How should I vote in Sheffield if I care about the Trees PFI — or democracy? | Professor Jennifer Saul

Many, many voters in Sheffield are angry about the vast, unaccountable PFI contract between Sheffield City Council and Amey. Their reasons vary. It may be the shocking contractual requirement to fell half the city’s street trees (17,500 trees), even if they are healthy. It may be the memorial trees — like the planned fellingof the Western Road trees, or the sudden felling of the Frecheville ones, all planted in honour of fallen soldiers. It may be the draconian reaction to protest, including Amey’s hiring a private army of securityguards using violence on protestors. Or the expensive deployment of 30police officers at a time in the service of a private company, while knife crime is on the rise and a man is murdered in broad daylight. Or perhaps the nature of the arrests made — an opposition councillor (twice — both efforts failed), a 73 year old fireman (for intimidation — charges dropped), a vicar with a tambourineand several pensioners (swiftly de-arrested), two middle-aged women with plastic instruments (at least one of whom is still awaiting both charges and the return of her toy trumpet). It may be the deception andconcealment so much at odds with democratic accountaibility. Or simply the loss of so many perfectly healthy trees without good reason. But many people are fed up and want change. It’s not always obvious, though, how to vote to get that change. This brief article aims to offer some suggestions.

Part 1: Whatever you do, don’t vote Labour. (I write this, with sadness, as a current supporter of the national Labour Party, and — due to the trees — a former party member.)

Here is the first thing to know. Labour claims, over and over, that its victory in last year’s Nether Edge by-election showed that people want the felling programme, and all that is being done to support it (including massive police deployments and efforts to jail peaceful protestors). Let that sink in. That alone should give you pause before voting Labour.

But you need to know more. You need to know both how that election came to happen and why Labour won the narrow victory it did. That election happened because our council has what it calls a “Strong Leader” model. (Why yes, it does sound like a euphemism.) Nether Edge Labour Councillor Nasima Akther abstained from a vote on the trees rather than voting the way that the Strong Leader wanted her to. As a result, she was suspended, and then shortly after stepped down.

Labour won for two reasons. First, its opposition was split between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. It was genuinely unclear from the party literature who to vote for if you cared about the trees (in fact the issue was most prominent in the Liberal Democrat literature). Second, Jim Steinke (the winning candidate) appeared to genuinely care about getting to a solution that would work for all parties to the tree dispute. Some Labour-supporting people who care about trees believed him. Their belief has been rewarded by the Labour Party claim that any vote for Steinke was a vote in support of the council’s tree felling programme. (And a massive crackdown on peaceful protest rather than any progress on negotiation.)

Now that it’s election time, Labour candidates are making similar claims again. But anyone who opposes the contract and the council’s behavior needs to know that however lovely a Labour candidate seems:

(1) The “Strong Leader” model means that they are unable to actually make any difference. If they try, they will be suspended.

(2) A vote for Labour is interpreted (and touted) as a vote for felling, and for all the anti-democratic actions taken in support of felling.

So, if you’re not voting Labour, who should you vote for?

Part 2: Vote tactically.

It is extremely hard to get a non-Labour candidate elected in Sheffield. It’s even harder in a multi-party system. The only way to send a message is to elect a non-Labour candidate, and the only way to do that is to vote tactically.

Fortunately, there’s a new initiative to help us do that. It’s Our City is a non-party-political community group dedicated to restoring democracy in Sheffield, who have done a lot of research that we can draw on. They have selected six winnable wards, and chosen candidates who signed up to their five excellent pledges (one of which is to work to end the PFI contract). The upshot is clear for six wards:

Broomhill and Sharrow Vale: Kaltum Rivers (Green)

City: Martin Phipps (Green)

Crookes and Crosspool: Mohammed Mahroof (Liberal Democrats)

Mosborough: Gail Smith (Liberal Democrats)

Nether Edge and Sharrow: Alison Teal (Green)

Walkley: Bernard Little (Green)

But there are other wards as well with candidates very much worth supporting, like Paul Turpin (Green) in Gleadless Valley.

One way to find out which parties have the best chance at winning is to look at the histories of the various wards. Here’s a page that tells you, by ward, how the last council elections went in 2016.

Part 3: Keep working for the trees and for democracy, even after the election.

Change does not come easily, especially under the “Strong Leader” model. Stay involved — write letters, sign petitions, go to council meetings, protest, and talk to your friends and neighbours about the need for change. The trees contract has helped to reveal the deeply unaccountable way that our city is run, but this is about so much more than trees: it’s about putting the repressive power of the police in the service of a multinational corporation.

As Yanis Varoufakis said when he was in Sheffield last week, “You need to start somewhere. You start with your local council. You save your trees. Then you take over 10 Downing Street and then you influence the world.”

Original article here:

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Posted in Blog, Healthy Felling, News
One comment on “How should I vote in Sheffield if I care about the Trees PFI — or democracy? | Professor Jennifer Saul
  1. Abby says:

    The Tory-led Coalition Government (Tory & Lib Dem) signed off the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to finance the Streets Ahead initiative to renew Sheffield’s roads, pavements and street lights (which included the tree replacement programme) – and wouldn’t have allowed the work through any other funding method. PFIs are problematic because they restrict the Council’s capacity to be flexible in terms of carrying out different alternative engineering solutions or phasing the work differently. So maybe if you would usually vote Labour but are looking for an alternative this time, your best choice is Green.


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