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Glasgow Against the Bedroom Tax - Tommy Sheridan Enters the Fray

Posted: 16/03/2013 11:40

He limped into Wednesday's 'bedroom tax' protest meeting with his head slightly bowed, the dark grey suits - and with them the sheen of authority - of the Holyrood days worn away to nothing by one court case too many.

Following his political defenestration at the hands of his own followers, News International and the British Justice System, many thought he had retreated to a dark cave to lick his wounds, and would be too blinded by the light of public scrutiny ever to re-emerge at the political forefront.

But this was no wounded animal; the man who entered the Glasgow UNISON branch on Wednesday night was the battle-scarred veteran of every Glasgow protest campaign for twenty-five years, a man more than ready to throw himself unto the breach once more .

Whether for redemption, power or the sheer thrill of the fight, Tommy Sheridan had returned to front line politics.

As I mentioned last time Glasgow's 'bedroom tax' campaign has been conducted with the most laudable of intentions and in the highest spirits possible for people facing defenestration far more real than what Sheridan received from the SSP.

It has contributed to nationwide pressure which has seen concessions made to foster parents and parents of children in the military, as well as a lifeline thrown to parents of severely disabled children.

However the movement has hit a couple of speed bumps which, at the very least, called for a new paint job.

Glasgow City Council still refuse to grant the protesters permission to use George Square for the March 30th protest, despite persistent lobbying from organisers Alan Wylie, Chris Wylie, Jaki Calanthe and Jim Buntin.

All four men make a convincing case for the regeneration work which will close the square being postponed due to popular demand but they admit to having "been given the runaround" by Council Officials.

Lobbying just happened to be a speciality of Tommy Sheridan's back in his days as an activist, and later as a councillor. Allied with the fact that he once more poked his head above the media parapet to, in the words of one Twitter user "kick the sh*t" out of Jacob Rees-Mogg in a Radio 2 debate on the 'bedroom tax', it was logical for the campaigners to approach him for guidance. However it is not clear whether they anticipated the tumultuous impact Sheridan can have on such an organisation.

He hobbled up to the plinth, chose his seat carefully and sat patiently, if not rapt with attention, as three nervous campaigners took the floor in turn. They each made valuable arguments about the campaign, though these risked being lost in the sheer terror of having to address a room filled with around 100 people. Two - Alan Wylie and Gary Burns of the Govan Law Centre - actually apologised for not being more eloquent due to nerves, while Nicola Crawford - from the Shawlands campaign - was also visibly nervous.

They would be wrong to think that their lack of polish detracted at all from the important arguments they made: all three see evictions over the horizon; Crawford emphasised the danger to evictees as Housing Associations are set to stop homeless referrals; Wylie pointed out that each eviction will cost taxpayers in the region of £6,000 and Burns pointing out that the lack of single-berth housing means that young people will struggle to find accommodation when looking to move away from home.

Then up stepped Tommy Sheridan, jaw jutting pugnaciously, a battle-hardy gleam in his eye: and out came the big guns.

Possibly the most gifted public speaker in British politics, Sheridan allies a Tarantino-esque knack for dramatic timing and wild gestures reminiscent of everyone's favourite Italian presidential candidate, Beppe Grillo, with the uncanny knack of being able to continuously crescendo for hours at a time.

Such are his skills as a performer that they concealed the rather workmanlike content of the monologue from the ecstatic crowd.

His twenty-minute speech was interrupted a dozen times for applause and met with such rapture that nobody batted an eyelid when, at the end of the meeting, following a unanimous vote to establish a West of Scotland Federation against the 'bedroom tax', Sheridan was elected interim secretary.

Unsurprisingly given his tireless efforts thus far, Alan Wylie was elected interim chairman of the Federation, a move which has been met with approval. Sheridan's appointment, however, has not been as universally popular, with one Facebook commentator saying: "He's an opportunist, a liar and a misogynist and should be nowhere near this campaign."

The other campaigners are pondering this feedback and now face a tricky dilemma as to whether Sheridan's obvious talents as a lobbyist and publicity generator outweigh the lack of trust some still have in the content of his character.

 

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