Build on growing anti-cuts mood
Militant opponents of the Con-Dem cuts are few and far between. Peter Manson takes a looks around the country
The recovery of the Labour vote, witnessed on May 5, was hardly surprising. Labour won the biggest share of the vote in the English council elections and gained control of 26 local authorities.
Of course, it was primarily in the towns and cities, particularly in the north, where the working class’s opposition to the coalition government’s austerity drive is starting to be felt, and this is reflected in increased support for its traditional party. The same process was seen in the elections to the Welsh assembly, where Labour was just one seat short of an overall majority, although in Scotland this opposition has for the moment resulted in a turn to the Scottish National Party.
It goes without saying that the hundreds of new Labour councillors are mainly on the right of the party. The influx of new members has not yet resulted in any discernible loosening of the right’s grip. Nevertheless, there are signs that the anti-cuts mood is beginning to be reflected both in the noises coming from the Labour establishment and in the emergence of more leftwing candidates.
Perhaps the most obvious example is a certain Keir Morrison, who made the news on election day by wearing a T-shirt with the slogan, “A generation of trade unionists will dance on Thatcher’s grave”, much to the later regret of Labour leader Ed Miliband. That was a sentiment that millions of older workers will approve of and, far from being punished for his ‘extremism’, comrade Morrison, together with a number of other left-inclined candidates, were returned in Ashfield in Nottinghamshire. Their local website describes Labour as a “party that cares about the people, putting people’s needs before profit and greed”. By contrast the “Con-Dems ... put profit before people: ie, selling off care homes for the elderly, cutting back on police and fire crews, chopping billions out of the NHS budget and opening it up to privatisation ... How do they sleep at night?” Ashfield was one council where Labour won control on May 5.
Another was Calderdale in West Yorkshire. There successful candidate Dave Young stated before polling day: “... if elected I will fight to save our public services from the relentless attacks of Cameron and Clegg. The economic situation we are facing, thanks to the policies of this Con-Dem government, is one of real hardship and anxiety, as thousands of jobs disappear and major cuts to frontline services are implemented right across the board.”
Other Labour candidates made similar comments, although clearly such statements will not necessarily translate into a refusal to implement the cuts. For example, in Blackpool, where the Tories were swept out of office last week in a big swing to Labour, the new leader of the council, Simon Blackburn, has built up a leftwing reputation of late, along with a number of his fellow councillors.
However, last year, when he was asked in an interview about how he would deal with the cuts if elected, he replied: “Government (local or national) is about making choices. These choices will become more difficult over the next few years, but if the council and the government bear in mind the needs of the people, when making these choices, they won’t go far wrong.” Not exactly inspiring. Earlier that year, when asked by the BBC about the £7.2 million Tory budget reductions in Blackpool in 2010-11, and the possibility of redundancies, he responded: “There is no need at the present time to do that.” However, “In future years I do not doubt that we will need to make difficult and sometimes painful decisions.”
Evidently we must be on our guard.
On the other hand, the like of Elaine Smith MSP should be encouraged in their apparent firm commitment to oppose the cuts. Bucking the trend in Scotland, she was re-elected with an increased share of the poll in Coatbridge and Chryston.
Before the election she wrote on her website: “The Tory cuts are a vicious attack on ordinary working people. They will hurt all of us, the poorest and most vulnerable most of all. They are based on ideology, not on need - the only sensible way to cut the deficit is to put people back to work. I am proud to support the People’s Charter which offers an alternative to cuts and I urge other MSPs and those who seek to be MSPs to sign up.”
On March 3, comrade Smith, who is actually vice-convenor of the Communist Party of Britain-inspired People’s Charter, had proposed a motion in the Scottish parliament in support of the Scottish TUC’s There is a Better Way campaign. She said:
“Cuts are not inevitable or necessary. Britain had a higher deficit in 1945, when the welfare state was introduced. The cuts agenda is simply an excuse to undermine the very fabric of that welfare state .... The deficit, which can be paid off over many years, is due to the recession and the greed of bankers. It is not the fault of public services or public sector workers, so why should they pay with wage freezes?”
Revealingly, Jim Mather, the Scottish National Party’s outgoing minister for enterprise, said during the Holyrood debate: “The Scottish government has long recognised the convergence of interests and is committed to working closely with the STUC.” He even went so far as to say: “We are starting to see people in other countries beginning to question how the modern capitalist system works. We must nurture that approach in Scotland.”
Perhaps comments like these demonstrate why the SNP nationalists are viewed by many north of the border as a progressive, leftwing force. But he went on to remind MSPs: “We have always argued that the spending cuts are too far, too fast.”
Unfortunately that is still the dominant sentiment within the Labour Party too. We need to do all we can to encourage the minority of Labour representatives who have demonstrated their opposition to all cuts.