Monday, January 14, 2013

Councillors against cuts

A very welcome addition to the internet is the online presence of Councillors against cuts (http://councillorsagainstcuts.org/). I urge you to follow that link (indeed if you only have a few moments online that will be a better use of your time than reading the remainder of this post).

The few pioneers who have put their names to this initiative stand in the best and proudest tradition of Labour representatives in local government, a tradition punctuated by Poplar, Clay Cross, Lambeth and Liverpool, by those who remember, with George Lansbury, that it is "better to break the law than to break the poor."

There are many more Labour Councillors whose hearts are with those elected representatives who have pledged not to collude with the Tory destruction of our welfare state. However, most of these do not believe effective resistance is possible, or fear that their reward for similar courage would be to lose the whip. In saluting those Councillors who have stood up in defence of services, I'm not with those who would denounce all those who have (as yet) failed to do so.

The task for those of us who believe that Labour should be a true shield for our communities (rather than - at best - a cushion absorbing a little of the Tory blows raining down on us) is a task of persuasion rather than denunciation.

Our adversaries within Labour are those who believe that local government is essentially a proving ground, and that all real politics is at Westminster. Whether these "comrades" (the inverted commas are for those in the Sainsbury/Progress faction) are trying to "prove" that a local Labour administration can be "prudent", or whether they are more interested in proving that they themselves would make a good MP, they prioritise the administration of the local state over representing the interests of the local working class.

Under a Government which has already - in effect - abolished the National Health Service as we have known it and taken the larger part of secondary education out of local democratic control, it is not possible to administer the local state in a manner which is consistent with the interests of the local working class. This is true with greatest force in those Northern cities (and Inner London Boroughs!) - overwhelmingly Labour controlled - where the cuts are deepest.

Developing a socialist alternative to administering Tory cuts as kindly as possible is not at all a "return to the 80s". In the first place, it was precisely in the 80s that those currently calling the shots in the Labour Party rose to power - and the actual practice of the great majority of the Party in local government was the tragic failure of Kinnock's "dented shield." Secondly, the challenge we face now is so much greater than that faced a generation ago that the comparison simply cannot be made.

"Councillors Against the Cuts" have done us all a great service - by reminding us that there is a political debate to be had about the role of the Labour Party in resisting this Government. The challenge to the leadership of the trade unions is whether we will defend these Councillors and promote their arguments, which are the logical consequence of the policies of the unions and the TUC.

It's time the trade unions fought for our policies in the Party and backed those who support them. Will we?

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