There follow the minutes of our October meeting, including a discussion on the continuing need for a People's Assembly. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday 2 November at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 10 October 2016
- Agreement of the agenda
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of the minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Report on Birmingham demonstration, 2 October
- Library reservation fee campaign
- Support for Health Campaigns Together
- Other business and announcements
- Next meeting
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Dan, Faraz, Hilary, Jenny, Neil (secretary), Martin, and Richard M. (chair). Names may have been changed.
Neil read aloud Tom Griffiths's recent article, 'Why We Need the People's Assembly'.
Dan agreed with Tom's argument that the People's Assembly (PA) fulfilled a role the Labour Party could not: it couldn't have staged a protest outside the Conservative Party conference, for example. He believed that something like the PA was needed until there was a Labour government pursuing the sort of policies it demanded, and maybe still then.
Hilary was concerned that the PA's demonstrations seemed to be drawing fewer people. Richard recalled that the PA had its biggest demos in 2015, after the shock of the Conservatives' general election victory. At that time there had been little else for people to get involved in. This had changed with Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader, and it might not be obvious to people without explanation why a separate campaign was still needed. He thought an important thing the article got right was the shifting mood: a couple of years ago, the Tories had been boasting about austerity. Now the policy had narrower support.
Jenny suggested that as long as there were some people willing to take part, demonstrations were worth organizing. Neil remarked that dwindling numbers would not be something to demonstrate. Richard suggested that an unbroken increase in participation was not likely, and cited reasons why the protest at this year's Conservative conference was smaller than that at last year's, including the TUC's backing in 2015. Dan believed that nationally, only one union had made great efforts to support the Birmingham demo. He thought it had been good to have the thousands present that day.
Richard noted that there were presently no big struggles breaking out to enthuse people. However the attendance at the Stand Up to Racism and Stop the War conferences at the weekend showed there were lots of people who wanted to oppose the Conservatives.
Dan suggested that after so long, people had realized that big demos didn't change what they faced locally. The Cambridge group had to get involved in local struggles: if people saw it supporting them, they would support it.
Jenny noted the advantage that the PA could avoid being absorbed in the internal politics of the Labour Party. The meeting discussed developments in Labour.
Neil had been unable to finish a promised contribution on antisemitism. The meeting agreed that it could be read next time. Otherwise it accepted Neil's latest draft for an agenda.
Ally, Maud, and Nicki had sent their apologies.
The meeting approved the minutes. Dan raised the first effort to improve the group's stalls (see item 8 in the minutes for September): the meeting agreed that using the Cambridge People's Assembly banner as a backdrop, with more varied materials on a red tablecloth, had worked well on 18 October.
Neil reported 245 subscribers to the CPA's mailing list (last month 245), while 927 Twitter users followed it (912), and 593 Facebook users liked it (594). Dan volunteered to join Nicki as another new Facebook administrator, replacing two members who had had to withdraw.
The meeting agreed with Richard's suggestion that Neil should personally invite passengers from the 2 October coach to future meetings and events.
On behalf of Nicki, Neil reported a bank balance of £100.83 and a PayPal balance of £35.54. Income last month was union donations amounting to £300 (£100 of which had been paid in), two supporters' loans amounting to £140, ticket revenue of £132, a collection at the meeting of £28, and individual donations amounting to £14. Expenditure was £720 on coach hire, £5 on the group's regular donation to the national office, and £3.40 on PayPal fees.
Looking to the future, the CPA owed £140 to repay its loans. This month it would be invoiced £22.50 for venue hire in July, August, and September, and £10.61 in Eventbrite fees. Cambridge Stand Up to Racism had kindly revoked the CPA's debt in respect of the joint July coach, after an individual donation had restored the former's funds.
The CPA had provided wheelchair-accessible transport from Cambridge and Peterborough to the People's Assembly's national demonstration in Birmingham on Sunday 2 October, at the Conservative Party's annual conference. Neil had been the main organizer. One regional and two local trade unions had given or promised much-needed funding, but using all its tested methods of publicity (with a new one of personal invitations), and collecting passengers from both cities for the first time, the group had still only been able to fill half the seats on its hired coach.
On the PA's estimate, 10,000 people had demonstrated that day. Richard remembered being stuck at the back of the march, amid misjudged slogans and songs: the shoppers of Birmingham weren't going to be swayed by a chorus of 'Build a bonfire'! For demo tactics, he urged getting a few more people together in a group equipped with a megaphone, so as to have more control over what was said.
Not all present were satisfied with the media coverage, but Neil recalled an item on Radio 4's Today programme in which the demonstration had led the presenter Nick Robinson to contrast the Conservatives inside the conference centre, fixated on Brexit, with the 'ordinary people outside', 'more concerned about austerity'.
Jenny reported that she had received Cambridgeshire County Council's response to the requests under the Freedom of Information Act drafted within the group. While there was much more information that would be useful, she thought the priority was to publicize what the group now had. To Neil, it appeared at a first glance that the council had failed to answer the main questions: it referred the reader to known documents which didn't contain the requested information.
The meeting agreed an article should be prepared for the CPA blog.
Hilary reported on the conference organized by the umbrella group Health Campaigns Together in Birmingham on 17 September, Challenging the STPs. Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) were part of Simon Stevens's five-year plan for the NHS. All trusts had to create plans showing how they would balance their books: depending on their progress they could be rewarded with funds, or sanctioned with fines. However without adequate budgetary funding, the only way for a trust to balance its books was to cut staff or to cut services.
The conference had called for the reinstatement of a publicly-funded, publicly-owned, publicly-provided health service, and a broad campaign that would work with political parties and build on Health Campaigns Together's STP Watch initiative. Hilary believed this was something the CPA should support.
The meeting agreed with Richard's suggestion that the CPA should issue a statement in support.
Martin announced that Cambridge Stand Up to Racism would hold a public meeting at 7.30 p.m. on Monday 24 October. Cambridge Keep Our NHS Public was changing the venue for its meetings to the River Lane Centre, on the last Wednesday of the month.
Hilary announced that a national demonstration against cuts to libraries, museums, and galleries would be held in London on Saturday 5 November.
The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 2 November, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre.