Labour doesn’t even attempt to fight austerity and to save services

John Medhurst is a trade union full-time official. A member of the Brighton and Hove Green Party since 2012, he proposed the "no cuts" motion at the party's general meeting on January 17
John Medhurst is a trade union full-time official. A member of the Brighton and Hove Green Party since 2012, he proposed the "no cuts" motion at the party's general meeting on January 17

Neil Schofield’s intemperate attack on Brighton and Hove Green Party carefully avoided the key issue.

Neil Schofield’s intemperate attack on Brighton and Hove Green Party (page 25, January 23) carefully avoided the key issue. Which is how the city can resist the destruction or mass outsourcing of its public services.

PASOK, the Greek Labour Party, has disappeared

PASOK, the Greek Labour Party, has disappeared

If the scale of cuts to local government budgets that both a Tory and a Labour government would make in the next five years are carried through, by 2020 the grant from central government to the city will be reduced to zero. This means £26 million of cuts in 2015-16 alone.

A senior council official said last week: “From this year the council will not have enough funds for vulnerable people to go into residential care, but neither will it have enough money to provide social care for them at home."

Between 2016 and 2020, there would be further cuts of over £100 million. This will cripple care and support services to children, older people, and the disabled. Lives will be ruined. Lives will be lost. Other services - like parks, libraries, and leisure facilities - will go. There will be many redundancies.

Brighton and Hove Labour Party has no solution to this. They would simply wield the axe and hope a Labour government rescues them. But Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, is committed to carry on Tory cuts to local government funding, if in power. “People expect us to be ruthless,” he has said.

And Labour is ruthless. It recently voted with the Tories (with Greens opposing) to reduce the amount of council tax rebate the poorest people in the city receive, which amounts to a 76% rise in council tax for those people. So much for crocodile tears about “regressive tax” increases on the poorest.

The local Green Party has said “enough is enough”. A motion passed by a large majority at a packed members' meeting asks Green councillors to vote against any budget with further cuts to local services and to refuse to co-operate with hitmen sent in from Whitehall to impose them.

This could be the start of a mass movement in the city to resist cuts and restore the government grant lost since 2010. Neil Schofield worries that, if that happens, Eric Pickles would send in officials to impose “savage cuts”, omitting to mention that Labour’s preferred 2% council tax rise would raise only about £1 million, leaving virtually the same amount of savage cuts.

Last weekend, in Greece, we saw people refusing to be victimised anymore. Syriza speaks for all Greeks who have suffered from brutal austerity imposed on them by politicians and bankers. PASOK, the Greek Labour Party, has disappeared - because it had nothing to offer. Labour is a British PASOK - yoked to austerity economics, politically baffled, and bleeding support to parties like the SNP and the Greens that offer hope and opposition to austerity and cuts.

Neil Schofield says that Labour, unlike the Greens, has the “moral courage” to make the cuts required. If moral courage is doing what the Tories and the mainstream media want you to do, then Labour has it in spades.

Because the Green Party has genuine internal democracy there are real debates and differences of view. Some councillors do not support the motion passed last week and prefer a 5.9% council tax rise to protect some vital services. Grassroots members want to begin a public campaign now against all the cuts.

These choices are not easy. Neil Schofield trivialises them with “reds under the bed” invective and a claim that the Green Party is in “a death spiral”. In fact, it has doubled its membership locally and nationally in the last few months and has overtaken the Liberal Democrats in the polls.

The reasons are clear. The Green Party has fresh, constructive, radical policies that challenge a corrupt political elite and a failed economic dogma.

It has a fine record in Brighton and Hove as a minority administration opposed by a cynical Tory-Labour alliance. It has introduced the Living Wage for council employees, led the way in refusing to enforce the Bedroom Tax, and has made roads safer for pedestrians with its 20mph policy. It has also been hugely successful in securing external funding for improvements to the city, such as Seven Dials and The Level.

If it sometimes lacks the courage of its own convictions, it at least does its best to fight austerity.

Sadly, Labour does not even try.

MedhurstBookCoverJohn Medhurst is a trade union full-time official and the author of That Option No Longer Exists: Britain 1974-76. A member of the Brighton and Hove Green Party since 2012, he proposed the "no cuts" motion at the party's general meeting on January 17.