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Politics

Hull Red Labour Says, “Time to Organise and Fight Back Against Austerity”

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The 2015 election result does at least give us clarity. The Labour Party is finished in any meaningful way as a vehicle to promote the needs of working people, the 99% of us who do not own the means of creating wealth and are completely reliant on decisions made by those with the power over whom we have no control.

The destruction of the Labour Party gathered pace in the 1980’s and was effectively sealed by the elevation of the Blair/ Brown axis, (facilitated by Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Phillip Gould) to the Party leadership.

In 1997 Blair inherited a somewhat benign economic scenario from John Major and was able to offer a few more scraps from the capitalist table, assuaging some minor clamours for social justice. The minimum wage and advances in health and education spending were laudable. But they were predicated on so called “supply side” economics which says that any concessions to workers can only be paid for from the proceeds of economic growth. Crucially little effort went in to shifting the balance of wealth (and therefore power) from those in control of the means of production. This meant that when the global financial meltdown hit in 2008 the wealth holders were insulated. Instead the workers were the ones squeezed with cuts and trashed wages.

Let’s have a look to the past and see what we can learn for our own times.

In the early 1980’s the Thatcher Government realised that the best way to neuter popular resistance to her brutal anti working class Government policies was to try and destroy the Labour Party as an effective force in local government.

Instead of the public being allowed to elect Labour Councils who were committed to targeted raising of the rates in a way which protected services without making the poor bear the brunt of rises, the Tory Government slashed central Government support and legislated to reject local democratic decisions by restricting the amount councils could collect; so called “Rate Capping”.

The Tories targeted Labour held councils by introducing a race to the bottom. They argued that Authorities such as poverty stricken Liverpool should spend per capita at the same level as areas in the UK of relative wealth such as Dorset. They deliberately ignored deprivation indicators and spun the lie that somehow rich areas were subsidising their poorer neighbours. Classic divide and rule tactics. They portrayed the people of cities such as Liverpool and indeed Hull, as spongers enjoying an easy life whilst people in work sweated and paid tax.

These are exactly the same arguments we hear parroted ad nauseum at the Tory Conference year after year and aped by the current Labour leadership. Caroline Flint, arch Blairite candidate for Deputy Leader told the media in the wake of the election defeat that the Party, needs to start attacking benefits scroungers as much as bankers if it wants to regain power”. Quite.

Many Labour Councils found themselves in the firing line for cuts as Tory Environment Secretary Patrick Jenkin drew up the Local Government settlement for 1984/5. The reason that Liverpool became a cause celebre was that the Labour Councillors there refused to lie down and die whilst their communities were wrecked by cuts.

The Tories punished Liverpool heavily in comparison to other cities. At this time in election after election, the people had voted for a Council that invested in its communities with projects to build and modify social housing. The Council had investigated how to improve morale and reduce crime by building flower gardens and painting estates. The atmosphere of mutual respect created saw incidences of anti social behaviour, vandalism and graffiti fall, and community spirit start to be restored in the wake of the 1981 riots.

There has been a lot written about what unfolded in Liverpool during this mid ‘eighties period, and the victory won by the Council over the Tory Government has been lost amid recriminations about what happened subsequently.

Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, the way that the District Labour Party conducted itself doesn’t reflect well on certain groups.

But that’s the story the Tory dominated media want to tell. They don’t want to tell how Patrick Jenkin made a humiliating retreat and was forced to issue a rebate to the Council. Why? Because the solidarity engendered amongst the community on Merseyside truly terrified Thatcher and her cohorts. If this model of cooperation had been replicated across the country (as it later would be regarding the Poll Tax) then the so-called Iron Lady could have been forced from Office a great deal quicker. Imagine no Miners Strike. No mass de industrialisation and crucially no financial and banking de regulation!

In our era Hull is the new Liverpool. The savage cuts visited upon this City are a crime against the community. You should judge a Government and a Society on how it treats its most vulnerable people. By this measure the UK fails that test.

According to a press statement issued in February 2015 on behalf of the Leader of the Council, “The central government grant for 2015/16 has been reduced by £23m, and means the money Hull City Council receives from government has reduced by £41m over two years and a total of £104m since 2010. This equates to a loss of £278 per head since 2010.” The figure for Guildford in the Tory Surrey heartland is 58p.

This Tory led Government has no mandate for what is unfolding. Just 24% of adults eligible to vote cast their ballots in favour of the Austerity programme being so aggressively pursued by Cameron and his band of desperadoes in London.

The Labour Council in Hull does have a clear mandate from the voters. They didn’t vote Labour for the Party to be mild and complicit in implementing cuts.

They voted Labour precisely because they do not want to see their City cast aside and communities wrecked. But the Labour Group, for whatever reason lacks the stomach for the fight. There is much hand wringing and regret but no intent to action to organise and fight back.

In collaboration with local residents, the trade unions and crucially other Councils, Labour could be in the fore front of an historic and seismic shift of power way from the wealthy forcing a divided and weak Tory Government onto the back foot before they have had a chance to get settled in and fix their targets. They’ve already had to ditch plans to axe the Human Rights Act due to the anger in the country. And the Northern Ireland assembly has already signalled its intent to resist the imposition of Welfare cuts despite dark threats from the Westminster government that it will send in the commissioners.

The UK is the sixth richest nation on the planet so it is absolutely insulting to the intelligence of our residents for politicians and the media to carry on parroting the mantra that there is no money.

There is no money if you carry on letting the Banks gamble £385 billion on the stock market. There is no money if we continue no to tax land which would raise £800 billion in one fell swoop. There is no money if you continue with the policy of not collecting £120 billion a year. There is no money if you decide buying weapons of mass destruction trumps feeding people. There is no money…. Ok I think you get the idea.

If you want to help us fight Austerity join Hull Red Labour.

On 20th June Hull and East Yorkshire People’s Assembly Against Austerity is holding a mass rally and demo in Queens Gardens, Hull City Centre from Mid Day. This is part of a national say of action whose centre piece is a march through London.  Come and make your voice heard.

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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