Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/760/16477
Suspended for fighting the cuts
Warrington Labour rebel councillor speaks to the Socialist
Kevin Bennett, Warrington Labour rebel councillor , photo Adam Hemsley
Warrington's 'rebel' Labour councillor Kevin Bennett has been indefinitely suspended by the Labour group after he voted against cuts proposed by the ruling Labour council.
A 70-strong lobby of the suspension meeting showed the support generated for Kevin by his stand and for the newly-formed Warrington Against the Cuts campaign in which Kevin is playing a leading part.
Clearly elements in the Labour group didn't enjoy being lobbied, peacefully if vocally, as they called the police twice during the 90-minute lobby.
Kevin was interviewed the following day by Hugh Caffrey for the Socialist.
HC: What happened last night?
KB: A delegation from Unite came down to lobby in support of me, together with others. We spoke to the group, and following that Terry Burns [Unite regional political officer] and I went up to the meeting.
We went into what we felt was an aggressive atmosphere in the Labour group room, the leader of the Labour group was very agitated and not happy with the supporters outside shouting their support.
At one point, some of the supporters actually managed to get into the building. The leader of the Labour group asked Terry Burns to go and try and sort it out and Terry had come back and asked me, because the supporters said: 'Unless Kevin says, we're not going anywhere!' Because the meeting wouldn't start until they left the building, then the supporters went outside and continued demonstrating their support.
Obviously the meeting was staged, they read out the allegations and on this occasion they actually allowed me to finish what I was saying.
Then the Labour group asked me a number of questions, some of them quite aggressively, and I kept referring to my statement.
My statement made clear my loyal track record in the Labour Party and my trade union Unite, my attempts to constructively raise my concerns about the budget within the due process of Labour Party rules, and how those attempts were, to my dismay, frustrated and blocked.
My statement also made clear the years of unpleasant treatment, disdain and intimidation which I have received from elements of the Labour group.
No action was taken by the whips against those who attacked me verbally and in writing.
After that, the chair then said, we'll move to the actions. The first vote was: Does action need to be taken against me, or should it be a warning? And one of the councillors did put her hand up and say, 'I think he should only be warned because it's his first offence,' and that did get seconded.
But it fell, we were overwhelmingly defeated on that. Then there was the whips' recommendation, which was for me to be suspended indefinitely, which was overwhelmingly passed.
Once they told me I was indefinitely suspended, and I could apply after six months to rejoin the Labour group, we went outside to the supporters who were still there.
Despite the freezing cold, they'd stayed there and cheered when I came out, shouting 'it's a disgrace!' that I'd been suspended.
As various councillors were leaving, supporters were shouting 'Shame on you', some of the councillors were smiling but some looked a bit more sheepish.
I would like to thank all who supported me, and especially thanks to Unite the Union.
HC: So what are the underlying reasons why this has happened?
KB: The real reason for this is since 2010 there's been incidents of bullying and intimidation, leading up to my frustration with not having a voice on the Labour group.
The cuts are hitting my ward badly, I'm getting calls and emails from people asking me to help them but I feel my hands are tied.
I can't influence the Labour administration to even listen to any of the alternatives I've put forward to help support the most vulnerable at this devastating time thanks to an ideologically-driven Tory government.
Warrington borough council was putting forward £13.9 million of budget cuts and raising council tax, but upping its reserves by millions.
My alternative would have been to use part of the reserves rather than increase the council tax, and borrow money to safeguard jobs and services, to give us time to fight back against the government at this time.
HC: What are you going to do now?
KB: I will be appealing against the decision because I feel we need to fight it all the way and to hopefully influence other Labour councillors to resist these cuts.
We launched Warrington Against the Cuts with a protest against the bedroom tax which was well received by the people of Warrington who enthusiastically signed our petition. People going past beeped their car horns in support.
I want to take forward the Warrington Against the Cuts group, and I'm looking to reinforce this with Unite Community branches to help focus people in my ward to come together and unite against the cuts.
It's interesting that the Labour leadership have come out and asked councillors of all parties to vote against the bedroom tax. This is just the start I hope.
What you can do
- Pass a resolution of support in your union branch, especially if you're in Unite, and send a copy to Kevin
- Send Kevin a message of support on email@example.com
- If you're in Warrington - come to the launch of Warrington Against the Cuts! Supported by Kevin Bennett and Warrington Trades Union Council. Wednesday 10 April, 7pm Warrington Railway Club by Warrington Central station.
- Join the campaign on Facebook: www.facebook.com/WarringtonAgainstTheCuts
In The Socialist 10 April 2013:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
The bedroom tax
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party review