During the next few weeks, many local councils are setting their budgets. Some, particularly Labour councils, are being forced by central to make savage, destructive and irreversible cuts – the sort of cuts that were roundly rejected by the electorate in May last year. Paul Cotteril, a Labour councilor and political campaigner, yesterday made the case for Labour politicians to roll over and play dead to stop that big, bad Eric Pickles from doing something even nastier. Here’s why that strategy is bullshit.
1.) Eric Pickles will cut if they don’t
The Conservatives are pushing cuts onto local councils in order to shield themselves from the blame for their own policies. If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, ask why the worst of the cuts are all happening in Labour controlled areas - Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham, Liverpool and Manchester, to give some examples. By collaborating with central Government, Labour Councilors play right into Eric Pickes hands, taking responsibility for their opponents unpopular, damaging, undemocratic policies. Resisting cuts means the Tories will take the blame for their own shitty ideas.
2.) The removal of penalties means councilors don’t have to go to prison unless they want to.
Cotteril argues that the removal of criminal penalties for refusing to implement cuts makes it harder to resist, as councilors can no longer martyr themselves. This is patent nonsense - if councilors – Labour or otherwise – need a crash course in civil disobedience, I’m sure members of Britain’s ever-expanding anti-cuts community will be more than happy to oblige. When your local finance officer tries to implement cuts, disrupt the meeting, D-Lock yourself to the door, or do whatever you can to convince him to join the resistance. If Pickles takes over in his place, request a meeting and superglue yourself to him. There should be more than enough room on him for everyone to get stuck in.
3.)Resigning as a councilor means you don’t have to pretend to be a councilor any more.
If you’re unwilling to fight for the rights of your constituents, if you’re unwilling to pursue the mandate under which you were elected , if you are unwilling to say no to policies which will ruin the lives of people in your community you have no business being a councilor and you should resign. Arguing that doing this robs you of your powers is not the point – if you aren’t going to use your position to fight for people’s rights, step aside for someone who will. Plus, as a former councilor who had the integrity to stand up against Pickles and his mob, you can use your new-found credibility to help stop the Tories in a whole range of new, fun and exciting ways (see previous point).
4.)The cuts have no democratic mandate
As I’ve already stated, Labour politicians were not elected to implement the Tory cuts program. Neither were the Government. The scale of planned Tory cuts was concealed during the election campaign, and is being driven through, shock-doctrine style, in its aftermath by a party which failed to secure a majority. It is not the duty of progressive politicians to deliver the lesser of two evils. It is the democratic duty of every progressive in this country to resist the cuts by whatever means necessary.
5.) The Conservative agenda must be stopped
Along with the cuts, the Tories are planning the most radical set of public sector reforms in living memory. It is not hyperbole to state that, if they succeed, public services as we know them will cease to exist. To aid them in any part of their program is collaboration. This isn't about careerism or winning the next general election - it is about drawing a line and digging in. Even if you believe we cannot stop them, we must do anything and everything we can to slow them down, to make their lives difficult, to choke their bureaucracy and starve them of resources. If we don't, we'll spend our golden years telling our grandchildren what the NHS was, and how we failed to save it.