Polls suggest the Tories and Liberal Democrats will lose 1,700 councillors on 5 May, mostly to Labour.
That will bring into even sharper relief the contradiction between the unpopularity of the cuts — and the Tory/Liberal government forcing them through — and the reality of Labour-controlled councils imposing them locally.
In Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire these elections look set to force a change in the borough council. Labour is unlikely to win an overall majority but they will almost certainly increase their council representation. But in Broxtowe, two of the Labour candidates are campaigning on a clear “no-cuts” platform.
Greg Marshall (candidate in Beeston West ward) and Andrea Oates (Beeston North) joined Labour after the 2010 General Election.
During their election campaign, they have combined an anti-cuts message on the streets with arguing inside the party. Greg Marshall: “There are councillors and council candidates in Broxtowe Labour Party who do not support this [anti-cuts] position. They are frightened by stories from the 1980s, though individual councillors can no longer be attacked in the same way. Their argument is that we should wait for the return of a Labour government to sort the mess out. But that means the damage will already have been done.”
Greg and Andrea convinced five other candidates to sign a letter to local trade unions committing them to campaign with trade unionists who work in or use the services that are under attack.
“As future councillors in a victorious Labour council in Broxtowe, we pledge ourselves to vigorously oppose… cuts, support jobs for your members, defend public services and remain accountable to the organisations such as yours, whose money and support keep the Labour Party in existence.”
As Andrea Oates commented at a recent debate organised by Nottinghamshire Trades Council: “We need to build an anti-cuts movement that means it’s not just a minority of councillors standing for a no cuts budget but the majority of people in a large campaign.”
Seeking to re-establish and re-make links with the trade union movement locally is an important step in preparing any potential act of defiance by these councillors. It also has implications for the kind of party and labour movement that is needed to not only defeat the Tory/Liberal alliance but also govern in the interests and under the direction of the working class.
Also at the Trades Council debate was Councillor Alan Rhodes, leader of the Labour Group on Nottinghamshire County Council.
Although Labour councillors voted against the swingeing cuts-budget proposed by the Tory leadership of the council, he claimed that refusing to make cuts or the setting of a no-cuts budget was “reckless”.
Andrea responded that it was “reckless to cut libraries, reckless to cut social services, reckless to close women’s centres”.
Large sections of Beeston have already been canvassed and although many people have simply said “yes” or “no” when asked whether they intend to vote Labour, many have engaged canvassers in lengthy discussions, expressing doubts about Labour’s ability and willingness to stop or reverse the cuts.
In these situations, having a Labour candidate and Labour materials that spell out a “no cuts” position has been decisive in getting votes and winning back votes.
Greg’s and Andrea’s campaigns demonstrate what is both possible and necessary if we are to translate anti-cuts energy and sentiment into political action.
Unfortunately such campaigns are rare due to a lack of confidence as well as a lack of consistent working class politics.
Turning this situation around will require further organisation. If elected, the Beeston anti-cuts candidates and others like them will be put under huge pressure to toe the party line.