Saturday 19 December 2015

Corbyn statement on council cuts presents problem for local activists

The statement from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell stating that local council have no choice but to implement cuts is going to present a real problem for local activists, long critical of Brent Council’s ‘dented shield’ approach, who have joined the Labour Party and got involved in Brent Momentum. And, 'Yes' the actions of the Green minority council in Brighton presented similar problems for socialists in the Green Party'

From the Guardian article:
The statement from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, published in the Guardian LINK  essentially sets out the 'dented shield' strategy - that Labour councils are better placed to make cuts 'fairer' than those that would result in them being carried out by council offers or the Tory Secretary of State:
In a letter sent jointly with John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and Jon Trickett, the shadow communities secretary, Corbyn points out that councils must set a balanced budget under the 1992 Local Government Act.
The letter says: “If this does not happen, ie if a council fails to set a legal budget, then the council’s section 151 officer is required to issue the council with a notice under section 114 of the Local Government Act 1998. Councillors are then required to take all actions necessary to bring the budget back into balance.”
Failure to set a balanced budget can lead to action against councillors under the code of conduct, a judicial review and, more significantly, intervention by the secretary of state, the joint letter states. It continues: “It would mean either council officers or, worse still, Tory ministers deciding council spending priorities. Their priorities would certainly not meet the needs of the communities which elected us."
This is essentially what Muhammed Butt and Michael Pavey have been arguing as they have made cuts in successive years.

A Green Left colleague commented on the Labour leadership's statement:
No doubt JC & JM feel that they “have no choice” as 95%+ of their councillors support this approach. But it does undermine those trade unionists and campaigners actively arguing for them to stand up to the Tories. It implies there is no choice, when of course there is a choice. Labour has over 100 Councils. If Labour nationally opposed the cuts and organised some or all of its councils to refuse to implement them, there is absolutely no way the Government could send in Commissioners to run them all. It would provoke a huge national debate on the cuts and local democracy, and have the potential to force the Government to back down partly or wholly. As it is, right-wing Labour councillors are tweeting the letter to attack anyone on the Left campaigning against the cuts.

In the end, the problem with the JC letter is that it completely understates the scale of the attack on local government and local democracy. This is not “business as usual”, a few nasty cuts etc.  This is a once in a lifetime, permanent dismantling and shrinkage of the local state, a huge extension of privatisation of local services and an undermining of local democracy itself - there is little point in having locally elected councillors if their job is (from Nicholas Ridley’s famous quote): “to meet once a year to hand out the contracts”.

The only silver lining in the letter is its appeal for councillors to support local campaigners (even if this is clearly contradictory to their councillors supporting cuts budgets!) and to be organising mass campaigns against local government cuts. This gives an opportunity to campaigners to point out that Labour councillors are only doing one half of the message from the JC letter, and not the other.

But it really could have been so much better.
According to the Guardian some Momentum branches have been pushing for a more radical approach:
It is known that Corbyn’s office has discussed various forms of defiance strategy with council leaders, such as setting a needs-based budget. This idea has been raised at some meetings of Momentum, the pressure group set up by Corbyn supporters to retain his support in the wider Labour movement. According to a Socialist party account, some Momentum group meetings are backing illegal budgets, and are planning to call for them early next year.

The account states that a conference is being planned to oppose budget cuts: “Given that we were told that Bristol has the largest Momentum group outside London, with a network already of over 800 names, there is real scope for a conference to be an important milestone in our campaign. It was explicitly agreed within both the Action Hub and the plenary session that part of the campaign against local authority budget cuts should also involve writing to every Labour and Green councillor and candidate, demanding that they refuse to comply with any cuts budgets."
Since the local government cuts began the idea of setting a needs-based budget has been raised, with a softer position being constructing a needs-based budget in parallel with a cuts budget. The former could then become a tool in campaigning for a budget (and thus funding) that really meets local needs whilst at the same time setting a balanced budget that fends of government intervention.

Can any real campaign be built between Councils, some of which like Brent are not exactly stuffued with Corbyn supporters, and labour and trade union movement and the wider community?

After all, Brent Council leader Muhamemd Butt, said that budgets for the next two years will be 'cutting into the muscle, if not the bone, of local services.'


Michael Calderbank said...

Well, yes, I tend to agree with your Green Left colleague. But in order to have dictated terms to local councillors, JC and JMc would have need there to be a mass campaign against local cuts. At long last they are trying to kick the Labour LGA into actually running a political campaign - all too often it's as though Labour councillors have forgotten they are members of a political party and just presented themselves as competent and compassionate administrators, powerless to do better in the circumstances. Frankly it's no good claiming to be an anti-austerity party in opposition whilst going along with it where we're in power.

Anonymous said...

For those despairing of the apparent ability of a sociopathic clique to hi-jack this country and run it into the ground, a little distraction can be found at the Zelo Street blog. Apparently Natalie Rowe, the (ex?)S&M sex worker who spilled the beans (with a photograph) of George Osborne's past recreational and pharmaceutical interests (this is not just ordinary Charlie, this is S&M Charlie)is hinting at past 'business' connections with the man who's been given the job of wrecking the BBC, John Whittingdale OBE MP. Extraordinary isn't it how this stuff is kept out of the papers. The Zelo Street piece will also hold some interest for readers of the Independent who still think 'it is'.
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