“I’m telling you, I’m telling you, and you’ll listen, you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and people’s services.”
Neil Kinnock, Leader of the Labour Party, Labour Conference speech 1985
Around the country Labour councillors are having to deal with the consequences of the government’s devastating approach to local government funding and the broader reality of the dire global economy. In my home borough I’ve seen Labour councillors agonise over the funding cuts they are having to make, trying absolutely everything they can to protect budgets that support the most vulnerable whilst also trying to do more than simply tread water during a crisis.
This is is an incredibly difficult task and that it’s not what our local representatives wanted to do when they went into politics should go without saying. But finding the most fair and progressive way to live within the means of a hugely reduced budget, while looking outside the state for additional investment and for new ways of delivering services and regeneration, is the only moral course of action open to Labour councils. We know that they’re not implementing cuts because they want to, but because they have to, and where they are trying to find ways of making improvements at the same time, as my own Labour council is trying to do, is something I feel very grateful for.
Campaigns have started of course to protect local services, which is completely understandable and right. Part of our democratic process is the freedom of local people to lobby, persuade, campaign and get a fair hearing from our elected representatives. By all means, make your case, defend the services you hold dear, negotiate to get the best outcome for employees and residents. Be a constructive part of an extremely challenging process. But please don’t use it simply as an opportunity to condemn those with enough integrity to take decisions, and stand by them once made.
Wherever Labour is running councils we have Liberal Democrat and even Conservative councillors campaigning against cuts locally while nationally being part of the government forcing them to happen. We also know well the fantasy politics of the SWP and their ilk – impossible demands, faux outrage, accusations of betrayal. Labour needs to stand up to all of these elements and call them out on their political game playing.
But we also need to stand up to those within Labour who do exactly the same. Those who argue that Labour councils should pursue a traditionally Militant ‘no cuts’ route, defy the financial boundaries from central government and hang the consequences. Those typically self proclaimed ‘hard left’ Labour activists who work with the Opposition to destabilise and undermine Labour administrations. Labour activists who devote as much (if not more) of their time to fighting against Labour councils as they do to fighting for a Labour government. We need to let these people know that they’re deeply unrepresentative of the Labour membership, that their antics betray those who most need Labour councils and a Labour government, and that they are very, very wrong.
Throughout the country Labour councillors are facing up to the incredibly difficult job of taking responsibility for the reality, not the fantasy, of the financial situation we face. They’re not playing games, they’re not scoring points, they’re doing their very best to protect communities in these very dark times, and they should know that the vast majority of Labour members understand, and are grateful to them for doing so.