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Monday, 29 February 2016

No NHS Sell-off

On Friday 26th the group No NHS Sell-off supported by Carlisle Socialist Party and other local groups held a protest outside Carlisle MP John Stevenson's constituency office in defence of the NHS and opposed to the undemocratic TTIP treaty which threatens the basis of a publicly funded health service free at the point of use. Despite numerous attempts to arrange the handover of legal advice on the issue, in the end no one answered the door! We will continue to campaign on this issue along with members of various unions and campaign groups.

Monday, 22 February 2016

County Council budget meeting protest

On Thursday 18th February members of Carlisle Socialist Party, along members of Unison, protested outside Cumbria County Council's budget setting meeting in Kendal. The council was intending to make £25m cuts to services, with up to 2,000 jobs being at risk. Councillors entering the building were asked whether they would be voting for cuts, and if not, what else they intended to do to oppose the vicious attacks on local government by the Tories. Some declined to comment, whilst others vociferously argued that they had 'no choice' and told us to go and protest outside the houses of parliament instead!

Several Unison members expressed dismay that councillors who were trade unionists and also members of Momentum in Cumbria were intending to vote in favour of a cuts budget. Most were agreed that such a stance was a self-fulfilling prophecy; cuts this year would lead to ever more cuts in the future, as has been shown over the last 5 years. The Tories have made it clear that they plan to abolish central government contributions long before 2020, leaving poorer areas unable to provide much-needed services, and taking local government back to the 1920s. Councillors voting for cuts have walked into a trap.

At the start of the meeting Brent Kennedy read out a statement from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) calling on the council to set a needs-based (no cuts) budget, a position now supported by the main public sector unions Unite and Unison. We suggested using reserves and prudential borrowing powers to make up the shortfall. This would be a temporary measure to buy time to mobilise workers to demand that the government provide the necessary funding permanently. We pointed out that the government deficit of £70bn could easily be paid off by collecting the estimated £120bn unpaid taxes of wealthy individuals and corporations, illustrating Jeremy Corbyn's statement that "austerity is not an economic necessity but a political choice".
We urged those councillors who disagreed with the cuts ideology to have the courage of their convictions and start the fight back by passing a no-cuts budget.
The Labour party has now officially declared itself an 'anti-austerity party'. We warned that they are unlikely to have much credibility with existing voters, nor to enthuse alienated non-voters, if they say one thing nationally but do completely the opposite locally.

In his reply, council leader Stuart Young tried to muddy the waters by talking about an 'illegal budget', even though he knew that this was irrelevant, as our statement made clear in advance. Brent Kennedy had to interject, to the annoyance of the chair, that this was not the case, and Mr Young conceded the point. So why did he bring this up in the first place?
His only real argument was that the use of reserves for one year alone would mean worse cuts in the following years, and that he therefore 'had no choice'. This gained several murmurs of approval from other councillors. In other words, they have no concept of using the time this signal would give to actively campaign on the issue of austerity and mobilise the working class against the government.
Mr Young correctly described the Tories as having "declared war on local government". Unfortunately it's a completely one-sided war, as the Labour Party in Cumbria has hoisted the white flag without firing a shot.

It should be noted that in the recent coverage of the meeting in the Cumberland News, no mention was made of either our call to use prudential borrowing in addition to reserves, nor that we accept this as only a temporary measure, and merely the first part of a campaign to secure the funding. The media debate is thus being framed to suggest that what we are proposing is fantasy, whereas in fact it is councillors who are living in a fantasy world by continuing to believe that slashing ever more from our public services will satisfy this rapacious government. A line must be drawn sometime. If not now, then when?

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Council petition handover

On Thursday 11th members of Carlisle Socialist Party handed in a petition opposing cuts to local County Council services including the loss of 2000 jobs. Our petition, calling on Labour councillors to refuse to carry out the Tory cuts and the gradual destruction of local government, will be presented by our spokesperson as the first item of discussion at the Council meeting on Thursday 18th February in Kendal.

Doctor's picket line

Last Wednesday we gave support to the junior doctors striking against Jeremy Hunt's attempt to force onto them a new contract requiring them to work longer hours for less pay and undermining patient care. This is the thin end of the wedge and represents the government's desire to open up the NHS for privatisation and the end of publicly funded health care free at the point of use.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Alternative Burns Night

Last week Carlisle Socialist Party hosted an Alternative Burns night in the Milbourne Arms.
As Brent Kennedy summed up in the Immortal Memory toast "this will definitely not be the tired, old, conservative ritual of Burns' Nights but will be another free and easy drink, laugh and scran that Burns himself would have enjoyed. The stuffy British establishment has always felt uncomfortable with this farm labourer and genius who showed up their own mediocrity. And he stepped on their toes big time, opposing their profitable slavery, bigotry and racism, especially when he supported the Rights of Man and the French and American Revolutions. All the more reason to celebrate."

Music was provided by Johnny Foster of Hardwike Circus, John Chambers and The Now and Again Band with individuals reading poems. Around forty people turned out in total in what was generally regarded as a good night out. All proceeds went to the Socialist Party fighting fund.