I went to the public meeting held in Hanley tonight on the subject of fighting the cuts in public expenditure. It was well attended meeting chaired ably by Jason Hill. If anything there were too many speakers, but that is a personal view. I did think that they were more or less saying the same thing, with the possible exception of the Stoke Councillor who represented Hartshill.
In many ways it was like a re-run of the 1980s and a number of contributions from the floor were Councillor’s from that decade. Myself, Barry Russell and Arthur Bough who I think made contributions that added to the debate.
Speaker after speaker to denounce the work of the Con Dem coalition and urged the need to resist the cuts. The need for demonstrations and the need to mobilise the trade union movement to take the battle to the enemy was a common theme. A slightly sour note was sounded by the Stoke Councillor who felt that by ducking the cut’s issue that it was playing into the enemy’s hands. Perhaps someone should lend him a copy of George Lansbury’s leader of the Labour party in the 30s biography?
The panel ended by urging the Labour establishment including the trade union leadership to take the fight into parliamentary and extra parliamentary action.
One speaker spoke of the need to increase public service investment. At this I balked. I have a problem with the no cuts at any price tocsin. I actually think that the ending of ID cards and curtailing of the Surveillance State is a good think. I deplore the target culture and if there are cuts. I am quite happy to entertain reductions in the numbers of target setter’s. Would anyone shed a tear if OFSTD ceased to be? I am slightly queasy about the slogan of increasing public investment. I would prefer the cry of more investment in people and communities. After all despite massive public investment the wealth gap has increased and social mobility widened. For me its time for a different approach. I actually think, although it was derided at the meeting, that Cameron might have touched a nerve with the “Big Society”. People seem to recoil from the bossiness that unfortunately all too frequently attends public bodies. Besides my own and my family’s experience of the public sector is less than perfect. I have had a terrible experience of Job Centre Plus, a shocking encounter with staff at Sure Start and a feeling with staff at Connexions that ticking a box was more important than dealing with me as a person. My Mother was told at a City Council Housing Office by a young female member of staff that she ought to be “grateful” at the poor level of service that she received caused me to stop breathing for a few minutes.
On the other I have had good experiences with the CAB and with the Transition Town Movement.
The argument that public is universally good and voluntary cheapskate or in the words of one contributor ” jackshit” rather rankles with me.
It does smack in an Orwelliam sense of two legs- voluntary and bad four legs public and good.
Ideally one system should augment and support the other.
Don’t get me wrong. I think we ought to resist the cuts, but the argument is rather more nuanced than any of the speakers gave credit for.
I thought of the man who made the “jackshit” comment. I presume should he go to the seaside and unfortunately fall into the sea then he would he would refuse to be rescued by the ” jackshit” volunteer crew that man all RNLI boats?
You could argue that the voluntary sector has been around far longer than the State. Thomas Coram’s Children Service was founded in the 18th century and the Salvation Army and Barnado’s predate the welfare state. Does this pedigree make it inferior?
I did make the point that it is important that the local voluntary sector in the shape manage itself carefully and should resist the idea that it replaces public services. The voluntary sector should not allow itself to be cast in the role of “useful idiot” in a cuts driven agenda.
I made a comment that it was important to build a mass campaign that included the trade unions, community, faith groups and other. If you are looking at historical precedents then the Poll Tax Campaign of 1990 is a good example. However, as I pointed out it was a “slow burner”. I recall going to a national demonstration that was poorly attended in September 1989 in Manchester. Things only took off in the spring when bills hit the doormat and there was the riot in Trafalgar Square in April 1990. When you have demonstrations in Tunbridge Wells and Frome then you know you have problems. And, of course, by November Thatcher fell.
It is also too easy and frankly negative to say what you are against. It is important to say what you are for. I would uneasy about fighting for public investment. I would want to fight for community investment. I cavil at the fight for jobs. What about fighting for a liveable income?
A campaign has to be about positive messages as well in my opinion.
I fear that some of the comments made at the meeting mean that it will end messily and in factions which is usually the case with the Left. I might be confounded however