Saturday 7 January 2017

WANTED: Councils to take the lead in campaigning against cruel cuts to local government

Just over a year ago Labour leaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell issued their instruction to Labour councillors that in the face of cuts to government funding of local authorities that they should set legal budgets - in effect implement cuts.   This was accompanied by talk of leading a mass movement of councillors against austerity and the cuts.    At the same time many independent activists and some from smaller left parties, including the Greens, had joined Labour or Momentum seeing it as the only way to oppose austerity.

The campaign never materialised but the 'legal budget' edict disarmed critics of Labour council cuts. The impact of cuts can be clearly seen in terms of  closure of  youth provision, closure of libraries, the increase in pot-holed roads in many city areas as well as the crisis in social care and the out-sourcing and privatisation of services.  Many activists who would have been in the forefront of campaigns are now involved in the debilitating  internal Labour and Momentum struggles.

At the time a Green Left colleague wrote LINK
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.
Michael Calderbank, of Brent Central Labour Party and a Momentum supporter responded:
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.
Soon Brent Labour will be selecting candidates to stand in the 2018 local election and the candidate's stance on cuts will be a test for those who joined Labour in the Corbyn. One current anti-Corbyn councillor has already announced that he will not stand again and will move out of Brent. Those elected will have been left a legacy of cuts to be implemented in their first year:

Source Brent Budget Scrutiny Report

Bristol Green Party, in a city facing damaging cuts again this year, yesterday returned to the need for a national campaign LINK:

As January blues begin to kick in and the grim extent of the cuts to Bristol City Council becomes even clearer, Green councillors have responded to the Mayor’s Corporate Strategy consultation 2017-2022  calling for bold opposition and creative alternatives to the downward spiral of austerity. 

Greens are warning that the £92 million cuts forced on the Council by the Tory austerity programme will devastate public services across Bristol. The Greens are calling upon Bristol’s Mayor to take a leading role in opposing national austerity alongside other cities, networks, unions and progressive parties. They have also put forward an alternative vision for local government financing, including calls for a return of unallocated business rates to local government and for Bristol to receive its fair share of infrastructure spending. 

Leader of the Green Councillor Group, Charlie Bolton said:
Further cuts to the council will destroy many of the public services we all rely on. Services for older people, those with disabilities, our young people and children will all be slashed. Local traffic schemes that keep our children safe as they walk to school, well-loved library services and the parks that provide the ‘green lungs’ for our city will all be affected.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. These cruel cuts to our services are a choice that is being made by this Tory Government – to dismantle our public services instead of raising money by closing tax loopholes, reforming our finance system, bringing good growth to our economy or increasing tax for the top 1%. Essential public services are being abandoned, yet Government remains committed to the soaring costs of replacing Trident, building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point and developing the HS2 vanity project.  

Molly Scott Cato, MEP, Green Party Economics Spokesperson and Green Parliamentary Candidate for Bristol West said:
We know austerity is a downward spiral. As you cut the state you reduce job quality and tax revenue, leading to less money available for investment, which in turn cuts the state still further. It’s time to say loud and clear that austerity has failed and that we value our public services and believe they should be properly funded. 
Tony Dyer, Green Party Local Government Spokesperson and Green Parliamentary candidate for Bristol South added: 

Many of our cities are being disproportionally affected by Tory cuts. Bristol has already suffered three times more cuts than neighbouring authorities. The 10 Core Cities outside London are all run by Labour. They are home to almost 19 million people and contribute more than a quarter of the combined wealth of England, Wales and Scotland – so why aren’t we seeing more vocal opposition to this latest unjust assault on our services? We call upon Bristol’s Mayor to take the leading role in opposing national austerity alongside other cities, networks, unions and progressive parties.
Figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies demonstrate that cuts have not been shared equally across the country LINK  

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