre is financially sustainable, and so the campaigners have shown that the entire basis for the so-called consultation is fictitious and duplicitous.

The final template faux consultation revolves around the Leicester city’s Labour Council’s ongoing efforts to ensure that the poorest residents of our city pay the price for the Tories swingeing cuts to Council funds. Before the so-called consultation began, City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby published an article in the council’s well-distributed newsletter (Leicester Link) that explained that the Council “need[ed] to make changes” to council tax support, informing readers that: “In future, most working-age people who receive a reduction are likely to pay a greater amount towards their bill.” Subsequently, when the consultation began, it turns out that there is actually an option that allows people to oppose the proposed attack on the poor, but Soulsby’s preceding article certainly gives the impression that such a progressive decision has already been ruled out.

None of these examples of consultative farces should be taken to suggest that people should not engage with official consultations, even when they are cynically organised by politicians or employers; these ‘consultations’ still provide a useful way for us to register our disagreements on some level.

Nevertheless, the most effective way of responding to sham consultations is by organising well-informed grassroots campaigns that empower those affected by proposed changes to reconfigure the terms of any given consultation. These tactics provide a progressive and fruitful alternative to simply engaging with ‘consultations’ in their own right. And this is exactly the course of action that is being pursued within Samworth Brothers’ factories by members of the Bakers Union, with the same being true for the Heart Unit and Vaughan Centre campaigns — which are succeeding in building broad and popular resistance to the proposed closures.

As yet, there is no specific public campaign to join that is opposing Leicester City Council’s proposed council tax changes, but broader organisations like Leicestershire Against the Cuts and the Leicester & District Trades Union Council are certainly opposed to such regressive proposals. In the same way, these latter two organisations are also supporting the ongoing campaigns being waged by the Bakers Union, “Save Glenfield Heart Unit”, and “Save Vaughan Centre of Life Long Learning.

Here, it is worth noting that while the Labour City Council, along with our three Labour MPs, have all vocally supported the latter three campaigns, most of these same elected Labour representatives are actively resisting the ongoing efforts by the leader of their own party (Jeremy Corbyn) to fight for a clear anti-austerity platform for their own party.

Whilst this is a shame for those involved in the aforementioned campaigns, it nevertheless provides useful lessons for the future. If Labour MPs and councillors continue to down this road, they should be replaced by trustworthy socialist campaigners in the near future!

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A Note on Consultations

Even the government’s own “Consultation Principles 2016” make clear: “Consultations should have a purpose.” “Consult about policies or implementation plans,” they explain, “when the development of the policies or plans is at a formative stage. Do not ask questions about issues on which you already have a final view.”

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