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Michael Lavalette: A reflection on ten years in Preston’s political arena

Posted on - 10th February, 2014 - 10:00am | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Politics, Preston City Centre
Michael Lavalette makes an impassioned speech

Michael Lavalette makes an impassioned speech

After ten years as a Preston city councillor I have had to resign due to family illness.

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It’s a sad moment and there is much I will miss, but sometimes family must come first.

I was first elected in May 2003 in the Preston Town Centre ward. It was a complete shock – to me as much as Labour I think.

I stood as a socialist anti-war candidate, in one of Labour’s safest seats, just as Blair was launching the Iraq war

I had never wanted to be a councillor and never thought I had a chance of winning. I stood because I felt we had to have an alternative voice at the election. But I hadn’t given much thought to what happen after polling day!

Once elected I had to think about what I was going to do.

I didn’t have a big party machine behind me. But I knew people expected me to represent them appropriately. I thought I had a role to play in three areas. Over the years I have tried to link these three areas together.

First local people needed proper representation. I set up surgeries – but very few people came! So I decided to go to where people met. I’m an atheist but I started attending local churches and Mosques because that’s where constituents were.

I could meet them and pick up their case-work. I also gave a commitment that if people wanted to see me I would come to their house, sit and listen to their problems and see what I could do.

Over the years I’ve met hundreds of people this way and got to know lots of them well. I think I’ve also met and made lots of friends amongst the local population.

Where necessary I set up local campaigns – for example against damp housing conditions, road congestion and vermin infestations.

Second, as an active socialist I saw it as my duty to speak out and campaign against privatisation and cuts taking place anywhere in Preston and against racism, inequality and environmental destruction.

So I set up campaigns against Fulwood academy and against the multinational Netcare getting access to the NHS locally. I was vociferous against the Tithebarn development, I campaigned for the Bus Station, I advocated in favour of trams and light railways in Preston and campaigned against Fracking. Whenever possible I submitted motions to council on all these issues.

Finally I tried to use my position to give voice to a range of protest movements in the city. When the EDL came to the city I organised the counter protests. I organised marches, meetings and transport to Edinburgh for the Make Poverty History events. I organised local demonstrations of thousands against Israel’s war on Lebanon and its attacks on Gaza.

My years in the council have taken much time, I’ve met fantastic people and I’ve enjoyed most of it! I was asked to include my 7 best memories. Some of my best would include:

• Just failing in the attempt to twin Preston with Nablus in the West Bank in November 2003

• The subsequent trip to Palestine when I led a ‘Preston delegation’ of 34 across the West Bank (September 2004).

• The (close to) 5000 people who marched through Preston in January 2009 against Israel’s attack on Gaza.

• The night (in 2011) when I stood with residents on Manchester Road, blocking the traffic for 45 minutes, in protest over congestion, speeding, and buses being driven in ways that endangered pedestrians.

• The day (in 2007) I organised for people (including players from PNE) to encircle Preston Town Hall as part of the campaign to Make Poverty History.

• The day of action I organised after the South Asian Tsunami. In the run up to the event I spoke to the crowd at Deepdale at half-time at one of PNE’s matches – not bad for a Glaswegian Celtic supporter!.

• All the times that I have represented people at benefit tribunals, school appeals, and other forum – especially those where we won!

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