There follow the minutes of our July meeting. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday 2 August at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 5 July 2017
- Agreement of the agenda
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of the minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Report on the Assembly meeting, 17 June
- Report on the Not One Day More demonstration, 1 July
- Carnival Against the Cuts, 16 July
- Take Back Manchester 2017, 1 October
- Next meeting
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Dan (meeting chair), Hilary, Jenny, Martin B., Neil (secretary), Nicki (treasurer), and Richard M. (campaign chair). Names may have been changed.
The meeting agreed with Dan's suggestion that it should discuss foodbanks as a new item 8.
Mick had sent his apologies.
The meeting approved the minutes and there were no matters arising.
Neil reported 255 subscribers to the Cambridge People's Assembly's (CPA's) mailing list (no change from last month), while 969 Twitter users followed it (960) and 623 Facebook users liked it (612).
Nicki as one of the group's Facebook administrators noted the accuracy and effectiveness of boosting posts, as she had done ahead of the 1 July demonstration to which the CPA organized transport. For a small outlay, the boosted post had reached 1,000 left-leaning Cambridge residents, and 100 of them had clicked to read it in full.
Dan as the group's other Facebook administrator suggested that he could create an event for each monthly meeting. The meeting supported this idea. Dan would just need to know in good time what the subject of the opening discussion would be.
Nicki reported overall funds of £2,532.03. Income last month was a collection on the coach of £102.40; expenditure was £5 on the group's regular donation to the national People's Assembly (PA). She advised that before the next meeting, a £660 bill would be payable for the coach hire.
Nicki reminded the meeting that since the Norwich and Peterborough building society was closing all its current accounts, the CPA had to find another bank. She recommended that it should seek to open an account with Metro Bank. The meeting voted unanimously that the CPA should apply to Metro Bank, and that Nicki, Neil, and Richard should be the signatories.
Neil and Martin had attended this meeting of the PA's representative body. Neil reported on what was said and done.
The national secretary Sam Fairbairn had explained that the PA committee decided to delay the full conference earlier planned for summer, as the campaign needed to know the result of the snap general election called by the governing Conservative Party for 8 June. It now planned to hold a conference later in the year, perhaps in the autumn. The first action of the meeting was to co-opt Amelia Womack (deputy leader of the Green Party) as the campaign's co-chair with Steve Turner (Unite the Union), replacing Romayne Phoenix, whom it thanked for her work.
Lindsey German had reviewed the election, which confounded expectations. The Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority, and there was a big swing to a Labour Party with a clear anti-austerity platform (while anti-austerity parties collectively took 15–16m votes). The result was a very unstable situation. Lindsey expected an election sooner rather than later; she thought Britain was in reach of a Labour government of a different stripe to that of Gordon Brown's, for example. She thought the PA had made an excellent contribution to the campaign against the Conservatives, notably with its billboards and promotion of the 'Liar, Liar' song attacking the party's leader Theresa May. Politics, she had concluded, was in a new phase.
Among the delegates who spoke from the floor in response to Lindsey, Neil had noted that the PA campaign was founded at a time when the Labour Party had an unreliable position on austerity and nothing could be expected from parliamentary politics. Now the meeting was naturally talking about how the PA could support Labour. Neil had suggested that the PA should take stock by setting out what it thought could be achieved by a non-party, extraparliamentary movement.
Sam had returned to the platform to stress how important the PA's demonstrations had been: the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had previously said that without the great demonstration in summer 2015 he might not be in his post, and more recently the Our NHS demo on 4 March gave people the confidence to insist that the general election campaign had to be broader than Brexit. The PA committee had decided to hold a national demo in response to the election result on 1 July, Not One Day More, instead of promoting celebrations of the NHS's 'birthday' as earlier planned.
John Rees had spoken to point out that the political situation wasn't going to last. The Conservatives would recover, and the few pained tributes to Corbyn's election performance from the Labour right represented the limit of their reconciliation. Electoral politics were locked: the Conservatives didn't have a majority, and Labour probably wouldn't be able to secure one. The only way to bring the government down, John had said, was through mass mobilization, 'focusing the sharpest class antagonism I've seen since the miners' strike.'
After a break, delegates had spoken from the platform about the Axe the Housing Act campaign, the growing organization of fast food workers in the USA and now the UK, the Fair Funding for All Schools campaign which was so effective ahead of the general election, and the plans by Health Campaigns Together (HCT) and the People's Assembly to mark the birthday of the NHS on 5 July. Jacqui Berry from HCT had urged delegates to have their groups pick a symbolic site, and hold a rally there, reaching out to encourage health workers to take part.
The CPA had transported 55 people on a free double-decker coach to take part in the Not One Day More demonstration in London. Neil was disappointed that 20 more people had not taken up the seats they had booked, although a handful had apologized (and there was at least no waiting list, thanks to earlier cancellations). The meeting recognized with Nicki that offering free seats was a double-edged sword: it encouraged people to book seats, but they might do so with little commitment. Richard noted that an unusually high proportion of those who did turn up were new faces, which was encouraging; Jenny had the impression that people had also come from slightly further afield. She thought the CPA had done well to organize a coach and draw so many passengers in just two weeks.
Neil had spoken on the coach, and afterwards thrown the microphone open to others. Dan remarked that it was easier for speakers to engage people on single-decker coaches, where listeners could see the speaker and the other way round; and that if people were more engaged with a speaker, they were likely to be more engaged with each other. However he accepted that it could be more cost-effective to hire one big vehicle.
As for the demo itself, Richard remembered that 'after the mandatory one-and-a-half hour's milling around', the march had taken a familiar route from Portland Place to Parliament Square. He considered the main event to have been the speeches at the closing rally. Most of the trade union speakers had celebrated the Left's vindication in the general election, but it was significant that only Mark Serwotka (general secretary of the PCS union) had called for strike action to press the struggle against the Conservatives. Richard noted that the demo had been reported by the mainstream media, which didn't always happen, and reinforced the impression of a changing political narrative.
Nicki passed on some 'pretty shocking' reports from demonstrators with disabilities. (Note: the CPA had itself been unable to provide a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.) Not only had the police moved the stage for the closing rally at the last minute to the disadvantage of those demonstrators, but tall people had stood in front of sign-language interpreters without reproach, stewards had pushed disabled people around, and power chair users had been packed into a pen. Meanwhile disabled people had not been represented on the platform at all, even though no group had been more affected by austerity. Nicki thought the PA had to talk to Disabled People Against the Cuts, because this event had not worked.
Dan also suggested that the Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square, which the CPA had now twice used as a meeting point, was not ideally suited for the purpose: it was not too easy to see across the square, and it meant the Cambridge party had to cross the square twice (particularly difficult in the days of Corbynmania). Neil, the coach organizer, admitted he chose the statue for its political symbolism and agreed the group should find another meeting point.
Hilary reminded the meeting of some long-established rules of demo etiquette, too often flouted: people should take care not to poke others in the eye with placards and flags held over shoulders, and they should lower all placards during speeches!
The meeting discussed the obstacles to people's use of foodbanks when in need. Although Nicki noted that policies varied with the managing charity, Hilary understood that in general any one person could only use a foodbank three times a year. Richard noted that foodbanks had become an unofficial part of the welfare system in the austerity period: Conservative governments wanted to use them as a flexible resource to push people away from official welfare. Hilary found it outrageous that governments exploited foodbanks, when they existed by the good will of their donors and staff.
Dan suggested making a one-off donation to a local foodbank, which might help it buy neglected items and fill gaps in its stock. He thought the best way to persuade people to support the CPA was to support their campaigns. Richard recalled what the CPA could do that charities could not, which was to campaign against the political causes of destitution.
Neil advised that the local Fair Funding for All Schools group had named a meeting time and place for local activists to travel together by train to this London demonstration. He had already circulated a notice on the CPA mailing list; Dan would promote the meeting point on Facebook.
The meeting agreed that the CPA should organize a wheelchair-accessible coach to this demonstration at the Conservative Party's annual conference. Neil would book a vehicle.
The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 2 August, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre.