Lib Dem

Cornwall Council’s offensive newsletter: ‘pay your rent before it’s spent’

Something pretty disturbing and offensive came through the door of my parents’ council flat on Christmas eve. It was Cornwall Council’s seemingly innocuous winter housing newsletter to all council tenants in the county. Skimming through the pages I spotted this full-page message:

Cornwall Council tenant newsletterYep, this arrived on the doorstep on Christmas eve – a message not to spend money over the festive season and instead to send all your money to the Independent/Liberal Democrat-run Cornwall Council.

It was offensive on a number of levels – not just its timing but the implicit assumption that council tenants can’t handle their own money, that people’s poverty is self-induced and that social housing tenants are reckless with their spending – no doubt on fags, booze and Sky TV in the perspective of the political right.

Not only that, but after the obligatory information about help with payments, the second half of the message is dedicated to how many people they have tried to evict since April – 29, they inform us, as well as about a hundred legal cases sent to solicitors in recent months. They also tell us that the welfare ‘reforms’ are not a valid reason for underpaying rent – the bedroom tax is apparently not an impediment to making ends meet. At least not for Cornwall Council.

Scroll down and, after you’ve got past the stuff about how likely you are to be evicted if your rent payments slip at the end of the year, the council announce they will be ‘reviewing its current policy on rent setting’ – in non-council speak, hiking rents in 2014 by between £3 and £5 a week – a significant rise. But, in their logic, this also won’t be a valid reason for falling behind on your rent. Nope, raised rents, benefit cuts and the bedroom tax aren’t the cause of difficulties – instead Christmas spending is. Reckless tenant spending is the only true source of poverty.

On a side note, the whole page is also incredibly idiotic after the national scandal that was Hammersmith & Fulham council’s ‘Christmas card‘ to their tenants:

This made national headlines and fundamentally humiliated the council – and rightfully so.

I spoke to Alex Folkes, a Lib Dem member of the council administration, who said he would ‘look into it’ after the Christmas period. But if council tenants don’t get a break from the administration, neither should the administration get a break from tax-payers, especially after this offensive slap-in-the-face was delivered a day before Christmas. As if struggling families don’t have enough to worry about.

For some reason the Cornwall Council newsletter hasn’t created such a stir (yet). But it should, and can.

If you want to let the council know your thoughts, please write to comments@cornwall.gov.uk, cc’ing in housing@cornwall.gov.uk and customerservices@cornwall.gov.uk or call 0300 1234 100

You can also write to:

Cornwall Housing, Cornwall Council
County Hall
Treyew Road
Truro
TR1 3AY

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Conference season – plus ça change…

Party conference season is over, at last.

Monday marked the end of the SNP’s conference in Perth. It was hardly a game-changer. Salmond was policy-light, despite a good speech. Will the speech change politics? Only if the SNP manages to overturn the 2:1 opposition to Scottish independence. Unlikely, then.

But it was Labour and Miliband’s pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months if elected in 2015 that made the spotlight. Yet the party is hiding from the fact that tinkering around the edges of the market can leave the oligarchs with just as much power – capital flight (or threats of it), vociferous press attacks, ramped up lobbying and anticipatory price increases all point the way to the real need – to renationalise our energy supply. That, of course, wasn’t on the cards, despite mass popular support.

But Miliband’s pledge, however insufficient it may be, has shifted the debate. The main parties been rudely awakened to the fact that 60% back the freeze. And it’s the Daily Mail, including its elusive editor Paul Dacre, that has come off worse in the battle after publishing its now-infamous ‘Man Who Hated Britain’ article. 72% of the public backed Miliband – and 57% of Mail readers thought their paper should apologise.

The Mail did no such thing of course, but the chain of events has solidified the leader’s press-slating reputation. Perhaps more interestingly, many of Ralph’s most famous tracts sold out in the following days. The Mail may have just revived socialism, more than Ed would ever want to himself (see his awkward ‘get-round-the-negotiating-table’ talk regarding recent strike action).

For the left, the Labour conference is unsettling. Many believe Miliband has taken a social democratic turn. He hasn’t. As Labour’s Michael Meacher pointed out, Ed newly reshuffled team shows his true inclinations, the shadow cabinet ‘now composed of 12 Blairites, 4 Brownites, plus 9 centrists, and 6 on the left or left-inclining.’ Out went Dianne Abbott, in went quasi-neoliberals like Tristram Hunt. The New Labour vanguard still comprises a majority. You can forget renationalising the Royal Mail and our crumbling rail system (despite the wishes of delegates and the public).

As for the Tory and Lib Dem conferences, Cameron put out a passionate defence of the boss class with his ‘profit is not a dirty word’ speech, while both Clegg’s ‘million jobs’ gambit, and Cameron’s pledge to remove benefits for under 25s – can only be enacted on after a general election. With the Lib Dems, that probably means never at all.

For Greens, conference season is more inspiring – votes actually count for a start. Did Green Party conference shift politics? Perhaps not monumentally. As a ‘UKIP of the left’ however, we may have forced Labour ever-so-slightly towards us (Caroline Lucas’ billboard ad could be responsible…). If so, there are serious implications for both parties. For the moment however, there remains a large divide between Labour and the Greens – from supporting renationalisation of the utilities to opposition to Trident (and, indeed, nuclear generally).

It may be too soon to call the result of conference season. But this year does feel different, not least with UKIP humiliated themselves, the upcoming Scottish referendum, and Miliband actually laying out some policy (however flawed it may be).

Above all though we must remember – politics is made not in keynote speeches but in action. Party leaders remain much better at the former.

Josiah Mortimer is a writer, activist and Politics student at the University of York.

A different kind of party conference…

[A version of this article was first published by Nouse, the York student newspaper]

It’s become a cliché to say that party conferences are dying these days. Every September rolls along, and the newspaper hacks whip out the same pre-made lines about the dwindling turnouts, and the powerlessness of the (ageing) delegates. So it was refreshing to be at this Autumn’s Green Party conference, where stereotypes about the annual conference season could be shattered.

It was to a Brighton waterfront hotel that hundreds of Green Party of England & Wales members descended upon in mid-September – including around a hundred Young Greens (students and anyone under 30) and a solid sprinkling from our own York society.

And a fitting location it was, too. Brighton, somewhat famously, is bit of a Green Party stronghold, with Greens controlling the council, and with former leader Caroline Lucas as the city’s outspoken MP.

It’s an understandable place for the Greens to be rooted. Wandering around sunny London-on-sea, the vegan restaurants, vintage clothes shops, second-hand stores, and blossoming environmental and charity sectors immediately stood out. Under the scenes, it’s also a place where the council has introduced a Living Wage for all staff, slashed executive pay, prevented services from being privatised and become the world’s first ‘One Planet City’ – i.e. genuinely sustainable in terms of resource consumption. But it wasn’t the location that made the conference different.

Firstly, anyone can turn up. Unlike other party conferences which operate on a ‘delegate’ system, any ordinary member can go to the Green Party’s six-monthly gatherings, which operate on a progressive payment scale. For students and the unwaged, it’s about thirty quid for the whole four days, with a hefty hardship fund for those who can’t afford it. Many of the events are free to the public, with cheap observer passes for those that aren’t.  And the members who do come actually get a say, too.

That’s because all party policy is made by members at the twice-yearly conferences. No out-of-reach bureaucrats or Labour-esque Executive Committees determining what to discuss (or side-line). It’s all done on the conference floor – one member, one vote. You’ll often see leader Natalie Bennett or the ‘People’s Caroline’ herself sticking up their voting cards in front of you. Sometimes they’ll lose, too. Even what makes the agenda is determined by members in an online vote.

Raise your hand and you can make a speech, ‘no confidence’ the Chair or vote for more discussion time. Anyone can submit policy, amend it or propose emergency motions. Hell, they even unanimously passed my one calling for the government to abandon the sell-off of Royal Mail.

And because anyone can turn up and have their say, it’s got a very different feel to the usual ego-festivals that are the mainstream parties’ conferences. Suits are de facto banned. Careerists are essentially unheard of (jokes about why any careerist would join a small party aside, please). Cliques, though a problem in every organisation, are mostly dismantled through open socials and workshops.

No conference is perfect. There are diehards who turn up to every one of them (myself included). Not everyone can spare a whole weekend, especially not a four-day one, to trek to far-flung places. They can be confusing, frustrating and disappointing (especially when you lose a vote). But it’s the democracy, and the unprecedented openness, that makes Green Party conferences different.

Oh, and humour too. A week after the Green Party conference ended, Labour delegates were flocking to the same city for their annual talking shop. Here’s what they were greeted with – a billboard of Caroline Lucas reading: ‘Welcome to Brighton – Home of the true opposition in Parliament. PS. Labour is down the hill on the right’. Win.

Andrew George MP and the ‘Rage Against the Lib Dems’ Demo

 

Around 5,000 gathered on Saturday to oppose the Liberal Democrat leadership in Sheffield at their conference. A video of the march is below – the mood seemed to be overwhelmingly for Nick Clegg to go.

Probably the same could be said for those inside the conference hall as the membership rejected Tory NHS ‘reforms’ – handing budgets over to private consortia by proxy and scrapping PCT’s – democratic and localised health trusts. Andew George (MP for St. Ives) made some refreshing comments, but even moreso in an overlooked Independent article just a few days ago where he said the NHS changes will leave the

‘carnage of a dismembered and disintegrated health service [providing] rich pickings for private companies and the unscrupulous among private GP contractors. The fractured NHS will be monumentally difficult to hold together’

Wise words Andrew. Now you have to persuade your other Lib Dem comrades in Cornwall the same thing. Stephen Gilbert, who recently jumped on the ‘anti-cuts’ bandwagon, will surely oppose the moves? Wishful thinking, perhaps.

Activists storm council in Truro against scrapping of EMA

Around 40 students and activists marched over two miles to County Hall in Truro today to protest against the government’s scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance. The demonstrators marched with placards saying ‘Don’t Con-Dem Us to Unemployment’, chanting ‘education for the masses, not just for the ruling classes’. The march was met with huge support from members of the public.Upon arriving at County Hall, the main Cornwall Council building, the protesters continued chanting and many members of staff and councilors offered their support. The cold weather and exam period had meant many could not attend but the atmosphere was incredibly positive.

Most dramatically though was when six protesters got into the main council meeting and began putting up anti-cuts posters and shouting ‘no ifs, no buts, no education cuts’, before being removed. The short occupation shifted the debate from the trivial topic of an adult products store in the city to the more important matter of education and funding for deprived students.

Max Stephens, a college student and activist, said ‘The fight-back has started and we invite people in Cornwall to join us in solidarity in future actions.’ Lisa Camps, another main organiser, echoed this – ‘We won’t let our voices be drowned out amid the government’s vehemently anti-student rhetoric.’

Another Truro College student said ‘The EMA helps thousands of students from low-income backgrounds in Cornwall and across the country continue with higher education, and despite the turnout the demonstration today was an important part of the overall campaign against the cuts in the county.’

The protest was organised as part of Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance after several large protests in the city against cuts to education, and represented part of the resistance campaign. There will be more demonstrations as socialists, workers and students plan their next moves for the local fight-back.

Demonstrations like these are bringing various left-wing groups and community organisations together in the county – today saw comrades from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, SWP, Labour, anarcho-syndicalists and even Lib Dem councilors uniting.

Continental shift: Europe’s unions and students unite

A report published less than two weeks ago by the prominent international free-market body the OECD argued strongly for wide-scale government investment in young people. The news should have hit the headlines. But the publication, Off to a good start? Jobs for Youth has been almost completely ignored by the mainstream press. The organisation which usually campaigns against any increase in government spending is now backing a massive programme of investment across Europe and other developed nations.

Youth unemployment across Europe has doubled in the past few years – from 20% to 40% in Spain, 10% to 30% in Ireland, and double the national figure for unemployment in the UK, at 19%. These are difficult times to be young. And in Cornwall, where unemployment is admittedly fairly low, opportunities outside of further and higher education still remain limited. Moreover, with some of the lowest wages in England it is hard to keep above the poverty line even if one does find a job. This is on top of the problems of accommodation and travel, particularly bad in the county. With housing benefit being cut, it is going to be even harder for young people to find a place to live.

But with the OECD’s apparent temporary break-off from free-market dogma, the EU has stuck to its worn-out deficit-hawk rhetoric. Youth training schemes work incredibly well in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and it is time for other European nations to follow suit. The EU summit last week was dominated by the right-wing, a vociferous bunch in terms of economic policy who have backed the EU’s ‘Stability and Growth Pact’, which puts sanctions on countries not slashing public spending at a ‘fast enough rate’. The sanctions are then increased if the initial demands are ignored. This false reasoning adds debt to countries already deeply in debt for the sake of fiscal conservative ideology.

Are we to see a shift towards a more Keynesian approach in the coming years? Investment, along with general taxation, is going to be the most effective way of restoring economic stability in Europe. The programmes of austerity already being implemented in Greece and Ireland are causing untold levels of unrest, unemployment and instability. Unions all over the continent need to become much more active in the fight against austerity, and what we’ve been seeing in France is a welcome start. If France, with such a small percentage of workers unionised, can get 3.5m out into the streets to tackle the government’s proposals, then Britain certainly can. Public sector unionisation is at 60% in the UK – more than enough to shock the government to its core. Len McCluskey’s call for a general strike in the Guardian a few days ago should not be disregarded. Unison and GMB need to follow suit and speak out against the cuts with a radical voice. For too long unions have been frightened of challenging the government. Coordinated action, supported by local and national anti-cuts campaigns and the growing student movement, has the power to overturn the disastrous and malicious fiscal policies of the coalition. Remember: Heath was ousted in 1974 largely because of unions. With much lower union membership now, it’s going to be harder: but this time, workers have the students on their side.

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Read Counterfire’s excellent summary of the past month in student action here.

Day X – Student Resistance Reaches Towns Across UK. Falmouth and Truro Join the Action

Thousands of students took to the streets today as part of the national Day of Action, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts (NCAFC), with the backing of Education Activist Network and the Right to Work campaign.

What made today inspiring was the fact that over 100,000 young people, according to the NCAFC, protested across the country – without the backing of the National Union of Students. If this many people can organise without the NUS, it shows what a powerful thing this movement is becoming.

Over 100 Students in Truro Protest

The demonstration in Truro involved up to 150 students, marching over 2 miles in the pouring rain to County Hall to protest against the rise in fees. Not only was this organised locally and independently, these students left the warm and dry indoors to say ‘no’ to the coalition’s unfair proposals.

For a while the main road into Truro was blocked while we marched down, showing how large the numbers involved were considering the usually politically-complacent nature of Truro. With banners and placards, chants of ‘no ifs, no buts, no education cuts’ resounded around the city, and other cities nationwide.

Regional Unison officer Stuart Roden was well received, calling for students and workers to unite to stop the cuts. This was echoed by myself when I spoke, saying ‘we are all in this together, and we are the big society’ – just not the Big Society that the Tories envisioned in their misleading rhetoric.

Both the press and the police had a considerable presence, though the atmosphere was congenial. ITV, Sky News, the BBC and local newspapers interviewed the students and seemed impressed by the size of the demonstration.

We headed into the town centre to further spread the message, supported by members of the public with plenty of waving and horn-beeping.

Though perhaps overshadowed with the dubious reporting of one police van being trashed in London, press coverage was positive. Notwithstanding a BBC Cornwall presenter going around shouting ‘these cuts are necessary’, she did concede we were peaceful and ‘good natured’.

The protest came to an end at around 3pm, and being larger than the protest on the 10th, was a great success. Students are already preparing for the next demonstration outside County Hall at 8am on the 30th November, where we will be alongside trade unionists and Labour party members to oppose the council budget which will put thousands of workers in Cornwall out of their jobs and affect post-16 funding for transport.

Falmouth Protest

Students in Falmouth also staged their own demonstration, with up to 80 of them making their resistance known. We offer our solidarity, and will be joining them on the 8th as part of a huge occupation of Falmouth moor. Full coverage of the event can be found here at the Falmouth Packet.

Worldwide

The anger of thousands of students in the UK was reflected in Rome, too, today, as hundreds there marched against education cuts. More info at Socialist Worker.