Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/696/13266
Brighton Greens fail to fight the cuts
Paul Moorhouse, Brighton and Hove Socialist Party
Brighton local government elections in May 2011 resulted in 23 Green councillors, 18 Tories and 13 Labour, giving the Greens, elected on an 'anti-cuts' election campaign, control over the council cabinet.
Some left groups argued that the Greens should be supported 'until they start to make cuts'. The Socialist Party consistently argued that, due to their lack of a clear strategy to defy the government's austerity agenda, the Greens would inevitably slash jobs and services.
In 2006, Brighton Green councillors supported privatisation through transferring council housing management to a private company. Yet a Defend Council Housing campaign saw these Labour-led plans overturned and the council housing stock remained under public control.
At the 3 March budget meeting, the Greens and Labour proposed a joint amendment to the then Tory council's budget. The amendments reduced cuts by only £3 million, leaving £25 million of cuts intact.
The Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition (BSTCC) produced an 'anti-cuts pledge' for 2011 council election candidates to sign. Most Greens argued they would not oppose all cuts, but would be compassionate and effective in protecting the vulnerable.
The Greens say that councillors have no choice over reduced budgets. The Socialist Party have countered this by pointing to the 1983-87 Liverpool city council, where 47 Labour councillors built a mass movement to back up the council in setting a budget to reflect local needs instead of the Thatcher government's dictates.
The Greens argued that a similar movement could not be built today in Brighton or anywhere else in the country. This underestimates the strength of feeling against the cuts.
Since early 2010 Brighton has seen an ever growing wave of protests, including 2,000 marching against cuts in October 2010, 3,000 students demonstrating during November 2010 and 4,000 striking workers marching on 30 June 2011.
The council's financial strategy leading up to 2015 shows a fall in central government funding by approximately one third or £43 million. All council departments have been asked to draw up scenarios of 5-15% cuts.
The Greens propose raising council tax by 3.5% to "protect as far as possible services for the most vulnerable" while still making cuts.
While the plan confirms the Green's commitment to a supposedly 'living wage' for council workers of £7.19, this is with a planned 0.5% pay increase in 2012/13 when 'general inflation' is anticipated to be 2%.
The Green plan also assumes a 10% cut in council tax benefit expenditure from April 2013.
Public consultation has been on the theme of 'balance your own budget'. The assumption underlying the 'balanced budget calculator' is that a 'standstill' budget - protecting existing services - would be 6% 'over budget' and lead to a 17.1% council tax rise.
Against this background we are being asked to 'prioritise' services. Drawing up a budget which modestly increases all expenditure by 5%, results in a 32.2% increase in council tax.
Cutting ALL services by 5% would still mean a 2% council tax increase, it would be necessary to cut all children's services by a further 5% to balance the budget!
This approach could cause division between public and private sector workers, the unemployed and employed, and between different council sectors and service users. How is this different from the tactics of the mainstream parties?
In answer to a Socialist Party member's question at one consultation meeting, an officer agreed that councillors would not face fines, imprisonment or bans from office for setting a 'needs budget'. At worst, they might be 'suspended' from office after investigation.
She argued, however, that there was a risk that local government minister Eric Pickles could 'impose' the cuts. Most participants seemed to agree that councillors should have been present to answer that question, and not hide behind officers.
Without a far-sighted strategy rooted in the organised strength of the working class, the Greens are crumbling in the face of government attacks.
Some Green Party members have been up in arms about the council strategy. A handful of Green Left members fought for a 'needs budget' strategy within Brighton Green Party.
Two Green Left members were local election candidates and signed the BSTCC pledge. One was elected, but quickly retreated from the pledge. The other resigned from the Green Party to support the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
TUSC, which involves the Socialist Party, trade unionists and other left groups, opposes all cuts. The money is there. As the PCS union has shown, the very rich avoid paying £120 billion in tax every year.
TUSC demands progressive tax on rich corporations and individuals, with a crackdown on tax avoidance. This would have to be alongside bringing the banks, finance institutions and other major companies that dominate the economy, into genuine public ownership under democratic control.
The movement against the cuts is growing and could unite behind a council refusing to make any cuts, but the Greens refuse to give that lead.
See brightonhovesocialistparty.blogspot.com for a longer version of this article
In The Socialist 30 November 2011:
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