Labour Party Councillors

January 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

Today a Labour Party activist explained to me some of the complexities of sitting on a local council and being in the Labour Party.

This came up partly as a result of an earlier anecdote about how some anti-cuts activists have taken the line that any Labour Party Councillor who does not vote against the cuts in their local council is a traitor of the labour movement; i.e. for these anti-cuts activists the only acceptable position is “No Cuts.”

The Labour Party activist I was talking to explained that this is a bit simplistic. He suggested two types of council we might consider. Type A: the council is controlled by ideologically right-wing councillors who are going to enthusiastically push through all the cuts the government wants pushed through, and more. Type B: the council has a range of people on it and there is some hope of making sure that if there must be cuts then those cuts that are chosen are the ones that cause least damage to public services. In type A councils it seems the best position for a Labour Party Councillor is to vote against the cuts and be a martyr of sorts, a lone voice speaking out against what the government is doing. If it ends up that a majority of the councillors in the council vote against the cuts, then the council as a collective body will be against the cuts and will refuse to come up with a budget that is acceptable to the government. In such cases the government will remove the democratically-elected councillors – all of them – and bureaucratically-appointed officials will take responsibility for pushing through all the cuts the government wants pushed through with no consideration of what will do most damage. If enough councils take this position collectively, a strong message will be sent to the government.

For type A councils that is fine, but for type B then what I am referring to here as the line of some anti-cuts activists does more harm than good: if the council refuses to come up with a budget that is acceptable then the officials will come in and push through all the cuts, which is a worse outcome than if the councillors had accepted some cuts and ensured the cuts chosen are the ones that do least damage.

In either case a councillor may be concerned that one outcome of adopting a “No Cuts” position is that they will be expelled from the Labour Party. The activist I was speaking to told me about a councillor who had adopted a “No Cuts” position and asked her comrades not to pass resolutions of support for her but to just let sleeping dogs lie, and as a result (he suggested) did not have to face as much as a comment from the Party Whip.

Therefore on this matter it is crucial that Party activists in favour of a “No Cuts” position should “face both ways”: on the one hand supporting rather than reprimanding councillors for whom the most pragmatic course of action is to vote for cuts and ensure that the cuts that are chosen are the ones that cause least damage to public services, on the other hand remaining staunchly anti-cuts and so giving a clear indication to the anti-cuts movement that 1) at least some elements within the Labour Party are on their side and 2) the Labour Party has the potential to be the party of the people.

The message for the anti-cuts movement is that before dismissing any Labour Party Councillor who does not vote against the cuts in their local council as a traitor of the labour movement, understand the position that Labour Party Councillors are in, and don’t fall into the ludicrous position of seeing such Labour Party Councillors as the main enemy when they can – and must – remain allies in the struggle against the cuts.

For discussions around these issues see the following links:

http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2010/11/05/labour-councillors-and-tory-cuts-realities-and-responsibilities/ – I think Paul is taking the same position as the Labour Party activist whose position forms the content of this blog post; because I am new to all this (i.e. local council politics) my account is rather more woolly and vague than Paul’s.

http://laca.org.uk/2010/11/25/labour-party-councillors-stand-with-us-in-the-fight-against-the-cuts-dont-vote-for-the-budget-on-the-29th-november/ – See especially the exchange between Councillor Mike Harris and Paula W in the comments section of this post.

http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=23498 – An example of the anti-cuts position to which this blog post is a response.

http://www.socialistbulletin.com/labour-party/noexcusesfornotfightingcuts – Discussion of the Labour Representation Committee meeting in which the resolution mentioned by Paul was passed, and a repetition of Paul’s point that the legal repercussions councillors face for refusing to make cuts are not the same today as they were in the 1980s, which means – as Paul argues – that the strategies adopted by anti-cuts Labour councillors today should not be the same as those adopted in the 1980s.

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