An emergency council meeting in Tower Hamlets, east London, on Thursday of last week showed why we need Respect councillors to oppose the neoliberal agenda of all three mainstream parties.
The ruling New Labour group pushed through a budget that took an axe to the borough’s welfare services while raising council tax by almost 5 percent.
Respect’s 12 councillors were the only ones to oppose all cuts to welfare services in principle – and to demand instead that the council makes its savings from capping the bloated salaries of its senior managers and consultants.
Concerted campaigning by community groups and trade unions had forced New Labour to pull back from its most unpopular proposal – to means test its welfare services for elderly people.
But Labour pressed ahead with £3.8 million of cuts to frontline services.
The Liberal Democrats meekly proposed that the same cuts could be made to different frontline services – and then proceeded to abstain on the budget vote itself.
The Tories suggested that the council could save money by cutting “mother tongue” services and promoting the English language instead. This would encourage ethnic minorities to “integrate”, they said.
Respect, in contrast, targeted the neoliberal management culture that runs rampant in the borough.
“We demand that Tower Hamlets stops attacking people and starts fighting the government for the money to improve the life of people in Tower Hamlets,” said Respect councillor Oliur Rahman.
Respect pointed to the fact that Tower Hamlets has more senior managers on salaries of over £100,000 a year than any other London borough. Top managers’ pay has rocketed by 84 percent over the past three years.
The proposal to cut fat cat pay drew howls of outrage from the other parties.
New Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems all closed ranks to insist that Tower Hamlets must pay “market rates” to attract “talented” managers to the borough.
Anything less than a six-figure package would “discourage capable people” and lead to a “brain drain” from the borough, they said.
New Labour eventually pushed through its budget, complete with cuts to services such as respite care for mothers of disabled children. But the debate brought out the real line of division – three neoliberal parties on one side, with Respect as the fighting alternative.
For more on Respect councillors go to Preston is a key election battle