A major story in this weekend’s issue of the Leicester Mercury runs with the headline “‘Don’t block our roads’ – residents protest is growing” (June 25). The protest in question, which took place in the Goodwood Road area of Evington, happens to be just one of many that have taken place across Leicester over the past year, and like the others that proceeded it, the protest eventuated because of the City Council’s rushed attempts to close roads and redirect traffic in an attempt to ‘nudge’ people into being greener. As today’s newspaper article reported:
“Several attempts to install road-blocking planters have been made over the past few weeks, according to residents, but those efforts were seen off by opponents. On Sunday, June 19, neighbours staged a protest – thought to be the largest so far – chanting ‘Don’t block our roads’.”
Here it is worth noting that the main reason why roads are being closed is because the Conservative government has been handing out money “to stop traffic from rat-running through neighbourhoods” in a bid to make “cycling and walking routes more permanent”. Leicester City Council has therefore recently received £1,378,450 from the Department for Transport’s Emergency Active Travel Fund to carry out such closures.
In Leicester’s case, instead of responding to the residents’ concerns to ongoing road closures/changes in a measured way, local Labour councillors escalated tensions in their neighbourhood by writing a letter to the public which made a series of extremely inflammatory and highly problematic accusations. The Mercury article explained how…
“…frustrated neighbours say they do not feel they are being heard, telling LeicestershireLive that they had not received support from their ward councillors. But the Labour councillors have hit back in a letter that was delivered to a number of homes, accusing some people of being ‘particularly nasty’ to them, adding that the protestors represent a ‘minority’ in Evington.”
The full text of this bizarre attack on the local residents who form part of the local community can be read online, and it provides a perfect example of how out of touch local councillors are. This nasty letter (dated June 16) — which was authored by the three local Labour councillors, Sue Hunter, Deepak Bajaj, and Shahid Khan — begins by noting that the councillors were rejecting an invite to attend the June 19 protest meeting to engage with members of the public where they had the opportunity to explain the Councils views on the road closures. They apparently rejected this invite because they felt the planned event was “not in fact a meeting to engage with us but this is a protest meeting against the Council.”
The councillors’ letter then went on to highlight that a “number of people” had been nasty to them by sending them “unpleasant and unacceptable” tweets on social media. But they appeared particularly upset that a local (non-Labour) politician has decided to get involved in the public protests organised by local residents. The Lib-Dem in this instance is Zuffar Haq and the Labour councillors suggest that he is now one of the main leaders of the local campaign when it would be more accurate to say that he has been supporting the local campaign. Either way the confused and out-of-touch councillors write in their letter that Haq “has decided to become a leader of this campaign and has instigated a number of the protests”.
Moreover, the local Labour councillors seem outraged that Haq’s involvement represents “The politicisation of the Traffic issue by the Liberal Democrats”… forgetting that the issue was political right from the start. Going further still the councillors are apparently outraged that members of the public might be angered by the ongoing attempts of the City Council to railroad through road closures despite ongoing and vocal resistance from many members of the local community.
There can be no doubting that people are upset, but the councillors then go on to smear the peaceful protests as some form of sinister plot to undermine the rule of law! Of course, if the three Labour councillors want to suggest that some laws have been broken, they should provide convincing evidence of illegality, but as no-one is being prosecuted it would appear that no laws have been broken. But unconcerned with such small matters the councillors warn:
“It has also been disappointing to see particular residents intimidate and shout at council officers who are there to carry out the decisions of the Council. In this country we obey the law. If we start taking the law into our own hands and stopping officials doing their jobs by intimidating them by videoing them, it represents unwarranted harassment. The voices of the people on the video we have seen are easily identifiable. When the law is broken by others, we expect Council officers and police officers to intervene on our behalf.
“If people break planning law or there is anti social behaviour or a crime is committed or there is obstructing of due process and groups of people surround public servants we are on the road to anarchy.”
The councillors then state that Deputy City Mayor Cllr Adam Clarke “made an open offer” to the residents when he previously told them that the road closures were just “experimental” and that they might at some point be scrapped when the Council have collected enough evidence to make this decision.
The three councillors then attempt to further belittle the residents’ concerns by saying that Cllr Clarke “will do this on the basis on evidence, not on the basis of people shouting and screaming.” Here all the councillors seem intent on doing is undermining the legitimacy of vibrant public protests that cause a nuisance to the powers-that-be!
Furthermore, what the councillors neglect to mention was that similar road closures in Leicester have already been scrapped by the City Council, not because of evidence collected, but because of loud protests from the local communities involved. Here the councillors should read the following two stories in the Leicester Mercury, “Road scheme scrapped after Rushey Mead residents’ persistent protest against ‘experimental’ changes” (October 4, 2021) and “One-way proposals for Belgrave street scrapped after deemed ‘chaotic’ by protesting residents” (December 8, 2021).
Sounding very much like the Tories the three Labour councillors then conclude that the public should bow to their authority, highlighting that “The three of us have had over 50 years of either living or representing the people of Evington… That is a vote of confidence in the way in which we do our job.” They add that if people disagree with their democratic authority, then it is “your democratic right to use your vote,” thereby further implying that taking direct action via protests is not a genuine democratic avenue to pursue!
In ending their anti-democratic so-called letter, the three “law and order” councillors then make a pledge saying that they “always want passionately to represent the views of everyone in Evington irrespective of whether they are Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Labour, Greens or Socialists supporters.” It is telling that Evington’s local Labour councillors chose to separate Labour politics from Socialist ones. This explains a lot, as these three Labour councillors are clearly closer to the Tories in their politics than they are to any form of socialism which after all is first and foremost a politics that is concerning with promoting democracy in all our workplaces and communities.