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Brighton Green Party referendum offers no alternative to cuts
Paul Moorhouse, Brighton and Hove Socialist Party
Brighton and Hove's Green Party leader Jason Kitcat wants to follow up last year's attack on the city's bin workers' wages with further cuts in the council's 2014-15 budget.
If successful, this would mean that his administration, elected on a mandate to 'resist austerity', has cut £50 million from jobs and services in the city in three years.
There is no question that the primary responsibility for cuts in local government services lies with the Con-Dem government's austerity programme.
The proposal by the Greens to increase council tax by 4.75%, however, is no defence in the face of this attack.
This tax increase would raise £2.75 million more than December's draft budget. But that budget proposed £22.56 million in spending cuts threatening the jobs of 100-150 council workers.
In other words the Green administration would be asking the voters of Brighton to swallow a rise of almost 5% in their council tax bills as the price for still accepting nine tenths of the cuts in jobs and services demanded by Pickles and the Con-Dem government.
These would come on top of £30 million worth of Tory cuts which the Green Party has passed on to workers and service users in the city since coming to power in 2011.
Not surprisingly the Tory local government minister Brandon Lewis MP fully supports the Greens' move.
This shows that it is not the case, as Green Party national leader Natalie Bennett has claimed, that: "Instead of letting Whitehall impose cuts on vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove, this announcement takes the decision to the people."
By playing along with the spending limits imposed by Pickles and the millionaire Eton boot boys in the Con-Dem cabinet, Brighton's Green Party is ensuring that the only possible outcome of the referendum is either:
- Voters reject an increase in council tax bills 2.5 times the rate of inflation (at a time when real wages are under sustained attack and public and private sector rents and other housing costs are shooting through the roof) and so all £22.5 million pounds in cuts demanded by central government go through, or
- Council tax payers in Brighton bear the brunt of subsidising the cuts in central government spending: the penalty system means that much of the extra council tax will not fund threatened services, but will simply be clawed back by central government. At the same time we will still have to swallow 90p in every £1 of Eric Pickles' cuts to services!
In other words, whatever Natalie Bennett and Jason Kitcat claim, either way, the referendum can only lead to "Whitehall imposing cuts on vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove."
The referendum would also be a highly divisive exercise in 'divide and rule': pitting 'council tax payers', against 'council workers' and 'service users' when the reality is that resisting the cuts requires that we stand united (indeed, most often we are the same people, anyway!).
If we accept the Greens' 'dented shield' analysis, which says that nine-tenths of the cuts are inevitable, we will end up engaging in a vicious 'race to the bottom'.
This would pit 'education' against 'housing' and children's services against services for older people and the disabled in a struggle to become the lucky 'one in ten' to escape Councillor Kitcat's axe. Instead we should be standing together and resisting ALL CUTS.
Brighton's Labour councillors are proposing a 'vote of no confidence' in the Green administration. Not because they oppose the cuts but because they want to carry out more cuts! Labour want an 'all party administration' to implement the Con-Dem coalition's cuts in full for 2014-15, and for 2015-16. This would inevitably lead to even more losses in jobs and services.
Socialists should argue for a second question in the referendum asking the electorate in Brighton if they would rather the council defied the government and refused to implement the cuts, instead of choosing between tax increases and slightly smaller cuts or cuts alone.
Imagine if our councillors explained that adequate funding for Brighton's schools, bins and recycling (which are still reeling from the 'settlement' of last year's strike and the botched 'reorganisation' forced through by Kitcat and senior managers), housing and care services should have priority over the governments' pro-super rich austerity agenda.
In this way, councillors could build a mass movement of resistance and unite council workers, services users and Brighton's communities to force Pickles to return the money stolen from our city.
Today there is an alternative, which the Socialist Party, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Brighton Trades Council and Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition have urged on the Green administration since it was first elected.
Brighton and Hove Council should set a 'needs budget' and link up with the trade unions to campaign for central government to return the £70 million plus which has been cut from central government allocations to the city since 2010.
This was what the socialist-led council did in Liverpool in the 1980s. Not only did they force the Thatcher government to increase funding for services but they expanded the council's workforce at a time of rising unemployment and built 5,000 new council houses (more than were built by councils in the whole of the rest of England and Wales in the same period).
Why not put that idea to a referendum vote?