In the face of the Tories continual slashing of local authority budgets, a series of successful public protests have recently stopped Leicester’s Labour Council from closing Belgrave Library. Inspired by this victory, yesterday saw yet another mass meeting/protest that sought to prevent the closure of Rushey Mead library.
Now, as a direct result of increasing public anger, six local Labour councillors (out of 52) have finally been persuaded to come to the side of the public. From small things big things grow; and hopefully the growing mood of resistance will mean that more Labour councillors will soon be encouraged to openly side with the anti-austerity politics of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Speaking at the meeting inside the Rushey Mead Recreation Centre on Saturday, Councillor Ross Willmott said that the proposed closure of Rushey Mead library was completely self-defeating. He explained that the closure would only save the Council around £10,000 a year, but would cost even more than if it was kept open because the Council had set aside £50,000 to demolish the library!
Cllr Willmott pointed out that, along with five other Labour councillors, he had officially called into question the decision taken by the Council to close the library (thus delaying the decision about the proposed closure for another month or so). He then spoke vaguely about running services using volunteers (like they do in the county), which is far from a meaningful solution to ongoing service cuts.
Referring to other library cuts, Cllr Willmott summed up the callous nature of the ongoing service cuts: “In other parts of the city they [the Labour Council] have closed the library in Aylestone. You see what they’re doing is they are doing it one-by-one: so they’re picking people off really.” This is certainly not the type of underhand behaviour that will garner continuing support for Labour in Leicester, which is why simply campaigning against library closures alone will not be good enough (although it is a start).
Nevertheless, in a Labour Party leaflet/poster (“We Can Save Our Libraries!”) that was distributed in Clarendon Park over the past week, a few of the six enlightened Labour councillors made clear their plans to “fight” to maintain Leicester’s libraries. On the leaflet, Councillor Patrick Kitterick stated:
“We are looking to hear from people to join us in the campaign to stop any cuts in library services. We don’t believe we should have cuts in any of Leicester’s library network…”
This is certainly a step-forward for Labour, but the question has to be asked: will these fighting Labour councillors also help build a campaign to oppose all the other cuts to vital public services? (Recently announced cuts include a threatened 66% cut to funding for youth services, a loss of over a hundred jobs from council funded children’s services, the decimation of Welfare Rights services, a halving of mental health services, and a vicious attack on the pay and conditions of council employees.)
The money is certainly available to fight the cuts in the Council’s reserves accounts (£142 million to be precise): but will Labour councillors call upon their Council to investigate whether it can be used to stave off future cuts?
On this score, at least we can be glad that Cllr Willmott attended a recent public meeting (held on January 7) that discussed calling upon our Labour Council to initiate a fightback against all cuts. Labour members present at the meeting discussed raising a motion at their local branches to demand solutions to the urgent problems facing our city. Perhaps the most important part of this motion noted:
“We request that Peter Soulsby should ensure that Leicester get involved in national campaigns that bring together Labour authorities to both highlight and campaign against cuts. In the absence of a suitable campaign we request that he initiate one.”
Since then, this motion has been passed at a number of local Labour Party branches. Furthermore, the local community branch of Unite the Union has even agreed to organise a public meeting in Leicester to discuss how local Council cuts can be fought. In the coming weeks the union aim to write to other trade union bodies, Labour Party organisations and campaign groups to ask them if they wish to co-sponsor and jointly organise this important meeting.
So far, so good. Now we just have to make sure that such initiatives receive as much support as possible, as further cuts to our services is simply untenable!
The next public meeting about the Rushey Mead campaign will be held on Wednesday 25 January at the Rushey Mead Recreation Centre 6pm.