There follow the minutes of our December meeting, including a discussion on developments in the politics of the Right. Our next monthly meeting will be our annual general meeting for 2017, held on Wednesday 4 January at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 7 December 2016
- Agreement of the agenda
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of the minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Library reservation charge campaign
- NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan campaign
- I, Daniel Blake screening in the new year
- Other business and announcements
- Next meeting
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Dan, Faraz, Hilary, Martin B., Neil (secretary), Nicki (treasurer), and Richard M. (chair). Names may have been changed.
The discussion, which was held before the business of the meeting, is presented here afterwards.
The meeting accepted the agenda Neil had circulated.
Jenny had sent her apologies.
The meeting approved the minutes.
Neil said he had invited the North Herts People's Assembly to come to the Cambridge People's Assembly's (CPA's) next meeting on 4 January, or to visit Cambridge for an informal meeting on another date (see item 4 in the minutes for November). There were no other matters arising.
Neil reported 246 subscribers to the CPA's mailing list (last month 245), while 926 Twitter users followed it (928) and 595 Facebook users liked it (594).
Nicki reported a bank balance of £233.26. Income last month was a collection of £32 at the meeting, and expenditure was £5 on the group's regular donation to the national office.
Neil reported that he had written and Dan had designed a leaflet which summarized the CPA's publicity to date against the library reservation charge, and passed around copies. The text was also available online on the group's blog (see 'Twelve Questions on the Campaign Against the Library Reservation Charge', 15 November).
The group had finally got the findings of its enquiries under the Freedom of Information Act into the local press, if only through a letters page. In support of a letter against the reservation charge by the chair of Friends of Arbury Library, Neil as secretary had written with a summary of those findings (see 'Two Letters to the Cambridge News', 19 November).
The CPA had supported a petition begun by the local writer Deborah Meyler against another austerity measure, a £325,000 cut to the library stock fund for the county. Hilary and Neil had distributed 50 copies of the CPA's new leaflet at a demonstration against the stock fund cut on 11 November.
Next the group had to get its leaflet before the wider public. Neil was authorized to spend up to £50 on commercial printing: he hoped to have 500 black-and-white copies made. Martin and Nicki would both be able to mass-produce colour leaflets.
Nicki had earlier suggested to Neil a number of local disability charities that might wish to support the campaign, which he would contact as secretary.
The Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area had been published on 21 November. Hilary reported that Cambridge Keep Our NHS Public had discussed what action it would take in its last meeting: it would begin by lobbying councillors to oppose the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough STP as councils elsewhere had already done. The group was drafting a letter and briefing paper.
The meeting agreed that Neil should draft an update to the CPA's earlier statement ('Against the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans', 8 November). Hilary noted the demonstration against the government's health reforms called by Health Campaigns Together and the People's Assembly for 4 March.
Dan, Hilary, and Martin had made enquiries at different venues but the meeting did not decide between them. It discussed dates and speakers, aiming for middle or late February. The group would continue to plan the event by e-mail.
Martin announced that Cambridge Stand Up to Racism would hold a demonstration in Market Square on 21 January, the day after Donald Trump's inauguration as president of the USA. Before that it would hold a stall on Saturday 10 December. Also in the new year the organization would also hold its national conference, on 4 February, and a national demonstration on 18 March, close to the United Nations' Anti-Racism Day.
Neil announced that the Cambridge circle of Marea Granate, the transnational organization of Spanish emigrants, had invited the CPA to its screening of the film Siete días en PAH Barcelona (Seven days in PAH Barcelona) – a campaign against evictions – on Wednesday 14 December.
The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 4 January, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre. Hilary asked that pharmacy closures should be on the agenda for discussion.
Neil recalled that the term 'neoliberalism' had long been useful as a description of the political economy pursued by governments worldwide from the 1970s, as in Britain since the election of Margaret Thatcher's first government in 1979. Neil said that in reaction to falling profitability and leftwing political advances, neoliberal governments had sought 'to extend markets, to push back claims on their outcomes, and to hold down inflation' – to the benefit of the minority who still held most property. The state's new role was to force and hold open markets, whether by legal compulsion or the paramilitary police violence demonstrated in Britain at Orgreave and Wapping. (Neil's account followed David Harvey's in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism.)
However Neil's sense was that the new prime minister Theresa May wanted something different, so far clearest in her address to the Conservative Party's 2016 conference. Neil believed it was a rightwing reaction against the instability and excess of neoliberalism; 'a repressive, conformist vision', he said. The authoritarian state built up under neoliberalism was now meant to intervene not only against popular initiatives but against market outcomes, on openly political grounds which would be found in chauvinist, racist nationalism. He suggested this would be a significant change from (Richard helped Neil to find words which escaped him) the intended – false – separation of politics and the economy which characterized liberalism in general.
Others were not persuaded the May government represented a significant ideological change from its predecessors. Richard thought that May would want her government to keep the economy at a perceived distance, given the damage done by her party, but that it would be blamed nonetheless. This was why the May government was seeking instead to blame immigrants for outcomes such as the number affected by in-work poverty rising by 1.1m since 2010, so that 55 per cent of poor households were now working ones (as shown in a report published that day by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation).
Faraz suggested that the decisive contribution of immigrants to European population growth ensured that capitalists had in practice to accept immigration. Dan believed the Conservative Party's increasing recourse to racism revealed desperation: losing the argument about their policies, the Conservatives tried to have the people affected blame each other.
Faraz turned to the election of the businessman Donald Trump as president of the USA. He believed Trump's overt racism was mostly rhetoric. Dan agreed, noting that Trump's businesses depended on immigrant labour. Trump had been telling his audience what it wanted to hear, but his policies were impracticable. Faraz believed that between Trump and the neoliberal Hillary Clinton, the American people had chosen the lesser of two evils.
Neil strongly disagreed. Trump had made promises and would be under pressure to deliver on them; the American far Right had seen its chance immediately and Trump had returned its endorsement, even appointing its publicist Stephen Bannon as his strategist. Neil believed the US was in serious danger.
Richard suggested that the danger was that Trump's rhetoric was changing the boundaries of what it was acceptable to say in US politics. He warned that even if Trump could not practically reduce immigration, his government could make life very difficult for immigrants.
Neil returned to his original suggestion. He thought it implied that the racism which neoliberals had cynically tried to use as a safety valve was becoming a motor, which increasingly drove politics in Britain and the US. The British vote to leave the European Union was a reminder that people may put other things before their economic interests, and immigrants in Britain and the US might yet be sacrificed to politics.
Nicki reminded the meeting that there were still hopeful developments, citing the defeat of the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in the Austrian presidential election. Richard agreed, recalling recent victories in the Standing Rock Sioux tribe's campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the US Midwest. It wasn't just the Right that was on the march.