Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/301/13798
Coventry Labour Prefers Deals With The Tories
NEW LABOUR lost overall control on Coventry council in recent elections. Small parties - especially the Socialist Party - can effectively hold the balance of power.
Rob Windsor, Socialist councillor Coventry
Our Socialist Party group put some proposals - not a Socialist manifesto but basic policy changes to benefit working-class people (see the socialist 17 May) - to New Labour's potential council leader at the 13 May meeting.
If these had been granted, we would not have opposed them setting up an administration, although we'd have kept opposing New Labour policies that we disagreed with throughout the year. But the Labour group leader's reply was not satisfactory.
On housing there were no written commitments to our proposals. The same was true on our proposal for a community land bank where the council could buy up vacant land for community use rather than rich developers getting it.
But the biggest sticking point was our call for an end to all PFI proposals including ones for the local incinerator and sports centre. We argued for an investigation into publicly funded alternatives. The Labour leader' said "No" and claimed that he wouldn't let "political dogma" stop the city's "regeneration."
It appears that free-market "dogma" that calls PFI "the only show in town" is fine though! Handing public assets to private companies in exchange for badly built alternatives to be rented back to council tax payers at a profit for 30 years plus is OK by Labour.
So far locally New Labour's "regeneration" involves "Highland clearance" type proposals where working-class communities are replaced by luxury flats and tacky, glossy developments. Local people resent this - that's why they continue to vote against New Labour.
THE COUNCIL leader said that in his opinion Coventry council already implements "socialist policies" but nothing could be further from the truth. It has been a test-bed for every Blairite prototype and proposal for years, hence Labour's decline. The difference between the "two Tory parties" becomes increasingly more blurred.
Before the council meeting New Labour did a deal with the Tories on the basis of Tories chairing some "Scrutiny Committees". Our proposals were not based on getting positions but getting tangible benefits for working class people.
The response we got was too little. Agreeing only to "look into" issues is a bit like accepting a cheque without a signature so the Socialist Group voted against New Labour forming an administration. The Tories abstained.
Labour then tried to stitch up the council's constitution to block opposition. They failed. The three Socialist councillors' votes were decisive - one proposal was to stop communities putting petitions to the council for six months after a Cabinet Member had made a decision on an issue. This was clearly meant to disrupt protests against school closures, cut-backs etc.
Tenants' meetings were eager to hear how New Labour's power has been eroded. If strong local community campaigns against cuts and decline are set up the council is now more susceptible to pressure. This message is not lost on local activists.
Like good shop stewards our councillors will use all means possible to improve working-class people's lives without compromising our principles.
Labour showed how little principle meant to them by sacking Heather Parker as cabinet member for "Community Well Being" following her opposition to the war. Another Cabinet member who marched against the war, Dave Chater, has also been sacked.
But New Labour's arrogance will be short lived and council meetings will certainly be more lively in future. Two Labour Councillors have split away to form an "Independent Labour Group" - how this develops in the coming months will be very interesting.
In The Socialist 24 May 2003: