A couple of weeks ago, I managed to cause quite a Twitterstorm by suggesting that Labour councils should not, in fact, be implementing this governments cutbacks. The usual arguments were thrown about; it was ‘unrealistic‘ and ‘irresponsible‘. Amazingly, I didn’t even mention the words ‘illegal‘ and ‘budget‘ but it was still assumed a priori that’s what I meant. Personally, I would be prepared to go that far in what I advocated but can understand some of the objections and problems with this; however, it’s quite clear to me things do not have to go that far. The response shows a depressing lack of imagination and willing to ‘push the envelope‘ in some comrades thinking.
Let’s set the scene first. Labour is expected to do well in the next set of council elections in May 2011. I suggest this will be especially the case in north where the Liberal Democrats are staring at their own annihilation as a force in local government. Obviously, the councils where Labour is likely to do best and find itself controlling are those that are going to be hardest hit. It also has to be remembered that, outside of the council chamber, we have a growing resistance movement. This is important because it’s high time Labour councils remembered that they are part of the opposition to this government, and also that it is their democratic duty to be political centres of opposition. Resistance from councils to the centre’s agenda would fan the flames of, and be supported by, the other resistance movements.
It seems that Labour’s local strategy is to express this opposition by playing the blame game which is of course, a justified response, but that doesn’t mean it goes far enough. People will not be impressed with an opposition that does nothing to protect and them and does not express itself in practical actions. So, let’s assume we don’t like, or can’t make, illegal budgets for the moment. What options for action exist?
One obvious one is for councils to increase their borrowing. The government itself has clearly provided for this; with councils being allowed to borrow against projected (as opposed to guaranteed) extra income from large-scale projects. Reducing the pay of top council executives and pooling Mice Money etc, are other options. Exploitation of the Big Society agenda and the acquisition of the financial sweeteners the blinkered government is providing should also be considered. The point is that options exist short of setting an illegal budget. However, being honest and realistic, it is probable that the options will eventually be reduced to making a straight choice between setting an ‘illegal’ budget and making cutbacks because that is what central government ideologically wants to force Labour councils to choose between.
When weighing those two options comrades, should remember that they have a greater democratic legitimacy (and conversely duty) than any representative of this current government will ever have. They should also not assume that local people will turn on them for merely mounting a defence of them, especially given this new climate of resistance. Councils that resist and rally local communities in their favour effectively will have the support of the people whereas those that don’t risk losing that support rapidly as they will be seen as accomplices of this government and its ideologically driven attack on the whole spectrum of society.