Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/477/2151
Tales from the council chamber
They are all the same - even the Greens!
THE 1 March meeting to set Lewisham council's budget for 2007-08 showed again that the establishment parties really are all the same.
The only surprise for the 100-strong lobby of the town hall was that this time it was Green Party councillors who joined with the Tories to give New Labour the votes they needed to push through their budget.
Despite minor changes to Labour's initial proposals, the joint Labour/Green budget still contained substantial cuts. Community education services in Lewisham are under threat, because of government cuts implemented through the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).
Rather than taking on the full £1.3 million funding needed to maintain services, and then mounting a challenge to the government for the necessary resources, the Labour/Green budget agreed some money but also proposed £800,000 cuts. These include a 15% reduction in classes, reduced opening hours at adult education centres, and increased student fees.
Spending on adult social care will be hit by the Labour/Green plans, affecting the elderly and people with disabilities and their carers. Day centre staffing levels will be reduced and other 'staffing changes savings' (cuts) made. Transport for shopping, day centre visits and evening clubs will be cut.
The council also agreed to begin formal consultation on increased charges and changing the eligibility criteria for care. The Greens hailed it as a 'positive achievement' that New Labour was now promising that this review of care services will not be given a 'savings target' in the council's budget plans.
The Socialist Party councillors criticised the Greens' readiness to drop their opposition to New Labour's plans in exchange for this essentially meaningless gesture. Lewisham will not be exempt from the government's national drive to cut care budgets.
Labour councillors, while effusively praising the Greens for their 'responsible approach', openly talked of 'difficult choices' to come.
Socialist Party councillor and health worker, Chris Flood, showed what an eligibility criteria review will mean. Currently, people qualify for care if they have what are termed 'substantial needs', but this criteria will be split into 'greater' and 'lesser' needs.
Chris read out some of these categories: people who, without help, would remain in the same clothes day and night, wet or soil themselves, would dehydrate or become malnourished, or would have accidents or serious mishaps. He challenged the other parties to say which were 'greater' or 'lesser' needs.
Some Green councillors were uncomfortable about their deal with New Labour. One apologetically argued that 'all we can be is fire-fighters, buying time to re-shape services with an open mind'. Green group leader Darren Johnson, in contrast, was proud of his groups' role, attacking councillors opposing the budget as 'irresponsible'.
Johnson, the Greens' candidate for London mayor in 2004, is on the Green Party's right wing. But no wing of the Greens has a clear alternative to capitalism, which would enable them to resist the relentless pressure of pro-market politicians to 'be realistic'.
On their showing in Lewisham there is no reason to think that Britain's Greens wouldn't go the same way as their German counterparts, and participate in a pro-capitalist government implementing social cuts, if they ever became a significant force in parliament.
In The Socialist 8 March 2007:
International Socialist Resistance
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party review
International Women's Day
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Workplace news and analysis