The budget setting meeting of Camden council on Monday evening was quite eventful. With councils’ across the country having had their budgets dramatically and savagely cut by the government, Camden’s Labour administration has been working to inflict the cuts in the fairest way possible.
Not everyone, however, agrees with this strategy. The public gallery was
packed sparsely dotted with protestors and deputations demanding that the council refuse to pass a budget at all. This would most likely have the result of either the council’s officers taking the decisions themselves, or Eric Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government stepping in.
This, they argue, would increase popular resistance against the cuts to local authority spending, or, it is suggested, even provoke civil disobedience.
At Monday night’s meeting, several members of an anti-cuts deputation, including actor Roger Lloyd-Pack and campaigner Candy Udwin, took to the floor to urge councillors to refuse to pass their budget of cuts. In their written statement to the council, the deputies had encouraged the council to take inspiration from the student protest movement.
Next up was St Pancras and Somers Town councillor Peter Brayshaw, who cross examined the deputies, asking:
Does the deputation believe that the recent student campaign was successful, or was it a failure?
I’m not convinced that playing the dangerous game of calling Camden managers’ bluff, or indeed that of Eric Pickles, is the right course. These people either have an ideology of savings (CUTS!) and efficiencies (Camden bureaucrats) or decimating the poor (Pickles). As Tulip Siddiq, Camden’s culture chief, said in the meeting, the officers in her department proposed a plan to close nine, yes nine, libraries when she took office in May last year.
But I was still disappointed to see Cllr Brayshaw, with whom I have sat in many Labour party meetings, standing up to disparage the efforts of students – the implication of his question was quite obvious to anyone.
The Labour party has to so much more at present to take on board the many students and young people who have been given an ideological perspective for the first time since the protests started in the Autumn. So for any Labour councillor to dismiss the mass movement which mobilised so many young people as a ‘failure’ is an ill-conceived approach.
No, the movement did not simply succeed in the normal sense. So you might think: yes, it was a failure. But that ain’t necessarily so. Tuition fees are going up. But to build a mass movement of so many, politicise a generation and mount the biggest challenge this government has seen so far (and it was a pretty scary one if I may say so myself) is certainly not to fail.
So whatever was implied by Peter’s question, its simplistic to argue that any movement of the kind is limited to either success or failure.
I’ll leave you with the first line of the fiery response of Candy Udwin, who made it clear how she felt on the matter, to great applause. Sorry if this says something similar to my own conclusion.
I think that most people in the country congratulate the students for putting the government under pressure and reducing their majority.
Let’s have a bit more public congratulation of the students from Camden councillors then.
And even if the council is passing a cuts budget, that’s not to say they have to accept it as inevitable. The lesson they can learn from the students is to ‘not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
And that night certainly ain’t good in this case. Maybe as things stand passing such a budget is the lesser of so many evils. But there’s room for more anger, more pressure of government.
A 24-hour vigil outside the Pickles’s DCLG? Or just following Tory ministers around spitting with rage?
If I can think of those two (non-serious, perhaps ill-conceived) on the spot in ten seconds, there’s no limit to how innovative Camden council could be with its army of people paid to think up new ideas.
If any small-scale protest I’ve heard about showed anger it was this one by ULU President Clare Solomon against Nick Clegg.
Yes, Camden Labour councillors will be on the TUC rally on March 26. But the lesson is that however much anger you show, there needs to be more. This is a case of injustice and it needs some fierce politics, whichever course the council decides to take.
UPDATE: Reference to Clare Solomon’s protest and a couple of explanatory notes added after initial publication.