Demo shrugs off downpour as anti-austerity campaigners converge on Hitchin’s Market Place, and give Starbucks a hard time

Martin Burke addresses the demo

Martin Burke addresses the demo - Credit: Archant

A sudden summer downpour couldn’t dampen the commitment of supporters who gathered in Hitchin’s Market Place on Sunday afternoon under an ‘End Austerity Now’ banner.

The headline speaker for the event, organised by The People’s Assembly movement, was Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, who called for reform of the electoral system so that intentions at the ballot box were more properly reflected in the make-up of government. She told the crowd that with a properly representative system her party would now have 20 MPs rather than a single representative, and be in a position to do much more.

Other speakers included local Assembly representatives, Green Party and Labour Party politicans, campaigners against countywide bus cuts, students and trades union members.

Councillor Frank Radcliffe, who leads the Labour group on North Herts District Council, drew loud cheers when he pointed out the town branch of the Starbucks coffee chain across the square and railed against its tax arrangements.

Multi-national firms like Starbucks were failing to pay their share of the cost of infrastructure which was vital to their success, he said, and that needed to be addressed.

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He also pointed to the £11,000 annual cost of utilities at the town’s Westmill Community Centre - money he said was going to fat cat businessmen when it could be put to much better use helping the local community - and the reluctance of council contractors to sign up to pay a living wage.

Hitchin & Harpenden MP Peter Lilley came under fire for his paid work for a gas and oil firm. “Perhaps he could be making a bigger contribution to Westmill, which he uses for surgeries,” said Mr Radcliffe.

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“Public sector workers will be restricted to a one per cent pay rise for years, but the cost of living is still going up. Clearly we are not all in it together.”

In a final ralling cry, he urged his audience: “Austerity doesn’t work, you do - join The People’s Assembly.”

Opening the event, Martin Burke said: “None of us created this crisis. We know who caused it - bankers and the casino economy. But we are told that we have to pay the price.

“The welfare safety net, the NHS and our schools are under threat but the majority of the country did not vote for this.”

He said that the turnout for the demo, even in a prosperous town like Hitchin, showed that the movement against austerity was gathering pace and people were beginning to realise that there was an alternative.

Find out more about the People’s Assembly here

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