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Moving beyond the budget question in defending council services

I have often argued that I favour councils setting a social budget and, if necessary, setting an illegal budget rather than implementing cuts. I continue to favour this but I fear that, on the left, we are getting too caught up in this discussion and it is obscuring other demands we need to be making. Opponents of illegal budget setting are also not without credible arguments regarding the lack of a supporting movement and the fact that individual councils would be picked off. So, the main purpose of this piece is to think about whether, strategically speaking, we should downgrade the social/illegal budget slogan as our main demand. Please note this is not to say ‘drop it altogether’ but to adapt our strategy to current realities and try and win more leverage.

I wait with batied breath for the accusations of ‘treachery’. Seriously though, it is at times like this the left needs to think more about strategy. It would do well to revisit things like the transitional method because currently the way the left tries to get people from A to B is by standing at B and shouting for people to join it there. Of course, this works for some.  Moving the majority means starting with them at A, and pointing the direction to B from there.

So, what other things can  we consider? Calling on councils to not cooperate with government schemes like the Big Society a la Liverpool City Council would be a good start. This would be part of starting to demand that councils behave like an actual opposition to the central government (and also, incidentally, would strengthen the hand of those in favour of  refusing to set budgets at next year’s round dramatically) and that they fight for their local communities. Also, of course there should be the usual demands that meetings be organised and that Labour controlled councils start becoming the focal point of the anti-cuts movement.

We should think of ourselves like a guerilla army and, where we can inflict reverses on a mightier central authority, we can. Also, we must demand that Labour councils don’t talk at or merely try and placate anti-cuts opposition groups, but become immersed in them. If occupations or strikes take place against the cuts, our councillors should be supporting them and constantly making the point that these cuts are being forced on local communities by an undemocratic Westminster government.  However, this is where the contradiction between setting a cuts budget and supporting the anti-cuts movement will bite hard and where it will divide the movement even further than not demanding this at all would. Simply put, Labour councillors’ credibility in opposing the cuts will be damaged if they then vote for them in the council chamber and we should be clear about this when we talk to them. It’s still right to demand setting a social budget on our list of demands for this reason, as well as it being the necessary thing to do to protect our communities.

Nonetheless, we have to be aware there are other demands we can make, and not let ourselves get bogged down in the budget question. Stretching the guerilla army analogy further we should not let a mad dash for the heavily fortified capital obscure the possibility of capturing outlying but less well defended cities. If we succeed in capturing them then the capital becomes all the more vulnerable and will surely fall as soon as its encircled.

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