A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ideas from Labour's past not to revisit #1

This is number one in what might turn out to be a depressingly long series of posts pointing out which ideas tried last time we were in opposition we shouldn't revisit (unless we want to be out of power for 18 years this time too).

First up is Daniel Blaney (CND Vice-Chair), mulling over very thoughtfully the idea that Labour Councils might vote for illegal budgets, http://www.labourlist.org/daniel-blaney-should-labour-councils-pass-illegal-budgets, a strategy last attempted in the rate-capping rebellion of 1985 by Lambeth and Liverpool (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rate-capping_rebellion) and endorsed by the LRC at its Conference last Saturday.

This is superficially attractive as a way of avoiding Labour councillors being politically implicated in cutting services, or morally compromised.

Here, however, is why this is an idea that shouldn't even be mulled over thoughtfully, but dismissed out of hand:
  • There isn't a moral requirement on Labour councils who are the victims of Eric Pickles' budget cuts to not implement them, any more than there would be a moral requirement on the victims of benefit cuts to keep spending as though they still had the money. The central government cash will not be in council's bank accounts so it will be physically impossible to carry on funding services to the same value as before even if the political gesture made sense.
  • There's a whiff of refusal to come to terms with losing the General Election in this. We told voters "vote Labour or else there will be massive cuts". 71% of them didn't. So the cuts are here. We didn't say "if you don't vote Labour we will somehow be able to ignore the government changing and carry on spending locally as though we were still in power nationally".
  • Town hall vs. Whitehall is such a lop-sided battle there can only be one winner. It isn't good strategy to pick a fight against someone who holds all the cash and legal powers.
  • It will remind older voters of Ted Knight (who was actually at the LRC event) and Derek Hatton and help the Tories establish a narrative that we have gone crazy again.
  • It didn't work in 1985. No one actually stopped the cuts. All that happened was that the councils which had tried to resist ended up making chaotic unplanned cuts at the last minute, with a far worse effect on jobs and services than councils like Graham Stringer's Manchester that carefully planned their budgets within the resources Thatcher gave them, preserving the services vulnerable residents most needed.
  • The law has changed since 1985. You can't even get as far as setting an illegal budget and being surcharged. All that happens is that the council officers set a balanced budget for you, with no reference to your political priorities.
  • If Labour doesn't balance budgets at local level where it is a legal requirement, it hardly sends a message that in power nationally we would be fiscally responsible (and the idea that we weren't was a major contributory factor in our defeat last May).
  • A gesture of defiance to Eric Pickles wouldn't cause him to think again. It would delight him. He cut his political teeth attacking Labour municipal gesture politics in the '80s and would love nothing more than to send in the commissioners to take over a few Labour councils and to resurrect the bogey-man of the "loony left".
  • Holding public office brings with it fiduciary and legal responsibilities which trump your political instincts. All councillors sometimes have to make cuts. Councils often have to make people redundant when service requirements or funding streams change. The scale and distribution of spending cuts this year is horrific, unfair and draconian, but every councillor knows when running for election that their duties include setting a balanced budget in bad times as well as good. If you are not prepared to accept that responsibility, don't run for office.

Interestingly it is usually people who haven't stepped up to the plate and been councillors who advocate this strategy. It was a councillor who bravely spoke against it at the LRC conference.

Almost all of us who have had our budgets slashed by Pickles and will have to take the terrible decisions about what to cut this year are getting on with the reality of it, and trying to apply our socialist values in deciding which services to protect, not fantasising about getting out of this ghastly scenario through insurrection. I wish there was an easy way to say "no" to these cuts, but there isn't.

This isn't to say that Labour councillors shouldn't lead the political protests against Pickles' cuts and be screaming from the rooftops about their impact on our communities - we absolutely should.

Future posts in this series are unfortunately likely to include explanations of why we shouldn't:

  • pursue a syndicalist strategy of trying to bring down Cameron through strikes
  • advocate unilateral disarmament
  • allow Trotskyists to infiltrate the Labour Party
  • go soft on law and order
  • go Euro-sceptic
  • propose the nationalisation of major sectors of the economy
  • put forward an Alternative Economic Strategy based on autarky

Most of the above were supported by the LRC on Saturday. Every motion except number 10 in this booklet was passed: http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/files/RESOLUTIONS_2011.pdf. Read it and weep. At least in 1979-1983 they had the partial excuse of not knowing how unpopular this kind of stance was. That they have not changed what they are advocating suggests a pathological inability to learn from experience.


Blogger David Boothroyd said...

My good friend Sam Blacketer is very grateful for the link to that Wikipedia article on the ratecapping rebellion of 1985. I know one of the issues he had during the course of writing it was exactly what it should be called, as there wasn't any national name for the campaign of not setting a rate except the anti-ratecapping slogans. None of the main academic sources identify a consistent name. I believe the source of the name 'ratecapping rebellion' was really from a book published by the Lambeth Fighting Fund in 1986 although it did not appear there in those precise terms.

Still it is interesting to see what the future scions of new Labour such as Steven Byers were doing in 1985. Who among the current LRC activists will be a leading figure in a future Labour government in 2025, I wonder?

10:58 pm, January 19, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Owen Jones? There goes his street cred.

11:03 pm, January 19, 2011

OpenID charlesbarry said...

In more happy news, the LRC appears to be a vanity campaign by John McDonnell.

11:08 pm, January 19, 2011

OpenID sarahhayward said...

You may need to add to your list of future posts a) Labour councillors resigning, causing by-elections and restanding - go figure on the cost of that one at a time of cuts and b) majority opposition, another throw back but with less power!

11:43 pm, January 19, 2011

Anonymous Dave said...

Testify! Couldn't agree more Luke.

10:58 am, January 20, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Luke,

I just want to comment on the first point you made about Labour councils not being able to fund services while we have a Tory government.

While what you say is correct, the question I often get asked on the door step is, what's the point in voting in a Labour council if all they are going to do is implement the government's cuts? Now, I know the council has no power to spend money that it doesn't have, but does it really make a difference in a community whether the person who closes your library is a conservative or labour politician? We now have a Labour council in our borough, and we are making savage cuts to local services, so how are we any different from the Tories? Yes we can say, "but we don't want to make cuts, whereas the Tories would enjoy doing it" but I'm sure that wont cheer up service users much.

My point is, what is the point in having locally elected councillors if they are powerless to do anything that doesn't fall in line with the government's plans? What we really need to do is give power back to the councils, but until that happens, how are you going to answer the question, what is the point in voting in local elections as it obviously makes no difference either way?

By the way, we have a local by-election in the next few weeks, and people are already saying this kind of thing to me, so any thoughts you have on this would be greatly appreciated.


11:12 am, January 20, 2011

Blogger Hughes Views said...

Spot on as you are so often Luke.

Did they also vote to "pay each according to their needs" or to "kill all the lawyers" by any chance?

Everything's easy to those who've never done anything.

11:27 am, January 20, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Anon 11.12

The difference between Labour and Tory councils isn't just about level of spending, it's about what you choose to spend the cash you still have on.

Labour councils will be guided by their manifesto priorities and by their socialist values.

This tends to mean safeguarding the services most needed by vulnerable groups in society or which have the most impact on the economic well-being of the least well-off.

If you want to explain the difference tell people about the enthusiastic cutting of vital services by Tory Hammersmith & Fulham compared to the way in which Labour boroughs like Hackney are protecting frontline services as much as possible by reducing back office costs.

11:57 am, January 20, 2011

Anonymous Alan said...

Luke, your original post was an analytical and clear headed description of the current situation, but your reply to my comment is the same kind of empty answer you would expect from any politician.

"Labour councils will be guided by their manifesto priorities and by their socialist values."

I mean...come on. In my borough, we're cutting libraries by half, we're shutting almost all day centres and we're cutting funding to charities. I'm sure not one of those was a manifesto pledge. And if you were trying to design a program that would hurt the must vulnerable people in society, the above three areas would feature pretty high in your list.

Now, I'm not saying we want to do it, but our hand will be forced to do it whether we like it or not.

The fact is, that last May we strode around the borough telling everyone how it would be different under Labour, telling people we would fight the Tories to protect their services. And as soon as we get in power, what do we do but subserviently implement a range of harsh Tory cuts.

There's nothing that we can do about this. But at least we can be honest.

12:13 pm, January 20, 2011

Blogger Bill said...

Of course Luke is right, you can't campaign to administer capitalism, and then complain when you have to implement capitalist policies. Socialists in the Labour Party should leave it to campaign for socialism and nothing but, instead of hanging around to hang with the reformists.

The SPGB is always waiting...

12:51 pm, January 20, 2011

Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

hey luke

in my piece i was careful not to be too critical of the LRC - an organisation i have never been a member of. i was also careful - indeed, it was almost the raison d'etre of my piece - to say as a movement against the government's policies we should be careful not to be distracted by attacking our own side.

i was sorry your piece didnt adopt the same approach.

i don't think there is anything to be gained by being so heavy handed with the policy endorsed by the LRC. i don't see it happening in reality; meanwhile this issue will remain live because of the real danger of labour councillors being blamed for tory cuts. whats the strategy to deal with this?

1:52 pm, January 20, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Future posts in this series are unfortunately likely to include explanations of why we shouldn't:

Support unilateral disarmament"

Does this mean that Luke opposed Tony Blair's unilateral abandonment of landmines that helped to bring about a treaty banning such weapons (The Ottawa convention)?

It would be interesting to know the answer to that one.

The fact is that countries make unilateral decisions all the time.
If that were not the case, then Britain would presumably still be using bows and arrows. Perhaps Luke thinks it was wrong to uilaterally abandon them too?

3:12 pm, January 20, 2011

Anonymous Jeremy Killingray said...

I agree Luke, however, Clay Cross provides another example of Labour folly setting illegal rates/budgets - see entry from Wikipedia below (the only mistake I think is David Skinner is I think Derek Skinner brother of Dennis) - The town was an urban district until 1974, when it was merged into the North East Derbyshire district under the Local Government Act 1972. In the 1970s the council achieved brief notoriety due to its refusal to implement the Housing Finance Act 1972 in increasing the rents of council housing: by law the rents should have increased by £1 a week from October 1972. The council was one of several to show defiance against the Act and of three to be ordered to comply by the Department of the Environment in November 1972 (the others being Eccles and Halstead). Clay Cross UDC was threatened with an audit in December 1972.[1] The constituency Labour party barred the eleven councillors from its list of approved candidates.[2] The District Auditor ordered the eleven Labour Party councillors to pay a surcharge of £635 each in January 1973, finding them "guilty of negligence and misconduct".[3] Conisbrough UDC faced a similar audit on 19 January 1973.[4]

The UDC made an appeal in the case to the High Court.[5][6] Clydebank and Cumbernauld abandoned similar actions in March 1973. The surcharge was upheld by the High Court on 30 July 1973, which also added a further £2,000 legal costs to their bill, as well as barring them from public office for five years.[7] The council further defied authority (the Pay Board) in August, when they decided to increase council workers' earnings.[8] This provoked a further dispute with NALGO. Ultimately, the dispute became moot with the replacement of Clay Cross Urban District Council with the North East Derbyshire District Council from 1 April 1974.[9][10] The councillors were made bankrupt in 1975.[11]

A book on the dispute between the council and the government, The Story of Clay Cross, was written by one of the councillors, David Skinner, and the journalist Julia Langdon. The book was published by Spokesman Books in 1974.[12]

7:42 pm, January 20, 2011

Anonymous Tim Webb said...


First time I've read your blog. It's all impressive good stuff and its nice to see a well-placed activist/provocateur stirring the pot and getting people (like me) to respond. Columnists Julie Burchill and Richard Littlejohn make a good living out of it. However if you are aiming to put the boot into the left, it's probably better if you do it accurately.

Your point about opposing 'unilateral disarmament' is a false one because nobody is proposing that. What a lot of us say - I would imagine most Party members - is that Britain's security does not depend on nuclear weapons. That is very different from chucking all military hardware into the sea. However, you are in good company because about about two years ago Michael Heseltine (on radio) admitted that the Tories used the same tactic when they thought they were losing the debate against Bruce Kent and Joan Ruddock of CND all those years ago. He said that the Tory strategists decided to take out the word 'nuclear' so that the public would believe that Labour, led by Neil Kinnock, wanted to leave Britain defenceless.

He said the tactic worked. But will it work again, however hard you try? I doubt it. The world is a very different place now. There is no opposing nuclear-armed military bloc and people with laptops plotting in the hills of Waziristan are hardly likely to be impressed with the renewal of Trident. Do the citizens of all the other European countries, except France and Russia, lie awake at night worrying that their lack of nuclear willy-waving capacity is threatening their existence. I doubt it.

The arms lobby in this country is extremely powerful and BAE Systems is at the heart of it. This company has milked the UK taxpayer for years, producing weapons that were late, way over budget and didn't function. I dealt with the 'defence' industry - as a union official - for over 25 years and saw at first-hand how they robbed the public purse

The MoD, always heavily influenced by BAE, is now spending as much money as it can on progressing work on the submarine so that when a final decision has to be made it can say - as it did with the useless aircraft carriers - that it would be more expensive to cancel than continue. At the time of slashing cuts, do we really want the Labour Party to be supportive of a policy that pleases only the the Navy top brass, the manufacturer and right-wing politicians? Even the Army is opposed as they know that Trident means less resources for them

Time to reconsider?

Best wishes.

8:42 pm, January 20, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, why bother trying to writ a rule book when situations are very fluid and the types action that Labour may come to associate itself with at the local level will succeed if we respond to the local circumstances effectively building roots and relationships with the communities we serve. You are welcome to bash LRC's somewhat dated ideas, but what we need is an injection of fresh, positive ideas about the way we campaign at the local and national level. Perhaps a serious looks at excessive pay in the local government sector for elected and non-elected officials would strike a chord with the electorate and free up cash for front line services.

2:06 am, January 21, 2011

Anonymous Stuart said...

'Socialist values'. That gave me a good laugh - have you looked at yourself lately?

10:35 am, January 21, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Hi Tim,

Your critique of BAE may be valid on other major programmes, but the two previous submarine-carried strategic nuclear deterrent programmes (Polaris and Trident) were famous exceptions to this - they were not late and were not over-budget.

The point of the deterrent we are buying/renewing is not that there is a nuclear-armed threat now but that there might be in the 20-50 year forward timeframe from the Trident replacement coming in to service to it going out of service. Russia and China are already nuclear armed and may not be as friendly in 2060 as they are now. Iran or a future rogue state might develop nuclear weapons and need detering.

Personally I would not want the UK not to have nuclear weapons unless and until there is global nuclear disarmament.

I'm no more supportive of the unilateral conventional disarmament Liam Fox has carried out in the SDSR cuts than I would be of unilateral nuclear disarmament.


4:38 pm, January 21, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Jeremy Killingray said...
Clay Cross provides another example of Labour folly setting illegal rates/budgets "

but did not mention that "some of those Councillors were associated with the Militant tendency"

9:18 am, January 22, 2011

Anonymous Michael Edwards said...

I might be showing my ignorance here, but had never known that the Clay Cross dispute involved Militant. Are people sure?

Anyway, I'm grateful for Luke's entry and as soon as the Labour Party blog system is back on-line will be using huge parts of it in my own, in reference to a letter received from the local Unison branch.

Like one or two the respondents, however, I seem to want to get in on the disarmament article before it's written! Beyond the obvious point about presuming it was about nuclear disarmament, I hope some acknowledgement is given to the mentality developed in the eighties by a number of leaders that tactical nuclear wars could be fought; and that those claiming to be multilateral nuclear disarmers were in fact unilaterally increasing the number of weapons.

For all that, the statements David Miliband would make in response to questions on nuclear weapons in the leadership campaign summed up the case for a multilateral approach quite well. We just have to mean it.

Quite how the Vice-Chair of CND pitches in on capping, I'm not clear. Ironically, for a member of the Labour mainstream, I was the first to be capped by the New Labour Gov't. Putting me on a par with Ted Knight - except a) I hadn't intended to cross any line; b) I was within the limits announced at the outset by Nick Raynsford (they were to measure increases over 2 years, not one); c) I received no warning (unlike 48 other councils; transpires there was a Whitehall foul-up on the collation of figures). But I'm over it and hardly feel the need to mention it these days (yep, irony).

So the only value in mentioning it is to say how much of an upper hand Westminster and Whitehall has in these situations.

Michael Edwards, Nottingham.

11:21 pm, January 22, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Michael Edwards ... had never known that the Clay Cross dispute involved Militant. "

It was the miniature Liverpool of its decade.

All in the archives guv. Lots of people have the paperwork.

12:01 pm, January 23, 2011

Blogger David Boothroyd said...

Michael Edwards: the 11 surcharged councillors in Clay Cross included David Skinner who was a member of Militant. Skinner was one of Militant's candidate for the Labour Party NEC in 1973. See Michael Crick's book on Militant.

3:07 pm, January 23, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Boothroyd : This is from Harry Barnes, but this site won't take my ULR. I am on threescoreyearsandten.

Whatever Michael Crick claims, David Skinner was not a member of Militant. Although it is likely that they supported his candidature for the NEC. But then so did lots of people, as he achieved the highest vote for an NEC candidate who was not an MP nor an ex-MP, since the time of Harold Laski. After the eleven Clay Cross Councillors were debarred from office, a second team of councillors were elected. Labour took ten seats and a Ratepayers Association took the other one. They held District Council Office for a month and then due to Local Government changes served as Clay Cross Parish Councillors. They were also surcharged. In an attempt to remove them from office, the District Auditor charged them "jointly and severally" so the debarrment level of £2,000 each could be reached. A defence fund (also needing to cover costs) was, however, run on their behalf and the money was raised, allowing them to stay in office. In 1977 a resolution calling for the lifting of the original disqualifications was carried at the Labour Party Conference, over-riding opposition from the NEC and the Conference Arrangements Committee. It is was in the days when Labour Conferences had a form of democratic structure.

I can see the problems with non-implimenation and majority-opposition in modern circumstances; but their advocates do place a burden on the Labour Party to come up with alternative policies - even if is only to say what Labour will do to overcome the growing cuts programmes if they achieve office. Making nice cuts instead of nasty cuts, only has a limited life span.

7:00 pm, April 14, 2012


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