Let’s stop looking the wrong way

I was going to blog about the Brighton & Hove Labour group’s astonishingly melodramatic reaction to a simple difference of opinion on the level of the council tax.

But actually, that is not what I think is most interesting or important about the current situation in Brighton & Hove.

Here are three things I’ve noticed over the last couple of days:

1. People outside Brighton & Hove can see more clearly what’s happening

The minutiae of who said what in which committee meeting are only interesting to local government geeks like me.

But supporters of Compass Online, War on Want, the New Economics Foundation and other progressive thinkers, the editor of the Local Government Chronicle and even Simon Jenkins (no friend of the Green Party) can see the bigger picture – this is about challenging the stranglehold by which Eric Pickles is squeezing the life out of local councils.

Even the mention of a referendum is seen as exciting and challenging by people all over the country who have seen their councils impotently protesting while apologetically cutting budgetsshedding jobs and closing services.

2. People in Brighton & Hove do not want social care services cut

Even in the Argus comments, there are many contributions by people who begin with some variation on “If the money was ringfenced for social care, I would support an increase.”

3. Both council unions are likely to support the Green proposal

As I said in my last post, it’s very unlikely we will get a referendum.

Instead, what we are getting is an opportunity to debate the way our local services are paid for and organised. The unions representing the people who deliver those services know better than most what the potential cuts would mean for their members and the citizens they serve.

They know that the “efficiency savings” made over the last two years have left services cut to the bone and staff under immense pressure.

They know that the mythical ‘elsewhere’ – from which Labour and Tory councillors and Argus commenters alike would like to find the money to avoid damaging cuts – does not exist within the council’s budget.

Maybe, however, we all need to look for that ‘elsewhere’ a bit further afield. Oxfam reported this week that just 85 people own as much wealth as half the world’s population. We are all being ripped off by the super-rich, and we’re too busy squabbling about speed limits to notice.

Here are some questions that matter more than the backstabbing and backroom dealing in the Town Hall:

Do we want to live in a city, or a country, where the weakest go to the wall?

Or do we think it’s important to look after each other, to share what we have with our neighbours and friends, in the knowledge that they would do the same for us if we fall on hard times?

Why are housing costs in Brighton & Hove so ridiculously high? Surely we can do something to provide decent, affordable housing for everyone who needs it.

Who, exactly, is telling us we have to accept cuts on cuts? What do David Cameron and Eric Pickles know about getting by on minimum wage or subsistence level benefits?

Referendum or no referendum, let’s stop looking in the wrong direction and start asking some better questions.

3 Comments on “Let’s stop looking the wrong way”

  1. ianchisnall says:

    A great blog Dani, lets hope that some of those currently immersed in the minutiae can get their heads up long enough to read it and reflect if they could be making better use of our time!

  2. Martin Cross says:

    I suspect that the reason people away from Brighton have a different view about the referendum is that they are too divorced from what is going on here to understand its origins. At a distance you can debate the issue as if it really is about challenging Eric Pickles’s iron fisted control of local democracy, which is a very worthy aim, but in fact this is little more than a cynical manoeuvre to avoid taking difficult decisions and seeking to embarrass the Labour Party. People in power reach for the referendum, or promise of a referendum, button when they are trying to get themselves out of a hole. If it goes ahead and they win they are heroes, if others block it, those people are the enemies of democracy, if they go head and lose, they are still heroes for giving people the choice. Of course the current administration did not give a choice last year, and if they had won a referendum last year there would not be such savage cuts this year.

    It would be interesting to know what level of Council Tax the administration would have set if there were no referendum requirement. 4.75%, minus the costs of the poll, is not going to come close to keeping the budget at its present level, never mind restoring the cuts of previous years. Why do they not have the courage to genuinely stand up to austerity and ask the people to vote an anti-austerity rise?

    This is desperation dressed up as grand political cause, and the people sitting comfortably away from Brighton can cheerlead and pontificate away about taking on Pickles. However, if they have their way, win or lose, it will be the hard pressed families of the City, those choosing between eating and heating, who will have to pay the price of such indulgence.

    • Dani says:

      Hi Martin, thanks for your comment.

      What are the difficult decisions you would recommend that the administration of Brighton & Hove council take?

      What would you do if you were running the council?

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