Last Monday was a special day for the Labour movement. It was May Day — an international day of solidarity among working people. As part of this tradition the Leicester & Districts Trades Union Council organised the annual march and rally to celebrate this important day.
The stand-out speech of the day was delivered by Heather Rawlings on behalf of the Save Glenfield Heart Unit Campaign, although local Momentum activist Andy Wynne gave a great last-minute contribution on behalf of the Labour Party.
Interestingly, local Labour MP Jon Ashworth had been invited to address the rally (as he did last year), but for reasons unknown he never turned-up this year. Although his whereabouts remain a mystery, Mr Ashworth was busy in the virtual world where he reminisced on twitter about how “20 years ago I helped elect a Lab Govt” to power.
Bizarrely, Mr Ashworth evidently still believes that on balance Tony Blair did many good things for Britain. But it was strange to choose May Day of all days to tweet this fond daydreams, as we should recall that one of Blair’s most stark failings was his determined unwillingness to scrap Britain’s hated and anti-democratic anti-trade union laws.
The massive failings of New Labour’s anti-worker policies are still be felt to this day, although such shortcomings can be overcome if Jeremy Corbyn wins the general election. Nevertheless, Blair’s legacy still haunts the Labour Party, and so shortly after Monday’s May Day rally in the city centre, around one hundred local community campaigners held a loud protest that focused their ire on Leicester’s Labour-led City Council.
The Leicester Mercury’s report on the protest — “Bid to save library goes to council ombudsman” (May 6) — quoted Rushey Mead library activist Rashmi Vyas saying that the Council’s decision…
“to close Rushey Mead library and to provide a splinter library service has been made despite strong opposition from the community. Closure of the library would be a great loss to local people – particularly young children and the vulnerable elderly. Leicester City Council claims that its plans to merge services are ‘excellent’ when, actually, they are simply not workable.”
The second May Day protest was actually attended by two local Labour councillors, Ross Willmott and Rita Patel, who made it clear that they would continue to lend their active support to the campaign against local service cuts. However, the Mercury report failed to interview either Labour councillor, but instead spoke to the Conservative Party spokesperson Mina Sharma. She was thus allowed to mis-explain:
“Labour are quick to blame so-called ‘Tory cuts’ to cover their own financial mismanagement but, ultimately, it is Sir Peter Soulsby and his councillors who hold Leicester’s purse strings.”
As is abundantly clear, Sharma is a political opportunist of the worst sort, as she well knows that her Tory buddies in government have slashed the amount of funding that Leicester City Council receives in half since 2010. It is the Tories who are directly responsible for the ongoing attacks on local services which are literally killing thousands of people!
Sharma however is only correct when she says that Soulsby’s Labour Council does “hold Leicester’s purse strings.” It is for this reason that trade unionists and community campaigners have repeatedly demanded that Labour-run Councils refuse to carry out Tory cuts on behalf of this Tory government. Instead Labour Councils should be acting as principled socialists (here they can take a leaf out of Corbyn’s book), by supporting their electorate by resisting all local cuts which they can do by setting legal “no cuts” budgets.
So far to Labour’s discredit this has not happened. This is why it is so important that Corbyn makes it clear that he will accept no more nonsense from Blairite councillors and, that from now on he will restore local democracy to the Labour Party by allowing local Labour members to help deselect councillors who fail to represent their political needs for an alternative to austerity Britain.
Speaking at Monday’s May Day protest, Labour councillor Ross Willmott explained:
“My understanding is that the City Mayor is still determined to go ahead with the closure, but we have just learnt in the last couple of weeks that the Council has underspent by £5.5million this year, so it’s got £5.5million more than it thought it had. So my argument is, why do we need to find £14,000 of savings by closing the library when we are sitting on £5.5million.” (Facebook video streamed live by Priti Raichura).