“You have to take a stand”: interview with Hull anti-cuts councillors

Hull

SCLV supporters Gill Kennett and Dean Kirk were elected Labour councillors in Hull, but expelled from the party for refusing to knuckle under and vote for cuts. Dean is standing in the upcoming council elections as Hull Red Labour. We spoke to them about the campaign. Another former Labour councillor, ASLEF activist Gary Wareing, is now also standing for Hull Red Labour.

Our campaign has been going for five months. We have 25,000 leaflets and letters out already and another 10,000 to go out; regular campaign stalls; and door knocking.

We are discussing with people the need not to fall into the UKIP trap. We are promoting Hull Red Labour’s commitment to challenging the oppression of any government that gains power, so we can protect local services.

What do you see the role of left councillors as being?

Challenging this government as far as you can. Trying to advocate for the people of your ward and your city. Liaising and working with other groups on the left. Trying to educate and explain to people the need to join left groups and not to fall for UKIP and other right-wing lies.

What would you say to those who say your stand contradicts fighting in the Labour Party?

Being suspended as a councillor means you have to still obey the whip without even having a say in the group. You’re faced with a choice. Vote for the cuts. Or vote against them and be expelled.

We were put in a position where the Labour Party behaved in a way that shocked and disappointed us. It was the party left us; we are still the same socialists as we have been all our adult lives. We look forward to a time when the Labour leadership listens to the rank and file, the great people who are the party’s backbone, who are still hoping for a more equitable future for us all. When they listen to the public in general, who are desperate for an alternative to this misery that is being inflicted upon them.

There comes a time when you have to ‘draw a line in the sand’, when you have to make a stand. If it contradicts working within the Labour Party, that says more about the Labour Party than us. If you’re an MP you can vote against something and remain an MP in the party. If you are a member of the party, you can try and recruit and bring people into the party who share your views and values, but for councillors you have to put your career on the line if you are going to remain true to your beliefs.

What support have you had?

We have support from many Labour Party members, but they can’t do much or they would face suspension or expulsion too. We’ve had huge support from the LRC [Labour Representation Committee] nationally and they have invited us to numerous meetings and discussions. The LRC locally has given us a great deal of support. We have also had support from the Hull People’s Assembly, and from a wide variety of left groups.

We work closely with the trade unions in a professional, open and transparent manner as councillors. They are in a difficult position due to their affiliations to Labour. However, many individual union members – from all unions – value the stand we have taken and have given support verbally and practically, including leafleting on a regular basis. That includes Unison, Unite, GMB, NUT and private sector unions as well.

On every occasion we have voted against the council budget, we’ve had members from many different unions lobbying outside the Guildhall and in the public gallery to show their support. We’ve consulted with the unions on our alternative budgets before submitting them.

At Unison’s 2013 conference a motion was unanimously passed a motion to support and enter dialogue with Councillors against the Cuts. In the 2014 conference comrades tried to reinforce that motion and seek clarity from the union bureaucracy about why no action had been taken. This was ruled out of order. The Unison leadership has been dismissive.

What are you saying about other council elections and about the general election?

We don’t know what will happen in Hull. We are hugely concerned that people will vote for UKIP, masquerading as a party for the people while while its opportunist right-wing leaders pit people against those from other countries. People need to understand they have more in common with a Polish cucumber picker than with the British owner of that company.

There is an issue that the Labour vote is taken for granted in Hull and some councillors feel they have people’s loyalty as a given.

We hope Dean will be elected, and if so he will work with Labour as we judge appropriate. This may be quite often. Nationally, we want Labour to be elected. The alternative is devastating. The question is whether they offer the people who elected them hope or betray them. We need Labour to be the party of hope.

We believe that young people should be educated in schools and in further education on the subject of politics, the history of politics, why it is important to vote and how to vote in an informed way. They should have the opportunity to have their input and their voice heard and be given the vote at sixteen. Young people have continuously shown that they are interested in their future and have a right to be part of how it is shaped.

What demands would you raise on a Labour government?

We need Labour to give a real alternative to the neoliberal agenda that currently dominates. That means:

Re-nationalize our services (railways, gas, electricity, water).
Remove private profit from health, education and social services.
A statutory living wage, abolish zero hour contracts, end the wage freeze.
Invest in building social housing and create quality apprenticeships to give young people a future and most of all hope.
Abolish the bedroom tax & place a cap on private rents.
Higher taxes on the rich & a clamp down on tax avoidance.
Reverse all spending cuts.
Public investment in creating green jobs, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Increases to welfare and pensions should at least match inflation.
A stop to scapegoating of immigrants and those on welfare.
A publicly owned, democratic banking system.
A commitment to a publicly owned pharmaceutical industry to stop the rationing of vital drugs which extend life and improve people’s lives.
The mansion tax should be changed to a land tax
End the cost of war in blood and money: no military interventions, no Trident replacement.

What is the relevance of socialism today?

It’s not so much the relevance as the necessity of socialism today! Socialist ideas are more important than they have been since the 1930s.

The world is being destroyed by a capitalist system which can’t stop until it has squeezed every iota of profit from every aspect of our lives. Vast areas of fertile land are being laid bare; our water is disappearing or being made unusable. The delicate ecosystem is being thrown off balance as millions of animals and insects are killed off. The total greed of 1% is the cause, though they work hard to cause division so that people blame each other for their ills. History shows why we must avoid that at all costs.

Socialism is relevant because without it this civilisation can’t survive.

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