Byelection issues 2 (continued): what the candidates say on cutsPosted: June 23, 2013
I asked the two leading candidates in the Hanover & Elm Grove byelection this question:
— Dani Ahrens (@rebelyarns) June 17, 2013
Emma Daniel replied the next day with a series of three tweets:
— Emma Daniel (@huxley06) June 18, 2013
I invited her to say more, and she said she would, but has since changed her mind.
In the meantime, David Gibson sent me the following statement by email on June 20th:
“Firstly, I believe that councillors should play an active part in the coalitions of resistance, such as the People’s Assembly. Along with 400 others, I was heartened by the strength of opposition. Personally I was also proud of the part played by the Green Party in helping to organise this event. I was reminded of the mass movement of non-payment and resistance against the Poll Tax. The success of that campaign demonstrates that it is wrong for councillors to think purely in terms of operating within mainstream political institutions.
Secondly, I believe that councillors should use their position to publicly highlight the injustice of the way that ordinary people are being made to pay for the mistakes of those at the top through cuts and austerity. I will continue to be vocal about on this.
Finally, at a local level councillors should explore imaginative ways of generating revenue and getting round the constraints caused by austerity. I recall in the 1980s how local council housing departments found ways to drive a coach and horses through the restrictions on capital spending, thereby protecting investment in council housing for many years. We should also consult with residents to identify what is truly needed for our city and base campaigning on the difference between this and the imposition of cuts by central government.
The Green administration of Brighton & Hove has worked hard to protect vital services for the most vulnerable and avoid compulsory redundancies. If elected, I would work hard with my colleagues in the minority administration not only to protect services for the most vulnerable and to highlight injustices, but also to take take practical steps, such as radically accelerating the building of new council houses – something that is entirely realistic within the current constraints.”
I had been hoping to compare Emma’s longer response with David’s, but even without that we can see some clear differences between the candidates on this issue. Emma thinks the council can’t really resist the cuts, beyond lobbying, while David thinks the council can play a part, alongside residents, in mass campaigning for more resources from the government. Emma thinks the way to create jobs in the city is by supporting small businesses, while David favours direct investment in council housing. Emma sees the desperate need of local people as a concern, while David identifies it as an injustice.
These differences may be more about presentation than actual policy, but I suspect not. There has been little difference in practice between what the minority Green administration has done so far in Brighton & Hove and the behaviour of Labour councils around the country. But the deeper the cuts bite – we have not yet seen the devastating impact on local residents of the benefit cap and universal credit, nor of the planned £30 million budget cuts at the Royal Sussex County Hospital – the more our politicians will be forced to put their principles into action. In circumstances like these, what we desperately need are politicians with a clear grasp of what those principles are.
I have been asked why I’m not including Phil Clarke in this discussion. Phil is the candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and a member of the Socialist Party. His line on cuts is solid and strong, like a brick wall, and includes the inevitable call for a 24 hour general strike. He can’t possibly win – the TUSC candidate in Hanover & Elm Grove attracted a grand total of 156 votes in 2011. However, thanks to the stupidity of our electoral system and the peculiarities of this particular contest, an increased vote for TUSC could result in a gain for Labour against a clearly anti-cuts Green candidate.
I can absolutely understand the temptation to put forward and vote for an uncompromising stand against the cuts and in support of workers driven to strike by an administration which claimed to be on their side.
I also see the value of using an election campaign as a platform for views that are not represented by any political party with a chance of being elected. That’s part of what I’m also trying to do with this series of blog posts.
But I think voting for Phil Clarke would be a mistake in this particular byelection. I think David Gibson would be as effective as a voice against cuts and for radical action in defence of working class people as anyone elected to the council can be. His voice would be more effective because it would be added to those of others within the Green group who have shown solidarity with the Cityclean strikers, despite the damage to their party’s electoral chances.
As I’ve said before, I think the Green administration missed a good opportunity to stand up for the people of Brighton & Hove against the cuts, and that is part of the story that has brought them to a damaging conflict with their most militant workers. But those of us campaigning outside the council chamber missed a trick too. We failed to engage the Greens in a real dialogue, preferring instead to shout the “correct” answer at them and berate them as traitors when they didn’t adopt the tactics of Liverpool council in the 1980s.
I think we won’t win like that. Instead, what we need is a bit of the imagination and creativity shown by the students and workers at Sussex University, still campaigning in an exemplary way against privatisation. We need to acknowledge that these are new circumstances, requiring new tactics. And we need to allow ourselves space to debate those, without drawing up battle lines between us before we start. Please feel free to continue the debate in the comments below.