This is a guest post by Ellie Mae O’Hagan. You can follow her on Twitter here: @MissEllieMae.
I live in Hackney, which is suffering from some of the worst cuts in the country.
Last year I decided I wanted to go to the council’s budget meeting to see the cuts being passed and to show the council that I objected to them. At the time, I’d read stories about bloggers trying to tweet from budget meetings and getting thrown out. It didn’t make me feel very hopeful about our democracy.
At the budget meeting, there were hundreds of people who had turned up to show their opposition to the cuts. They didn’t want the council to pass the budget and validate the Tories’ austerity agenda. Only twenty of us were allowed into the hall. The rest had to wait outside. We watched as the council deliberated a budget we’d had no say in and didn’t want. We raised our voices to complain and the councillors walked out. Then people started saying one of the councillors was sneering about us on Twitter.
It didn’t take long to pass a budget that was going to devastate our communities. One councillor made a platitudinous speech about how terrible the cuts were, but it didn’t mean much after he voted them in anyway. At the end of the day it was all very administrative: the cuts were rubber-stamped, with our representatives shaking hands on them as though they were just numbers on a page.
When the meeting was over the councillors, indignant at the protesters in the public gallery, cheered the budget’s passing. So there you have it: a Labour council cheering on a Tory budget, and all because the people they represent had the temerity not to be happy about it. The phrase ‘all in it together’ has never seemed more relevant.
This year will be different. Hackney Town Hall is my town hall, and I’m taking it back. I’m not going to sit politely and watch that spectacle again. I’m going to do something to make sure the councillors can’t ignore me again. Hackney’s council, and its budget, belong to the people of Hackney. We pay for it, we live there. It’s our community. We’re not going to let other people make the decision for us.
If your town hall is hosting a budget meeting soon, you should do the same. Your council belongs to you; its budget is your money. You wouldn’t let somebody spend your wages without your say, so why let them spend your taxes? We, the people, deserve better than this. We deserve to make decisions about the issues that affect us. And if our councils won’t give us the power to make those decisions, it’s time for us to stand up and take it.
Find out if there’s a council budget protest coming up near you and how to get involved with your local anti-cuts group here: http://www.ukuncut.org/blog/block-the-budgets