Kicking off in Catford as Lewisham makes cuts
From The Guardian (at the time of writing – 1am – our supposed local newspaper the News Shopper hadn’t bothered to publish tonight, despite the fact this will be featured on national media breakfast shows on Tuesday morning):
Police tonight arrested several people outside Lewisham town hall in south-east London as demonstrators tried to force their way into a meeting where councillors voted to cut the council budget by £60m.
Officers had to call for help from the Metropolitan police’s Territorial Support Group as about 100 protesters tried to force their way into the building.
“Police have made a number of arrests for criminal damage and public order offences,” the Met said in a statement. “A number of police officers were treated for minor injuries.”
A taste of things to come, perhaps, for those of us on the Greenwich side of the borough boundary. The protesters included a large number of Goldsmiths College students, who’ll no doubt be delighted to know Woolwich Town Hall is a short ride on the 53 or 177 buses from New Cross.
In all seriousness, I imagine Greenwich Labour’s hierarchy will be be looking at the scenes from Catford with a mixture of trepidation and satisfaction. Trepidation, because this scenes like this face every single council in the country as the coalitions cuts slice through their budgets.
But satisfaction, because Greenwich Council has played its hands very close to its chest on the question of cuts, in complete contrast to Lewisham, whose directly-elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock got his axe out almost as soon as he and the Labour council were re-elected in May. The violence seen outside Lewisham Town Hall was the price Sir Steve Bullock paid for that strategy, which included a consultation called “Our Lewisham, Our Say“, the kind of cuddly-sounding scheme that’s unthinkable this side of the border.
Apart from persistent rumours about libraries becoming “self-service” (or closing the lot and having just one in Woolwich), and a cut in voluntary group funding, concrete evidence of Greenwich’s plans is hard to find. Greenwich axed its funding for Blackheath fireworks claiming it was due to cutbacks, but we know this was nonsense – with the council having blown the cash on a mayoral booze-up and Olympics-linked arts projects. It’s easy – too easy, really – to criticise Labour leader Chris Roberts’ iron rule over the council, but it’s saved it from a Bullock-sized ruck as seen in Catford.
There’s also a different political scene in Lewisham – run on a mayoral system, it was a hung borough before the last election, the Socialist Party had two councillors before May, a group called Lewisham People Before Profit are a force in local elections in the north of the borough. Greenwich, meanwhile is a rather stale Labour-Tory ding-dong. A group set up by Socialist Party members, Greenwich Save Our Services, is hoping to marshal any opposition to cuts – although their last demo seemed to me to be a just a small group of grumpy lefties. This will no doubt change, though, as Greenwich’s cuts become clearer.
Will Greenwich will be able to avoid scenes like Monday night’s rows in Catford, or is it storing up more trouble for the future? The answer will be one of several no-doubt unpleasant things we’ll find out next year.