What on earth is going on with Sheffield’s Labour council?

by Lucy Ashton

Sheffield’s ruling Labour councillors took complete leave of their senses last week in a scandal which made national news headlines.

For 18 months, residents in leafy Ecclesall have been fighting council plans to chop down eight mature trees which have stood there for generations and border one of the most well-loved parks in the city.

The trees are part of a beautiful street scene and there’s no doubting the environmental benefits which they bring to a city which is congested and has suffered severe flooding in the past.

But the crux of this issue is that Sheffield Council entered into a contract with private provider Amey to resurface the city’s streets and roads. Amey promptly decided to fell swathes of mature, healthy trees across the city to cut maintenance costs.

Despite an independent tree panel – set up by the council – ruling five of these eight trees should remain, councillors decided they’d had enough of listening to voters.

So they cut down the trees in the middle of the night. Twenty-two police officers were dispatched to protect Amey workmen as they sliced in the darkness. Unbelievably, police knocked residents up at 4.45am and told them to move their cars.

Two women in their 70s who tried to stand and protect the trees were arrested and held in custody until teatime. Within hours, the eight glorious trees were chippings.

Unsurprisingly, residents, the Lib Dems and the media were incredulous and outraged. Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose Sheffield Hallam constituency covers the area, was quick to condemn the move as “inexcusable” and “underhand”.

His criticism was echoed by Lib Dem Peer and local Lib Dem Councillor Lord Paul Scriven, who had previously raised the issue in Parliament.

Meanwhile, Labour supporters were left stunned and disgusted. Several took to twitter to say they would not vote Labour again, despite being party members.

The whole debacle is simply beyond belief. At what point did someone think this was a reasonable idea? And when they suggested this madness, why did no one else intervene? How could elected councillors and officers sit around a table and agree this was justified? What precedent does this set?

When was cutting down trees, sending police to wake people in the night and arresting elderly people socialism? The council has only just recovered from searing criticism for closing libraries across the city. How can chopping down trees, which neighbour a public park and offer huge environmental benefits, be for the greater good of the community?

No one has been more vocal about the police’s behaviour at Orgreave than Labour yet here they are, using the same heavy-handed tactics.

I agree with the Labour Party members now questioning their loyalty. These councillors will bully campaigners, send the police in the night and see pensioners arrested rather than question financial details with their own private contractors.

Lucy Ashton is a journalist and former regional newspaper Political Editor

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8 Responses to “What on earth is going on with Sheffield’s Labour council?”

  1. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Well come on Lucy Ashton, your a journalist, ask the question, why? I would start with the Labour Leader of Sheffield Council.
    And there must be someone reading this that knows the answer. Quickly now, before the next article on Labour Uncut is “What on earth is going on with Sheffield’s electorate that they would vote for a Labour council?

  2. Alf says:

    Sheffield is a Tory-lite Labour council these days. It’s not socialist. Time they got behind Jeremy!

  3. Stigson says:

    I’m genuinely struggling to see the controversy here, as someone who knows the area in question pretty well.

  4. Saul McIntyre says:

    What really sticks in the throat is a Labour Council…”A Labour Council” scouring through Tory legislation in order to find obscure anti trade union laws brought in in the 90’s in order to arrest people for peaceful protest. If this is allowed to happen it will be the thin end of the wedge.

    We all remember the man who heckled Jack Straw being manhandled and arrested under anti-terrorism laws, now they use anti union laws to arrest pensioners.

  5. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I passed comment on this article yesterday but I see the editor has chose not to publish it. It makes me wonder what Labour Uncut and as a consequence The Labour Party are afraid of. Could it be critiicism?

  6. Durham County Council’s Teaching Assistants will strike again this week, on Wednesday 23rd and Thursday 24th November. Theirs is the most important industrial dispute in Britain today. When was the last time that two thousand people in this country went on strike, and that twice in three weeks? They face being sacked at Christmas, and reappointed on a 23 per cent pay cut. Meanwhile, the Council has written off its loan to Durham County Cricket Club, which provides the most powerful Councillors and Officers with a private box.

    Durham County Council was the first local authority of which Labour ever won Overall Control. That has never been lost, in more than 100 years. The Labour Group on that authority is the largest in local government. But that Council is now the Mike Ashley of the public sector, and the twenty-first century version of Margaret Thatcher’s National Coal Board. This coming May, it can be, and it should be, taken to No Overall Control.

    Very large numbers of Labour Councillors have absented themselves from the votes on this issue. But enough of them have attended to ensure that the Teaching Assistants have been betrayed. The Councillors, all of them Labour, who have thus voted ought all to lose their seats to whoever was best placed to remove them, very preferably activists in the Teaching Assistants’ remarkable campaign. The Liberal Democrats and the Independents have been, and remain, stalwart supporters of the Teaching Assistants. Therefore, they deserve to be re-elected. That leaves only the Labour absentees, plus a mere four Conservatives who all sit for two adjacent wards.

    Whoever the new Leader and Deputy Leader of Durham County Council were to be, they must not be members of the Labour Party. The Teaching Assistants’ flag, which is now ubiquitous in County Durham, must fly from County Hall every day for the following four years, at least.

    This victory will rank alongside the election of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London in 2000, the election of George Galloway (a strong supporter of the Durham Teaching Assistants) as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, Galloway’s election as MP for Bradford West in 2012, the election of Jeremy Corbyn (another strong supporter of the Durham Teaching Assistants) as Leader of the Labour Party in 2015, Corbyn’s re-election as Leader of the Labour Party in 2016, and his election as Prime Minister in 2020.

    David Lindsay, 2017 council candidate and 2020 parliamentary candidate, Lanchester, County Durham; @davidaslindsay
    George Galloway, former Member of Parliament for Glasgow Hillhead (1987-1997), Glasgow Kelvin (1997-2005), Bethnal Green and Bow (2005-2010), Bradford West (2012-2015); @georgegalloway
    James Draper, writer, broadcaster and activist, Lanchester, County Durham
    John Mooney, writer, broadcaster and activist, Lurgan, County Armagh; @FitzjamesHorse
    Adam Young, writer, broadcaster and activist, Burnopfield, County Durham; @JustALocalSerf

  7. Dave Roberts says:

    Start to look at corruption in terms of payments from the company to councillors or council employees. There can’t be any other answer.

  8. Tony says:

    It sounds to me like the Labour council has got too close to commercial lobbyists.

    “A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain” by
    Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell’s shows how Southwark Labour Council fell under the influence of lobbyists for luxury apartments.

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