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Bristol: Labour's short-lived valour
In May Bristol's ruling Liberal Democrats announced their intention to privatise the council's home care service. Labour councillors condemned the proposal and expressed solidarity with Unite and Unison unions representing the staff. Our anti-cuts alliance was told that the Labour group had become a valiant defender of public services.
When a by-election was called in a marginal Lib Dem seat on 8 September, Labour politicians told the unions that we could save home care. If Labour wooed the Tory group then the Lib Dems would be forced out and a new Labour/Tory coalition would run Bristol and provide a sunny future for its council workforce.
Unite officers invited the local Tory MP to a rally for jobs and services. 250 home care workers and anti-cuts protesters had to listen to this maverick Tory attacking the Lib Dems' specific proposal while singing a song of praise to privatisation.
But we judge Labour politicians by their actions, not their honeyed words. We see the three main parties really "are all in it together". An anti-cuts spokesperson addressed the council, condemning all sides for trying to make ordinary people pay for a crisis they didn't cause. The Labour benches cheered and the Tories said they would vote for Labour's motion.
Then the Lib Dem councillors dissected Labour's previous record. They said that Tony Blair introduced personal home care packages based on purchasing care from any provider, private or public, and that Bristol's Labour administration had dispensed already with up to 65% of Bristol's in-house service.
The Lib Dem leader then asked Labour to move a 'no confidence' motion and assume control of the council. The bench opposite turned to stone - they had been found out. The Tories then pulled their support from Labour's motion and the total privatisation of the core home care service was carried through.
Labour councillors think that cuts are necessary, but must be delivered more slowly and with sugar coating. They are easy prey for political critics who retort that the Blair/Brown years laid the foundations for all that is happening today.
Union officials too should beware trading deals with Tory MPs, instead of building campaigns among their members and going into local communities to defend jobs and services.
The Lib Dem leader had the measure of her Labour colleagues but was extremely rattled by the anti-cuts alliance's attacks, deriding us for "opposing everything that all of us in this chamber are trying to do." We happily accept that accolade!
In The Socialist 14 September 2011:
Socialist Party features
Socialist Party youth and students
Stop attacks on pensions
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party reports and campaigns