SOUTHAMPTON LABOUR PARTY BREATHED a sigh of relief when we learned that we’d retained control of the city council. Defending an overall majority of two, it had been difficult to gauge the impact of incessant Corbyn-bashing by the media and cuts to local services – driven by austerity but for which the council may have got the blame.
As it turned out, with two gains and two losses, the majority remained intact. One of the losses was in a ward which had always been solidly Labour until two Labour councillors had a major fallout with the Labour Group over the closure of a swimming pool in the ward. They have continued as independent anti-cuts councillors and have been joined by the daughter of one of them.
Quite how they reconcile opposing Labour - when it has socialists at the helm nationally who rigorously oppose austerity - with advancing socialism is a mystery. Their electoral campaign is supported by TUSC whose vote was derisory, most of their candidates receiving less than 100.
Labour’s success was attributable to members’ hard graft in canvassing and leafleting, active support of local government trade unions – mainly Unite and Unison – and the lacklustre campaign of the Tories who had little to offer, apart from privatisation and a greater relish for carrying out cuts. Their policies acted as a motivational tool to fire up trade unionists.
If anything, Corbyn’s election had a positive impact. Trade unions no longer feel like pariahs. Momentum, which is building support in the city, got stuck in to help in targeted wards and those who previously voted Green may well have returned to the fold – a fact acknowledged by the Labour leader.
Simon Letts, Labour leader, has been very adept at using the local media and just before the election there were some good news stories which got a good press. However, there are more cuts around the corner and it is time that the Labour councils nationally started to take a stand.
The People’s Assembly is focusing on this. It has invited councillors to sign up to ‘Councillors against Austerity’ and 150 have already signed up. Momentum is on board with this initiative. The PA will try to convince councils to produce an alternative budget to demonstrate what budgets would have been put forward were it not for central government funding cuts. Provided the support of councillors is sufficient, a local government conference to combat austerity should be convened to thrash out a strategy and win public support.