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No vote for cuts parties on May 3

As an exercise in democracy, Thursday’s local elections throughout Britain don’t really cut the mustard. Voters are presented with a range of parties committed to austerity policies and local authorities that are, in effect, adjuncts of central government.

It gets worse. In 11 large cities, there are referendums on whether to have directly-elected mayors in place of the present arrangement whereby the leader of the largest party is able to form an administration.

There is absolutely nothing democratic about mayors, who will stand above councillors. In fact, they are an attempt to obliterate what democratic control and accountability there remains through community-based, elected local councillors in favour of autocratic rule.

No wonder prime minister Cameron admitted that mayors did not constitute “some trivial re-structure or fiddling about” and was instead “a once-in-a-generation chance to change the way our country is run”. With senior Labour figures queuing up to fill the new posts, that’s another reason to reject mayors altogether (more than 61% reject mayors, according to a new poll). So our first advice, if you really intend to vote, is to say ‘No’ to mayors.   

As to the major parties contesting seats, what can you say? For the Tories and their Lib Dem partners-in-crime, contempt does not even get near what most people feel. They have imposed budget cuts of 25% in local council spending, leading to job losses and elimination of services. This is part of an austerity programme designed to make ordinary people pay for the economic and financial crisis generated by a capitalist system that has been in meltdown since 2008.

Westminster has directed local councils in England and Wales to fall in line. In Scotland and Wales, national parliaments have done more or less the same thing. Resistance by local councillors has been restricted to words. Labour councils throughout Britain have dutifully implemented the cuts, encouraged to do so by Ed Miliband and many trade union leaders.

Labour councillors have done the government’s dirty work and intend to continue doing so. There is no way Labour deserves support on Thursday, whether it’s the election for mayor in London or councillors in Manchester. Better to keep your vote in your pocket if that’s the only choice in your area. The Green Party claims that they are an alternative. But when it came to the cuts, Green-controlled Brighton & Hove council also fell into line.

That just leaves some maverick independents and the 132 candidates standing in 32 councils on behalf of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). If elected, TUSC councillors are pledged to oppose every cut and refuse to implement them if they have the opportunity. While TUSC makes no mention of the crisis, or the failure of democracy at local council level, you should give them your vote if they are standing in your area.

In his book The British Constitution, the leading political scientist Anthony King notes:

The story of British local government during the past half-century is in large part a story of its cumulative loss of autonomy, its cumulative loss of freedom and its cumulative loss of power. These losses have been on such a scale that in the early twenty-first century the word ‘government’  in the phrase local government really does need to be put in inverted commas.

That was written in the middle years of the Blair governments. The situation has deteriorated since, alongside the fast disappearing democracy at Westminster. Real, local democracy, with control over resources and decision-making, is an objective most people will support. Achieving that will require a remaking of the present state from top to bottom because it is clearly beyond reform.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
1 May 2012

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