The Tories, “have declared class war and Local Government cuts are clear evidence of this.”
The speaker was not Jeremy Corbyn or anyone from the new Labour Left leadership. The date was December 2011 and these words were uttered, to agreement from the room in the KC Stadium Hull by the Rt. Hon Ed Miliband MP, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. I know this because as a nerdy taker of notes at most meetings I attend when not chairing I wrote it down verbatim. We can draw our own conclusions as to why Miliband said this, the fact that the audience was made up of Labour members (the Chair was Alan Johnson) and his subsequent inaction, but the fact is that this issue was identified early in the Coalition era. It has not gone away and in Hull the pace of cuts and privatisation is speeding up with no sign of a meaningful public fight being put up either by the Labour Group or the local MPs.
Fast forward to February 2014. The Royal Mercure Hotel Hull. John McDonnell MP for one of my old stomping grounds, Hayes and Harlington made a 500 mile round trip on a freezing Friday night to address a meeting in support of Hull City Councillors, workers and residents who were not prepared to see a cuts budget, not matter how, “compassionate“. Once again the trusty notebook is referred to. It records John saying as, “Labour Councillors were right not to vote for a cuts budget that hurt working people”. John then called on the meeting to fight, “tooth and nail and by whatever method” to defend their communities.
Labour’s Left stormed to the leadership this month on a programme that defies Austerity and vocalised the hopes of people in cities such as ours up and down the UK who are being taken to the cleaners by politically motivated cuts. According to Deputy Council Leader Darren Hale speaking on local radio last summer Hull has endured cuts of £228 per head whilst the figure in Guildford is just £14. This is proof positive that Miliband was right to identify the Class War element to cuts. The overwhelming burden falls on Labour Councils and areas of deprivation. Overall cuts impact Hull X16 compared to the Home Counties. (25/8 Hilary Benn MP)
Local Government cuts always and without exception hurt working people and those residents with the least opportunity to speak out or fight back. From Adult Services to Meals on Wheels those who need the most are being hurt the most. Then to cap it all private sector vultures such as SERCO being brought in to deal with issues such as Housing Benefit where, incidentally the staff are expected to deal with 42 cases per week (up from 36 which is effectively an extra days work) and if the claimant misses something off by accident, say a phone number or the email address is illegible, then the claim must start from scratch. The company already run the Council’s call centre amidst comparisons to Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone”. Callers are put through to centres around the country as, according to Cllr Hewitt demand from residents, ““is insufficient to justify dedicated staff in Hull“. What a template.
To add to the stress and strain for hard pressed Council employees Union Facility time, which is vital for workers to iron out problems and save the Authority thousands of pounds is now in the firing line with Cllr Webster, calling for a 50% reduction at a time when staff are under unprecedented strain. “We get high levels of sickness absence due to anxiety and stress”, reported a Council Officer. No shit, Sherlock!
What does this mean for Labour’s new Left leaders such as John and Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn? The assumption was a fightback. One way would be for Councils to set a “Needs Budget” (the bare minimum required to maintain services) an “Aspirational Budget” (what they feel morally the City requires to progress) before publishing what the Tories want them to do. Then put these to Public Meetings across the City and using the Labour Local Government Association present a united front of Labour Authorities to the Government. It then becomes Local Government Secretary Greg Clark’s call as to how he wants to proceed in front of the court of popular opinion which is overwhelmingly anti Austerity.
But on Friday John told the Guardian, “The situation the councils are now in is if they don’t set a budget, a council officer will do it for them. There is no choice for them any more.”
If the new Left leadership aren’t prepared to face off the Tories on the frontline, in this case Local Government, then we need serious clarification that it is not “business as usual” with Labour Councillors crying crocodile tears but then implementing cuts and privatisation. This is the acid test for the new people at the top of the Labour Party. Solidarity in our communities is the basis from which we can fight the Tories together and deliver a radical and democratic socialist government acting for everyone and not a narrow tranche of society. Whether it is a Labour one is up to them.