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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 November 2018

Haringey 'Corbyn council': end the secrecy and confusion - lead a fight against the cuts

Protesters in Haringey marching against the HDV, photo North London SP

Protesters in Haringey marching against the HDV, photo North London SP   (Click to enlarge)

Haringey Socialist Party

Haringey Labour Party members have been shocked and outraged by the announcement that their north London council is considering cuts of a further 10% in its budget (see 'Haringey's 'Corbyn council' must refuse to make cuts!').

The previous right-wing Labour administration, led by Councillor Claire Kober, had already cut 40% from the borough's services. It also proposed wholesale privatisation and gentrification through the 'Haringey Development Vehicle' (HDV), sparking successful protests.

But most of those councillors were deselected last year by Labour members who expected something different from a new, pro-Corbyn Labour council.

This new council leadership has been planning more cuts behind closed doors, keeping them secret from the Labour membership. But some of the details have leaked out.

For example, capping personal social care budgets to the cost of residential care. This means elderly and disabled people who wish to live independently will need to pay a premium to stay in their own homes! It's reminiscent in some ways of the Tories' notorious 'dementia tax' proposal.

A left council cabinet member described these cuts as putting Haringey in the vanguard of the most brutal cuts implemented by any Labour authority.

The council leadership hoped a Labour councillors' group meeting on 22 November would push through decisions on the cuts, pre-empting discussions within local Labour bodies and presenting the membership with a fait accompli.

But such was the opposition reflected by councillors that the Labour group postponed the vote for one week, while the leadership agreed to use reserves to at least soften the blow of some cuts.

Councillors opposing the cuts had organised a meeting where Corbynista MP Chris Williamson spoke. He described how his local Labour council spent years implementing Tory cuts.

Voters promised to vote for him as MP, but told him they could not vote Labour in the council elections. The council leader lost his seat to Ukip, and the council fell to a minority Tory administration backed by Ukip and the Lib Dems.

Chris Williamson's answer is a rise in council tax, with Haringey councillors suggesting 100 to 150% - albeit with a rebate to lower bands ensuring most residents do not pay a net increase.

He acknowledged this proposal is not a panacea, as council tax is still a regressive tax that needs to be totally replaced. Also, raising council tax by more than 6% requires a local referendum, and would need a full year to organise and campaign for.

Imagine the shock of local residents when they receive a letter asking them to vote for a 150% hike in their council tax. And even if the council can reach the majority of voters with a promise to pay it back, will it be trusted?

He replied to objections from the floor that such a referendum would be lost by claiming the 'only' choices are council tax hikes or budget cuts. Even if it could be won, it would take over a year - but the proposed 10% cuts are to this year's budget.

Chris Williamson said a referendum would democratise the choice and ensure that residents owned it. He described this as a "win-win situation" - saying if Labour is defeated at the referendum, and so 'forced' to make cuts, then it is the people's choice!

Some have argued these cuts will show local people the 'need' to vote for a council tax rise.

But in reality, both the cuts and the proposed council tax rise would utterly discredit the Corbynista Labour left in the eyes of workers and residents.

In actions, cuts-making left councillors would be no different from the pro-austerity Blairites that preceded them. At best, this would cause widespread demoralisation and disengagement - at worst, leave the field open to the populist right.

Some councillors have responded to the brutality of the cuts by arguing against only those hitting the most vulnerable residents.

But this would divide the fightback, with each sector having to argue it is the most vulnerable and that cuts should be transferred to others. The Socialist Party's approach of passing a no-cuts budget and fighting for the needed funds would instead unite the whole council workforce and local community in joint struggle against all cuts.

Another proposal which has emerged is for the council to pass a cuts budget - but secretly not implement all of these cuts by spending reserves.

This would also be a dangerous mistake. It would sow confusion in the Labour and trade union movement.

The message - and reality in many areas - would be that the Corbynistas had approved a cuts budget. And council managers - many of them appointed by the Kober regime - could still enact all the cuts as officially agreed.

Haringey Labour's manifesto conference in February passed a motion calling for the council to prepare a legal no-cuts budget, utilising reserves and borrowing.

But whenever a no-cuts budget is proposed, councillors reference the strawman argument that an "illegal deficit budget" would mean imposition of unelected government commissioners to run the council.

The truth is that nobody is advocating an "illegal" or "deficit" budget. The council has over 100 million of usable reserves, and substantial prudential borrowing powers, which can legally prevent all cuts in this year's budget. Never mind that the Tories can't even control their own cabinet right now, let alone stand up to an anti-cuts council if backed by a mobilised workers' movement.

Councillors object that the no-cuts strategy is not long-term sustainable because reserves and credit cannot be drawn on indefinitely.

This is correct. So the council would have to use that breathing space to build a campaign among the Labour Party, trade unions, council workforce, service users and residents to win the needed funding from Westminster. The Labour Party alone has over 5,000 members in the Haringey area.

Some councillors have said they support a campaign against the Tories, but only the national party can lead this, not local councillors.

This is an abdication of leadership. The councillors are the leading members of the local Labour Party. And if they carry out cuts, it will seriously damage Haringey Labour's credibility if it later tries to campaign against these cuts.

Some councillors say Haringey cannot win alone, and a national campaign is needed before they can take action.

The Socialist Party calls for a coordinated campaign by Labour councils, to be backed by the national Labour leadership.

But how do we construct such a campaign? Haringey - the first 'Corbyn council' - has a duty to take the lead, launch the struggle, and call on other councils to join it.

And even if forced to fight alone, Haringey would be facing an unpopular, crisis-ridden, divided, minority Tory government - we can win!

This is particularly the case if Haringey Labour joins with the Socialist Party in calling on Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to underwrite all debts incurred by councils who refuse to pass on cuts.

There is no excuse for inaction.

Without the confidence to lead a struggle, even well-intentioned councillors can end up as a transmission belt for Tory cuts - discrediting the left in the process.

But it is not too late for Haringey Labour to set a no-cuts budget and mobilise a movement to force the Tories to restore its funding. Such a campaign would hasten the demise of Theresa May's chaotic government - and the election of an anti-austerity Corbyn government.

Haringey Socialist Party has written to Labour councillors to seek an urgent dialogue on this approach - read the full text below. Local workers and Labour members showed last year that fighting gets results when together we defeated Kober and the HDV. With left councillors in office, rank-and-file pressure could win a no-cuts budget.

An open letter to Haringey Labour councillors: don't pass on the cuts!

Dear councillor,

Many Labour, trade union and socialist activists are very concerned about the discussions taking place at the moment with regard to cuts in Haringey. We understand that cuts currently being considered are in the order of 10%.

Many of us in the Labour Party, Socialist Party, trade unions and anti-cuts organisations were very pleased when the old Blairite, pro-Kober councillors were deselected in favour of anti-HDV candidates. This was a very popular move which successfully enabled Labour to distance itself from the old Kober regime.

By taking a stand, the current crop of Labour councillors could transform the political situation in Haringey and have a decisive influence on the course of events beyond. Haringey could spearhead a united campaign of Labour local authorities who face the prospect of making similar cuts. Such is the anger that exists towards the Tories, and the disarray in their ranks, this could even ignite a movement to force a general election and propel Corbyn into power.

We understand that the level of cuts being discussed would represent a brutal attack on the most vulnerable people in our borough. We believe that this would be a disaster not only for those who suffer the effects of local austerity, but also for the fortunes of the Labour Party. This would be particularly damaging to Corbyn as Haringey has been dubbed the first 'Corbynista' council.

We are utterly opposed to the implementation of any cuts. Haringey has suffered cuts in the order of 40% since 2010. The fat has well and truly gone and now we are down to the bone. There were high hopes that this new administration would wipe the slate clean.

We believe that remains a real possibility - but only if councillors commit themselves to a struggle by refusing to implement any of the proposed cuts. It would be quite possible to pass a legal no-cuts budget by using reserves and prudential borrowing.

If this were backed up by a series of meetings and a conference called by Labour councillors across the borough to explain why we have to resist the cuts, we are convinced this could provide the basis of a real mass movement in Haringey to eradicate austerity in the borough, thus putting Jeremy Corbyn's words into action.

A public announcement by council leaders committing them to such a strategy would be a huge step forward and a real inspiration to all those looking for a lead on this issue.

We would like to meet you at the earliest possible opportunity, to join forces with any of you who want to form a powerful anti-cuts coalition across Haringey. We eagerly await your response.

Yours fraternally, Haringey Socialist Party

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In The Socialist 28 November 2018:

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