Saturday, 26 February 2011

The fight has just begun

So as we see councils across the country passing their budgets for the year 2011/2012 it wont be long now untill the first real cuts start to bite in early April. With a national budget set to unviel even more cuts and probably tax rises for fuel and other such taxable items they can get their hands on we are left wondering about the battle ahead.

So far the cuts are happening so widespread and scattered its hard to know where to focus all of your energies. I do think the anti cuts movement do need to step it up a bit over the next few months as the cuts begin to deepen as local communities begin to suffer at the hands of this tory lead government of ours.

A few key dates will be on the 5th of March myself and other comrades will be getting out in protest for the first official NSSN anti cuts body's big scale protest. This will be a joint protest with comrades on teh same day taking their voices and placards down to cardiff where the lib dems are meeting. The one i will be attending in London will be the national conference of labour councillors. To highlight their hypocrisy of putting through cuts in their areas whilst saying they are against the cuts.

We need to make them realise they are just as much to blame for the cuts as the tories and lib dems. Ok maybe they are not the governing party of the country of course but when cuts are being passed down to a local level it is then their choice if they do the tories dirty work for them or not.

I was at the budget council meeting for the stevenage borough council this week which is a labour run council and was saddened to hear that they all voted through the cuts resoundingly. Very sad i thought to myself as i came away from the meeting.

We put up a good if small protest before the setting of the budget but it came to nothing as the cuts agenda rolls on.

Back in the 80's there were labour councils out there prepared to fight back against Margret Tatcher and say no to her cuts. They were almost successful. They even gained 60 million pounds of concessions from teh cuts through a well organised mass campaign and for them days a 60 million addition to your budget was a lot and something to feel very proud of.

This came about due to the role of militant labour in the city who along with Terry fielding and Derek Hatton took a stand against teh government. Along with Lambeth council who a few interesting stories of councillors being expelled from teh labour group there made a admirable stand.

The main reason these campaign eventually broke down was due to a mass purge from the labour right including the then leader neil Kinnock. The isolation of these brave councils, who were not realy brave if you think about it they were just doing right by their residents and people who voted them in.

Which i'm afraid is what we expect of all of our elected representitives sadly a left wing labour council as Dave nellist rightly said at the last NSSN conference is as rare as a poor banker in this day and age.

If one labour council stood up and said they are not doing the tories dirty work and refuse to put through their cuts it will send a message out there that other councils may follow in inspiration. Its all it might take to spark a wave of resistance to teh cuts which will send shockwaves back to Eric Pickles and the tory party. We should not be scared of big fat Eric Pickes coming in and setting our budgets for us as if in between refusing to vote the cuts through a mass campaign linking local anti cuts groups, unions, public sector staff and local charities and workers can rally around and create a mass resistance to Eric Pickes and his nasty tories. I really do think if you do not even attempt to fight back you have no chance of winning. Even if you fail you have still made a stand and stood by your principles.

People talk to me saying you cant set a illegal budget when setting your council budget. But a illegal budget is only when you havent set a budget at all. A needs budget is not illegal at all and is something i'm hugely in favour of.

An needs budget is where you set out which key essential services you cannot loose and what your local community and area needs and cant do without and spend its reserves and borrow in order to save jobs and services as the campaign builds

Councils are able to borrow at a good rate and can do this to bridge the gap in cut in funding. Quite often councils have large pool of funds they can draw on in the emergency/reserve budget that can keep local councils going if they do get stuck.

I found this piece which i have refered back to plenty of times to people in debates over council budget and cuts debates i've engaged in. This is a piece from the socialist a newspaper produced by the socialist party on The 7th of October 2010 and which i feel highlights things brilliantly and explains why councillors should fight the cuts.

IN THE mid-1980s Liverpool Labour council, under the political influence of the Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) and the pressure of a mass working class movement, successfully led a campaign to secure extra resources for the city's urban renewal programme from a hostile Tory government intent on cutting funding.

Subsequently, in an act of political revenge, 47 Liverpool Labour councillors were undemocratically removed from office and surcharged thousands of pounds. Every penny of the surcharges was raised from the labour movement in a magnificent fund-raising campaign.

If any council today showed a milligram of the courage and conviction of the 47 Liverpool councillors we would be living in a better place. Unfortunately New Labour councillors are raising the spectre of surcharge as an excuse for not fighting coalition cuts, but instead for passing them on.

I have done a quick question and answer guide of council law for New Labour councillors worried that the twin terminator toffs - Cameron and Clegg - will come and batter them.

If I don't vote for these cuts and annoy the government I will be surcharged and lose my home?
Oh no you won't! The power of surcharge was identified as wrong by the Nolan Commission and abolished as part of the 2000 Local Government Act. The only possible remnant of this system is if a councillor personally benefits from any financial losses incurred by a council.

But if I go against the cuts I could be barred from office.
If you do not "have regard" to financial advice given by your council's chief finance officer and fail to explain the reasons for not going along with his or her advice then, according to their statutory duty, you could be referred to the standards board for breach of your council's code of conduct which could bar you from office for a period.

But it would not be easy for a finance officer to do this if, like Liverpool, you took a stand as part of a mass campaign to defend your services and communities. Remember it is the local people who put you where you are, not unelected finance officers.

Margaret Thatcher's vicious Tory regime only moved to surcharge the Liverpool councillors after the 1984-85 miners' strike ended and Liverpool council was left isolated by the Labour leadership. If the twenty other Labour councils that had pledged to defy the Tory government had not crumbled at the first hurdle, the government would not have been able to surcharge the Liverpool councillors. On the contrary, the government would have been swept from office.

But the government will just take over and send in commissioners to run things.
Despite the threat, it did not happen in Liverpool. Instead the Labour Party, under the spineless leadership of Neil Kinnock did Thatcher's dirty work for her in witch-hunting the district party. Recently, the only notable time when commissioners were sent in was in Doncaster following a media storm about the running of social services.

For a weak coalition government to try this against a council fighting to preserve services, and especially one with local workers mobilised in support, would be an entirely different matter.

Naturally all this would depend on mobilising support but tens of thousands supported the councillors in Liverpool on mass demonstrations. This organised fightback actually won extra cash for services.

The next Labour councillor who tries to back away from saving local services should recognise that by voting for massive cuts they will in effect be voting to abolish themselves. After all, if the services go, what is the point of having these surplus-to-requirement back bench councillors anyway?


Local democracy
Just how responsive to local people was the Militant-influenced Liverpool city council? London Evening Standard journalist Simon Jenkins recently wrote:

"The most distinctive feature of the militant Left's rule of Liverpool in the Eighties was its impact on urban renewal. Responding to the local public, the council smashed most of the hated towers to the ground and left neighbourhood groups to plan their replacements. The result was no more decks, stairwells and broken lifts set in windy parks, as dictated by professional architects. Instead people decided to revert to terrace houses, like those taken from them in the Sixties. It was an object lesson in democracy."

A far cry from today's councils!

So as the cuts austerity project rolls on by the tories and attacks fall on the ordinary good people of this country this is just where the fight begins.

Lastly i do hope you can join me on the protest for an alternative on the 26th of March in central London where myself and hundreds if not thousands will be marching against the government and telling them there is another way.

Lets keep the fight going to preserve our public services before it is too late!!

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