For all the recent attacks on him, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party looks set to do well in coming council elections.
Voting will take place in 151 English councils on Thursday 3 May. They’re the first since the earthquake general election of June last year when Corbyn’s Labour robbed the Tory government of its majority.
Top Tories are fretting that in London they could lose hundreds of council seats to Labour, and maybe even whole boroughs that were once thought of as bastions of the Conservative Party.
One Tory minister told the right wing Spectator magazine last week, “There is only one word to describe the party in London—screwed.”
If that’s the case, the Tories will be reaping the whirlwind of a funding crisis that they caused.
Since 2010 Tory-led governments have slashed local government funding by almost 50 percent.
For most councils that has meant cuts of hundreds of millions of pounds.
So when Corbyn launched Labour’s local election campaign last month, he pinned the blame for the cuts firmly on the Tories.
His speech ended with a hint of the radical flavour of last year’s general election campaign.
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” he said. “After eight years of Conservative cuts, failed privatisations and falling living standards, it’s time for real change”.
The way Labour councils deal with the funding crisis is a real test for how a Labour government might resist austerity.
Corbyn promised that “Labour in government would do things very differently. And Labour councils across the country are doing things very differently right now.”
Corbyn spoke of how Labour councils acted as a “human shield” against cuts.
The reality is that every Labour-run council acting as that “shield” has simply implemented the central government cuts.
At best that’s meant trying to soften the blow with gentler or slower cuts.
For the victims of austerity, the fact that cuts were made by a Labour council rather than a Tory one makes little difference.
They don’t have to do it.
As Corbyn said in that same speech, “Austerity is a political choice.” Labour councils can choose whether or not to set a cuts budget.
They can start by using their borrowing powers and relying on reserves. But ultimately they have to defy the government.
Labour councils can show what a Labour government that is serious about resisting austerity can do.
Crucially, they have to look to the support of people ready to resist on the streets, and their own workforce ready to strike, if the Tories try to take over.
That would really be doing things differently.
Birmingham Labour cut, close and privatise services
Labour-run Birmingham city council has provoked some major disputes with its own workforce as a result of its austerity measures.
An attack on bin workers’ pay last year led to a huge campaign of strikes that eventually forced the council to make some big concessions.
Now homecare workers are fighting proposed redundancies and changes to the rota system that would destroy the service.
And a vicious attack on adult day care centres will have devastating consequences on the lives of the people who use them.
Wendy Collymore describes herself as a Labour supporter but she is furious at the way the council has tried to force through the closure of The Fairway centre.
Both she and her father rely on adult day care.
As chair of the Save the Fairway campaign, she has fought the council’s attempt to close the service since it was confirmed in a letter last September.
Once the council’s centres are closed, the people who rely on them will be told to look at private alternatives.
“They want to introduce this thing where the council will give you a lump sum,” said Wendy.
“You then employ someone to come in and help you, or you pay for a privately-run day centre.”
Perhaps the most damning response of the council is the way it views the centre’s users and their supporters as a nuisance.
Wendy said, “Councillor Paulette Hamilton has been invited on over 14 separate occasions to come and speak to the service users.
“She says, ‘If you want to talk to me, you go through the council solicitors’. A Labour council is not prepared to come and speak to us.
“Instead they said, ‘Listen you idiots, you’ve had consultations—shut up’. This is Labour saying to the most vulnerable people in Birmingham, shut up and do as you’re told.”
The left is ‘quiet as a mouse’ in Bradford
Bradford council last week voted through cuts and changes to children’s services that will mean hundreds of job losses.
A People’s Assembly activist close to those who work in Bradford children’s services spoke to Socialist Worker.
“The council has commissioned what it called an ‘independent’ company to review a consultation into the service,” he said.
“But when you look on their website you can see they’re a management company designed to help managers make cuts.”
He added, “The council is becoming increasingly right wing. It doesn’t reflect the principles of the Labour leadership.”
But he said that Labour left group Momentum “hadn’t said anything”. “They’ve been quieter than a mouse with a throat infection,” he said.
“There’s a number of Momentum people standing in the election this year and I think that’s why they haven’t said anything.
“They don’t want to rock the boat.”