Cuts, Chimps and Outrage: Report from Hackney Town Hall

3 Mar

After several weeks of protests at local council meetings across the country, last night saw Hackney take it’s turn. After the strange politicking that took place at the Tower Hamlet’s Council meeting the week before, and the 700 strong march in  Hackney several weekends ago, I was sure there would be confrontation but wasn’t sure how the evening would go. After all the talk of some Labour Councillors voting against the cuts budget the meeting played out with the same political posturing as we’ve seen at other meetings. Everyone pointing the finger at each others party and no-one making a stand. As was the case in Tower Hamlets, the Mayor (this time a member of the Labour Party) and other members of the Labour majority, talked about their cuts budget like they had worked some kind of a miracle which meant that the millions missing from the budget wouldn’t hit the people of the borough where it hurt at all.

Here’s a very good report from a fellow public gallery member, blogging on Political Dynamite.

HACKNEY VOTES FOR CUTS: A SKETCH FROM THE GALLERY

Tonight Hackney Council was in uproar. Not councillors snidely sniping at each other. Not some minor scandal. Not an outcry about parking charges. Today was the passing of Hackney Council’s cuts budget. And the people of Hackney weren’t happy.

Labour mayor Jules Pipe, architect of the cuts in Hackney did his best. He accused the Tories of making an ideological attack on the welfare state. Then he claimed that his proposal was not in fact a cuts budget. Then he argued for the biggest cuts budget that Hackney has seen for decades.

A fellow Labour councillor even went so far as to suggest that “No cuts is just a slogan”. In some ways this is unsurprising from a party committed to making cuts. What was more surprising was that another councillor (who voted for the cuts) invited people in the gallery to attend the demonstration on 26 March (against the cuts). Cue: howls of derision from the gallery.

The speaker for the opposition Tory group was near incoherent, but seemed to say he welcomed the Labour Party’s decision to implement a Tory budget. He then burbled something about the relative costs of humps and lollypop ladies (cue: correction from gallery – “Lollypop people”) and made the bizarre suggestion of moving Hackney’s town planning to Haringey.

The Liberal Democrats proposed amendments to the budget which would allow the EMA to be funded locally. The Labour group took the opportunity to gleefully point out, that the Liberal Democrats in government had in fact scrapped the EMA, so it was somewhat ironic for them to call for it to be provided by the council. One Liberal Democrat almost made a good point about the Labour Party’s various decisions including the funding of the Iraq War creating the deficit, but then spoiled it by appearing to imply that opponents of the cuts are in some way in the control of ‘millionaire union leaders’.

As Mayor Jules Pipe gave his summation speech in favour of his cuts, he was given a standing ovation by the Labour Councillors. The Gallery was on its feet too, but not in support of the Labour Party. The votes were pushed through to deafening chants and heckles from the gallery of ‘Jules Pipe, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue’ and ‘Vote against the cuts’. Eventually they became so loud that the council was forced to adjourn. As the protesters left the stench of stinkbombs rose.

All the politicians in the chamber used the opportunity to blame each other: The Labour Party blamed the Tories for cutting funding to local councils; the Tories blamed Labour for running up a deficit; and the Liberal Democrats blamed the government despite the fact that their party is propping it up. Unusually for politicians, they were all right.

The contempt shown in the gallery shows that there is a growing chasm between politicians and the public. The councillors wrung their hands and insisted that they are doing the best they could. The viewers in the gallery gave every impression that they consider Liberal Democrats, Labour and Conservatives as broadly the same.

And it is not just Hackney. A similar state of affairs is being seen inside and outside town halls across the country.

The new dividing line in UK politics is no longer between the old political parties. Now it is between the mainstream parties and everyone else.

And the people are urging for something wholly more radical.

 

Outside the meeting, the crowd, still some 200 strong blocked Mare Street to traffic, marched around the Town Hall and made several attempts at the heavily fortified doors. Check out this video for a look at what happened outside the Town Hall.

One of the many ridiculous moments of the meeting was when Labour Councillor, Luke Akehurst, who was seen using his phone a lot during the meeting, was then picked up on Twitter by a member of the public gallery as having just tweeted that the gallery was full of chimps. His face turned one almighty shade of red when he realised we had read that. Next time he stood to speak the public gallery addressed him loudly, “TWIT, TWIT, TWIT…”. Have a read of Akehurst’s blog to get a jist of his view of those fighting for their jobs, services, livelihoods and futures. Mr Akehurst and other members of the local Labour Party can rest assured that the protests that have taken place at Town Halls across the country are not simple localisations of blame. In his blog post about the meeting he states,

 …protesting not against Pickles and the Tories but localising the blame, exactly as Pickles wants…

There is plenty enough anger and protest to go around and people are not stupid. Don’t worry Mr Akehurst, Mr Pickles and his government will get their turn. Everyone knows that its politicians and bankers that created this crisis. unsurprisingly people’s faith in politicians, local or otherwise, to genuinely support a fight against the cuts is low to none.

We will fight these cuts at every step, for our services, jobs, livelihoods and futures.

See you all in central London on 26th March. Mr Akehurst, you’ll see just how angry we are!

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3 Responses to “Cuts, Chimps and Outrage: Report from Hackney Town Hall”

  1. whitechapelanarchist March 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm #

    great write up

    • Luke Akehurst March 4, 2011 at 12:13 am #

      I called the people chanting in the gallery “Trot chumps” not “chimps” though both descriptions make sense.

      Look forward to marching with you on 26th March.

      PS the red face means I’m angry, not embarassed.

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