Politics | In praise of Ross Longhurst: 72-year-old imprisoned for anti-austerity action
New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Saturday, March 22, 2014 21:25 - 5 Comments
On Wednesday 12th March, Ross Longhurst was locked up for 28 days for wilful refusal to pay council tax as a Nottingham resident. His position is one of defiance against the austerity policies brought in both by the coalition government and local Labour councils – the latter overtly complicit in pushing an agenda that burdens the most vulnerable with the consequences of perpetual economic ‘crisis’. A significant portion of Ross’s anger at this state of affairs stems from the reality that the very young and very old are both under attack by cuts to public services. As Ross writes, ‘If only a handful of councils stood up for the people by refusing to make cuts then this would create a national political crisis which the Government could not ignore’.
Local media coverage has already noted the fact that the state’s legal arm has imprisoned a man of 72 years of age, something which many have found an abhorrent and appalling act of malice considering the ‘offence’ is non-payment of the relatively minor £1,028 fine. Ross wishes to stand in solidarity with the 20,000 other local people currently harassed for being unable to pay their council tax due to the apparent crime of poverty.
Poignantly, the coverage of Ross’s case went out on local TV media precisely at the time he was arriving at Nottingham prison. As a result, he received a warm welcome of applause from many prisoners – and, indeed, prison guards. He has spoken to friends and loved ones about how much solidarity he received upon entering prison, and of the continued well-wishing and handshakes during his detention so far.
These inspiring stories, as well as letter-writing efforts by sympathisers and supportive demonstrations in Nottingham’s Market Square, stand in stark contrast to the talking-head propaganda emanating from Graham Chapman of Labour city council who brazenly told the press and public ‘We sympathise with Mr Longhurst’s protest against Government cuts to council funding which we also oppose as being disproportionate and unfair’. Such ‘opposition’ is clearly preserved for newspaper statements and not actual, meaningful, put-yourself-on-the-line-to-stand-up-for-something action.
The insincerity of Chapman’s crocodile tears is nothing less than adding further insult to injury, as Labour thrust through widespread cuts, which fail the very people they were elected to serve. Chapman went on to say, ‘We have a legal duty to collect [council tax] and so had no option but to bring this case to court.’ Of course, Chapman says nothing of a government’s ethical obligations to ensure people do not require food banks or that school budgets aren’t slashed or women’s shelters are not shut down. He speaks, as always, in legal or economic terms far removed from the needs of the people, with not a glimmer of principle about him.
The harsh truth is that the majority of Supporting People services have been cut, in Nottingham and elsewhere. These services offer accommodation and support that address a wide variety of needs; including homelessness, mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, ESOL courses, learning disabilities, HIV, welfare and older people. As a result of closures to accommodation-based services, Nottingham City does not have sufficient bed spaces for women fleeing domestic violence and rough sleeping is visibly on the increase. Of course, cuts to Supporting People services are a false economy: these closures increase demand on the State sector through hospital admissions, police intervention and custodial sentences, child protection and safeguarding.
Ross Longhurst asserts that ‘Petitions, meetings and demonstrations have not stopped the Labour cutters. It is time for direct action.’ His message is a defiant one: ‘Don’t pay Council Tax … starve councils of money thus creating a political crisis’ and ‘Disrupt council proceedings. Go into their budget-cutting meetings and stop them voting in cuts. Also picket them at their homes. Make them feel unwanted.’
People like Ross Longhurst are taking principled stances against systems which are literally killing the most vulnerable of us and causing all but the most wealthy to suffer.
As artist Guante asks:
‘If we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, then what the fuck are we waiting for?’
Ross is being held at Nottingham Prison and we appeal to those wishing to extend a message of solidarity to him to do so at the address below:
HM Prison Nottingham
112 Perry Rd
The author was assisted by Sam D and Ben C.