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Thursday 4 September 2014

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Guardian article confirms TUSC policy: councils can resist austerity if they choose

A recent article by Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrobortty on the efforts of Enfield council to respond to the housing crisis (see http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/01/enfield-experiment-housing-problem-radical-solution ) vindicates the central point of TUSC's policy platform for local council elections - councillors can find ways to resist austerity if they choose to.

Aditya explains the desperate housing situation developing in the north London borough - although not restricted to there! - against the backdrop of an historic underbuild of social housing, the Con-Dems' benefit cuts, and rising private sector rents.

He shows that councils still have powers they could use, if the will is there, to intervene. Enfield, he reports, "has arranged a credit facility of £100m" to bulk-buy homes, in a programme began in March this year. It is introducing a scheme to license private landlords and, "for the first time in 30 years, it is building council homes", with 180 starts this month as the first steps.

Back in January the TUSC national steering committee issued a policy statement outlining the powers councils have to implement - here and now - policies that would positively improve the position of millions of people struggling to survive in 'austerity Britain' (see http://www.tusc.org.uk/16894/27-01-2014/what-councils-could-do-in-next-months-budget-setting-meetings ).

This included the call to use councils' powers to compulsorily register private landlords and set-up council-run lettings agencies, as the means to tackle high rents, repair standards, over-occupancy, extortionate letting fees etc for private rented homes. It also included the demand to build council homes now, by using councils' 'prudential borrowing' powers for capital spending. Even though Enfield is not following exactly these policies, or at least their full scope, they are showing that 'something can be done'.

Enfield is not the new Poplar, the east London council that radically extended local government services in the 1920s. Or Liverpool council that took on Margaret Thatcher and won new resources for the city in the 1980s. Aditya records that ten employees in Enfield's already overstretched housing department received redundancy letters in the week he was researching the article, for example. TUSC opposes all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions.

Also there is no indication how this Labour-controlled council plans to deal with the national Labour Party's determination to implement the austerity agenda. Just last week Labour's shadow local government and communities secretary, Hilary Benn, said in an open letter to council leaders: "As we will inherit, and stick to, the government's spending plans for 2015-16, we will not have any more money to give to local government" (The Guardian, 25 August). TUSC was right to stand candidates in Enfield in May's local elections - polling 2,162 votes in contesting one third of the borough's wards - to keep the pressure on Labour as much as the other austerity consensus parties.

TUSC will fight next year's elections on the same policy of opposition to all cuts to council services. But we will also highlight the positive aspects of the Enfield example, to show what more councils could do. Our message will be that councillors can make a difference - if they are prepared to fight.

The different faces of The Guardian

Aditya Chakrobortty's article answers the myth that 'councillors can't do anything' to resist austerity. And that's important because it is a widely promoted myth, including by other journalists at the Guardian.

Many TUSC supporters have written to the Guardian's letters' page explaining our policies but in the overwhelming majority of cases their letters haven't been published. Our campaign in this year's local elections, when TUSC fielded 560 candidates in the biggest left-of-Labour challenge since WWII, was not mentioned once in the news pages.

Part of the reason could be that the Labour-supporting paper just does not want to give TUSC any coverage at all. The Comment is Free editor turned down a request by former Labour MP and TUSC national chairperson Dave Nellist for space following the untimely death of fellow TUSC co-founder Bob Crow earlier this year, after their obituary wrongly claimed that Bob "was not a member of a political party when he died". Owen Jones went to Southampton to record the anger behind UKIP's growing vote (No southern comfort for Labour, The Guardian 18 June) but didn't mention that the TUSC national steering committee member Keith Morrell saw off both Labour and UKIP to regain his seat on the city's council in May's elections, showing how the alienation in austerity Britain can be turned into a revival of working class political representation. But the prevailing idea amongst its editors that 'there's nothing councils can do' to fight the cuts - and Labour councils in particular - is almost certainly another reason.

This was shown when a Nottingham TUSC candidate, Cathy Meadows, not stating that information on this occasion in her letter, argued the case for Labour councils to use their reserves and borrowing powers to avoid cuts and launch "a national campaign with local organisations and unions to demand funds from the government to fully fund services" (in a letter submitted in 2012). She received an unsigned six-word reply from the Guardian letters e-address, "I think it would be illegal...".

As Aditya's article says, Enfield council "didn't start off radical" (and, as explained, is not taking its resistance all the way). "But circumstances are forcing it to break old habits", he concludes, "and try new things". More and more working class voters will do that too in the period ahead. And perhaps more journalists at The Guardian will do so as well.