I am thrilled with the Labour Party’s massive gains in the national election, and I am quitting the party. Why? Because the Sheffield Labour Party’s destruction of Sheffield’s trees, in the service of a multinational corporation, represents everything that the national Labour Party stands against.
As a Labour Party member, I am being bombarded with emails asking me to campaign for a Labour candidate for the local council by-election. At the very same time, signs have been put up saying that three of the healthy mature trees on my tiny cul-de-sac are about to be felled. I cannot campaign for the local candidate—because I must be ready at any time to stand under my street’s trees and prevent their felling. Nor would I want to: it is the local Labour Party that I need to fight to save the trees.
Why are the trees on my street being felled? It’s a good question. Officially, it’s because of damage to kerbs and pavements. But the council’s own panel of hand-picked experts ruled that all the trees on the street should be saved. The council over-ruled this. This wasn’t because it was what the residents wanted, either: 100% of residents who responded to the council’s survey opposed felling our street’s trees. And we’re not unique: situations like this are re-played throughout the city. Indeed, the Council has ignored the recommendations of its own expert panels 87.3% of the time, in every case against the clearly expressed wishes of residents.
The real reason seems to be simply that Amey, a private company with a contract to maintain streets and trees, has decided to fell them. The Sheffield council is deeply committed to doing whatever this private company asks them to do, a total abdication of their democratic role as representatives of the public interest. This Labour council is putting the wishes of a profit-seeking entity ahead of both the considered views of experts and the clearly expressed wishes of residents.
Just how far will the Labour council go to serve the wishes of Amey? A few months ago, they carried out a pre-dawn raid, rousing pensioners from their beds and forcing them to move cars so trees could be felled. They then arrested 14 people for standing under trees, using laws Thatcher introduced to crush unions. Every single one of these cases was dropped, and the South Yorkshire Police have now said they will not arrest any more peaceful tree protestors. (As a result, bouncers have been hired to attend fellings, with instructions to photograph protestors.) In recent weeks, Amey have hired in extra fellers who circle the city looking for chances to rush in and quickly fell trees—reportedly without erecting safety barriers first. Orders have been posted banning pedestrians, and others have received notice that works will be done between 7PM and 7AM. Yes, they seem to be planning to fell trees with heavy machinery in the middle of the night and to prevent people from walking down the street. All in the service of a private company, with a contract that is still being kept secret.
The mature trees of Sheffield are not just a remarkably beautiful feature of this wonderful city that I have been proud, for over 20 years, to call my home. They are also essential for combatting pollution and flooding, and promoting public health. They are a vital resource for all the people of Sheffield, nurtured over many decades, and they cannot be adequately replaced by the small twig-like sprouts that are being put in their place.
The Labour Party should stand for the needs of the people, not of private corporations—and nationally, it now does. But locally, they seem determined to trample the needs of the people, and destroy some of the most important resources of our city—all in the service of a multinational corporation.
So now, after I raise a glass in heartfelt celebration for the successes of a national Labour Party that I am genuinely proud to be a member of, I’m off to rip up my membership card. It shouldn’t be like this.
(To join the fight for Sheffield’s trees go here.)