It was called sham politics by councillors the night the people of Islington were forcibly removed from the gallery for exercising their right to protest. Police ejected around 60 demonstrators from the public chamber at Islington Town Hall on Thursday, February 17th after councillors abandoned a meeting to approve a 52 million pound spending cuts package amid a barrage of verbal abuse. Protesters shouted at ruling Labour councillors as they prepared to vote through reductions in services – including counselling for rape victims and teenagers leaving care, day centre provision for the elderly, and support for foster parents.
Union members furious over up to 700 job losses bitterly accused council leader Catherine West of betrayal as she began to make her case for implementing the cuts at the same time as blaming the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition for forcing her to do so. Some demonstrators called on the council to pass a no cuts budget even if it meant the Coalition stepping in to take over the borough – in the belief that popular protest would then help topple the Government.
Mayor Mouna Hamitouche adjourned the meeting as noise from the protesters reached crescendo and, after conferring with senior councillors, chief executive John Foster called for the police to clear the gallery. Around 30 police arrived and demonstrators who refused to leave were forcibly ejected – while the councillors retired to a committee room to resume their meeting and pass the cuts package. Council leader Catherine West defended her decision saying she that while she regretted the cuts, she was doing her utmost to defend local services with the councillors’ local knowledge – and had prevented the Coalition stepping in to make cuts without proper regard to local need.
Four Lib Dem councillors walked out in shock and disgust at what happened, stating the people were exercising their legitimate right to protest and they would not take part in a voting process that was open to the public but which was kept closed to the public, stating it was undemocratic. Shirley Franklin, joint chair of Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHOOPS) lambasted Cllr West for claiming to be anti-cuts while implementing them and calling in “heavy handed” police to help her do the job.