Monday, November 29, 2010

Tory cuts - what should Labour do?

On a night on which riot police have had to evict local people from Lewisham Town Hall in Catford, the role of Labour Councils at a time of Tory cuts is moving once more centre-stage.

Labour needs to campaign against the Coalition Government’s cuts and expose the impact upon Council services of their social and economic policies. The Council for which I work is sending both Members and senior officers to give evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees to this effect and are to be commended for doing so.

However, as opposition to the ConDems is increasingly visible on the streets, Labour Councillors, if they cannot bring themselves to put themselves where they belong – in the front rank of the protests – should at least try not to get in the way or oppose the opposition.

Lambeth Leader Steve Reed is right to warn about the deceit of the Coalition parties who will try, wherever they can, to blame Labour Councils for cuts – but is wrong to caricature anti-cuts campaigners as “A couple of supporters of hard-left fringe groups” demanding “a repeat of ‘Red Ted’ Knight’s ruinous illegal budgets of the 1980s.”

Leaving aside the observation that the budgets of the Knight administration up to May 1986 were not “ruinous” and that their only “illegality” was in a failure to set a budget by a certain deadline, the law has – as Steve knows – changed so fundamentally in the past twenty five years that no is – or could – advocate the same tactics today.

It is insufficient to assert goodwill, blame the Tories and trust that a Labour Council can make the cuts less awful (albeit that may be true). Since the interests of local people in areas such as Lambeth (and Lewisham) are best served by either bringing the Coalition Government down or forcing it into a massive “U-turn” we need a political strategy to fight the cuts more than a managerial strategy to implement them.

At a minimum, Labour Councils should surely produce a “needs budget” which shows what we think our communities need their local authority to spend – if only to illustrate the funding shortfall, caused by the Government’s economic policies.

This would enable a meaningful political debate within the Labour Party and the labour movement about what Labour Groups should do, and whether the assumption that it is always better to be in office and never more important to be tribunes of the people is in fact correct.

Trade unionists – like the people who rely upon local services – have no option but to resist the cuts. Labour Councils should be on our side.

1 comment:

Cllr Steve Reed said...

Jon, I respect your views on this. We all share the same objective - removing this Government and opposing their cuts. But we seem to have different tactics. The Council cannot set an illegal budget. It would be ruinous and it would play straight into Tory hands. Ted Knight's tactics failed in the '80s. We are still paying off the debts he ran up - money that would otherwise be going on protecting services. The Tories would love it if we ran up the white flag, said we won't set a budget, so they could send in administrators saying Labour's not up to the job of running a council. What we can do is protect the most vulnerable, make clear and visible our opposition, and campaign for the defeat of this Government through the ballot box. All of that I will do. But above all else those of us opposed to the cuts MUST stand together. Some of your comments were personally deeply offensive. You know we are not Nazi collaborators and to say things like that debases your point. There was a small number of people at Cabinet on Monday intent on causing division for their own political ends. I don't mean the trade unions and nor do I mean the genuine groups of local residents with whom we all sympathise. We must not let such people divide us. You know we cannot set an illegal budget so please stop demanding it for cheap applause. Establishing a needs budget based on funding that the Government should have made available is a different matter and I would be happy to discuss that further. In unity! Steve Reed.