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One of the reasons why Labour lost seats in the North and Midlands in the general election was because Labour councils have carried out ten years of Tory government cuts. People's experience of Labour council cuts gave them no confidence that a Labour government would actually carry out its anti-austerity manifesto.
Now those same Labour council leaders are lining up to blame Jeremy Corbyn and the manifesto for the election defeat (see 'Cuts councillors are the real problem'). Julie Dore, Sheffield council leader, who has presided over £480 million cuts, said "I do not want a Corbyn-continuity candidate". 30 out of 33 council leaders have said that the party would be "finished" in their areas if Rebecca Long-Bailey became leader.
So it's welcome that Long-Bailey, writing for Labour List, stated "As Labour leader, I will work with Labour councillors to fight the Tories every step of the way" and "hold the government to account and resist their attacks on our communities." But, unfortunately, she doesn't say how that can be done.
She says "I want to use community organising and campaigning in partnership with our local councillors." To achieve what? To "get more Labour councillors elected." But to do what? Get even more Labour councillors to just carry out the Tory cuts for the next five years?
Because for all Boris Johnson's populist rhetoric about 'levelling up' and the 'end of austerity' it's clear that the savage cuts in government funding of local authorities will continue. In fact, it's going to get worse.
The Tories' (un) Fair Funding review proposes that a further £320 million a year could be shifted out of councils in England's most deprived areas while Tory-controlled shire councils will gain £300 million. Former Labour constituencies that the Tories won in the so-called 'Red Wall' such as Workington, Sedgefield, Stoke, Redcar, West Bromwich, Bishop Auckland, Grimsby and Leigh all stand to lose millions on top of the funding already slashed by the Tories.
This 'unfairness' has even caused Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, who has presided over £436 million cuts over the last ten years, to finally say "enough is enough". He says, "I will refuse to make any more cuts to our budget" (apart from the £30 million already planned for the 2020-21 financial year!). But when questioned whether he would be "doing a Derek Hatton" meaning defying the government like the Militant-led Liverpool council did in the 1980s, he said he wouldn't.
But the 1980s Liverpool road, as advocated by the Socialist Party, of Labour councils setting no-cuts budgets while building a mass campaign among council workers and local communities to fight for 'fair funding', is the only way that the Tory cuts can be defeated.
The policies that the Socialist Party has campaigned for, using reserves and borrowing powers to legally 'balance' a no-cuts budget, are now being used by Labour councils - not to fight the cuts and demand more money from the Tory government but to balance budgets that actually carry out cuts!
In this year's annual State of Local Government Finance report, 57% of council leaders said they will be using reserves, 75% will be increasing their borrowing.
If Rebecca Long-Bailey is serious about leading councils' resistance to Tory cuts, she must herald the achievements of the 1983-87 Liverpool council - 2,000 new jobs, 5,000 new council houses, six new nurseries, five new sports centres and three new parks, to name just some of them.
She must instruct Labour councils to adopt a fighting strategy of building mass support for a needs-based budget and demanding the government pays back the millions it has robbed from local councils - the strategy that won those gains in Liverpool
Otherwise, all her talk will be just that, while Blairite council leaders continue to carry out the Tories' cuts.
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Article dated 12 February 2020
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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