Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Promise Inspectors

"I've just won a budget vote!" An adrenaline pumped Councillor Matheson beams.  It was the moment many of us realised that the May elections in Glasgow were going to be a cut-throat political contest that would determine the city's future.

In that election, an embattled Labour Party launched a campaign that would see it spend money it barely had in a defensive fight to retain control of its heartland city from a bullish SNP. No expense was spared in campaigning, and the Labour Party came out fighting, promising to build publicly owned wind turbines to fund district heating (like in Scandinavia) for working class communities (eliminating fuel poverty) - a huge capital works programme.  It didn't end there.  Health inequality would be eliminated in five years.  The coalitions benefit cuts would be fought tooth and nail with all the Party's powers, building a grand coalition.  1000 new jobs every year would take the recession head on - part of a "Glasgow Guarantee" to provide every young person with a job, education or traing.  Loansharks, landlords, privatisers, Tories - Glasgow would take them all on.

And then stop.

So Labour won the election, and its 100 Promises now comprise its mandate for action.  Too bad then the party chose to celebrate its victory by breaking six promises in six months.  A councillor is an illegal landlord, a councillor has breached licensing laws designed to tackle problem drinking, the council is actually sacking hundreds of people, and all the while it has been taking part in the work programme attacking the unemployed.  ATOS - the company widely credited with killing disabled people by removing their benefits in punitive assessments - is chosen as the Commonwealth Games sponsor.  The party has abandonned the council tax freeze.  A high profile new 'combined heat and power' gasification plant is instead to be simply a privatised power station, spilling toxic chemicals out into a poor community.  There is something wrong with Glasgow politics.  The rot has set in again already.

"I recall Glasgow Labour saying that Glasgow children were exceptional.  I remember it.  I think it typifies everything you need to know about Glasgow politics," Community Organiser Nick Durie explains. "Unlike weans in other parts of the world apparently Glasgow's bairns learn better in class sizes over 35."  The anecdote tells the story of how the council explained its plans to cut over a dozen schools - the second such closure programme in the years of the previous Labour administration.  "People in this city are treated with contempt and taken for fools.  That's why we have to preserve and extend the changes we have started to see in Glasgow politics."

Nick is helping to organise a campaign - which has been given the working title of the "Committee of 100."  The fledgling coalition met on the day of US President Barack Obama's re-election in the Quaker Meeting House in the city centre.  A smaller affair, the launch was nonetheless attended by four of the city's commmunity councils, as well as dozens of concerned citizens.

Speakers talked about the need to uphold promise 74, which commits the council to opposing workfare and welfare cuts, of the need to insist on the council upholding its promise number 17 which states that the council will only take action with the agreement of communities, and will be led by their desires; campaigners rallied to take action on the ATOS sponsorship of the Games, with a promise to take part in demonstrations set to mark the deaths of all the people the UK welfare cuts have killed (currently 73 a week die after having been found 'fit for work' - their benefits cut off).

As community campaigner Emma Nicol ended her speech outlining the approach the new coalition would take (to be expressly non-party political, and to hold the council - regardless of political persuasion - to account on its 100 Promises), the meeting then adjourned for citizens to meet each other and exchange stories and contacts, after which strategy groups were formed to discuss how to take forward holding the council to account on three general themes.

As the meeting drew to a close and sponsorship was collected for the film about the campaign to hold the council to account, those in attendance each returned feedback forms detailing what they would do as a result of the evening's meeting.  Many promised to take further action, becoming 'Promise Inspectors' for the Committee of 100.

If the evening's events were anything to go by, had Labour expected that they might be able to quietly file away their manifesto into some dark recess, never to be leafed through again, it looks increasingly likely that they have been badly mistaken.

Further details of how individuals can get involved are available at:

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