Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Protesting the Public Bodies Bill today outside Parliament

I've just been to the lunchtime demonstration and rally outside Parliament to protest about the shameful Public Bodies Bill which will amongst other things: give Ministers the power to arbitrarily alter or abolish up to 400 public bodies. Some of these are crucial to our well-being and preservation of our rights such as the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Others deal with our cultural heritage such as the UK Arts Council and the Film Council. Others protect the employment rights of some of the most vulnerable workers in the UK - agricultural workers, through the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. Others, such as the School Teachers' Review Body ensure that teachers receive the same pay throughout the land.

We heard superb speeches by Diane Holland, Assistant General Secretary of Unite and from the PCS. Labour peers Lords Hunt and Knight gave rousing speeches, with Jim Knight saying "the Government is so ideological they're privatising the trees". He ended with a clarion call to unite to "get rid of this bloody Bill." Lord Hunt reminded us that there had been little or no consultation from the Government on this Bill and that some of the vital organisations being swept away, such as Consumer Choice, do work which is of vital importance for our society. He pointed out that the Government's claim that Citizens Advice can take up the slack, is laughable: where he lives in Birmingham, all 6 CABs are being closed.

A QC from Matrix Chambers reminded us of the huge importance of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to our constitutional settlement. It's independence from Government was hard-won and will be lost soon if we are not careful.

The best speech of the afternoon was by Waterloo Road actor Ellie Paskell an activist from the Equity union. She is a natural speaker and full of passion and intelligence. When I spoke to her afterwards, she gently berated me for being a member of the Labour Party. I reminded her that much of what the ConDems are now destroying and which we are protesting about, was only made possible thanks to Labour in Government under Blair. I tried to convince her to join the party...

Here are my snaps of the rally:

Here's Lord Jim Knight.

Here's Lord Hunt:

Here's Ellie Paskell:

And here I am:

I was particularly moved by a speech about the Agricultural Wages Board in which the speaker, Steve (?), told us of the crucial work the Board does in maintaining at least minimum standards for agricultural workers. What is amazing about this Bill is that this aspect of it is opposed even by the farmers themselves, yet still the Government drives it through.

I left with the impression that the union-organised March for the Alternative on 26 March will be a crucial day in opposing the Government's agenda of cuts. Many speakers reminded the crowd that a demonstration of over 1 million is the real Big Society.

I was reminded of the importance of activism and of peaceful campaigning. The importance of solidarity and of meeting people who care about common causes.

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