A suspended Labour councillor has warned her party that it could suffer “the most terrible of lost opportunities” by not launching national resistance to council cuts.
Speaking to Socialist Worker in the wake of her suspension by the Labour leadership at Lambeth council, south London, Rachel Heywood said her party “needs to open its eyes”.
She pointed to the “optimism, enthusiasm and hope” that Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader gave to millions across Britain. She said Labour is in danger of “losing that energy and extraordinary determination to change things around”.
Heywood was dragged in front of a special Lambeth Labour Party meeting last Wednesday night for speaking out over cuts. Some 130 campaigners rallied in her defence outside.
She was suspended from the Labour group for six months, for opposing Lambeth Labour cuts to libraries and planned demolitions of housing estates.
They weren’t the only policies she opposed but Heywood said, “My duty is to represent my constituents and give a voice to people whose voices are often not heard.”
Two Lambeth Labour councillors have broken ranks to speak out in support of her. Heywood said “there are others” who back what she has done. A petition to Jeremy Corbyn to lift her suspension has gained over 1,200 signatures in three days.
Remarkably, she was also charged with failing to “prevent public opposition” to the council’s austerity policies, and with “uncomradely” behaviour.
Heywood was “inspired” to resist by a ten-day occupation of Carnegie Library, one of two libraries closed by Labour on 1 April, and a 2,000-strong march against library cuts.
“It was important that a Labour councillor spoke up, especially with so many Labour Party members on the march,” Heywood said. She added, “Policies that are all about wealth creation and economic growth do not answer the needs of the people I represent.”
This is true across Britain. Working class people are sick of austerity and don’t want their councillors voting to cut their services. The Tory government has a clear strategy of pushing the blame for cuts as far from Westminster as possible.
Heywood said Labour councils are faced with an “impossible challenge” to run services with the “catastrophic” funding cuts to local councils. But she is not clear what alternative Labour councils have to implementing cuts.
Last November Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell promised to launch a national campaign against council cuts. “I want to hear more,” said Heywood. “The party nationally needs to show clear leadership.”
“We desperately need a way to set a legal ‘no cuts’ budget. That’s going to need a powerful campaign by the party nationally, in coalition with all those concerned about the cuts.”
Councils have the power to set those budgets already – what is lacking is the leadership arguing for it and coordinating a fightback with the unions at the centre.
Compromising with the Labour right in the interest of party unity while austerity blights the lives of millions will lose, not gain, votes for Corbyn.
People can’t wait in hope of a Labour government in 2020 ending austerity – their lives are being shattered by cuts now. How many more Rachel Heywoods will there be until Labour’s leadership asserts the mandate it was overwhelmingly elected on?