Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/295/13975
Standing For The Millions, Not The Millionaires: Vote Socialist Alternative
THE SOCIALIST Party is standing candidates in the local elections in England and for the Welsh assembly on 1 May. We aim to provide a socialist alternative to the pro-big business, pro-war policies of New Labour and the main capitalist parties. Hannah Sell, Socialist Party national campaigns organiser, outlines the programme that we are campaigning on.
In New Labour's Britain privatisation rules. If your train doesn't arrive, if you're denied a hospital bed, if your education services are cut, if your libraries are closed then chances are it's because big business has decided it can't make enough money.
Now New Labour are stepping up their privatisation plans with the introduction of 'foundation hospitals'. Privatisation means massive risk-free profits for the fat cats and two-tier inadequate public services for us. The Railtrack fiasco shows that privatisation doesn't work.
The government claim that privatisation can offer good public services. This is rubbish. Private companies exist to make a profit. They will only invest if they think they can make money. When they invest in our public services, their profits are coming from the taxes we've paid. That means money is being transferred directly from our services into the fat cats' pockets.
For example, the privately financed hospital in North Durham cost £22 million more than building an identical new hospital in the public sector, yet New Labour opted for the private option!
- End privatisation.
- No privatisation of the Post Office, the NHS, education or any other public services.
- End the role of the private parasites
- Renationalise all the privatised utilities under the democratic control of working-class people - the people who use and work in these services.
Council Tax - crippling working-class families
Year in, year out council tax bills increase. But while we struggle and scrape around to pay the council tax the services we receive for it are ever more decrepit or non-existent. The council tax is a highly unfair way of organising local taxation. It favours the rich and penalises working class people.
The highest level of council tax (paid by someone living in a mansion) is only three times the lowest level of council tax (paid for example by someone living in a one-bedroom council flat). So if someone in a one bedroom flat is paying £500, someone living in a mansion will only be paying £1,500.
The result is that in the course of a normal 25-year mortgage someone paying the highest band of council tax will pay over between 16% and 32% of the value of their home in council tax.
By contrast, someone in the lower bands will pay between 46% and 60% of the value of their home.
In addition, the council tax is unfair because it is based on property values which do not always accurately reflect the wealth of individuals.
We campaign for the council tax to be replaced by a progressive local income tax which, instead of taxing poorer households more heavily than the rich as the council tax does, would tax the rich most heavily.
Anyone earning under £10,000 a year would not have to pay any local income tax.
There are 6,000 nurseries in Britain. Only 240 of them are run on a 'not for profit' basis. On average, the cost of pre-school childcare for two children is £6,000 a year - more than the average family spends on housing.
In Britain, childcare is worse regulated, harder to obtain, and more expensive than in any other country in the European Union. Lack of decent childcare means that many parents, in particular women, do not have the choice of going out to work. Others are forced to rely on unqualified child carers.
A socialist council would build and directly fund free, publicly owned nurseries, with fully qualified decently paid staff.
Councils are systematically privatising council housing across the country. The result is an ever more intense housing crisis. Millions of people are being forced to live in substandard, overcrowded private rented housing.
Once transferred out of council control, tenants lose their secured tenancy agreements for less protected 'assured' tenancies. On average rents increase immediately by £10 a week.
There is a desperate need for a large increase in the amount of affordable, pleasant, good quality social housing available. Yet, New Labour has not reversed Tory policy. Instead it has stepped up the council house sell-offs.
Where local people have voted against New Labour's sell-off schemes the reaction of local councils has been to try and ignore local democracy and come up with another way of privatising our homes. Public spending on housing has fallen dramatically. From 1999 - 2001 only 400 council houses were built in the whole of Britain!
The previous Tory government did all they could to prevent councils building new homes. They made it illegal for councils to spend the £6.5 billion that had been received from the sale of council houses on building new council housing. New Labour has only partially reversed this policy - allowing 25% of the £6.5 billion to be spent. Even this amount would be enough to create at least 150,000 new or refurbished homes on a national basis. Yet, that would only be a fraction of what is needed and possible. After all in the 1930s half a million public homes were built every year. To fully solve the housing crisis it would be necessary to do the same again and more.
We campaign against the sell-off of council housing.
A Socialist council would launch a programme of mass council house building alongside a programme refurbishing existing stock.
If it was necessary to spend more than the 25% of funds that the government has released, we would be prepared to defy New Labour and spend more in order to provide good quality, affordable, democratically controlled public housing.
Tony Blair claimed education was his top priority but Labour's polices are failing our children. Years of underfunding and mounting pressure on teachers has led to a widespread shortage of teachers, and overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms.
Now Blair has announced the end of comprehensive education and the wholesale re-introduction of selective schools. He is inviting big business, companies like McDonald, Shell and Schweppes, to make profits from our schools.
If New Labour's plans are fully realised, tens of thousands of working-class young people are going to be condemned to second-class sink schools that 'teach' students how to work in a burger bar or a petrol station.
Yet, to provide decent education for all is achievable. To reduce class sizes for all schools to the level they were ten years ago would take around 27,000 extra teachers. This, combined with the cost of repairing our crumbling school buildings, would cost around £5 billion a year.
This could be paid for just by partially reversing the changes in what big companies pay in National Insurance that the Tories introduced while they were in office.
A socialist council would lead a campaign, alongside teachers, parents and school students, for an immediate significant increase in school funding and for all schools to become genuine comprehensives under democratic local control.
The money's there - for war but not for decent wages
New Labour have already pledged £3 billion for the war on Iraq, and the final bill will be far higher. No doubt Blair will pay up for the costs of killing innocent Iraqis, but it is a very different story when it comes to providing decent services and wages.
To meet the firefighters' full claim would cost £400 million, yet Brown declared that 'no government on earth' could agree to that. The £3 billion New Labour is handing to Bush would, for example, if used in the NHS provide in one year over 150,000 extra staff nurses or provide five years' wages for 25,000 new teachers.
But New Labour's priority will never be decent services. They are a capitalist government whose priority is protecting the interests of big business men and women like Lord Sainsbury - why else has he given them £8.5 million since 1997?
The only way working class people can improve our living standards under this government is by fighting for them - as the firefighters have demonstrated.
This raises the need for a new party - a party that would bring together trade unionists, community anti-cuts campaigners, anti-capitalists and anti-war activists to provide a mass political alternative to New Labour - a party that would represent the interests of working class people.
The electoral successes of the Socialist Party give a glimpse, at a local level, of what such a party could achieve.
- End low pay.
- For a minimum wage of £8 an hour. No exemptions.
- No more blood for oil. Get the troops out.
- For a new mass workers' party
For socialist change
Under capitalism we have to battle constantly for every single improvement in our lives; as soon as we relax the bosses try and take every concession back.
As far as they are concerned any improvement in our living standards means less profits for them. Real equality will only ever be achieved on the basis of a fundamental change in society.
The Socialist Party is fighting for socialist change. We don't want the kind of regimes that existed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe which, while they were based on a planned economy, were completely undemocratic.
Socialism can only work with the fullest democracy.
We want real socialism - a democratic society and economy run to meet the needs of all instead of the profits of a few.
Based on co-operation and equality, socialism would create the possibility of building a society free from poverty, exploitation and war.
Unexpected Praise For Councillors
THE THINK-tank IPPR conducted research on peoples' attitudes to local democracy. They interviewed people in three Coventry areas one of which, Hillfields, is part of the St Michaels ward where the Socialist Party has three councillors. IPPR did not talk to our councillors or to other representatives of the Socialist Party. They are generally considered to be sympathetic to New Labour. Extracts from the report are printed below (our emphasis):
..."Very few people in the areas studied could even name their councillors, let alone express trust in them. The one exception was again in Hillfields where several residents spoke in glowing terms about their representatives. Here the difference appeared to be, once again, a more empathic understanding; the candidates referred to not only live in the area but make many house visits to residents and are well-recognised local figures."
..."As stated in the introduction, Hillfields residents showed a surprising degree of trust in their political representatives. People we questioned in the other two areas studied were far more cynical about the value of their political representatives, and none of the residents in the Earlsdon focus groups could even name their councillors.
Before this sounds as if Coventry councillors are particularly ineffective, it should be pointed out that such negative views are actually very common. Local democracy itself is often portrayed as suffering a crisis of legitimacy with electoral turnout at local elections recently very low. What is remarkable then is not the extent of residents' disaffection with their councillors in Earlsdon or Canley, but rather the levels of approval and trust displayed by several of the Hillfields respondents."
..."What appeared to make a difference in Hillfields, we were told was a combination of two factors.
The first and most important was that councillors such as Dave Nellist and Karen McKay were seen as open, approachable and accessible. People commented that they would take or return your call at almost any time of the day, that they would listen to residents' concerns and act on them and that they went out of their way to make themselves known even to new residents.
The second factor which people referred to was the commitment these councillors showed towards the area. Again, this is not to say that councillors in other areas are not so committed, but rather to note that residents' perceptions in the three areas differ. One reason we were given for this was the party background of the councillors concerned."
Coventry Socialist Party councillor Making A Difference
THE SOCIALIST Party has four elected councillors. One of these, Karen McKay in Coventry, who is standing for re-election on 1 May, spoke to the socialist about what it means to be a Socialist Party councillor.
Why did you become a socialist?
It's in the blood, I think! A lot of my family were active in the trade unions - socialist ideas and politics were often discussed.
Inequality and poverty in my own experience and across the world has always made me angry. When I understood that capitalism creates poverty and ever increasing inequality, then I saw the need to change the whole system.
I became a socialist when I joined the Socialist Party. I was impressed by the way our party led the anti-poll tax campaign and by the way it linked socialist ideas to different day to day struggles to improve the living conditions of working class people.
The Socialist Party believes we can take control of our world for the better - by putting people before profits. This attitude - rather than the powerless 'nothing will ever change' cynicism of many people - is what I like about socialism. We know what we are against, but also what we are for - and we're out to try to get it.
You are one of three Socialist Party councillors in Coventry City Council, which is controlled by New Labour. Are you able to make a difference?
In the council meetings we are mainly a voice of opposition to the coalition of Labour and Tory councillors who vote the same way on all major policy. We are the only ones who consistently oppose their privatisation and cuts in services. We've opposed the sell-off of the council housing, Private Finance deals for our hospital and schools, school closures, tuition fees and attacks on the pay and conditions of council workers.
We make a difference, not because of the council meetings, but because of the work of the Socialist Party. Being on the council adds another dimension. Having council positions helps us to support workers who are fighting back. We put motions and questions to every council meeting - such as in support of the firefighters in their battle with the government.
We also work in the community alongside local people to help fight for more resources. We've even won praise from the Labour-friendly think-tank IPPR for our local work.
The red 'Socialist Group' sign on our office door says you can stand for socialist ideas and be elected. The three positions gives our party a credibility and a 'foot in the door' when engaging with people across the city.
How have you campaigned against the war?
We put a motion to council in November in opposition to any future war in Iraq. The Labour councillor active in the anti-war campaign moved their amendment, which was passed - to support a war if a UN resolution was 'achieved' (my word not theirs).
We have not held back from bringing politics into the anti-war movement. While we welcome the diversity of the anti-war movement, socialists need to explain why we believe only a new socialist world can bring peace and security.
We called for a council debate before the war started. It was granted - but for after the bombing began. Our motion was to oppose the war. Some councillors said the meeting was a waste of tax-payers money! Such 'concern' for the pennies while the pounds pay for bombs. The Liberals and almost all of the New Labour councillors supported the troops and de facto the war. The Tories well....no prizes for guessing. Only one of the previously 'anti-war' Labour councillors supported our motion.
Most of our anti-war campaigning has not been in the council chamber. With the local party we have campaigned on stalls, helped set up a local Stop the War branch, and played a leading role in local demonstrations and in organising for protests on Day X, the day war started.
How do you see the Socialist Party in Coventry developing in the future?
I'm confident we'll keep on recruiting and getting stronger. This will only happen if we all put the work in. We have had some excellent people join us recently - particularly young people. We are putting down deeper roots across the city. We have members in leading positions in a number of trade unions.
I think that the Socialist Party will continue to gain in strength and that in the future we will play a key role in forging a new wider socialist movement that draws in all of the workers and communities fighting privatisation and cuts and will be able to challenge New Labour's control of the council.
We are standing candidates in
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Stockton-on-Tees, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Pontefract, Leeds, Barnsley, Merseyside, Worcester, Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Stevenage, Southampton, Swindon and Bristol.
We are also standing two candidates for the Welsh Assembly - Dave Bartlett for Cardiff South and Penarth and Rob Williams for Aberafan.
If you would like more information about our campaigns contact Hannah Sell on 020 8988 8767.
In The Socialist 12 April 2003: