Monthly Archives: March 2016

Nailing the lie that the last Labour government was “Tory Lite” – By Dave Bodimede, Rayleigh & Wickford CLP

If Jeremy Corbyn is the answer then many baffled New Labourites still wonder what the question is. However, many on the Left assume the last Labour government delivered little for working people. For them Corbyn may be the answer, with ‘a real alternative to the Tories’? But the assumption is wrong and Corbyn isn’t the answer. Labour delivered huge gains, which nail the lie that it was ‘Tory Lite’.

The crash of 2008 changed everything. It was caused by reckless bankers but Labour took the blame because we failed to defend our record from relentless Tory attacks. Prior to the crash, Labour delivered sustained economic growth and low inflation and mortgage rates. We won elections on the ‘Labour Investment vs Tory Cuts’ argument so, in 2007, the Tories pledged to stick to Labour’s spending plans.

Tony Blair was the first prime minister, of any party, to send his children to state schools so his commitment to ‘Education, Education, Education’ was genuine. Labour raised standards enormously and produced record numbers of school leavers with 5+ GCSE passes, helped by the recruitment of 36,000 more teachers and 274,000 more teaching assistants. George Osborne said ‘Labour failed to repair the roof when the sun was shining’. We rebuilt or refurbished around 3,700 schools, and repaired every leaky roof neglected during the Tory years. Labour’s before & after school clubs and free pre-school places were a ‘win-win’ because children got more education and parents had more scope to work, especially lone parents.

Under the Tories, patients festered for months/years waiting for operations. Labour reduced NHS waiting times to average of 18 weeks (the shortest ever) and took over half a million people off of the waiting lists, helped by the recruitment of 85,000 more nurses and 32,000 more doctors. We built (or started building) over 80 new hospitals and renovated every A & E department. More roofs repaired while the sun was shining.

Labour delivered huge gains for working people. The lowest paid saw their incomes greatly increased by the Minimum Wage (Kier Hardie’s legacy) and Tax Credits. We made it law for full time workers to have 20 days paid holiday (plus Bank Holidays), and for part-time workers to have equal pay rates, pension rights, holidays and sick pay. Labour improved maternity leave and introduced paternity leave for fathers.

Children and pensioners benefited greatly under Labour. We lifted 600,000 children out of poverty and built 2,200 Sure Start Centres in the most deprived areas. We lifted a million pensioners out of poverty by targeting assistance to those in most need instead of, as critics suggested, simply spreading limited resources evenly across all pensioners.

Labour devolved more power than any previous government. We created a Scottish Parliament (John Smith’s legacy), a Welsh Assembly and reintroduced London wide government. Labour ended decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland by delivering the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the St Andrews Agreement in 2006. Remember that picture of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness around the same table? Hundreds of lives were saved as a result of sworn enemies running Northern Ireland together in peace.

The Tories assumed they had a permanent majority in the House of Lords but Labour corrected this undemocratic outrage by removing 600 hereditary peers. We can now defeat the Tories in the Lords, and we did over recent Tax Credit cuts.

An internationalist Labour government reduced world poverty by doubling the overseas aid budget and canceling 100% of the debt of the world’s poorest countries. This helped to lift 3 million people out of poverty (each year) and provide education for 40 million children.

It’s time to set the record straight on the last Labour government’s proud record. It wasn’t ‘Tory Lite’. Most achievements were opposed by the Tories, who claimed the investment in public services was ‘wasteful’, the Minimum Wage would ‘cost a million jobs’ and improved rights at work was ‘red tape’.

But it’s not easy to elect a Labour government. Since Universal Suffrage in 1918 only five general elections (out of 26) have delivered a Labour government with a sustainable working majority. Three of those elections produced the last Labour government.

In the last century, the Tories governed Britain for more years then the Communist Party ran the USSR. Our Labour government gave us the longest period of non-Tory rule in over 200 years, but many of its other achievements may have been overlooked by even the most seasoned Labour watchers. Many Corbyn supporters probably don’t know these achievements existed.

We should be proud of a Labour government that did so much to help working people. If we don’t want the last Labour government to become the last Labour government we need to remember its achievements, because how can we expect voters to elect another Labour government if Labour members and supporters aren’t prepared to defend the record of the last one?

Council budgets – By Councillor Tom Beattie, Leader of Corby Borough Council.

Like many Labour Council Leaders and Leaders of Labour Groups I was heartened and encouraged to receive a letter dated 17th December from Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Jon Trickett, setting out the leadership’s position in relation to the setting of legal council budgets. I say heartened and encouraged because there had been some noises off in lead up to this about the setting of “no cuts” budgets and the usual ultra-leftist nonsense about Labour Councils doing the Tories dirty work etc. Let me quote directly from the letter.

“The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP, said in September, “…the situations councils are now in is if they don’t set a budget, a council officer will do it for them. There is no choice for them anymore.” As you know, councils must set a balanced budget under the Local Government Act 1992. If this does not happen, i.e. if a council fails to set a legal budget, then the council’s Section 151 Officer is required to issue the council with a notice under Section 114 of the 1988 Local Government Act. Councillors are then required to take all the necessary actions in order to bring the budget back into balance.

Failing to do so can lead to complaints against councillors under the Code of Conduct, judicial review of the council and, most significantly, government intervention by the Secretary of State. It would mean either council officers or, worse still, Tory ministers deciding council spending priorities. Their priorities would certainly not meet the needs of the communities which elected us.”

So far so good and fairly unequivocal you would think. Not so. According to a statement from the Labour Representation Committee,  to see this as an endorsement of responsible and legal budget setting is to engage in “hasty and highly selective reading” of the leadership’s letter. The letter does go on to talk quite rightly about the government’s austerity cuts being a political choice rather than an economic necessity and of the importance in the run up to local government and mayoral elections in 2016 of pinning the blame for cuts in local government services squarely on the Conservative Government which is causing them. No problem there, although I do wonder what they think we have been doing since 2010!

None of us came into local government to cut peoples services and I for one and am more than happy to campaign with the party nationally and locally to expose the devastating impact of this government’s cuts to local council spending. Another suggestion recently mooted has been for councils to dip into their reserves to fill spending gaps left by central government cuts. Again what do people think councils have been doing up until now? Interestingly the late unlamented former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles used to use this argument when challenged by the LGA and others about cuts to council funding. “What are you moaning about”? Eric would say. “You’re sitting on mountains of reserves”. Strange bed fellows indeed. I have to say that what reserves my council holds in no way resembles a mountain, more like a small grassy mound.

The most recent local government settlement is, if possible, even more challenging for Labour Councils in the years ahead. We have done some great things in town halls across the land in recent years and shown what Labour can achieve when in power. However, we need to remain united within our Labour Groups. Discipline and cohesion is important. Without that we will be easily picked off. Siren voices urging “no cuts” illegal budgets will not help us in holding this rotten Tory Government to account. We’ve been down that road before and it is a dead end.