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Bedroom tax: Labour should follow SNP lead

Britain is about to witness the first co-ordinated attempt by multiple local authorities to obstruct a Westminster edict in almost three decades. Good news, but don’t dust off those ‘defiance not compliance’ badges just yet.

Sassenachs who haven’t been keeping up may need to be told that eight Scottish National Party councils are to follow Dundee’s lead in refusing to evict bedroom tax victims who fall behind with rent. South of the border, England’s solitary Green-held municipality in Brighton has also adopted this policy.

The only potential parallel in recent history come from the mid-1980s, when a number of left-led Labour councils deliberately declined to set a legal budget, in protest at cuts in central government grants that inevitably entailed hardship for many of the people they represented.

Indeed, the roots of the subsequent split between what became known as the hard left and the soft left came in 1985, when Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council threw in the towel.

This time around, Labour councils are so far nowhere to be seen. Honour is only partly redeemed by the prominent role that Eoin Clarke’s Labour Left think tank is playing in organising anti-bedroom tax protests.

There are other important differences between then and now, of course. Let me just give you three points, as Chris Huhne famously said to Vicky Pryce.

Firstly, unlike failure to set a budget, non-eviction is not illegal. Councils can undertake this tactic and remain within the law. So any municipal politico looking to pick up a few radical Brownie points without entailing career risk simply can’t go wrong here.

Secondly, SNP and Green councils have endorsement from their party leaderships, with Alex Salmond even highlighting the issue in a major speech yesterday. Those fighting rate capping were openly disavowed by ‘Walworth Road’, as Labour headquarters were known at the time.

Thirdly, one important motivation for a significant minority of Trotskyist-influenced Labour councillors in the Thatcher years was the explicit intention to confront what was called in the jargon of the period ‘the central state’, in the hope that this would act as a catalyst for mass radicalisation.

This is plainly not a factor today. All that Dundee, Brighton and the others are doing is reasserting the duty of democratically-elected councils to stick up for the local residents that elected them. The revolution doesn’t start here, then.

Labour has no excuse not to follow their example. In Scotland in particular, it would be crazy not to.

Fortunately, friends tell me that a number of Labour council leaders are considering doing so, and I really hope that is the case. Maybe Ed Miliband will prove himself at least as bold as Salmond, and endorse this stance, although that sadly seems unlikely.

It is easy enough for some in the Labour Party to deride the SNP as ‘Tartan Tories’ and the Greens as irredeemable yoghurt knitters. But push has now come to shove on this one, and these parties are making Labour look bad.

If moral suasion forces Labour councils ultimately to emulate their lead, all one can say is ‘better late than never’.

2 Comments

  1. Theo Blackwell (@camdentheo) says:

    But the problems is that the policy from the SNP and Greens is not as clear cut as that, on research – see this report from the Brighton Argus just days later:

    http://m.theargus.co.uk/news/10304919.Brighton_and_Hove_Council_stalls_on_bedroom_tax_pledge/

    Labour councils have developed wide ranging packages of help for people and evictions (as they are now for rents) would only be as a very last step, but I can’t see how you can disaggregate this from personal circumstances and be fair to all tenants, but we shall see.

  2. Jim Monaghan says:

    The SNP have refused to act as a Govt and their councils have only pledged to “try” to avoid evictions in the first year only, as long as tenants “try” to pay their arrears. It isnt a pledge to stop evictions. Under their devolved powers the SNP can stop all evictions in scotland by amending section 6 of the housing act (scotland) they refuse to use those powers

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