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.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hackney Council Budget

I spent the evening of my 39th birthday at Full Council passing Hackney's 2011/12 Budget.

This was a fairly grim experience on two levels:

a) we were having to absorb £44m in cuts to our budget by Eric Pickles
b) the local bits of the SWP, the Socialist Party (ex-Militant and including the author of the now dormant spoof Luke blog), the Greens and UK Uncut were in the balcony and outside the Town Hall protesting not against Pickles and the Tories but localising the blame, exactly as Pickles wants, against the Labour leadership of one of the UK's most progressive councils for setting a legal, balanced budget

The protesters have an odd way of trying to win allies on the centre-left, which consisted of moronic heckling and disruption of speakers and chanting, nursery rhyme fashion so that the meeting had to be temporarily adjourned:

“So much courage in the Middle-East, So little in Hackney Town Hall”,
“No if’s, no buts, No public sector cuts”,
“Tax the Rich”,
“How can you stand up without a back-bone?”,
“Pipe is delusional”
and “Shove your ‘dented shield’ where the sun don’t shine.”

I was greeted with a chorus of "Twit, Twit, Twit" - apparently they didn't like me calling them "Trot Chumps" on Twitter. They probably liked it even less when I explained that "no cuts" is literally just a slogan - a classic Leninist transitional demand designed to get people fired-up for something that is physically unachievable within the context of democratic elections.

There were some very courageous speeches despite the bully-boy heckling including from newly elected councillors who actually beat the Tories in marginal wards in May, as opposed to armchair revolutionaries who just mouth off about "fighting" them as a way of increasing their party's newspaper sales.

I am pleased to report that a much heralded across the far left press backbench rebellion didn't happen and every Labour councillor showed discipline and solidarity by backing the budget we had collectively agreed at Group.

I am also pleased to report that the Budget protects frontline services in our borough. There will be no raising of eligibility criteria for homecare for the elderly, there will be no library closures, no closure of children’s centres or youth facilities, no reduction in the cleanliness of our streets or many of the other services on which residents in Hackney depend. One of the biggest impact of the cuts has been the Government’s removal of the ‘area based grant’ which was money that more deprived areas received to help tackle the high level of social need. This money was directed through Team Hackney – our strategic partnership. However, the Council has found £3m to contribute to maintaining some of these services that would have otherwise gone completely – in particular around youth crime intervention and domestic violence support.

A lot of this has been possible due to Hackney Council having managed its finances well over the past few years. In previous years, through efficiency savings we have been able to invest in front line services. In identifying savings this year – whilst facing a massive cut to our spending – the priority was to drive out further back office efficiencies, and improve ways of working.

Hackney's Labour Mayor Jules Pipe was very clear about our opposition to these cuts – they are imposed by Central Government and are an ideological attack on services and the communities we represent. But we’ve also been clear that we have to defend residents and services from the Government’s onslaught.

He said if we hadn’t set a Budget for Hackney, then we would be using residents as a weapon against the Government. There would be an immediate shut down of services – nurseries would close, meals on wheels would stop, libraries and leisure centres would close. This would be playing politics with people’s jobs and lives. Next year we face further reductions in our grant funding. None of us became Labour councillors to want to make cuts. But in making decisions we will do everything we can to make sure that the impact of the cuts made by this Tory Government are minimised. We will be applying our Labour values to every decision we make – and will work relentlessly to protect those we came into politics to fight for and represent.


Anonymous John Cooper said...

I'm interested by this post - why should the blame rest with Pickles? All he does is impose unfair financial targets upon local authorities.

Are you not playing to his game by saying the cuts are his fault?

3:55 pm, March 03, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lesson from this is an obvious one - there is absolutely no point voting for Labour in council elections. The material outcome is no different to that of a Lib Dem or Tory council. Any suggestion that those parties don't care about their communities and wouldn't try to spend the money they had from the government on frontline services is just delusional tribalist bullshit.

If your hands are tied by central government, then your hands are tied by central government. The financial officer will correct your illegal budget.

Nobody thinks that setting an illegal budget would do anything but cause a fuss for the government, but it would do just that - cause a fuss. If you're unwilling to do even that, no matter how futile it might seem at the time, then you don't represent anybody opposes to cuts.

Civil disobedience almost never has a rationally explicable, instantly perceivable, material effect. Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus didn't have any material effect on segregation laws, but her actions were still worthwhile because it established the fact that those laws were wrong and that people were willing to stand up to them. It confirmed what everyone was thinking and was a staging point for a broader resistance.

As someone on the left who is in my early 20s my first politically aware experience as a teenager was the Iraq war. Older Labourites seem to forget that people on the left of my age tend to have no default allegiance to the Labour Party. We have never been particularly convinced that it is a left wing party.

Older activists who remember the times when Labour had left wing policies might not need convincing that Labour is a force for good, and give them the benefit of the doubt. But all we've seen as long as we've politically aware has been nationalist nonsense about British identity, financial sector deregulation, the working time directive and social charter opt outs, privatisation attempts, PFI, marketisations, attacks on civil liberties, intense relaxation about the filthy rich, and of course, imperialist wars.

Part of me rationally knows that Labour at some time in the fairly recent past introduced the Human Rights Act, the minimum wage, SureStart and devolution. But that's not something I ever directly experienced, it's history to us.

I can't speak for anyone else, but Labour has to prove to me that it is a party worth supporting. We know that councillors don't have any real power to stop these cuts directly. That requires genuinely massive uncooperation. But Labour councillors refusing to even take an ethically principled stand on what is essentially a formality, a rubber stamp, is not convincing anyone. Add the fact that you somehow deliriously pretend that going along with exactly what the government said is some sort of courageous decision, rather than the railroaded course of action that the councillors of any of the three similar political parties would take, and it's absolutely appalling.

4:50 pm, March 03, 2011

Blogger John Gray said...

Well said Luke. These people aren't interested at all interested building to oppose to Tories.

They drown out those who were there to peacefully lobby and just distract the blame away for the Cuts from the Tories.

They would rather the “left” argue amongst themselves and just let the Condems get on with wrecking our country

6:49 pm, March 03, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


you say there would be no material difference between a Labour and Tory council.

This is contradicted by the alternative budget motion the Tories tabled last night. It proposed even deeper cuts than the govt has made inevitable (incl £1m off road repairs) in order to fund a council tax cut.

Or look at the Thatcherite policies being pushed by Tory flagship council Hammersmith & Fulham compared to Labour boroughs in London - privatising everything that moves, attacking the rights of tenants etc.


7:28 pm, March 03, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

'privatising everything that moves'

Are you seriously saying that the public sector can ever be more efficient than the private sector?

In which case why did New Labour carry out the massive privatisation program within the NHS?


7:52 pm, March 03, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really are just a twit Luke, it sums it up quite well. When have you ever worked in a front line service? or any service that doens't just serve your own careerist gains. Go back to BAE and continue to make bombs look nice, just like you do with cuts, and the rest of Hackney residents will carry on on the front line. See you on the 26th March? I'll be there, but I won't be standing shoulder to shoulder with YOU

8:02 pm, March 03, 2011

Anonymous Abel Teller said...

I suppose there'll be a spending moratorium across the council from 1 April, rather than waiting a couple of months before imposing it like last year.

8:40 pm, March 03, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the sentiment of the second poster regarding Labour.

In my political lifetime Labour has introduced top up fees, taken us to war, caused a financial crisis, caused a jobs crisis just as we graduated, and now the Labour local council is implementing Tory cuts.

All they can say is that they are not as bad as the other lot

No wonder people are joining social movements rather than mainstream political parties

8:56 pm, March 03, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a local Trade Unionist, I attended the lobby in Hackney, not to attack Labour Councillors, but to partake in one of many protests opposing Cameron's dismantling of the welfare state.

According to Luke, this makes me a 'Trot chump'. Upon hearing that the sympathy I had with Labour Councillors, distinctly lacking in options, started to drain. When I later read that Hackney's Labour Councillors had cheered as they passed their cuts budget, that sympathy completely disappeared.

I have no doubt there are some anti-cuts protestors seeking every opportunity to lump the Labour Party in with the Tories and Lib Dems. By behaving in this undignified manner, even in the face of considerable provocation, Luke and his colleagues have played into their hands.

John Gray writes about people not interested in 'building to oppose' the ConDems who would prefer it if the left argued amongst itself. I'm amazed he can't see that Luke, with his jibes against anyone not ardently following the Labour Party line, is one of these people.

Many will continue to do what they can to save our services (whether or not we agree 100% with those standing alongside us). I'd hope Luke might join in but I won't hold my breath as he's clearly stuck in student politics.

9:23 pm, March 03, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Anonymous 4.50pm

you've got too choices mate.

Either you can learn now that a working flat out to get a moderate Labour Party government elected is the only possible alternative to a Tory-led one. That way we might get them out in 5 years.

Or you can repeat the learning experience everyone on the left had in 1979-1997 and spend 18 years learning the same lesson during which time the country gets trashed.

Believing that a more left wing other party or a more left wing Labour party could ever win power is a dangerous self-indulgent fantasy that makes you responsible for keeping the Tories in power.

11:38 pm, March 03, 2011

Anonymous Lady Snodsbury of Pilkington said...

None of us became Labour councillors to want to make cuts. But in making decisions we will do everything we can to make sure that the impact of the cuts made by this Tory Government are minimised. We will be applying our Labour values to every decision we make – and will work relentlessly to protect those we came into politics to fight for and represent.
The sentiments leave me thinking "fine words butter no parsnips". If you sincerely mean what you say, that you will do anything ... you will, no doubt, soon vote for a cut in allowances for councillors and Cabinet Members and - specially - Mayor Pipe's salary?

Your entry was wrong about many things, including that "ex-Militant and including the author of the now dormant spoof Luke blog" was one of the protesters.

I have it on good authority that the REAL Luke Akehurst was at least 200 miles away at the time and wouldn't be seen dead in the same room as members of the Socialist Party of England and Wales - formerly the Revolutionary Socialist League, formerly Militant Tendency, not to be confused with The Socialist Party of Great Britain, The Scottish Socialist Party, The Socialist Workers Party or a good bottle of Scotch, but closely related to The Socialist Party (Ireland) and The Socialist Party (Australia) and the only true standard bearer of The Fourth International (as opposed to the bourgeois traitors of the Reunified Fourth International).

Perhaps that was his miserable, boring, pale imitator?

7:07 am, March 04, 2011

Blogger Om Nom Nom said...

@ Anonymous 4.50:

You say that 'Labour councillors refusing to even take an ethically principled stand on what is essentially a formality, a rubber stamp, is not convincing anyone'.

If only it were just a rubber stamp, Mr. Anonymous. If only it were the case that if Labour councillors were to not pass the budget, then central government would merely rock up to Town Hall and pass the same budget on the Council's behalf. If that were the case, do you think for a moment that Labour councillors would have passed that budget? They had a choice between leaving the budget to Pickles' KPMG butchers and setting a budget that did the best for our people with the limited resources they had. They chose the latter, and I don't understand how any socialist could do any different and retain a clean conscience. It's all very well making a stand, but that stand wouldn't mean a thing to the people of Hackney when the auditors shut their services down.

Your defence of civil disobedience is an eloquent one, and I agree that it often has a huge role to play, especially in making essentially moral points from which practical politics can come. But when choosing who to direct that disobedience towards, I can't help but think that Wednesday's protesters have picked the wrong target. Let the Tories feel our wrath, not fundamentally decent Labour councillors.

10:33 am, March 04, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Believing that a more left wing other party or a more left wing Labour party could ever win power is a dangerous self-indulgent fantasy that makes you responsible for keeping the Tories in power".

A very sweeping statement indeed as
precedents get broken all the time.

The conventional wisdom in 2008 was that the Democrats would suffer in the presidential election because they did not wrap up their primaries as early as the Republicans. It sounded very plausible but turned out to be wrong. The fact that Obama had to keep the campaign going longer than usual meant that his campaign had a longer-lasting presence in a number of states. This may well have helped in the general election.

More well-argued analysis, please, and fewer sweeping statements.

Thank you.

4:00 pm, March 04, 2011

Anonymous Richard said...

Anonymous, you don't even have the cajones to speak out in your own. Cowardliness of the lowest form.

11:43 am, March 06, 2011

Anonymous Richard said...

"Part of me rationally knows that Labour at some time in the fairly recent past introduced the Human Rights Act, the minimum wage, SureStart and devolution. But that's not something I ever directly experienced, it's history to us."

Oh, so beause you haven't personally benefited from these measures, they can casually be dismissed. Well you've let the cat out of the bag there, Anonymous. Yours is the politics of selfishness

11:53 am, March 06, 2011

Anonymous LabourPartyMember said...

I think you are too quick to dismiss protesters against the cuts. Especially simply as 'Trots'. Bear in mind that in areas where we don't control the council our party members are sat in the public gallery with the 'Trots' heckling Tories and Lib Dems. They might be making worse cuts and relishing it rather than trying to minimise it but ultimately in every LA it is cuts that people are protesting against. At Lancashire County Council a woman who has a severely disabled son was forcibly removed for heckling as the Tory leader announced cuts to respite care - on the north west news that evening the same council leader accused protesters in the gallery of being a 'rent-a-mob'. I'm afraid your automatic disdain for the protesters (however difficult your decisions are) are putting you in a similar boat to that man.

I also believe that many labour councils have not engaged with unions anywhere near enough. I don't know to what extent they are there but I do know that the far-left parties often organise joint actions like these around local Trades Councils. If the unions representing council workers are satisfied however then trades councils are not going to be used in the same way.

12:04 pm, March 06, 2011

Anonymous LabourPartyMember said...

>>>Believing that a more left wing other party or a more left wing Labour party could ever win power is a dangerous self-indulgent fantasy that makes you responsible for keeping the Tories in power.<<<

I would argue this is actually the dangerous self-indulgence.

The idea that because the 1983 manifesto was unpalatably left-wing for the UK public (and it does have to taken into account the SDP split) does not mean that any Labour Party manifesto has to accept the New Labour neo-liberal economic dogma and certainly not that Tony Blair got it all right.

The Iraq War didn't win us votes.
Privatisation of public services didn't win us votes.
Not having any strategic economic planning didn't win us votes.

I perfectly accept that the UK public is not as left-wing as I am and I can make compromises to ensure we get elected but trying to make out that we need to become a wanky centrist party deviod of any principles is nothing more than an outright lie.

12:13 pm, March 06, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Labour Party Member,

if you read my previous posts you will see that whilst I enthusiastically supported the Iraq War I disagreed with Blair's agenda on public service reform and campaigned for Ed Miliband for Leader.

I want Labour to occupy the political centre ground but that doesn't mean triangulating the Tories on every policy area.

9:55 pm, March 06, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

John Cooper

just to clarify, Pickles doesn't just set the targets, he gives us the bulk of our resources - 75% of local authority cash comes from central govt. He has put 14.9% less money in our council's bank account this year. Hence the need to spend less.

10:03 pm, March 06, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Labour Party Member

There's a justification for protesting at Tory or LD led councils (though not for any disruption of proceedings) in that their councillors are the local political allies of the people who made the cuts nationally and helped get this govt elected.

Labour cllrs/councils did not.

Where Labour is in in control anti cuts campaigners should have sat down with the council leadership and local Labour Party and organised a joint protest that involved speeches of solidarity from both sides (council and wider protest movement) and perhaps a march with the Labour Council Leader at its head to present a petition vs the cuts to CLG, a local Tory or LD MP, or to the local Tory HQ.

10:07 pm, March 06, 2011

Blogger D.B. said...

Luke, while I have every respect for the enormous work you do for Labour, and your passionate sincerity in arguing for what you believe are the right politics for progressives to pursue, I find myself agreeing completely with 'anonymous' @ 9.23pm. To goad and antagonize in the manner that has been suggested strikes me as being just as divisive, sectarian and unreasonable as the comrades on the far left who you criticize. As I've argued elsewhere, it seems to me that the more fervent elements of the Labour Right all too often end up behaving like a mirrored inversion of those they criticize on the (somewhat dogmatic) fringes of the Left.

A serious question, which I would be genuinely interested to hear your view on... You claim that: "Believing that a more left wing other party or a more left wing Labour party could ever win power is a dangerous self-indulgent fantasy that makes you responsible for keeping the Tories in power."

Would you not acknowledge that the centre ground in British politics shifts, and that in the present period it's perfectly reasonable to argue that it could shift leftwards? In which case, a more left wing Labour party -- even a slightly more left wing Labour Party -- would be more in touch with the instincts of the British people overall than either the present Tory government or the former Blair governments? Would be interested to hear your view on this.

11:17 pm, March 06, 2011

Anonymous Stuart said...

Whereas I agree on one hand with the idea of joint campaigning against the Tory cuts and directing the protests in that direction, I baulk at the idea that, quite frankly, piss poor Labour Council leaders should be allowed anywhere near any leadership role in protest movements.

8:50 am, March 07, 2011

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


I started the meeting by complaining that heavy-handed policing had stopped councillors from talking to protesters as they came in - hardly goading - in fact it was applauded by the people in the balcony.

They then chose to scream abuse and drown out with childish chanting a Labour council leader explaining why the cuts were damaging Hackney and what we had done to mitigate them.

It was at this point that I stopped treating them with any respect.

On your point about the political positioning of Labour, I've already answered it in some detail last year when I explained why I was backing Ed Miliband.

9:01 am, March 07, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Six Hackney Councillors sign joint statement against cuts
17th February 2011

The statement below, signed by six Hackney Labour councillors, was prepared for a tabloid paper published by Hackney Unites.
Hackney Unites is a diverse coalition of Hackney-based groups and individuals that have come together to challenge social exclusion and promote social justice.
Hackney LRC is one of its founding groups.
The tabloid will be distributed door-to-door in Hackney in the coming weeks.

The Con-Dem Coalition is attacking the fabric of a civilised society: NHS jobs and services are being cut and wholesale privatisation is planned. 3,500 young people in Hackney will lose Educational Maintenance Allowance and student fees are tripling. Access to legal aid is being choked off. Housing benefit restrictions threaten people’s homes. Disrepair stemming from cuts in the Decent Homes programme will affect health and increase stress.

Money available for local councils is to be cut back for four successive years. Some think we should protest - and wait for the next election. Our view is that we cannot wait until the damage is done. Nobody voted to privatise the NHS or make our communities pay for the bankers’ crisis. The government has no mandate. The bankers’ greed caused the crisis - they and their rich friends should pay for it through targeted taxes and a crack down on the tax loopholes used by millionaires and big corporations. As Labour Councillors, along with supporters of the Labour Representation Committee, we support a campaign to defeat the policies of this government through public protest, opposition and defiance.

We would like to see local Councils across London leading the charge and refusing to adopt cuts budgets as a result of government enforced policies and producing a Needs Budgets to show what should be funded. This won’t give local Councils the money to keep services running - but it would give a big boost to the campaign to defeat the government.

Labour needs to reinvent itself as a political movement - not just a party of management and government. Local residents and community organisations need to share their concerns and inform local councillors of the impact of cuts particularly where women, older people, the young, people with disabilities and Black and Minority Ethnic communities will be disproportionately affected by the cuts.

We are facing a national and international emergency and this calls for exceptional measures to mobilise our people and defeat the Con-Dem Coalition. If we do not speak out, our silence will be taken for agreement.

Cllr Barry Buitekant
Cllr Michelle Gregory
Cllr Linda Kelly
Cllr Deniz Oguzkanli
Cllr Ian Rathbone
Cllr Patrick Vernon

4:57 pm, March 09, 2011


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