Times have changed and Labour-run councils need to stop implementing Tory cuts and make the needs of the people their priority, writes Mick Wattam
The process of political change in the UK has certainly upped a gear of late. We are living in a truly historical moment as on one hand the Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell calls for a million people on the streets for next Saturday's demonstration in London, "Not One Day More", and on the other, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party addresses large audiences - including Glastonbury music festival - with speeches calling for the socialist transformation of society, and pointing out that real change has never come from political elites but has always been won by the actions of the many, we the ordinary people at the base of society.
Everyone feels that the lifespan of this newly elected Tory government will be short, and hopefully that will be true. If people heed the calls of McDonnell and Corbyn and create a situation where the demands from the majority of people put the tories in a position where they are unable to pursue their austerity programme, then we could force them out sooner rather than later. Although they've had to ditch many of the nastier policies they put forward in their manifesto, austerity remains key for them and we still face wholesale privatisation of the NHS and massive cuts to the schools budget beginning this autumn, which we can ill afford to let happen. These alone are good reason why we have to take to the streets in larger numbers than ever before to force this government out of office.
But there are also serious problems we face at local level too. It is all very well the Labour leadership talking about the transformation of society for the benefit of the majority, which is obviously extremely popular, but this is still not yet reflected at local level where Labour controlled councils often seem oblivious to the transformation happening in their own party away from the deeply unpopular Blairite influence.
Since the general election we have seen a shift in opinion about Jeremy Corbyn's abilties as Labour leader from many longstanding members of the party, and these people should be given the chance to get on board with the new politics Labour now has, but it is time to draw a line between those who now feel they can and need to mount a stronger defence of local services and amenities, and those who want to carry on in the old way.
Admittedly, as we all know, these cuts have been forced through by the Tories who have slashed council funding for many years now, making it very difficult for councils to do anything other than to make cuts. However, when I look at what Doncaster Council is planning to do in the coming months I think it's time they listened to their new national leaders and reconsider these plans in light of the change in the orientation of the party leading to its newfound popular support, and the detrimental effect they will have on working class lives if they go ahead with them.
When I hear that Doncaster Council have served notices of eviction on market traders in order to push through their plans for the gentrification of our historical market place, I'm afraid I see no sense in it. Their treatment of the stall holders and their customers is nothing short of disgraceful. As the markets are traditionally the shopping areas of many of the poorer people of Doncaster, and also of the ethnic minorities within our community, I find it deeply offensive for a Labour run council to be doing this, and struggle to understand how this fits in with the excellent slogan 'For the many, Not the few' which the whole of Labour needs to fight around.
It may seem a small issue in some ways, but I also find the plan to lease out a large portion of one of our local parks to an allegedly 'not for profit' organisation who want to develop 'first class sporting facilities' on it, absolutely wrong. It is said that it will attract national competitions to the proposed facility, but I ask, what about local kids and adults who have the right to decent parkland to play sports and enjoy other activities without feeling the need to compete at higher levels? Surely providing open areas of parkland for everyone to enjoy is preferable to restricting its use to those who want to exploit it for big money sporting events?
It has been said widely that Labour councils have managed Tory cuts all too well in many circumstances. The acceptance of austerity and neoliberalism by it's former Blairite leadership did lead to paralysis within Labour and the trade unions operating within the local authority sphere against ever deeper cuts. But those circumstances are now changed and the needs of the people should now be priority.
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