“With the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS”.The coalition government went on to make some of the biggest changes to the NHS since its creation.
“We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT. Our first Budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax”.George Osborne rose VAT from 17.5% to a record 20%.
“I like the child benefit, I wouldn’t change child benefit, I wouldn’t means-test it, I don’t think that is a good idea”.The coalition government later abolished Child Benefit for higher earners.
“Yes, we back Sure Start. It’s a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. He’s the prime minister of this country but he’s been scaring people about something that really matters”.Hundreds of Sure Start centres have since closed their doors.
“We have no plans to change existing Future Jobs Fund commitments”.Within weeks of the coalition government taking office it announced the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund.
“Let us look at the issue of dependency where we have trapped people in poverty through the extent of welfare that they have”.Since then we have witnessed some of the biggest cuts to welfare since the formation of the welfare state, which has led to a five-fold increase in poverty-stricken families turning to food banks.
“People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity”.The UK has been forced to endure some of harshest austerity measures in decades and those policies haven’t come from “further and further away”. They’ve come from David Cameron and his coalition government.
“We cannot go on as we are with 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit, 500,000 of them are under 35.”Sick and disabled benefit claimants are still being wrongly found ‘fit for work’ by inhumane benefit tests.
“We will say to people that if you want to work, we will do everything we can to help you. We will give you the training, we will give you the support, we will give you the advice to get you back at work”.Or hide jobseekers away on the government’s controversial Work Programme so that they can manipulate unemployment statistics perhaps?
“When you’re taking the country through difficult times and difficult decisions you’ve got to take the country with you. That means permanently trying to make the argument that what you’re doing is fair and seen to be fair”.Tax cuts for Millionaires whilst some of the poorest in society are struggling to make ends-meet due to welfare cuts and poverty wages”.
“What we’re putting forward is the most radical reform of the welfare state for 60 years. I think it will have a transformative effect in making sure that everyone is better off working rather than on benefits”.Figures show that for the first time in history there are now more working people living in poverty than those in workless households.
When Bob Marley and Peter Tosh wrote the classic protest song Get Up, Stand Up they could not have envisaged that it would be adopted by a group of mainly white, middle-aged, middle-class north Londoners who have formed a remarkable alliance with a group of squatters and members of the Occupy movement to oppose a library closure.
On Tuesday, all of the above joined hands in a human chain around Friern Barnet Library in north London. It was closed in April 2012 due to council cuts, and occupied by squatters five months ago, who reopened it with the help of local volunteers almost immediately.
Needless to say the council was not pleased. It has now reopened as a community library with financial input from the council who shut it down. Together, the disparate group of library fans sang an adaptation of their song that Marley and Tosh would probably have approved of – Get Up, Stand Up, Save Our Libraries.
The council threatened to close the library in 2009. Residents and Labour councillors staged various protests, including leafleting, a five-hour sit-in and the temporary establishment of a pop-up library. When the library closed the council brushed off the pleas to reopen it on that site.
When the squatters climbed through an open window in September and began working with local residents to restore a library service in the building the council was stymied.
Officials had to lodge court proceedings to evict the squatters, and as the weeks ticked by before the case was heard the disparate groups forged genuine and trusting relationships and the initially empty library shelves swelled until they had more than 10,000 donated books on offer to lend.
The library became a community hub with events for children, yoga classes and book signings with the likes of Will Self. Barnet county court granted an eviction order in December. But local residents speedily formed a legally constituted group of licensees who offered to take over the running of the library when the squatters moved out on Tuesday. They are now negotiating a long-term lease with the council and plans to sell the site off to a developer have been shelved – for now at least.
When David Cameron put forward his “big society” idea he probably wasn’t advocating unusual alliances of people working together collaboratively to overturn closures of public services implemented by radical Tory councils such as Barnet. But, arguably, this is the big society in action.
The Occupy movement has raised a great deal of awareness of global inequality but has not focused on or achieved small, concrete wins such as this one. The Barnet residents’ protests fell on deaf ears until the squatters supported by Occupy moved in. Squatters have had an opportunity to rebrand themselves as socially responsible, community minded individuals who are working to restore closed-down public services. The local residents are clear that without the input of the squatters and Occupy, the library would not have reopened.
The squatters know that without the huge support from residents they would have been unceremoniously evicted from the library premises much sooner and Barnet council would have gone ahead with its plans to sell the site to a commercial developer. But together the different groups formed a potent alliance. Assisted by a strong legal team they were able to argue in court that they were providing a greatly valued public service. Their arguments were reflected in the judge’s ruling. While granting Barnet council an eviction order, district judge HHJ Pearl recognised the right to protest and said of the occupied library: “There is no suggestion that this is anything other than a happy, pleasant, well-run place.”
The relationship between the various groups involved in the library protest and occupation has been characterised by gentleness, mutual respect for the range of views put forward and a very sincere spirit of collaboration. The residents have become more tuned in to the issues raised by the squatters and Occupy, and the latter have worked sensitively with the locals to help them achieve their objectives of restoring a much-loved public service.
As those gathered to celebrate the establishment of Friern Barnet community library on Tuesday lit candles on a very long cake modelled on Eric Carle’s classic children’s book, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, the unity of purpose resonated around the room. Could this kind of unusual alliance be the future of campaigning against cuts in services and other matters of public concern? This unprecedented reopening of a closed down library suggests that it could.