Certainly the discovery of the remains of Richard III and Leicester City winning the Premier League are standout moments in Leicester’s recent history; but whether these events have contributed to “a revitalised city,” as Professor Jonathan Davies put it in his recent blog post, is questionable (“Austerity Leicester: Between Revitalisation, Retrenchment and Resistance,” March 3, 2017).
Yes the City Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, is eagerly pursuing his own vanity/gentrification projects in the city centre, but how this relates to revitalisation for the rest of the city is another matter entirely.
Professor Davies, of course, recognises the limitations of Leicester’s so-called “urban cultural renaissance” pointing out that “even staunch supporters of [Soulsby’s] Mayoral strategy know that revitalisation cannot compensate the privations of austerity in full.” He also notes how “anti-austerity activists see [the development of] an up-market city centre as intensifying the marginality of working class neighbourhood-dwellers, deprived of the resources to enjoy it.”
But considering that the main thrust of Professor Davies research (as the Director of the Centre of Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University) is with the implications of austerity, it remains surprising that he believes there is nothing that Leicester’s Labour Council can do to oppose Tory austerity. Pessimistically and incorrectly he writes:
“From the City’s point of view, there is not much local government can do in the current national climate than deliver the cuts, preserve services where possible and mitigate the most devastating effects of welfare reform. Development is about trying to grow quality job vacancies in the city and ensure, as far as possible, that local people are up-skilled to fill them.”
These comments come in the same paragraph as an acknowledgement of “the devastating impact of welfare reform under austerity upon thousands of Leicester citizens. Social suffering – homelessness, unemployment income poverty, malnutrition, ill-health and destitution – are indelible features of the austerity landscape,” he writes.
Professor Davies then admits, it “is difficult even for politically active citizens to understand” what is happening in Leicester; an observation that seems to also hold true for seasoned political observers like himself. Thus after making a series of gloomy, albeit true observations on the havoc wreaked by austerity and service cuts, Professor Davies ends with a slightly upbeat (although incomplete) conclusion to his article:
“Despite the damage done by austerity, there is no shortage of political energy in Leicester. The defence of Belgrave Library was the best example we witnessed in our study, and the trenchant campaign to defend the Glenfield Heart Centre exemplifies the potential for unified political, trade union and community campaigning against cuts. There is the appetite for an alternative politics in Leicester, and we find the same in greater abundance in other case studies. In Barcelona, where anti-austerity activists run the City Council, there is even talk of a “New Municipalism”. Such language might seem absurd in the grindingly austere British context, but if it can happen in cities that have been even more badly affected, why not here in Leicester?”
Here it is apparent that Professor Davies’ pessimism is stopping him seeing the blindingly obvious. Just three weeks prior to the publication of his article about Leicester’s seeming unwilling embrace of austerity, the city’s largest union, Unison, made local history by becoming the first trade union in the region to demand that our Labour Council stand up to Tory cuts by setting a legal no-cuts budget. A detailed proposal for how this fightback against Tory austerity could be launched was produced by the union, a proposal that was immediately backed by other unions, including the Leicester and District Trades Union Council.
Bearing all this in mind it beggars belief that Professor Davies continues to say that “From the City’s point of view, there is not much local government can do in the current national climate than deliver the cuts…” This is all the more galling considering that I personally gave Professor Davies an (electronic) copy of Unison’s no cuts budget on February 14. Surely this gave Professor Davies enough time to incorporate this exciting news into his summary of Leicester’s state of political affairs? Seemingly not… although I am hopeful that an update will be forthcoming.