Article published: Thursday, April 14th 2011
One man has been arrested following angry anti-cuts protests against Business Secretary Vince Cable during the cabinet minister’s visit to Manchester to address local businesses earlier this afternoon.
Around 30 demonstrators rallied in front of the M19 bar in Levenshulme, with some attempting to enter the building to challenge the Liberal Democrat MP about coalition government cuts to public services.
Police blocked protestors from entering the invite-only meeting and arrested one man, mental health charity worker Joseph Kissolo Sonko, on a charge of breach of the peace. Kissolo Sonko had been attempting to gain access to the building to speak to the cabinet minister about funding cuts to mental health advice projects for young people. His organisation, the Levenshulme based Young Adult Advice and Support Project is facing major cuts in its budget due to the withdrawal of council funding.
His colleague Debbie Grew was at the protest and told MULE, “We’re already seeing unprecedented levels of poverty amongst some of our clients, they’re already facing cuts to housing allowance, they’re already having more difficulties when they’re attending employment support allowance medicals.”
Protestors spoke of their sense of betrayal by the Liberal Democrat councillors representing them in Levenshulme for their role in supporting the coalition government.
Kate Hickman, a campaigner against the closure of Levenshulme Sure Start, said the Liberal Democrats “seem to have gone back on everything they ever said.”
Another protestor, Dick Brown, said, “I don’t support what the Labour Party are doing, I think they should have set a deficit budget and refused to implement any cuts, but the root cause of the problem lies with the government.”
Recent Liberal Democrat election campaign material has portrayed the party as representing local anti-cuts campaigners against ‘Labour cuts’ being carried out by the city council, particularly in the case of the Sure Start protests and the campaign to save Levenshulme baths.
Having it both ways?
The protestors were angered by these claims. One demonstrator, Audrey, said, “what they’re trying to do is distance themselves from the national party, saying ‘oh no locally we oppose the cuts, but we’re still part of the Lib Dems’, and I think if they support this community and if they care about Levenshulme, they should just resign from the Lib Dems and stand as independents and we’d probably support them … nobody is going to vote for them again.”
She continued: “They’re trying to claim the victory [of Levenshulme baths campaign] as their own. They came to one meeting … to have the audacity to claim this as their own, that’s what a lot of residents are angry about, and hopefully they’ll show it at the polls.”
Hickman agreed, saying, “I’ve been to a lot of the baths events and the Sure Start events, and I’ve not really seen them at any of them, and I’ve not heard any examples of them being positively involved in any of the anti cuts work that has been going on. I’m not convinced at all.”
The event underlines increasing pressure on the junior coalition partner in the run-up to the local elections next month. Nationally, Lib Dem support has declined from 23 per cent of voters at the last general election to under 10 per cent of the public according to opinion polling by YouGov and the party is standing 400 fewer candidates than the last comparable local elections in 2007.
Manchester Lib Dem opposition leader Councillor Simon Ashley is rumoured to be in danger of losing his Gorton seat and former Liverpool City Council Leader Warren Bradley, currently head of the opposition Lib Dem group, urged Nick Clegg to withdraw from the coalition government earlier this week.
On social issues the coalition partners are keen to stress their differences, with Vince Cable saying this morning that David Cameron “risked inflaming extremism” following a speech by the Conservative Prime Minister asserting that immigration damages social cohesion. Economically the parties are less distinct. Cable, former chief economist for Shell in the 1990s, called on Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce last week to push the government to scrap business regulations.
Last Tuesday, Clegg continued this trend by announcing the first £450 million round of the Regional Growth Fund. Despite criticism that the Fund’s national £1.4 billion three-year budget is minute in comparison with the £1 billion spend of the scrapped North West Development Agency over the same period, Clegg nevertheless praised the policy, claiming the money would “help create and safeguard jobs in some of the communities worst hit by the economic downturn.”
Andrew Bowman and Richard Goulding
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