Birmingham Council. Photo: Elliot Brown/CC
Birmingham Council. Photo: Elliot Brown/CC

Nick Hart, Birmingham Socialist Party

In the latest attempts to try and consolidate its total grip on the party, Labour HQ has imposed a regime change at the top of Birmingham City Council.

The Starmerite right wing in control of the Labour Party National Executive Committee used the publication of a report, criticising the atmosphere within the Labour group on Birmingham City Council, as being “toxic” to show former council leader Ian Ward the door.

In his place, John Cotton has been installed as the head of Europe’s largest local authority, on the basis of behind-closed-doors interviews with the Labour Party top brass. In a sign of Labour leader Keir Starmer and his associates’ contempt for democracy, they didn’t even seek to hold a vote among local councillors before telling Ward to resign and announcing Cotton as the heir apparent.

Never mind what’s left of local Labour Party branches after membership purges. The million people who live in the city, now only get to vote for their local councillor every four years following changes introduced to insulate councillors from criticism.

Not that Ian Ward, or the rest of Birmingham’s Labour councillors, have many enthusiastic supporters left in the city. Since Labour regained control of Birmingham in 2012 its councillors have unanimously voted for cuts to services totalling over £600 million. During this time Ward was first deputy leader of the council and then from late 2017 was overall leader.

He took charge that year following the first of two strikes by bin workers, in opposition to fire-and-rehire tactics being pioneered by the Labour council. The bin workers defeated these attempts to cut their pay and pensions, but not before the council spent £6 million hiring scabs to break the strike and taking the union to court!

Having not learned his lesson, Ward then attempted to cut the hours and pay of low-paid homecare workers, effectively making the job unliveable. As a result of the victorious 15-month strike campaign by these mainly women workers, open warfare broke out within the Labour group on the council. Though the outcry by some councillors centred on the tactics used by Ward and senior management in attacking the homecare workers, not on principled opposition to cuts. The 23 councillors who signed an open letter of protest to a man and woman voted for cuts in the years before and after both strikes!

According to reports, the recriminations from the homecare and bin strikes were a critical factor in the row between different factions of Labour councillors in Birmingham, along with unspecified allegations of racism, misogyny and bullying.

With John Cotton having been part of the pro-cuts council cabinet for the last six years, there’s unlikely to be a change of direction under his leadership. Already failings with the rollout of a new IT system are seeing council workers underpaid, with the cost of the system ballooning five times over to £100 million likely to be used as a justification for further cuts and underinvestment down the line.

Rather than a revolving door of career politicians, working-class Brummies need councillors who will take on the political establishment locally and in Westminster, to fight for the funding for decent jobs, homes and public services in the city. Socialist Party members are campaigning as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to ensure that at the next elections in 2026 there’s the widest possible challenge at the ballot box to the likes of Ward, Cotton and all the other councillors responsible for running down our city over the last decade.