County Council: Death By A Thousand Cuts

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Lingchi was an an ancient Chinese torture method which is more widely known in the west as death by a thousand cuts, a torture method this council seems to have adopted as its model for local government policy.

Make no mistake that sooner or later people will die because of the butchering of our local services, make no mistake that people are already suffering under the brunt of the county councils new torture regime.

This is an ideological restructuring of local government, the Tories have already committed themselves to destroying the state on a national level, and now their cronies at a local level are going full steam ahead with this ideological mission in their destruction of local services.

Removing lifelines for some and completely changing the face of our local services, is of course spruced up with fancy words like “efficiency savings” but regardless of what words they use to make these cuts more palatable it will never disguise them from the cold hard reality, and when reality bites believe me people will be angry.

Earlier this year the County Council agreed to outsource all its services, and now it is going to be cutting a further £77 million from its budget, no doubt they love to gamble with the future of our town, sadly the only losers in this will be us, the people of Northampton.

As it was reported the budget “Proposals include a reduction in children’s centre services, a reduction in funds for the fire service and highways maintenance, a cut in the subsidies given to the bus services, the cessation of Nourish school meals service and decommissioning two care homes run by Olympus Care Services.”

Just how much more do they think the people can take? Just how much more of this burden do we have to shoulder? We were never responsible for the recession, yet time and again we are the ones footing the bill.

These cuts, like the cuts at national level are being billed as the only way, that there is no alternative, but this is pure political posturing, there is always an alternative. When these cuts continue to hammer home just keep one thing in mind, there is but one group of people to blame for them; The Conservative Party.

We are now locked into a race to the bottom, and who knows where it will end? No support for young people, no care for the elderly? Just how far are they willing to fall, and how much suffering are we going to have to endure?

Instead of a council with a commitment to slash and burn, how great would it be to have a council committed to helping the people? To homing the homeless, to protecting those that need it, to investing in the future of the town.

Because that is the alternative, investment, investing in the future instead of planting the seeds of this towns suffering, creating revenue outside of tax. We are expected to believe that outsourcing and businesses (which we will be paying to carry out these services), will be more efficient.

Well why is that the case? Instead of throwing money at private companies (making them very rich), surely the brilliant minds in government can operate these things as good, if not better. Instead of them being operated for the profit of private companies they should and could be operated for the improvement of the town, for the benefit of the people.

The governments in post war Britain recognised this, that is how they dug their way out of a 200% deficit, through investment, through public ownership, and ultimately through a commitment to helping people, instead of cutting them piece meal.

Just how much more can the council take? How much more can we take?

What are your views on the cuts? Are you afraid of the future? Let me know in the comments.

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One member one vote – but please vote our way.

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Left Unity a party that was built with internal democracy in mind, with yearly elections a prominent feature of how we hold the party to account. We operate a one member, one vote system, where ideally members are free agents to choose who they want representing them.

How turned off I have been then to see key groups within LU (no groups are recognised as a subset of LU, so these operate within LU unofficially) releasing list after list of who their members should vote for. It makes a mockery of our democracy, and is completely alien to the principals LU is trying to further within the workers movement, and the wider community.

The kind of politics I’ve started to witness forming around and within Left Unity this past year, is exactly what I joined LU to get away from. It was a breath of fresh air away from the sectarian ramblings of madmen, cultist despots and thought police.

It will be a sad day for LU, for the left and also the masses of working people that have been alienated by the left if anyone of these outside factions assumes control through majority representation on the NC, as we already know they vote the same, free debate and thought within the party would be finished, and as a result the party would be finished also.

Vote however YOU want, vote for what YOU believe yourself, vote for what YOU believe in – I don’t know kind of left politics you’re trying to build or be part of, but I’ll tell you what we don’t want, uniformity of thought, uniformity of process, – centralised control over how we should act. We joined LU to get away from these failed past models of thought control, and alienation.

Down with this democratic deficit, this undemocratic beast we have nurtured within the party and allowed to grow unchallenged, enough with this shit! Normal people unaffiliated to any of these vultures, without some kind of sectarian loyalty to this brand of socialism or the next, are going to be left behind, they’re already being pushed out.

What is socialism? What is the workers movement, what does it mean to be involved with left politics? What does it mean to you to be a member of the working class? I don’t need to look to someone for the answer, I don’t need to report to someone for “suggestions” – neither do I need to think about it, because I feel it in my gut, it is in my heart.

Some of these positions are representative, and I find it extremely difficult to understand how someone can truly represent sections of the party, if they being forced (coerced/softpower) to vote in a way which has no direct link to the people they are representing.

This is a problem that Left Unity needs to face up to and address, otherwise democracy within the party is a mockery, a thinly veiled facade and LU will fall even quicker into the abyss of failure, a train wreck and a failed experiment. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that to happen.

How angry we would of all been if the current EC or NC released a list telling people who they should vote for, what kind of party do we want to be involved with? Like the Grand Old Duke of York marching his men up and down the hill, how long are we going to be stuck doing the same things over and over again? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Lets face it the left has been a sinking ship for a long time now, with groups diminishing in size and capability, we can either bury our head in the sand and think everything is peachy fucking creamy, or we can look at ourselves, because we can spruce it up with fancy words and theories as to why the left is weakening, ultimately we are to blame for it, groups are to blame for it. We either change, adapt, advance and grow, or we are dead, and we have lost.

The most positive forces which have come to the fore in recent years haven’t come from the traditionally walked path, like the FocusE15 Mothers, there is a lot of hope and new ideas circulating not only in the UK but in the world, so lets end this stale politics of the past, it is time for a new kind of politics.

The path to unity is not paved with swords, the road to socialism is built upon the cooperation and friendship of the people.

Northampton Council Meeting of Contempt

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Northampton Borough Council has shown complete and utter contempt for the chamber, the position and most importantly the people of Northampton, as they spend their last full meeting before the elections patting themselves on the back and electioneering.

They seem to have forgotten the problems facing the administration, and will face up until the time of the election, they seem to have completely forgotten that their position is to represent the people that elected them.

I wish I could say this kind of behaviour shocked me, surprised me even but time and again they have ignored the concerns of residents, time and again they have ignored our views and warnings, and time and again they have put their own interests ahead of the people of Northampton.

Lets not forget how the Chron have played into the egoist fantasies of the council leader Mr.Mackintosh without a week going by when his face isn’t offending my computer screen. I could write endlessly listing the failures of this council, but everyone living in the town is already well aware of them.

They seem to be living in a different town to you and I, for among their many glowing achievements (which the council recognised) were the Northgate bus station, which has been a complete and utter disaster, causing untold amount of traffic delays, let alone the distress it has caused bus users and the general public.

Mary Markham even goes on to congratulate them all on how well they have done at combatting homelessness, even though figures released suggest homelessness has increased year on year during their control of the council.

The only shocking thing from the whole night is that the Labour group walked out in protest, finally an opposition – shame they are only four years too late. It would have been great if they had shown this kind of passion while we have had to put up this this lot.

[each week I will pick a local news story and cover it with my own opinion, the news article this blog is in relation to can be found here: http://goo.gl/QR8kbq ]

Kindness doesn’t kill, cuts do!

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A campaign recently launched in Northampton called “Kill with Kindness” (yes that is its real name), has the aim of encouraging people not to be kind to homeless people.

It declares that homeless people are drunks and drug addicts and by giving them money you are therefore feeding their habits and killing them.

It declares that you should instead give your money to charity which has already been butchered in this county, maybe its time the council supported its services properly, so we didn’t have to prop them up!

This campaign is dehumanising, demonising and degrading and feeds into the myth that homeless people are to blame for their situation.

Not all homeless people are drunks, and not all of them are drug addicts and any campaign which starts off with this assumption is very insulting and damaging.

Instead of attacking the powerless, vulnerable and poor, they should run a campaign that tackles the root causes. Why not have a campaign called “help the homeless” or “home the homeless” – why run a campaign that sends the message that homeless are undeserving of kindness?

This campaign takes place within a backdrop of our county council butchering its services, meaning more adults are going to be vulnerable, and ultimately thrown on the scrapheap.

When are they going to tackle the underlying problems and come up with proper solutions to these problems? Homelessness, addiction – they take away our support network and then have the cheek to say we’re less than human (not worthy of kindness).

Social housing programs are few and far between not only in Northampton but the whole country, social enterprises and charities have had their funding cut and removed by local government, meaning less services and support for the homeless.

Homeless people are wait for it – people too. If a homeless person spends a couple of quid on alcohol, then who are we stop them? Would it be better if they drunk a bottle of wine a day?

What are the underlying causes of homelessness addiction? I don’t think the cause of these problems are created by the kindness of strangers, or by homeless people getting a few quid begging.

More than likely the causes of these problems relate to where they find themselves I.e on the streets, mental health related, there are a myriad of reasons why a homeless person may drink but one thing we can be certain of it definitely isn’t kindness that is killing them.

[each week I will pick a local news story and cover it with my own opinion, the news article this blog is in relation to can be found here: http://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/local/shoppers-in-northampton-urged-not-to-give-money-to-beggars-in-the-town-centre-1-6600489%5D

Left Unity: Two steps forward, one step back.

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Left Unity’s internal elections are fast approaching, the yearly elections we have to stop the kind of cult worship, and long standing power-grabs that can and have existed in the past. I would encourage everyone to get actively involved, the more new people we can get standing for positions the better, but not only do we need to encourage those who are new to politics to get engaged, we need to support them – politics and especially the left can be quite a scary place.

While the officers have done some great things this past year, building a party is no easy task, there have been mistakes made, and there have been allegations thrown around. Words all too familiar to anyone that has been on the left for more than a day, undemocratic, Stalinist, conspiracies, you know how the list goes on and on.

I can’t help but think this is part of the internalised culture that exists within the left, a kind of internal paranoia, scepticism, and cynicism. Where every mistake is seen as an intentional act of power hungry megalomania, or when a certain decision doesn’t happen in the way we want it to, rather than the fault be within incompetence or political difference, it is calculated political manoeuvrings or subverting the will of the party.

I won’t be going into detail about each and every issue or allegation that has been hurled around this past year, instead I think all of us need to have a steadfast resolve in improving the parties infrastructure, to improving our internal democracy, transparency and accountability.

Some have abandoned Left Unity and wrote it off as a failure, which to me seems a bit short sighted when we haven’t even had our second election. The party is still being built, have we done everything right this past year? No. Are we a perfect organisation? No. The important thing is however, we can shape Left Unity, it is up to us what kind of party we are involved in.

Once the dust of the election settles there are definitely things that need to be looked at and improved, we need to look at how the party operates, how we communicate with one another, how we formulate policy and ultimately how we improve on the foundations and principles we were founded on.

The party system of old is dead, it doesn’t belong in the 21st century, it isn’t suited to the internet age, and we need to be looking at how the internal workings of Left Unity can be upgraded and incorporated so that every single member has the maximum amount of power.

The constitution was a start but that was it, a start, it wasn’t the end it was the beginning. We are not doing this in a vacuum, we can build on what has come before, we can look to how Syriza and how Podemos operate. I however don’t want to build a party like Podemos or like Syriza, I want to build a party like Left Unity, one that we can call our own.

So how do we do this? Left Unity needs to adopt direct democracy internally in the realms of decision making, I’ve already wrote a small piece on how we can improve conferences which will have a knock on effect. We need to be as open as we possibly can about as much as we can, we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear.

We really need to rip up the rule book of organisation, and try out radical new ways out engaging members, supporters and non-members alike. In the meantime however and of a matter of urgency we need to improve communication, when there is a lack of communication, people who make allegations have free reign on opinion, and in the age of the internet that means they can influence others, as information spreads so quickly now.

Members area of the websites needs to be improved to accommodate more information, as well as a way for members to interact with one another, at the moment the main area of communication across the whole of Left Unity nationally is an unofficial Facebook group, which had to get shut down once already, it is ridiculous.

Left Unity needs to step up to the plate and embrace the internet, just running with the website idea each member could have their own profile, there can be some form of internal message board where we can communicate with one another, there can be an official statement one for Left Unity to keep everyone up to date with what is going on, with disputes, problems, etc.

Mass Skype meetings? Email? Forums? Apps? Polls? There is literally an untold amount of ways we can communicate with one another and keep each other informed, there is no excuse in this day and age – we are not living in the dark ages.

The very structure of how Left Unity operates could easily fall into the trap of alienation of its core supporter by making them feel powerless and disengaged with the whole creative and informative process. Branches have a lot of power, but they are not being supported enough. How many effective and operational branches do we have? What steps are we taking to improve upon these?

The majority of the problems I alluded to earlier were directly caused because a lack of communication, so lets go back to the constitution and see how we can be more transparent, lets go back to the spirit of 45 and lets see what we can do to improve the party we founded, and that we are building here. The future is ours, we only need to grab it!

Doing conferences differently

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Our conference has been and gone, but our commitment to a new kind of politics should be as strong as the fire from whence it came. It is great we have made it to our one year mark but the journey we set out on is far from complete, the masterpiece we are carving out on the political landscape still needs plenty of chiseling.

Ideally it will never be finished as the party adapts and changes along with the rest of society. We need to adapt to the challenges we face, discard what is useless while promoting that which is useful.

Politics needs to be open, it needs to be inclusive but most importantly, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. I could only attend Sunday and after being there for the first hour I felt like I wanted to walk out. It felt like a big waste of my time, and it shouldn’t be that way.

So how can we improve on our conference format? Where can we take our inspiration from? Podemos regardless of their politics held their conference in a football stadium with 20k people, with many more taking part online. We are calling for delegate conferences at 2000 members, is that the sum of our ambition and inventiveness?

We can implement these four things to improve our conferences:

  1. Conference should signal the start of a voting period which takes place online and via post.
  2. Greater use of social media i.e tweeting and facebook discussions so there is online participation
  3. Skype or video conference software in use to allow those watching online a way to interact with the conference
  4. A mechanism for internal referendums needs to come into existence

Conference should be where we have discussions, debates, workshops – a place to feel plugged into the wider LU machine. Debates it seems were rushed at times, large swathes of votes get pushed off the agenda. How we are doing things now is not only impractical in this day and age, it isn’t working.

If we were to have two day conferences which used multiple rooms and fulfilled multiple purposes, we could not only accomplish more, we would have a better experience.

As it stands conference exists for those with the funds, time and capability to participate. This creates less internal democracy, where we have the tyranny of the attendee and it just doesn’t have to be that way in the 21st century.

We are really starting to utilisize modern techniques of media, the website is coming on and the Facebook page is doing great. The more effective and inclusive we are at this during conference, the more people we can include in our debates.

This could be something as simple as a few words describing the topic we are currently discussing, or detailing a specific workshop. To more time consumed infographs, detailed information, pictures and videos.

The more people we can engage in our debates, whether they are members or not – the better they will be and to this end we should utilise video conferencing software. We have less spare time, but more things to do – we are overworked and should have the luxury of engaging with politics how we choose.

If you suffer from anxiety the conference atmosphere might not be for you, but why should you then be excluded from having a voice? If you are a single mother working two jobs, why should you then be excluded from having a voice? If you cannot get to the conference without physical support and are unable to get it, why then should you be excluded from having a political voice?

We have a great part in our constitution which allows us to have e-conferences on specific issues, this is great and needs to be expanded so there is a mechanism for members to call party-wide referendums.

This will ensure that if an important event takes place, we can react to it quickly and with the backing of the majority of the party. The greater power the membership can have over the decision making process, and more importantly the easier it is for us to wield that power, the more inclined we will be to do so.

We need to digest our politics how we digest everything else in the 21st century, that is at our convenience and quickly. Political participation needs to be brought dragging and screaming into the 21st century, and if we are to be doing politics differently, we need to be doing it with more than just words.

Left Unity Northampton: Yearly report

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Our year anniversary approaches and what a year it has been! A massive thank you is in order to everyone that has supported us this far. We are new to the Northampton political scene but we have been at its forefront, and we may still be finding our feet but it is safe to say we have had an impact.

In this article I will briefly mention some of the great things we have took part in, and how we are running as a branch of Left Unity, so that we can reflect on how far we have come and look at where we may be heading. Strictly speaking we have been running for over a year but we became a political party in November, some of the things mentioned will have took place beforehand.

We really hit the ground running in Northampton and things are really coming together and it just wouldn’t of been possible without the hard work and dedication of our members, approaching everything with enthusiasm and dedication week after week and while it has not all been plain sailing it is safe to say we have come along way.

The article shall be split into three sections, branch development, local and national as these are the three main areas of interest. Before I start however I think Bianca Todd deserves a massive shout out for all the hard work she has put in to Northampton branch and representing us on a national side as well, she has worked tirelessly for little reward this past year and a bit, so thank you Bianca!

Branch

Our branch meets on a weekly basis at the same place and on the same time, 7pm Cafe Del Sol and every Wednesday. It took us a while to find this format but it works well for us, as we get to keep each other up to date with any developments, react quickly to anything and can discuss what we would like to do, the majority of these meetings are more like a coffee with friends than a political party meeting.

Our meetings started off being less frequent and in the back room of a pub, which is all well and good if like me you enjoy a drink but we realised that this was not the most inviting of places for non-members, which led us to the cafe and it is working better.

We have been wrestling with how to make our meetings more inclusive and accessible, and to this end we have set up a Skype account. We text our members when ever we are meeting, on top of the standard e-mail, as well as provide lifts for people if getting there is a problem or the weather is a bit rubbish.

The most interesting thing for me at least, is we are not sticking to a rigid model, we are adapting as we grow, we are adapting as people come and join in, we are not looking for definite answers but are trying to shape our branch around the realities we are facing at any time, so if I had to sum it up in one word, I think our branch development has been flexible.

All in all we seem to have fell into a good groove, attendance figures go up and down as people are unable to attend every week, our rationale behind weekly meetings however is that if you go to a martial art class or a night class it will be every week.

There are some new and interesting developments coming out, we want to have a meeting in the day, as we believe night time meetings are excluding certain groups (single mothers), and we want to carry out a “ttt” – tea, toast and talk to remedy that.

On top of all this we also have a student society, the first in the country and this has helped give us a little bit of a headway into the student union, it has provided us with some funds which we sorely needed and means our branch is supported by a university contingent.

Local

Each local area is different so a little bit of info on shoe town needs to be said, Northampton doesn’t have any strong left wing groups, meaning there is a big gap for a political party like Left Unity to fill and we have been busy trying to fill it. We are very big on localism in Northampton and are doing everything we can to lay the foundations for a strong and active left wing political movement within the town.

We have taken part in national protests but instead of heading to the big ones, we have held our own little ones, we have taken part in local campaigns and will be standing a few local councillors, as well as supporting strikers as when needed. We have regularly featured in the local rags and Bianca now has her very own blog on one of their websites.

In terms of actions, we have led some, while taking part in others. We organised the national Atos Demo’s I and II, as well as #BootOutBoots. We organised the 999 March for the NHS Northampton leg (with help from Left Unity Milton Keynes). We also held our own homesnotspikes protest against a shop that uses them in our town. We also took part in the Bedroom Tax Sleepout and the bedroom tax demo.

On top of that we have been active with the People’s Assembly and Reclaim NHS, as well as supporting the Fbu strikes, the pathologists #lockedout and national strike action. Finally we supported the campaign for independent pcc and had a LU stall at freshers fair, these are the traditional work we have engaged in with the town and as you can see we have been fairly busy.

I’m pretty certain there are things I have forgotten as well, It seems that a month doesn’t go by where we haven’t took part in some form of local action or held some event.

We have been trying to think of more fun and inventive ways to engage the town and carry out politics in a new and exciting way, one of our most successful actions being a thing called BooksWithBenefits. We handed out free books to the public, while chatting to them about politics and publicised anti-cuts meetings while doing so.

We have took the approach locally to carry out solidarity actions with those fighting cuts, one of these was going around the town and handing out food to some of our homeless people, as we feel we should not be talking about ourselves about these issues but be on the streets where it matters most.

Finally we have begun a monthly speakerscafe, where we invite people to come and have a chat with us one week about a certain topic and depending on the issue being raised can be fairly successful.

National

It is a wonder with how busy we are at a local level how we have any time to do the same nationally, and again Bianca has been tireless on this front. I don’t think a month has gone by where she hasn’t had to travel to this place or that, and a day hasn’t gone by where she hasn’t had to either give an interview over the phone or speak to this person or that.

This is on top of regular attendance to the standard NC and EC meetings, so on a national front Bianca has been our main champion but she hasn’t been our only one! Jade who recently moved to Abu Dhabi was an integral member of the womans caucus, while I was instrumental in the formation of the youth caucus. We have also taken part in a few of the national rallies in London, as well as People’s Assembly meetings.

Jade travelled to My Belly Is Mine demo and various woman caucus’s meetings, as well as representing them on the NC and EC, with the great work she was doing it was a loss for us when she left to pastures anew. We travelled to support the Birmingham Occupation, where Bianca gave a talk, which can be found online.

We also attended the Homes Not Spikes protest outside of Tesco, which successful saw the removal of the spikes. On top of this we have attended various festivals around the country, and Bianca got down to support the Focus15 Mothers. On top of organising the 999 March in Northampton, we met them in London and carried the NHS banner through central London.

We attended conference, founding and 1 year on and are always keeping an eye out for new national protests which grab our attention, but local comes first.

Looking to the future….

We are always learning and adapting to how we can change and grow to be more inclusive and how we can improve the party, the movement and our branch. Looking for new ideas and new opportunities, I think the over riding philosophy of the branch is solidarity not charity, in that we want to help people who are struggling with their lives and believe fundamentally that this is how the movement will grow in our town and beyond.

We have set up a Skype account so people unable to attend our meetings and events can take part, this has been a big hit with parents unable to get child care and has allowed greater level of participation.

We still have quite a lot of areas of improvement, and are standing a few councillors in the local elections but all in all it has been a positive year, and if we continue like we have been doing this next one will be to. Things are coming together slowly, but steadily.

Thanks once again for everyone that has made it possible, lets make 2015 be our year. We are also looking to support our comrades on a regional level in any way possible, so that we can have a strong and active region of friends and comrades.