Interview with Southampton rebel councillors

Save Oaklands Swimming Pool – Lobby Council Meeting, 1pm, Wednesday 12 September, Civic Centre, Southampton

organised by Save Oaklands Pool and supported by Southampton UNISON & UNITE

‘We weren’t elected to make cuts’

Two Southampton Labour Party councillors for Coxford ward, Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, have been investigated by the party whips. Their crime? Voting against cuts and defending their local Oaklands swimming pool. The Socialist Party gives its full support to Keith and Don. We will also support any other Labour councillor who is prepared to join them while continuing to participate in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, an electoral alliance that stands candidates against all the cuts.
The councillors spoke to Southampton Socialist Party member Gavin Marsh.

Keith Morrell:

Don and I are convinced we are doing the right thing. We knew as soon as we were elected that it was only a matter of time before the Labour administration would be forced to make drastic cuts or privatise services.
I was named cabinet member for efficiency and improvement but resigned soon after. It became obvious that however much we tried to improve savings, it wasn’t going to bridge the gap and I wasn’t prepared to promote an agenda of cuts and privatisation.
Within a month of us taking power in the city, Labour had announced a mini-budget which proposed the closing of Oaklands swimming pool with an estimated saving of £250,000 a year.
We refused to accept this and voted against it in the councilchamber.

Don Thomas:

I thought that voting against the cuts was going to be the hardest decision I would ever made politically, but it turned out to be the easiest. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulder. When it came to the vote I didn’t raise my hand I raised a clenched fist to the comrades in the visitors gallery! The public response has been incredible, I’ve got to stop going to the local shop, it’s only five minutes away but it takes me a couple of hours because everyone wants to chat and thank me for what I am doing.

Keith Morrell:

Some in the party have joked that we are the socialistconscience within its ranks. There is a lot of anger among our constituents that we are being punished for standing up on behalf of the working class people who voted for us.
It is an unacceptable decision to rob a working class district of its one and only leisure facility and we have been propelled into the front line because it happened in our ward.
All Labour councillors have to choose between dismantling local government or putting up a fight, inevitably against the coalition government.
The role of the local authority unions, especially Unite and Unison, is very important. They must be prepared to work with us and against the cuts. Unite nationally have passed a resolution in support of our position.
The trade unions must be prepared to take up the fight for all workers.
Workers are now more closely watching the Labour council and it raises the question of whether the Labour Party works in their interest? I think that it should.
We hear our colleagues say ‘I didn’t become a councillor to make cuts but…’. Well, we didn’t become Labour councillors to make cuts and we won’t!
Simon Letts, cabinet member for resources, said after the election that ‘officers always tend to exaggerate the situation’. Two to three weeks later he was describing the situation facing the Labour council as ‘perilous’.
This is the backdrop to the discussions around next year’s budget. They are already talking about establishing a Local Authority Trading Company (LATCO) effectively transferring adult social care to the private sector, who can reduce pay and conditions or services without the council directly getting the blame. I call this ‘passing the buck’.

Don Thomas:

There is a line you draw in the sand and we will not budge.

Messages of support can be sent to:

councillor.k.morrell@southampton.gov.uk
councillor.d.thomas@southampton.gov.uk


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https://shopstewards.net/2022/01/nssn-566-workers-start-2022-on-the-picket-line/

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#Solidarity

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