On Saturday 24 March around 100 Labour Party activists attended “Re-imagining Local Government: London for the many and not the few”.
This event came out of discussions between London Momentum members and left activists. We wanted to create a forum for the left to think about what it would do if it won seats in the May elections.
An ill prepared left, devoid of strategy and ideas could be subsumed in the right-wing swamp that currently makes up the majority of councils. Local government policy is dominated by a managerial ethos in which officers dictate many of the decisions and councillors act as administrators of Tory cuts.
John Burgess, from Barnet Unison branch secretary spoke of their fight against outsourcing and the need for Labour to commit to bringing services in house and working with the unions.
In the session “From the streets to the council chamber”, activists talked about how to bring local campaigns and their demands into the Labour Party and how to campaign locally for manifesto conferences. Younger Labour members listened, riveted, as John Dunn spoke about the battle fought by Clay Cross councillors in the early 70s, and how they mobilised the community to defy Tory rent increases.
There were areas of discussion and difference. While cooperative principles were welcomed there was also criticism of the way the right have used coops as a soft option to justify further outsourcing. It was pointed out that mutuals can have worse working conditions. As cooperatives have to compete in a capitalist market they find it hard to be profitable without massive subsidy.
There was discussion about Labour councillors opposing cuts completely. Some council candidates said that they wouldn’t vote for cuts while others said that to do so would risk expulsion from Labour. Most agreed that Labour’s rules about the functioning of Labour groups and councillors need to be challenged. Harrow councillor Pamela Fitzpatrick said that while councillors can abstain on matters of conscience this is very narrowly defined and doesn’t include not voting for cuts to services for working-class people. It was collectively agreed to write a model submission for Labour’s Democracy Review on some of these issues, including opposing the restrictions on councillors voting for needs budgets and against cuts.
The event was lively, political, and brought together those who want to change the way Labour acts locally. We need more events like this.
There will be a follow up after the May elections, when we will have to put our ideas into practice.