I’m sure you’re now well aware that Labour gave done pretty well in the local elections. Elected mayors have been decisively rejected in most of the towns and cities that have held referenda on having them (I hope you’re choking on it, Siôn Simon) and in my city, Birmingham, the Tory/Liberal coalition has been swept aside and Labour have won a stunning majority.
Which is all great. Obviously it’s a bit of a pisser Boris looking like he’s won in London but you can’t extrapolate anything from the result other than the cockneys foolish adoration for a man with a shtick that masks one of the most ruthless (and right-wing) operators in mainstream British politics. More fool them.
The issue, of course, is what now?
I’m going to dwell on one example tonight, Liverpool, to try and drag out a few of the issues.
Council leader Joe Anderson won the mayoral election in convincing fashion, with nearly 60% of the vote. The Tories came seventh, a pretty brutal demonstration of how insignificant they are in most northern working class areas. They were even beaten by Tony Mulhearn (who was standing for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition), the former Militant councillor and prominent leader of the Tendency in their 80s showdown with the Thatcher government. Mulhearn managed about 5% from what was essentially a standing start, which all things considered isn’t that bad and shows that an explicitly anti-cuts message has an audience. Labour Party take note.
Unlike other areas the council decided to make the change without consulting the people in a referendum, which is a shocking affront to democracy if you ask me. Clearly they were scared of the result, and Anderson has secured an extra £130 million of central government funding in return for stitching things up.
(Which of course illustrates that there is government money available when it suits them to make it available, and that the politics of austerity is a complete lie.)
Anyway, leaving one of my many ideological obsessions aside, Anderson made the following comment at the count:
“The people of Liverpool have spoken democratically……they have rejected the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, they have given their trust to the Labour party.”
Considering turnout was 31% it is hardly a ringing endorsement of Anderson, Labour and the much-vaunted mayoral system, which I’m sure you remember we were told would rejuvenate local politics, is it? Getting around 17-18% of the total electorate to vote for you hardly represents a great mandate, especially when you consider the turnout in local elections in Liverpool in the 80s, when the Militant were in their pomp.
Which conveniently leads me on to my other point. The Guardian report makes this rather biased observation:
The result marks a clear political shift in the political make-up of the city, with Tony Mulhearn, who along with Derek Hatton led the city’s resistance to Margaret Thatcher, and stood under the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition banner, getting less than 5% of the vote. In an interview with the Guardian, Anderson stressed how he aimed to bring more private investment into Liverpool.
Considering the Militant have been out of power for well over 20 years, that is a bit of a delayed political shift. Militant were also operating inside the Labour Party, which as you can see won handsomely. So I’m not sure what point the writer of the piece is trying to make. Mulhearn was essentially running as an independent, is 73 years old, with no money, no party machine behind him, an extremely hostile media in the pocket of Anderson, direct electoral competition from the Greens, Anderson ran scared and refused to debate with him and in any case Mulhearn had only announced his candidacy quite recently. I’m sure that the author is trying in a roundabout way to say that socialism is dead, but I’m not quite sure how she reaches that conclusion on the evidence put in front of her. In fact he has done pretty well, all things considered.
Joe Anderson, social democratic representative of the Liverpool working class, appears to agree with this ‘socialism is dead’ thesis as well though:
“One of the things that is very, very clear to me is that funding for local authorities, for cities, is never going to be the same again……therefore local authorities have to do things differently. We have to be entrepreneurial as well, working with the private sector to create new jobs.”
Anderson’s focus is on attracting private investment because the state will no longer support municipalities in the way they did in years gone by. Why they won’t and what has forced this dramatic change isn’t discussed, it’s just a ‘reality’. We just need to be good little boys and girls and accept what we are told by those in Whitehall, however self-evidently spurious or downright dishonest it is, and trying to change that ‘reality’ is an impossibility, naturally.
And I don’t know about you, but I get shivers down my spine when I hear the word ‘entrepreneurial.’
A pretty pessimistic version of events. Austerity is permanent. Councils will have to have make cuts to make ends meet. The future lies in the private sector. Thatcherism is triumphant. Which is kind of funny when you think about it as Thatcherism royally fucked up Britain and Liverpool in particular.
Considering Liverpool councillors were handed £130 million to subvert the democratic process, how can they honestly argue that money isn’t available? Anderson’s supposed ‘pragmatism’ is just code for a pro-business agenda.
And this point goes to the heart of the situation we are now in. Labour have control of huge swathes of councils that yesterday they didn’t. But they will face the same budgetary constraints as Tory administrations and will be faced with a choice.
Will they cut or will they fight?
On the evidence of what happened in Liverpool, I think we may already know the answer.
All things considered, if I was a scouser I would have been sorely tempted to vote for Tony Mulhearn………