Leeds Socialist Party last night (Monday 28th March) held a public meeting to launch the election campaign of Ian Pattison, who is standing in the Headingley ward as a Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts candidate. 18 people attended the meeting, mainly Socialist Party members but also several local residents and activists from other left groups.
Nick Parker, Hyde Park & Headingley Socialist Party
Trevor Bavage from the Alliance for Green Socialism (who has stood as candidate in the ward in the past and is a well-known community activist) helped arrange the meeting and introduced Ian, who gave a moving, impassioned speech, beginning by talking about the horrendous economic situation in Europe and the grim reality of the Con Dem’s spending cuts, before moving on to local issues, such as the closure of the Headingley crisis centre and privatisation of a local school under the PFI scheme. The disgraceful £120 billion tax gap in the UK was also mentioned, with Ian pointing out that this money on its own would clear the deficit, and raising the need to nationalise the banks and other corporate tax-dodgers under democratic control to ensure their wealth is used to benefit all in society. Capitalising on his reputation as a student leader and recent election officer campaign at Leeds University, Ian also talked of the recent rises in tuition fees at the city’s universities – with Leeds Met recently announcing fees of £8,500 and Leeds University £9,000 (Headingley is a student heavy area). He moved on to talk about youth unemployment, before outlining the policies he would be standing on and finishing his speech with a clear call for a socialist alternative.
This gave way to a lively discussion from the floor, with various different points raised. A point of contention among a couple of participants was whether standing anti-cuts candidates was the correct tactic at the present time, as a lot of people ‘would vote Labour’ and it was maybe best to accept this and to instead encourage these people to put pressure on Labour councils, building up a broad anti cuts movement this way, which would eventually lead to the movement being able to stand its own candidates. Interestingly, the people making this point also called for an all out general strike and suggested that if left candidates were going to stand, it should be as ‘revolutionary socialists’.
Trevor Bavage made the point that Headingley is a ward with a low turnout and a high turnover of residents, but people there are curious and do like to talk. Kevin Pattison verified this when he reported back from canvassing that had already taken place, saying that we had had a really positive response. There was also quite a bit of discussion on how the cuts and hitting Leeds, and a general agreement the bulk of the cuts that Leeds City Council had passed would begin to hit in the coming months as services lost their funding and council workers were made redundant.
Ian responded to the discussion by pointing out that, although Labour would most likely win a general election at the present time, this is more of a reflex reaction to the Tories getting in rather than any really positive mood of support. Likewise, although several of the largest trade unions remain affiliated to the Labour Party, only 4.5% of trade unionists who pay into their union’s political fund voted in the Labour leadership contest. Moreover despite the reported upsurge of membership to the Labour Party, at the time of the leadership election the Labour Party still had less members than during the 2007 deputy leadership election. That opinion polls show Labour only a few points ahead of the coalition, given most of the populations hatred for their cuts, this shows what opportunities are being squandered by the ‘our cuts are better than their cuts’ line of the Labour party.
Iain Dalton, Ian’s election agent also responded to the discussion pointing out that although people have illusions in Labour, standing candidates against them where they are making cuts is part and parcel of putting pressure onto them and the other groups in the council that have all voted for cuts. The closure of the crisis centre has even led to the Lib Dems (Headingley has three Liberal Democrat councillors) posting flyers of outrage through people’s letter boxes, and this anger can easily be drawn on. Iain suggested that we would support and work with people who wished to protect such services if they wanted to demonstrate or organise an occupation to defend them. In such a manner a strong local anti-cuts campaign can built side-by-side with a campaign for a political alternative to the three main parties of cutters.
Overall, everyone left the meeting with a really positive vibe. There is no doubt that a strong, well co-ordinated campaign will gain the anti-cuts movement much publicity and give us much more strength in the struggles ahead.