Throwing democracy in the bin
Democracy – or more relevantly the lack of it – is in the headlines as the Tory “I’m a sleazy MP, Get me out of here” corruption scandal continues. But what of democracy at a local level?
Remember that we now have Local Area Committees (LACs) across the city – a product of the inept last days of Julie Dore’s Labour Group that allowed a Green/Liberal campaign to secure a referendum forcing a committee structure on the Council.
So what kind of “local democracy” can we anticipate from this latest layer of top down bureaucracy?
The reality is quickly clear – these were forced on the Labour Group and, while there is a desire to appear in support of them, they are just another airing for the cracks and fissures that exist in local politics in the city.
First up, they are made up of local councillors and specifically exclude members of the public from being on the LAC. Council officers won’t attend – probably because cuts in staffing mean they haven’t got enough to go round – and “partner organisations” cannot be members either.
So, at the first hurdle of being a real attempt at local democracy, they fail. They become just a glorified surgery for local councillors to hear about community grievances.
Will they bring more money to the city? No. Will they allow local people to control what happens in their area? No – only if their local councillors agree. Will they be given powers and resources to tackle local deprivation, poor housing, failing schools etc etc? No – that still resides at the town hall.
This is just window dressing – forced on the council by a clever political campaign designed to cement the impending return of the Lib Dems at the council’s helm next May.
Meanwhile, as a Tory central Government continues its devastating austerity policies and more homelessness and poverty are created by cuts in Universal Credit, rising food prices and a hike in National Insurance, the Labour Group stands by as one of its contractors denies some of its lower paid workers a decent pay rise.
Refuse collectors across the city voted to take strike action as Veolia – the outsourced contractor in charge of the council’s service – rejected a cost of living pay demand.
Just as Starmer and his cohorts are doing all they can to distance themselves from the trade unions at a national level, so our local Labour leaders have been washing their hands of this dispute which has included the use of scab labour to break the strike.
It is not too late for the Labour Group to remember the origins and roots of the Labour Party and locate a backbone to support such low paid workers and tell Veolia to meet their demands for a decent living wage.