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Perspectives for Britain 2016

Socialist Party documents

Perspectives for Britain 2016

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Council cuts

40. Partly thanks to our intervention one of the central points of discussion among Corbyn supporters currently is the question of Labour councils and whether they have no choice but to implement cuts.

Under the ConDem government, local authority budgets were cut by 40% and they are now being slashed further.

As a result, our position - arguing for needs budgets - is gaining increased acceptance in the face of the evermore brutal cuts being implemented by Labour councils.

It is very significant that the Unite Local Government National Committee agreed unanimously a motion moved by a Socialist Party member, "To call on Labour councils to set legal no cuts budgets, use reserves, capitalise eligible general fund expenditure and borrow prudentially to generate resources so that no Labour council need make cuts.

"These are short term measures to buy time to build a national campaign. That the financial measures must be combined with a national campaign, linking councils, trade unions and communities in a fight against the Tories' austerity programme." Now, the Unison Local Government Service Group Executive has passed a similar motion.

"The growing pressure on trade union leaders to support calls for needs budgets springs from the severity of the cuts being carried out by Labour councils.

"Osborne's strategy is to offload responsibility for making cuts onto local authorities, with Labour councils bearing the brunt.

"The government is cutting back the central government grant to local councils until it ceases to exist, leaving councils purely reliant on what they raise locally.

"This is unwinding the wheel of history back to the days before the heroic Poplar council struggle first won some redistribution of local government funds from richer to poorer areas.

"Already this year, the result is that Labour councils are cutting as never before. The GMB has calculated that, in the first 52 councils that set their 2016-17 budgets 25,165 local authority job losses were taking place this year, of which 22,128 are in Labour-controlled councils (29 councils, 15,611 job losses) or councils with NOC but where Labour is the biggest party leading a minority administration (7 councils, 6,517 jobs).

"Nor will one year of pain be followed by a cessation of the cuts. On the contrary, the government has made it clear that next year's cuts will be just as huge as this year.

41. During his election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn talked in speeches of encouraging Labour councils to unite together to fight Tory cuts.

Since being elected leader, he unfortunately signed a letter to Labour council leaders - along with John McDonnell and shadow local government minister Jon Trickett -which emphasised that, in their view, councils had no choice but to set legal budgets, without referring to the possibility of Labour councils using reserves and prudential borrowing powers to set legal no-cuts budgets.

Whatever the intentions of the letter, it has been used by right-wing council leaders up and down the country to justify wielding the axe to local services and jobs.

Since then, in a scandalous article, John McDonnell has wrongly said that Labour councillors have no choice but to carry out cuts because "what limited room there was to manoeuvre has been taken away from councillors" by the government and that, therefore, he "supported Labour councillors staying in power to minimise the damage the Tories are seeking to inflict on our communities".

42. Despite this serious retreat, there can be some Labour councillors who decide to vote against further cuts because they are emboldened by Corbyn's election and are unable to stomach carrying out further austerity.

Already, there has been the instance of a Haringey Labour councillor being suspended from the Labour group for opposing cuts.

This poses the question of whether Corbyn and McDonnell will respond by defending anti-cuts Labour councillors or by acquiescing to disciplinary action being taken against them.

However, it is clear that the big majority of Labour councillors are a bulwark for the right in the Labour Party who will continue to carry out huge cuts in public spending, and then blame Jeremy Corbyn if they get poor election results!

43. TUSC has an established record of standing in local elections on a clear anti-austerity, anti-cuts platform.

TUSC approaches local Labour council candidates to find out their stance on the cuts, supporting any Labour candidate who opposes cuts but aiming to stand against those who intend to vote for cuts in the council chamber.

Following Corbyn's election, TUSC has agreed to continue to stand candidates against right-wing pro-cuts Labour councillors in order to help build the anti-austerity movement and therefore strengthen Corbyn in the battle against the right.

While this will be the objective consequence of a strong TUSC challenge, there is no question that it will be attacked by some Labour lefts on the grounds that the only way it is possible to support Corbyn is to back all Labour candidates, regardless of which wing of the party they are on.

The Labour vote in the local elections - they will argue - will above all be a referendum on Corbyn. However, it is not true to suggest that Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party will be the only factor workers take into account when deciding how to vote in the local elections.

Another central factor will be the eye-watering cuts that they have faced and are still facing at the hands of Labour councils.

44. Still, a layer of Labour voters can vote for Labour in the local elections because they support Corbyn, putting to the back of their mind that they are putting their cross next to the name of a cutting local councillor.

Others however will remain disillusioned with Labour because of their local experience. Corbyn would only be able to begin to cut across this by calling on Labour councils to refuse to implement any more cuts.

Lying behind the attitude of those who will criticise TUSC for continuing to stand in elections is the strategy of attempting to compromise with the right of the party and 'cling on' until election victory in 2020.

However, not only is compromise with the right - even in the unlikely event that 'clinging on and winning in 2020' strategy was miraculously to work - building into a Corbyn government a Syriza-style capitulation to the demands of capitalism (with the right playing the same role as the ex-PASOK figures in Syriza) - Corbyn would inherit a wasteland if there is no resistance to Tory attacks between now and then.

If Corbyn was to use his position as leader of the opposition to build a movement of resistance to austerity now, it would be possible to create a movement which could halt the cuts and force the Tories out of office.

Of course, strike action should be a central part of that resistance, but it is also necessary to fight the battle against austerity at the ballot box from inside and, where necessary, outside the Labour Party.

Corbyn's failure to lead on this crucial issue makes it even more important that we and TUSC do what we can to offer a clear anti-austerity electoral alternative.

To fail to do so would leave the space free for populist forces - not least the right-wing populists of UKIP - to step in and take advantage of workers' anger at council cuts.

45. As we have already shown by our very successful interventions among Corbyn supporters, our standing in elections to oppose the cuts is understood by many of the more advanced layer of workers who have joined the Labour Party to defend Corbyn's anti-austerity stance.

Of course some will be temporarily swayed by the argument that the way forward is simply to back Labour candidates but will learn, on the basis of their experience of the reality of the Labour Party today, the correctness of our approach.

The most combative workers, however, already understand the necessity of fighting against austerity both inside and outside the Labour Party and can see that at local level we are a central force that is prepared to organise against the council cuts which are devastating lives.

There is no exact comparison with the previous history of the Labour Party but parallels can be drawn with the role played by the CP in the 1920s.

At the same time as the CP was standing candidates independently, there was a campaign inside the Labour Party, the 'National Left Wing Movement', which fought for the right of CP members to be allowed to join Labour.

At its second conference in 1927, fifty four local Labour Party bodies were present, representing around 150,000 Labour Party members.

Similarly today, the best of the Corbynistas support our call for a federal Labour Party, which we could join as an affiliated organisation, and understand that we have a vital role to play as an independent organisation in the struggle against austerity and against the Labour right.

The question of a federal workers' party can be posed in the future, particularly as a result of a challenge to Corbyn's leadership or a right wing split.

Already some of the best layers of Corbyn activists recognise this, as reflected in the approach of many RMT activists.

While some of the leadership of the RMT would undoubtedly rather affiliate to Labour and drop their union's support for TUSC, many RMT activists, even if they have joined the Labour Party as individuals, understand the vital role TUSC can still play and are determined to defend their union's affiliation to it.

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