Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2018


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Labour councils

40) Another factor that could act to undermine support for Corbyn among a certain layer of the working class is the role of Labour where it is already in power: in numerous local authorities.

The government's plans to eliminate central government grants to Local Authorities by 2020, turning the clock back to before the Poplar council struggle, means a stark choice for councillors - fightback or carry out the destruction of local services.

While Labour nationally declares itself against austerity, at local level Labour councils are implementing savage cuts.

Inevitably, unless Corbyn comes out to clearly oppose the actions of Labour councils, many workers - already highly cynical about Labour after their experience of recent decades - can conclude that his opposition to austerity is not serious.

41) This May in England most of the major metropolitan councils are up for election. Most are Labour-controlled already (86 of the 151 authorities with elections are Labour controlled), but the Tories are already panicking that they will lose some of those that they still control, particularly in London.

Nonetheless, it is not easy to see how the results will compare to the two very different elections which took place last year.

The 2017 local elections were less favourable territory for Labour than this year's elections, but nonetheless Labour did not do well, fuelling at the time a new frenzy of calls for Corbyn's head.

42) Just weeks later came the general election which transformed the situation. From the moment Labour's radical election manifesto was announced it began to climb in the polls.

Now, following the general election, there is undoubtedly a much wider layer of society, especially of young people, who are enthusiastic about Corbyn.

There will be a mood among some of them, although it is not clear how broadly, that they have a duty to 'hold their noses' and vote Labour in the local elections in order to further strengthen Corbyn's position.

How far this will be cut across by the small number of young people who generally vote in local elections is not clear.

However, without doubt Momemtum will be able to mobilise a certain layer to canvass for Labour in the local elections on this basis.

At the same time, there will still exist another layer who are conscious Corbyn supporters but cannot bring themselves to vote Labour because of the criminal role of Labour in their local authority.

This was the case with some even in last year's local elections, when the general election had been called resulting in national issues tending to dominate.

It was even more the case in 2016, when numerous Corbyn supporters consciously voted for Plaid Cymru, the Greens or in some cases TUSC.

Finally, there will without doubt be millions of workers who will vote in the local elections to express their anger at cuts to local services, privatisation and social cleansing. Where Labour is in power this can mean voting to punish Labour.

43) We should intervene in this process, particularly given our long record of taking the fight against cuts to the electoral plane.

In a few areas there has been a struggle within the Labour Party to deselect Blairite local councillors and replace them with candidates who are more on the left.

In most areas, however, it seems that the majority of such struggles have been unsuccessful, leaving the same old cutters in place.

The biggest exception is in Haringey, where anger against the social cleansing 'Haringey Development Vehicle' (HDV) has fuelled a movement to deselect a majority of the existing councillors.

Clearly, we do not favour standing in seats where the Labour left have won selection contests. Instead, we should concentrate on campaigning to pressure those Labour lefts to adopt a clear anti-cuts stance.

44) It is a different question in the majority of the cases where the Labour candidates are on the right.

Angry workers and community campaigners will want to stand and we should encourage them to do so, where possible under the banner of TUSC.

In this situation it is important we stand candidates as one aspect of the campaign against cuts. If we vacate the field it will not result in workers who have suffered cuts at the hands of their Labour council voting Labour but instead finding another means to express their anger.

Last year Durham Teaching Assistants and their supporters voted for Liberal Democrats or even UKIP in order to punish the Labour County Council that had slashed their pay.

While we are not a strong enough force to completely cut cross that process we have a duty to encourage left anti-austerity candidates.

45) This is more important than in previous years because this will be the first election since the broad politicisation that resulted from the snap general election.

This could mean that a bigger layer of workers and young people will be thinking about how to oppose cuts at local level.

It is also more important because the strengthening of Corbyn's position within the Labour Party means that the Labour lefts' attitude to council cuts is being tested in practise.

The majority of Labour councils continue to be a bulwark of the right but, at least in Haringey, the first council is likely to be elected where the 'Corbynites' have taken a majority via a struggle.

It looks ready to scrap HDV but seems set to continue to implement other cuts. John McDonnell, speaking to Haringey Labour Party at the end of 2017, made clear that he did not think it was possible to refuse to implement the cuts, using the incorrect argument that the law now precluded the kind of struggles he supported in the 1980s.

It would be a serious mistake if Corbyn and McDonnell put this position, which will be used by councils as an excuse not to pursue the legal no-cuts budgets that are entirely possible.

46) However, it unfortunately seems that the approach of 'Corbyn' councils will be on the same lines as the Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees.

He has called anti-cuts demonstrations in order to put pressure on the government to stop implementing cuts.

This is to be welcomed, but has been combined with continuing to implement them! Nonetheless, his actions have raised the possibility of stopping council cuts, and given greater opportunities for us to put the case for councillors to refuse to implement them.

This is likely to be repeated on a bigger scale next year. It is therefore vital that we take the opportunity, including via standing in elections, to put our programme for anti-cuts councils as an essential prerequisite for building a movement to defeat the government over local cut-backs.

47) Of course, there are bound to be a layer of Corbyn supporters who push aside their worries about local government cuts such is their desperation for a Corbyn-led government.

Our duty is to warn them not only that a wrong approach to local government could damage the chance of Corbyn winning an election, but also to point out that the sabotage a Corbyn government would face from the capitalist class is as nothing to what we have seen so far.

48) Just as with the Tsipris government in Greece, capitalism globally would want to try and make an example of a Corbyn-led government, aiming to show not just to the British working class but to workers across Europe and the world that the left offers no way out.

Of course, this does not mean that a Corbyn-led government could not introduce reforms, but they would be doing so in the face of the open sabotage of the capitalist class and the global financial markets.

To successfully introduce any significant reforms would therefore mean mobilising the power of the working class in support of the government's policies.

Faced with the fear for the continued existence of their system, the capitalist class can be forced to go further than their system can afford, temporarily acquiescing to even quite significant concessions.

This would not stop their attempts at sabotage, however, and the only way to decisively combat them would be to take the commanding heights of the economy into democratic public ownership and to begin to build a socialist planned economy, calling on workers across Europe and the world to take the same path.

49) It cannot be excluded, under the impact of mass movements of the working class, that Corbyn could go much further in this direction than he currently intends.

However, his approach so far - at best 'living with' Labour councils implementing cuts and a majority of Labour MPs who are clearly pro-capitalist - does not auger well for his prospects.

We have a vital and urgent role to play in reaching out to the hundreds of thousands of workers and young people who have been awakened to the idea of struggle and socialism in the last year, fighting alongside them and explaining what is necessary for the successful socialist transformation of society.

Key to that is the existence of a mass party capable of leading the working class in that struggle, which we aim to be the nucleus of.

We can and need to win significant numbers to our ranks today, to educate them in our ideas and methods, in order to prepare for the stormy events ahead.


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