It was just over a year ago when Salford Mayor Ian Stewart, his Assistant Mayor Gena Merrett and their spin doctor, Matt Finnegan, began accusing those who were trying to hold them up to account of being `extremists', `Trotskyists' [whatever they are] and `liars'.
The tirade began just six months after Stewart became Mayor, accusing the Salford Star of "lies" after an article appeared concerning Salford Council changing its staff's terms and conditions (see here).
Next up, it was Mayoral spin doctor Matt Finnegan's turn, responding to those who questioned his £66,000 equivalent salary (at the time) with the statement "I expect to be attacked by Tories and Trotskyists".
When the Salford Star dared to run an article challenging rent rises in the city, Assistant Mayor Gena Merrett accused this fiercely independent publication of being a "key supporter of an extreme left-wing political party that aims to 'smash The Labour Council and the Labour Party'" and producing articles that were "far from accurate".
Meanwhile, parents of disabled children called the Mayor's comments "insulting" and "disgusting" when he accused them of being a "rent-a-crowd" during their campaign to try and save The Grange short term respite centre.
And when the Salford Star suggested some helpful tips to cut prestige projects rather than cut services for vulnerable people, the Mayor took to Twitter to brand the ideas "political extremism", and the Star "evil". He became a national laughing stock after the jibe appeared on Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs page…
Indeed, Ian Stewart and Gena Merrett also won some prestigious Mary Burns Awards for their efforts. Stewart picked up the Twit On Twitter Award (see here) and the Rent-A-Crowd of the Year Award (see here); while Merrett won the Ashley Jensen Award for Exposing Political Extremism - named after a scene from the ace All Stars film, where Jensen's character is trying to save a youth club from Council cuts, while the corrupt councillor coughs `Communist' under his breath (see here).
It's a classic move, used by dictators, governments and politicians of all descriptions to try and discredit anyone who, basically, they don't like…label them `extremists' and hopefully gullible people will swallow it, leaving you clear to do what you want to them without too much fuss.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) employed the tactic at Barton Moss, accusing peaceful protectors of being there to "disrupt and intimidate the local community and to antagonise police", while its riot police chased grannies holding `local resident' placards down Barton Moss Road (see here)
The PR spin for GMP backfired spectacularly when anyone could watch the videos, read the reports or check the photos on alternative websites to judge for themselves what was really going on.
The tactic is about intimidation and attempts to isolate the targets. In Salford, Mayor Ian Stewart's labelling of everyone who dares to challenge him `extremists' appears to be his only answer – and it's becoming a nasty joke…
THE DESTRUCTION OF DEMOCRACY IN SALFORD AND OUR EXTREMIST MAYOR
A couple of weeks ago, Steve North, the democratically elected branch secretary of Salford City UNISON which represents Council staff, invited Labour Party councillors and the Mayor to a briefing at the Civic Centre to "raise concerns… in a clear and professional way…over the future of a number of services that support vulnerable people in Salford".
Steve North was horrified when he received the Mayor's reply, frothing that "your stated aim is to destroy our national democratic system and more specifically Salford Labour Party" and that it would be "inappropriate for any Labour Party members to engage with you personally or those of like mind to yourself…"
Those who wanted to meet with Labour councillors and the Mayor alongside the UNISON rep were those who directly faced cuts in their jobs and the services they provide to vulnerable people in the city – drivers in adult passenger transport, community care workers, mobile wardens, a debt adviser and Care On Call staff.
They hardly wished to "destroy our national democratic system" – indeed they were trying to enhance it by interacting with councillors.
The Mayor's ludicrous comments were, apparently, based on an alleged conversation he had with Steve North after he had been elected…
"You stated" wrote Stewart "My name is Steve North, I am a revolutionary whose aim in life is to smash the Government, smash the Labour Party and smash Labour in Salford"…allegations that North says are "blatant lies and defamatory comments".
He replied to the Mayor…
"Yesterday evening members of Salford City Council staff employed in Adult Passenger Transport, Welfare Rights and Debt Advice, Mental Health Floating Support and Care on Call took the time - outside of work hours - to come to the Civic Centre in the hope of being able to speak with you and your Labour Group colleagues about the proposed cuts their services are facing.
"These are people who are largely unfamiliar with any manner of public speaking and who were incredibly nervous. They chose to come because they wanted to do their best to protect the services they deliver for vulnerable people. They expected that councillors would have the decency to turn up and listen to them, but they were wrong. When only three councillors bothered to turn up, they were left dumbfounded and confused.
"They could not believe why their views were not seen as important. I'm fair game Mr Stewart, they aren't and you should be ashamed of yourself for using them and the services they work in as pawns."
"While I am fair game - and while I expect criticism and disagreement - I don't expect lies and slander. Your email contains at least three blatant lies about me that have been circulated to members of my own union and other unions.
"Firstly, your assertion that I stated to you, `My name is Steve North, I am a revolutionary whose aim in life is to smash the Government, smash the Labour Party and smash Labour in Salford' is an outright lie. I have never said any such thing and while I disagree with the Labour Party about its approach to cuts, I respect that most of Salford's politicians are Labour Party members and that many people in Salford choose to vote Labour.
"Secondly, you assert that my `stated aim' is to `destroy our national democratic system'. This is nothing short of libellous. I am a democratically elected officer. I believe in democracy. To state otherwise is another outright lie and an egregious personal attack.
"Thirdly, you assert that I have - on behalf of UNISON and the other recognised trade unions - rejected the principles of the Council's Employment Standards Charter on a number of occasions. This I have never done. The document has never even been shared with me. To allege that I have rejected this document on behalf of my own members is bad enough, but to assert that I have done so on behalf of other unions is incredible."
Steve North concluded…
"I demand that you offer proof of these allegations or that you apologise by 5pm on Friday 18th April. If you do neither I will be seeking legal advice as an elected trade union officer, an employee of Salford City Council and a human being who has the right not to be libelled.
"I further demand that you apologise to the people below for instructing your Labour Group colleagues not to meet with us yesterday evening. Hopefully doing so will restore their faith in their employer's willingness to listen to them and to take on board the things they know about caring for the most vulnerable…"
Those community and care workers who were branded `extremists' by Stewart should be aware that the tactic is nothing new – the Mayor, his clique and his spin doctors have been doing it almost since he got into power…with his first targets UNISON reps and the Salford Star, closely followed by parents of disabled children and now Council staff standing up for vulnerable people.
To us it appears that the only true `extremist' in Salford is Mayor Ian Stewart –
call it what you want…`extreme reactions' …`extremely bad PR advice'…`extreme idiocy'…
Mayor Ian Stewart is fast becoming a kind of comedy dictator…
* Salford Star editor and `extremist', Stephen Kingston, will be giving a joint talk with Granville Williams, founder member of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign on the Freedom of the Press, at Friends Meeting House in Manchester tonight. His talk will include the attitude of the Mayor and Salford Council towards independent media. For further details see here…
* The Salford Star is happy to declare an interest in the above article as the Mary Burns community group, parent company of the Star, produces the Salford City UNISON magazine `Stand Up for Salford', as well as the Bolton UNISON magazine `Battling for Bolton'. Mary Burns also receives donations from a wide variety of trade unions, community groups and individuals.