Birmingham city council’s ruling Labour party has quickly raised the white flag to the Con-Dem government, resolving to cut the city’s remaining threadbare public services on their behalf.
The council has organised a series of public meetings where they have presented their case for making massive and highly damaging cuts to council services. It is clear that nothing is any longer sacred to the local politicians.
In Erdington the 150 or so in the audience were talked at by the cabinet for over an hour before we were invited to say which services were most or least important to us.
They call this consultation: four public meetings in the suburbs of a city of over a million people. Unsurprisingly the option of ‘no cuts’ was not presented.
Labour’s city leader, Sir Albert Bore, who locally built a reputation in the 1980s as being on the left of the party, attacked me after I joined other audience members in demanding that the council set a ‘needs budget’ and be prepared to take on the government.
I added that the Con-Dems are not a legitimate government, with most people having voted for neither government party.
There was plenty of cash around to fund services but tax-fiddling by the rich was taking place on a massive scale and big companies were hoarding hundreds of billions of pounds instead of investing in jobs and services.
As the biggest local authority in Europe Birmingham city council would be best placed to lead a rebellion against the government, potentially linking up with the 200-plus other Labour councils across the country.
These points, and the others who argued against cuts, drew big rounds of applause, in contrast to the entire top table who received not a single clap in the two hour meeting!
In a grasping and pathetic response Sir Albert recalled being at a certain Labour Party conference in the 1980s where then-leader Neil Kinnock denounced the ‘grotesque chaos’ at Liverpool city council.
Liverpool had indeed taken on the Tory government, and won £60 million extra funding which was spent on jobs, services and over 5,000 homes, most still stand today. How irresponsible and chaotic!
This approach, in the tradition of previous principled Labour councillors at Clay Cross and Poplar, is alien to the likes of Sir Albert who talk of the ‘end of local government’ and ‘decommissioning entire services’ in order to set a balanced budget. This is supposedly responsible!
In an attempt to divide and confuse people Labour locally have concentrated for some time on the fact that Birmingham has been hit disproportionally hard compared to other cities.
Sir Albert says he has written to Tory community-slasher Eric Pickles to try to have this resolved and win back the £80 million owed.
Even if Pickles concedes, this will barely make a dent in the £600 million-plus cuts the council are about to make.
Socialist ideas provide an antidote to the cynical defeatism of Labour. It is principled defiance and resistance, coupled with a positive alternative that is socialism, which working class people can embrace and fight for – and that will win the fight against austerity.
Our leaflets were taken by the majority attending and many said I was right to make the points I did and that something needed to be done.
Socialist Party members will be intervening in the city’s other consultations but more importantly we will be at the forefront in building resistance to cuts.
We will continue to campaign on the streets and in the communities but will also be building TUSC and encouraging local activists to stand as council candidates against the cuts.