Alex Sampson, Socialist Party Plymouth
Local politics in Plymouth have been under the national spotlight in the last few months, thanks to the unstable nature of the council make-up and the appalling decision of Conservative leader Richard Bingley and now ex-councillor Jonathan Drean to use executive powers to order the destruction of 110 mature city centre trees in the face of massive local objection (See ‘Over 250 TUSC candidates to take on cuts councils’). Bingley was forced to resign shortly before a full council meeting where he faced a vote of no confidence. Meanwhile, Drean, who was the portfolio holder responsible for the regeneration scheme, which included the tree felling, was unanimously nominated as Lord Mayor by a select committee of Labour and Conservative councillors just days after the destruction of the trees.
While the Armada Way campaign made national headlines, Plymouth has many more examples of councillors overriding local dissatisfaction with planning issues over the last year, including the demolition of a thriving small business to make way for a health centre, promises not to erect a new mobile phone mast in a local park abandoned, and other building projects around the city destroying even more mature trees.
The flagrant disregard to opposition in all these cases has left Plymouth residents disgusted with the political process, as was reflected in the average turnout of just 32% for Thursday’s election.
‘All as bad as each other’
This frustration with the parties represented on the council is shared by Socialist Party members. On the many stalls and canvassing events held through April and early May we regularly heard the phrases “they are as bad as each other” and “I don’t trust any of them” about career politicians who run this city.
To counter this, TUSC candidates stood in all 19 wards in the city for the first time since 2016. The programme TUSC candidates put forward of no cuts to services, no council tax rises, and full funding for local services was met with more support than during previous election campaigns.
Even more heartening was the number of people who genuinely desire a socialist future and stepped forward as new Socialist Party members. We have welcomed former Labour activists, trade unionists and students into our ranks, all ready and willing to take up the struggle for a fair and socialist future.
People voted Tory-lite (Labour) to punish the Tories, with the Conservatives only managing to hold onto one seat. But Labour hardly increased its vote share, and, in its traditional areas of support, is losing votes to parties and candidates seen as an alternative, such as the Greens and ‘Independent’ Alliance of ex-Tory councillors.
The increased number of votes going to TUSC candidates, from 626 last year to 882 this year, despite the increased number of candidates from other parties in each ward spreading the vote, and voter suppression due to a lack of acceptable photo ID, was heartening.
This campaign has given us a boost as we go into the next period of strike waves, increasing inflation and austerity, and the last death knells of the current Conservative government.