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LP 1900 Manifesto

 

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Bedroom-TaxBeat The Bedroom Tax – Loophole gives hope!


Advice From Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism
Written By Robert Clough

The revelation that possibly 15% of all tenants forced to pay the bedroom tax are in fact exempt because of a legal error must give hope to those fighting this vicious attack on the working class.

Described in the media as a ‘loophole’, it is in fact down to the criminal incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) who ignored clauses in housing benefit regulations set out in 2006. This error means that any tenant who has been on housing benefit since before 1 January 1996 and who has been occupying the same house over that period is exempt from paying the bedroom tax.

In an urgent bulletin issued on 8 January 2014 acknowledging the ‘mistake’, the DWP stated that only a ‘small number’ of tenants would be affected. DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and DWP ministers have said between 3,000 and 5,000 tenants would have their bedroom tax payments refunded. These wretches had no basis for their estimates, and made them up to minimise the scale of the government’s incompetence. The true figure will be at least 40,000, and possibly many more. One Wirral housing association, Magenta Living, believes from its own records that 320 tenants out of 2,076 paying the tax are exempt. This figure does not include those who are in succession tenancies, or who have had to move through force majeure in the period since 1996 (because of fire or flooding, for instance), or who have downsized because they could not afford to pay the tax. Even so, at least 15.4% of its tenants have been unlawfully forced to pay the bedroom tax. This is not out of line with initial figures obtained for other housing authorities in the north, and would translate into a national figure of over 80,000 (15.4% of the 522,000 currently paying the tax).

What does this mean for the tenants involved and their families? They have had to make choices between heating and eating. Life, difficult enough beforehand, has been made intolerable by the worry of eviction for non-payment. It drove Stephanie Bottrill to suicide in May 2013 – we now know she was exempt. Thousands have been forced to abandon what had been their family home for decades. Their lives, and those of their families, have been wrecked – and we are talking here about up to 200,000 people living in the 80,000 affected households. To compound the cruelty, councils such as Wirral and St Helens have unlawfully demanded repayment of Discretionary Housing Payments made to those now recognised as exempt.

This cruelty will continue into a second year because there is no organised resistance despite judgments that benefit tribunals have made in favour of tenants. First Tier Tribunals have ruled that bedroom size is a factor that has to be taken into account in determining bedroom tax liability. They have also ruled that in making bedroom tax decisions, housing authorities have to consider room purpose and current usage; the rights of children to a family life where parents have separated; the specific needs of disabled people, and take into account the human rights of tenants. A real movement would be making hay with this.

Councils have argued that they cannot act on First Tier Tribunal decisions since they do not set legal precedents. However, Upper Tribunals do, and a Bolton Upper Tribunal has set a very important precedent, saying that a room can only be a bedroom if it has a bed in it and is used for sleeping in. In other words, if a room is not furnished with a bed and is not used for sleeping in, then it is not a bedroom (see speye.wordpress.com for greater detail). The importance of this lies in the way councils made their original bedroom tax decisions. Labour and Tory alike, they all uncritically accepted data submitted by social landlords which was no more than the number of bedrooms as recorded on tenancy agreements, and refused to inspect each home to determine how those rooms were being used. This blanket approach was unlawful, and with councils having to undertake annual reviews of housing benefit decisions in February and March, campaigns must up the ante by demanding that council officers inspect every social housing property before making housing benefit decisions for 2014/15.

The DWP has said that it will act to remove the 1996 exemption. While there is no limit to the vindictiveness of the ConDem coalition, this may not be straightforward. Coming in the wake of the continuing Universal Credit fiasco it will be a further exposé of governmental incompetence. The media will find it hard to stigmatise those affected as Benefit Street ‘scroungers’: the overwhelming majority of them are either disabled people or carers who have worked in the past but are unable to do so now. In the meantime up to 80,000 tenants can take out complaints of maladministration against the DWP with the Parliamentary Ombudsman and against their local council with the Local Government Ombudsman. They will also be able to sue both for the financial hardship and distress they have suffered. All of this shows that the bedroom tax can be beaten: it merely requires determined organisation.gypt, Syria, London, Liverpool, Birmingham: Join The Resistance!

 

We take a look back at some of the many promises and quotes by David Cameron prior to the 2010 general election and ask ourselves why should anyone believe a word that comes out of the PM’s mouth?6

“With the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS”.same as labourThe coalition government went on to make some of the biggest changes to the NHS since its creation.

“We have absolutely no plans to raise VAT. Our first Budget is all about recognising we need to get spending under control rather than putting up tax”.14George Osborne rose VAT from 17.5% to a record 20%.

“I like the child benefit, I wouldn’t change child benefit, I wouldn’t means-test it, I don’t think that is a good idea”.1The coalition government later abolished Child Benefit for higher earners.

“Yes, we back Sure Start. It’s a disgrace that Gordon Brown has been trying to frighten people about this. He’s the prime minister of this country but he’s been scaring people about something that really matters”.7Hundreds of Sure Start centres have since closed their doors.

“We have no plans to change existing Future Jobs Fund commitments”.2Within weeks of the coalition government taking office it announced the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund.

“We’ve looked at educational maintenance allowances and we haven’t any plan to get rid of them”. 8Nine months later the coalition announced that EMA was to be scrapped.

“Let us look at the issue of dependency where we have trapped people in poverty through the extent of welfare that they have”.13Since then we have witnessed some of the biggest cuts to welfare since the formation of the welfare state, which has led to a five-fold increase in poverty-stricken families turning to food banks.

“People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity”.13The UK has been forced to endure some of harshest austerity measures in decades and those policies haven’t come from “further and further away”. They’ve come from David Cameron and his coalition government.

“We cannot go on as we are with 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit, 500,000 of them are under 35.”5Sick and disabled benefit claimants are still being wrongly found ‘fit for work’ by inhumane benefit tests.

“We will say to people that if you want to work, we will do everything we can to help you. We will give you the training, we will give you the support, we will give you the advice to get you back at work”.12Or hide jobseekers away on the government’s controversial Work Programme so that they can manipulate unemployment statistics perhaps?

“When you’re taking the country through difficult times and difficult decisions you’ve got to take the country with you. That means permanently trying to make the argument that what you’re doing is fair and seen to be fair”.9Tax cuts for Millionaires whilst some of the poorest in society are struggling to make ends-meet due to welfare cuts and poverty wages”.

“What we’re putting forward is the most radical reform of the welfare state for 60 years. I think it will have a transformative effect in making sure that everyone is better off working rather than on benefits”.10Figures show that for the first time in history there are now more working people living in poverty than those in workless households.Voag-Logo-Darker

The Friern Barnet library victory shows the way to
campaign against cuts

Local residents, Occupy activists and squatters have worked together to force the council to re-open Friern Barnet library.Friern Barnet library

The Guardian, Nov 15th, 2013
Local residents, Occupy activists and squatters have worked together to force the council to re-open Friern Barnet library.

When Bob Marley and Peter Tosh wrote the classic protest song Get Up, Stand Up they could not have envisaged that it would be adopted by a group of mainly white, middle-aged, middle-class north Londoners who have formed a remarkable alliance with a group of squatters and members of the Occupy movement to oppose a library closure.

On Tuesday, all of the above joined hands in a human chain around Friern Barnet Library in north London. It was closed in April 2012 due to council cuts, and occupied by squatters five months ago, who reopened it with the help of local volunteers almost immediately.

Needless to say the council was not pleased. It has now reopened as a community library with financial input from the council who shut it down. Together, the disparate group of library fans sang an adaptation of their song that Marley and Tosh would probably have approved of – Get Up, Stand Up, Save Our Libraries.

The council threatened to close the library in 2009. Residents and Labour councillors staged various protests, including leafleting, a five-hour sit-in and the temporary establishment of a pop-up library. When the library closed the council brushed off the pleas to reopen it on that site.

When the squatters climbed through an open window in September and began working with local residents to restore a library service in the building the council was stymied.

Officials had to lodge court proceedings to evict the squatters, and as the weeks ticked by before the case was heard the disparate groups forged genuine and trusting relationships and the initially empty library shelves swelled until they had more than 10,000 donated books on offer to lend.

The library became a community hub with events for children, yoga classes and book signings with the likes of Will Self. Barnet county court granted an eviction order in December. But local residents speedily formed a legally constituted group of licensees who offered to take over the running of the library when the squatters moved out on Tuesday. They are now negotiating a long-term lease with the council and plans to sell the site off to a developer have been shelved – for now at least.

When David Cameron put forward his “big society” idea he probably wasn’t advocating unusual alliances of people working together collaboratively to overturn closures of public services implemented by radical Tory councils such as Barnet. But, arguably, this is the big society in action.

The Occupy movement has raised a great deal of awareness of global inequality but has not focused on or achieved small, concrete wins such as this one. The Barnet residents’ protests fell on deaf ears until the squatters supported by Occupy moved in. Squatters have had an opportunity to rebrand themselves as socially responsible, community minded individuals who are working to restore closed-down public services. The local residents are clear that without the input of the squatters and Occupy, the library would not have reopened.

The squatters know that without the huge support from residents they would have been unceremoniously evicted from the library premises much sooner and Barnet council would have gone ahead with its plans to sell the site to a commercial developer. But together the different groups formed a potent alliance. Assisted by a strong legal team they were able to argue in court that they were providing a greatly valued public service. Their arguments were reflected in the judge’s ruling. While granting Barnet council an eviction order, district judge HHJ Pearl recognised the right to protest and said of the occupied library: “There is no suggestion that this is anything other than a happy, pleasant, well-run place.”

The relationship between the various groups involved in the library protest and occupation has been characterised by gentleness, mutual respect for the range of views put forward and a very sincere spirit of collaboration. The residents have become more tuned in to the issues raised by the squatters and Occupy, and the latter have worked sensitively with the locals to help them achieve their objectives of restoring a much-loved public service.

As those gathered to celebrate the establishment of Friern Barnet community library on Tuesday lit candles on a very long cake modelled on Eric Carle’s classic children’s book, the Very Hungry Caterpillar, the unity of purpose resonated around the room. Could this kind of unusual alliance be the future of campaigning against cuts in services and other matters of public concern? This unprecedented reopening of a closed down library suggests that it could.Voag-Logo-Darker

Leabank Project Ltd (A Not-For-Profit Ltd Company) Public Meeting.
Stop The Alisa Street Waste Management Development!
February 18, 2012. Truissler Hall Community Centre, Poplar.

The VOAG has been on holiday in East London. And together with a local activist, attended a public meeting “To Consider the proposal of Tower Hamlets Council that land in Ailsa Street be reserved for a waste management facility, to assess the likely consequence of this, and to agree if possible on how best the people of Poplar may respond.”

The 5.8 hectare site comprises of a long strip of land running between the River Lea and the A12. At the north end of the plot lies ACME House and the A12/Glender Street junction. The Southern limit is adjacent to Aberfeldy Street. The site is dissected East-West by Alisa Street and Lochnagar Street, which run parallel to each other and divide the site in to a northern part and a southern part.                                                       Proposed waste facility site
The Northern half of the land is used for a mixture of industrial activities and a small waste transfer station. The Southern half is largely disused land, a former primary school and some warehousing. Within the area lies Bromley High School, a listed building, with two more graded buildings on its boundaries. The site borders the Aberfeldy and Teviot estates.

Tower Hamlets intends to use this space for a waste transfer station to eventually deal with the entire boroughs waste, estimated to be around 300,000 tonnes. The facility will receive the waste from domestic collection lorries and store it until it is carried off by larger vehicles for subsequent treatment or disposal. The plan will mean an extra 200 trucks will travel down the A12 and along the A13. Just south of the location, opposite the Aberfeldy Neighbourhood Centre, on land presently housing a gas works, there is a plan – already approved – to build a primary school, a housing development, and a public park to link up with the Lea River Park.

The Tower Hamlets Local Development framework, which calls for the waste site, says it must be “integrated in to its surroundings”. It “should minimise negative impacts on the environment, transport and amenities and respect the surrounding environment”. It should also “protect heritage assets on the site and surrounding area”; “address noise and air pollution”, “enable ‘activation of the river side”, and “improve walking and cycling access and connections”.

John Baker, the founder and director of Leabank Project, presented the case that the proposal for the waste transfer station made no reference to the planned gas works redevelopment. Neither plan takes account of the impacts one would have on the other. The waste management facility would negatively impact the development planned for the gas works site. He told the meeting that lorries entering and leaving the site would significantly increase traffic congestion and pollution along the A12 and A13. He said that the river side will suffer and access to it would be further restricted. For these reasons he believed the waste facility proposal was incompatible with the council’s own Local Development Framework, and there were better uses for such a river side location.
  




John Baker is also the treasurer and founding director of Tower Hamlets Council For Voluntary Service Ltd, a registered charity which is endorsed by the mayor and funded by the council. Its web site says it aims to “Provide ‘third sector’ organisations with the necessary support, information and services to enable them to pursue or contribute to any charitable purpose.” According to THCVS’ February e-bulletin, their Council funding was overdue and in a recent letter John Baker had asked the mayor for an assurance their funding wasn’t going to be cut.

Previously, in January 2006, John Baker was one of the founding Directors of New Mill Consultants. It was originally set up by Poplar HARCA – a large, not-for-profit, social landlord – as a group of residents to provide the government’s Guide Neighbourhoods Programme. The centrally funded programme is “awarded to social housing groups to “encourage regeneration, empower and include residents in planning decisions and promote a range of environmental and social benefits”. Once the residents group was established it incorporated as a company and operated independently of Poplar HARCA. After six months John Baker resigned.

New Mill founded the Linc Cafe as a drop in and advice centre. Its web site says: “the company provides professional courses and consultancy services to community and residents groups” and has helped to set up residents trusts. Between 2002 and September 05, John Baker was also a director of Poplar HARCA.

John Baker made the case that the riverside should be “recovered and developed with houses, shops and leisure facilities. I don’t even mind luxury flats” he said. “There should be protest and unanimous opposition to the plans”, But he continued: “the campaign must submit viable waste management alternatives. A NIMBY attitude will not be good enough to dissuade the council”. “What we need is more information, research and more residents’ participation”.

“The council has other vacant land available. Houses have been good investments recently in the area, due to environmental improvements and investment from the council and housing associations. If the plans go ahead property prices will fall. Public money spent on regeneration projects will also be wasted” John Baker said, “because the value of the investment will decrease with the property values. Businesses and landlords will also suffer”. “Poplar HARCA, many councillors, and the MP Jim Fitzpatrick have all stated their support for the campaign”.

“Tower Hamlets Council have been working on the proposals for months, yet the idea has never been discussed in public. Their scheme only came to light when it was included in the 212-page Tower Hamlets’ Development Plan Document (DPD) – part of the Local Development Framework – buried on pages 127-9 and 130!. There followed a wholly inadequate, six week consultation period during which most residents were unaware of the plans”.

I counted seventy people, seated in groups of five, around tables. Most were residents from the Aberfeldy and Teviot estates. There were four landowners, and a couple of ‘small businessmen’. Representatives from Poplar HARCA, one of whom was another director of Leabank Project, were also present.There were four councillors present. Three of them were on the board of Poplar HARCA. They all voiced their opposition to the plans. However, Cllr. Shiria Khatun pointed out that: “There was a shortage of alternative land. Transporting the waste out of Tower Hamlets would be costly and not the best environmental solution. There were options that could be looked at for example locating the facility underground or autoclaving the waste instead of moving or incinerating it.”.

Autoclaving, treats the waste by sealing it in tanks and passing high pressured steam through it. The majority of waste is biodegradable which is shredded into strands. There are presently no plants of this kind in the UK, and there is no market for the resultant biomass. Glasgow Council has been advocating large scale autoclaving, but recently distanced itself from the process, opening up its waste disposal contract to tenders with alternatives to autoclaving. Autoclaving is energy intensive, and since there is no market for the resultant biomass it usually ends up in land fill where it degrades to produce methane, a ‘greenhouse gas’.

John Baker, knew almost everyone in the meeting. In a gesture to the landowners, “who have not been allowed to develop or sell ‘their’ land, he said: ”Housing should be developed on the site, I don’t mind luxury flats, we need proper returns for the landowners. The Deputy Mayor, independent Councillor Ohid Ahmed joined in: “We want housing on the site, that’s what the developers want”. John Baker hands petition to Dpt Mayor Ohid Ahmed
The Deputy Mayor giggled nervously and looked bemused as he addressed the audience. He was obviously unprepared to speak to the meeting. He said “the council did not support a waste facility in Poplar”. “After the Fish Island site was decided against as a location for the waste plant, we had to come up with an alternative place to put it – for reporting and central government purposes. – To fulfil our statutory obligations. We have no intention of actually putting it there”. He went on to say that many of the businesses in and around the proposed site were sited on illegally held land. The VOAG found these remarks astounding, but they went completely ignored and unchallenged.

One of the Landowners spoke to the meeting. He was a friend of John Baker. He suggested smaller waste sites spread across the borough as an alternative, which could be used to produce electricity or gas. “I’m not a business man, coming in from outside the borough just to make money.” he said.

Several residents spoke out from the floor. One said:”they’re not thinking of the residents, they just think about themselves.”. Another said:”we must persuade the council” Another resident called the estates “the forgotten estates”. Labour councillor, Rajib Ahmed, also spoke to the meeting. He said that London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) has the power to over-ride Tower Hamlets Council (THC). Cllr. Kosru Uddin, Development Committee member and board member of the (LTGDC) added: “The (LTGDC) is being disbanded in the Autumn. Some of its powers will be transferred to THC, whilst others will go to the newly formed London Mayoral Development Corporation, which will have to approve any plans of THC once the powers have been transferred.

Shiria Khatun, Councillor

Oddly it seemed, John Baker stressed several times that the mayor and the council were not responsible for the decision to build the waste plant. It was “down to an officers job and ‘administration”. John Baker was at great pains not to criticise the council executive especially the mayor. Cllr. Shiria Khatun addressed the meeting. “London Thames Gateway dictates that THC must have a plan for waste management, but it must take into consideration air quality and nature reserves”. She emphasised that it was the mayor and the executive that was responsible, not the “clerks and council officers” as John Baker had said earlier. “You must demand another meeting with the mayor” she urged the meeting. The Labour Councillor went on to suggest Leabank Project organise a lobby of the council and apply to speak to a council meeting.

Cllr. Khatun, together with another councillor was sitting at the same table as the VOAG. At one point she whispered in my ear “why don’t you speak, go on ask John Baker why he doesn’t want top blame the mayor”. Naturally, the VOAG said nothing. The VOAG has never been to a meeting quite like this. Hidden agendas hung like shadows between the lines of everyone that spoke. It has become clear to the VOAG since the meeting, that the reason John Baker is reluctant to criticise the mayor is because the mayor is holding the funding for the Tower Hamlets Council For Voluntary Service which John Baker is a director of.

The VOAG noted that although the councillors, one independent and three Labour, arrived more or less at the same time, they entered the hall separately and sat as far away from each other as possible. There was a tension between the councillors and also between two of the councillors and John Baker. The source of this tension and the issues behind it, are not quite clear to The VOAG – yet.It was all-in-all an intriguing meeting which left open many questions regarding a serious local issue. There were many different concerns and contradicting agendas represented. What did the councillor mean when he said “the council had no intention of putting the waste facility on the site”? Are the councillors seriously opposed to the project? What are the interests of the landowners? How does the close relationship between the various stakeholder organisations and the councillors effect the dynamics of the debate? And lastly; what on earth was the councillor referring to when he said “many of the businesses were sited on illegally held land”. But as you know: The VOAG is always watching!

Councillors, If you want our votes Fight The cuts!

In many areas Labour councillors say they will “fight the cuts” — but also implement them! They say they have no choice. In fact they can and should use their council positions as platforms to mobilise to defy the cuts.

The alternative is not a little harmless trimming. Central government is set to cut councils’ funding by 25% over the next four and a half years. Since much that councils do is “statutory” — background stuff that they must do, by law — a 25% cut is huge social destruction.

Poplar’s Labour council, in 1921, and the Labour council of the town of Clay Cross, in 1972-4, upheld the interests of their working-class communities by defying central government constraints, and won victories.

Poplar extracted extra funds for councils with a poor local tax base; Clay Cross created the pressure which made the incoming Labour government in 1974 repeal Tory legislation to force council rent rises.

During the Thatcher cuts of the 1980s, Liverpool’s Labour council went to the brink of defying the government over cuts. It won solid working-class support for defiance.

The Liverpool council leadership, under the influence of Militant (now the Socialist Party), dodged and blinked at the crunch, and ended up making cuts. But if the councillors had held firm, Thatcher could probably have been beaten back over cuts (and the great miners’ strike then underway could have won).

Defiance involves risk for councillors. The Poplar councillors were jailed for a short period; the Clay Cross councillors were surcharged and made bankrupt.

Like industrial strikes, council defiance cannot be made risk-free. The question for councillors, as for workers in a strike, is whether they are prepared to take risks in the cause of working-class solidarity, or choose to save their own position at the expense of others. The risks of defiance are smaller now than they used to be. The details are given later in this article.

 Labour councils which put working-class solidarity first should:
• Not make social cuts now! Whatever the coming central government cuts, councils are large organisations with complex finances which give them leeway. They can cut top management, payments to consultants, and councillors’ expenses. They can juggle accounts to move spending items from one financial year to the next. Although there are legal limits on councils borrowing, there may still be loopholes. (Liverpool council found one in 1985, borrowing from Swiss banks).
• Mobilise council workers, council tenants, and local communities for a fight. Financial gambits are no long-term answer, but they can allow for time to mobilise. Obviously councillors will have little credibility when calling on workers and tenants to fight unless they make a stand themselves.
• Aim towards a concerted act of local working-class defiance — councillors refusing to budget within central government limits, council workers striking, council tenants rent-striking, residents withholding council tax — with the demand that central government restores the money for local services.

If all Labour councils took this stand, then the Lib/Tory government would have to retreat very quickly. If even a sizeable few did, then the government would be in big trouble. Poplar and Clay Cross showed that even a single council, on its own, can win a victory.

Once mobilisation is started, it should be controlled democratically by a local delegate committee of working-class organisations- an Anti-Cuts committee, with the councillors taking part alongside others. The time to move to all-out defiance should be decided by that delegate committee. It will depend on the tempo of mobilisation, on possibilities of linking up with other working-class struggles against the government, and so on.

Deficit budget
The idea that Labour councils should mobilise against the cuts, rather than implementing them, is often expressed in terms of asking them to set “a deficit budget”.

This is slightly misleading, for two reasons. Central governments often set deficit budgets (budgets in which spending exceeds income). They make good the gap by borrowing, or just by printing money.

Councils cannot print money, and have tight legal limits on their borrowing. A “deficit budget” is essentially an agitational gesture. It may be a good agitational gesture. But it will be a gesture to help mobilise, not the aim of the mobilisation.

The “deficit budget” formulation focuses everything on council budget day in April. That might be the right time to “go over the top”. Or it might not. The decision should be based on the democratic discussions of the local campaign, rather than administrative schedules.

The semi-defiant Labour councils of 1985 delayed budget-setting rather than setting illegal budgets. In the end they all set legal budgets. Liverpool and Lambeth councillors got surcharged, not for any decisive act of defiance, but for their delay in setting a budget.

Before 1985, left Labour councils had relied on raising rates (local property taxes, charged on tenants rather than owners) to offset central government cuts.

Nothing similar is an option now. Business rates are set by central government, not by councils. Domestic rates have been replaced by council tax.

Council tax income is as little as 10% of councils’ budgets, most of the rest coming from central government and from fees and charges, so to offset cuts of 25% in central government funding, council tax would have to be raised maybe 100%. Council tax is a regressive tax. In any case, central government has, and uses, powers to “cap” council tax rises.

In the past, defiant Labour councillors have been jailed and surcharged. In the 1980s, there was a standing threat of “commissioners” being sent in to push aside the elected councillors and run the local authority.

Under current legislation, those penalties seem no longer to exist. The first move against councillors taking a defiant stand is that unelected council officials — the Chief Financial Officer and the Monitoring Officer (usually the Deputy Chief Executive) — are legally mandated to issue “warnings” to councillors acting “out of line”.

The councillors can override the Chief Financial Officer and the Monitoring Officer, though only after a “cooling-off period”.

If they do override the Officers, anyone can bring a complaint against each individual councillor to a body called the Standards Board, which in turn can refer it to the Adjudication Panel. (Thousands of complaints against councillors are brought to the Standards Board routinely, without any such previous drama. Presumably a complaint brought after councillors had defied the Officers would get further than most others do).

The Standards Board and the Adjudication Panel can fine, temporarily suspend, or disqualify councillors, but not surcharge or jail them, or send in “commissioners” to take over the council.

The Tory/Lib government has announced that it plans to replace the Standards Board regime by a different one, but it has not done that yet, and it is not clear that the different regime would reintroduce the more severe penalties.

For now, in short — unless some keen lawyer comes up with another, more obscure, legal path — councillors face smaller risks than in the 1980s or 1920s.

Local Labour Parties serious about fighting cuts do, however, need to identify “substitute” council candidates who will stand in by-elections created if defiant councillors are disqualified.
Whole labour movement fight
No Labour council today is offering even the general talk about defiance which was fairly commonplace in the early 1980s. It is hard to find even individual left-wing Labour councillors bold enough to vote against cuts. For that matter, council unions are generally less defiant and demanding than they were in the early 1980s.

To do anything other than accept huge damage by Tory cuts, the whole labour movement has to reshape and reorient itself now. It won’t be Labour councils that lead that reorientation. But Labour and trade union activists need to start arguing now about what Labour councils can and should do as part of a developing militant anti-cuts movement.

The first argument is that council Labour groups should integrate themselves into local anti-cuts committees, and make their strategies and options a matter for democratic debate in the local labour movement, rather than “there is no alternative” announcements.

With local elections due in May, anti-cuts groups should be asking the candidates about their willingness to defy the cuts. If councillors or candidates are unwilling to defy local cuts or set budgets outside the central government’s framework, anti-cuts groups should select their own candidates to stand against them.

If candidates in the forthcoming elections want the support of the anti-cuts committees, we need to see them on our streets, on our demonstrations, and in our meetings. They need to be leading the local resistance to the cuts.

Join Guildford Against Fees And Cuts Facebook page.

Dates to remember:
26th January: Demonstration in Guildford: Against the education and public service cuts. Give us back our EMA!

26th March: TUC National Demonstration Against The Cuts in London – Buses are leaving from Guildford £2.00rtn. Email:guildfordagainstfeesandcuts@yahoo.co.uk to reserve a ticket.