Bedminster, Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

Why its “utterly irresponsible” not to vote against #cuts to #Bristol’s #budget

I was very proud of my local party at this year’s Bristol City Council budget-setting meeting where Green councillors condemned austerity and voted against (with a few abstentions) Mayor Ferguson’s latest budget that cut another £30 million from vital public services.

As Green group leader Ani Stafford-Townsend said:-

“These cuts are being presented by government as inevitable, but they are not; they are an ideological choice by the Tories. It is George Osborne who has chosen to slash public spending and force those on the lowest incomes to pay the brunt of bankers’ excesses. Instead, those best able to pay should be asked to foot the bill through fairer taxation and by cracking down on tax avoidance by big business.”

Of course not everyone was happy with that decision.  It would seem that chiefly amongst those dissatisfied with Greens voting against cuts were our colleagues in the local Labour party.  Labour had once again voted en masse to pass on these crippling cuts to the communities they’re meant to serve, and then branded us as “utterly irresponsible” for refusing to do the same.

My opponents in Bedminster went as far as to devote 1/5 of the front of their latest newsletter to reprinting this and even spuriously trying to claim it proved we were against recycling, and the adult social care precept Green councillors proposed and passed with the support of the local Labour and Lib Dems.

From the press release they sent out further attacking us, and interactions with some of their candidates on twitter, it seems their main argument for voting for cuts is that if they didn’t councils could be deposed by Whitehall and according to Labour it would have “resulted in Bristol being run by civil servants in London” who would then impose the cuts themselves.

As we explored in a previous blog, this is extremely unlikely due to the high political cost such a move would entail, and the resulting confrontation would at least gives us the chance (and I think a very good chance at that) to get the funding we need to run the services we rely on.

The only other option is to do as Bristol Labour have and accept the impossibility of resisting cuts locally, voting for cuts budgets where councillors make minor amendments to try and implement them in the least harmful way possible (the so called ‘dented shield’).

This is not a viable option.

Despite Mayor Ferguson’s pledge to implement the cuts without attacking frontline services many of these have already taken a beating to ‘realise’ the almost £90 million of savings forced upon our city. For example, halving the number of staff enforcing fly tipping has resulted in an almost doubling of the incidents of fly tipping on our streets (what a coincidence); libraries have lost staff and opening hours (and have an uncertain future with £635,000 worth of cuts still to be made after the local elections); the Ashton Vale book-mobile has been axed; the budget for social care has been savaged (for adults it was cut by 30% between 2010 and 2015 alone); youth centres have been lost; the Bush respite centre has had to half its beds; the list goes on.

So far where the cuts to frontline services have been most extreme – like to the Bush respite centre – it has only effected a small minority of our (most vulnerable) citizens (not that that makes it any better), or where it has effected larger numbers it has been through much less life or death problems like fly tipping.  As austerity intensifies over the next 4 years this will not be the case.

This month the council announced it expects to have to reduce its spending by another £75.3 million by 2020.  This is on top of the £90 million cuts already made (from a starting budget of £201million in 2010).  No amount of tinkering will enable the council to reduce its budget by nearly 80% and still maintain essential frontline services.  There is no least harmful way to make cuts on this scale.  

Cuts Bristol

Infographic from The Bristol Cable

In other words, if the council keeps on doing what Councillor Helen Holland and Bristol Labour like to describe as ‘the responsible thing’ and keep voting for the cuts budgets central government is passing on to us, at some point in the next four years we will see the widespread failure of more and more essential council services.

When we start to experience widespread failure of essential services, it is going to make little difference to the people who rely upon them if these cuts are being implemented by the council or by central government officials.  If we fail and the council is deposed the result will be the same as if we do nothing.  If we try we at least have the chance to avert this disaster and get the budget we need.  That’s why I think councillors who abandon their obligation to fight for the residents whom they’re meant to represent, and instead accept the cuts and the destruction of council services as we know them, are the ones who are really “utterly irresponsible”.            

Bristol Politics, Green Politics

Election 2015: A good day for Bristol, a Bad day for Britain

The general and local elections are finally over.  Whilst I’m relieved that I’ll no longer be getting 50+ emails a day, and don’t have constant campaigning demands on my time, the results have been sobering.  After a fairly intense few months campaigning, casting my vote on Thursday had felt somewhat anti-climatic.  It was hard to get excited about a best case scenario of changing to a Labour government implementing austerity at a slower rate (and hopefully being moderated by an increase in Green, Plyd and SNP MPs).  Even so, I was in no way prepared for the horror of a full Conservative majority government.

I worked a night shift that Thursday and watched the BBC election coverage live as the votes came in (between pushing sick people around – obviously).  I sympathised with Ashdown’s sentiment of eating his hat if the exit poll was acurate.  Surely it couldn’t be.  The two main parties had been neck and neck – with Labour seemingly slightly ahead – in almost all the polls.  But as the results from more and more key marginal seats came back showing Labour failed to make progress in England, it became clear that the exit poll was right.  In fact, as the final result showed, even this had underestimated the extent of Conservative success.

Understandably (in light of what the majority of the polls and pundits were suggesting would be the result) the Conservatives have been quick to jump on this as a major victory and endorsement of their ‘Long Term Economic Plan’.  This is all spin.  In a normal election such a slender majority would be considered a disaster.  The Conservatives haven’t managed to significantly increase their vote share, other than scooping up more socially conservatives Lib Dems as their party has been effectively obliterated (for the forseeable future at least).  Labour’s vote actually increased more than the Conservatives, going up by 1.4% to the Conservatives 0.8% increase.  Due to the unrepresentative nature of First Past the Post this resulted in Labour’s number of seats decreasing by 6.2% whilst the Tory’s increased by 3.7% (don’t feel too bad for them, First Past the Post still massively skews the results in their favour compared to the smaller parties)

Tory vote: 10.7 million, 36.1%, 306 seats.
Labour vote:  8.6 million, 29%, 258 seats.
Tory vote
: 11.3 million, 36.9%, 331 seats.
Labour vote: 9.3 million, 30.4%, 232 seats.

My friend Samuel Bernard does a fantastic and more indepth look at these numbers, and where Labour went wrong here at:

Labour did manage to gain some seats in England (largely at the expense of the Lib Dems), but this was massively offset by the loss of all but one of their Scottish seats.  Already there’s been a plethora of Labour voices blaming the SNP for their defeat.  Here’s John Prescott in the Mirror for example: “Just as they did in 1979, the SNP stopped a Labour government and helped the Conservatives”.  This is patently untrue.  Had Labour won every single seat in Scotland but the results in the rest of the UK had stayed the same, the Conservatives still would have won.  Labour lost this election in England.  Obviously their chances of an outright majority were severely curtailed by the loss of 40 Scottish seats, but it was their inability to win their key English marginal target seats that prevented them from even being in the position to work with other anti-Tory MPs in Scotland and elsewhere.

This was a terrible result for ordinary people in this country. We’ve empowered the Conservatives to do some horrible things. As a NHS worker, with a disabled mum, and friends and family from disadvantaged backgrounds, and generally as someone with compassion for my fellow man, I fear what a majority Conservative government will do over the next 5 years.

However, some slight solace was provided by our fantastic results in Bristol. We ousted Steven Williams, and although we (Greens) didn’t win, Darren Hall received a historic upswing of 23% in Bristol West, taking our vote to 26% and second place behind Labour (and well ahead of the incumbent Lib Dem on 18%). We also increased our vote by 9% in Bristol South, by 6.5% in Bristol East, and by 4.5% in Bristol North-West. The best news was on the council elections. We retained our seat in Ashley with an increased majority, and gained 7 new council seats (very narrowly missing out on an 8th in Bedminster, with some impressive finishes elsewhere), taking us to 13 overall. Despite only being a paper candidate, I even managed to double our number of votes in Hengrove from last year (not hard when you’re starting on such a low base).

Whilst the Green surge unfortunately failed to materialise into increased Westminster representation, our general progress was encouraging. Caroline increased her majority to 14.6%. We saved 123 deposits (compared with just six saved in 2010), we came second in four constituencies (Liverpool Riverside, Sheffield Central, Manchester Gorton, and of course Bristol West), and third in many more, and we beat the Lib Dems in 135 seats – compared to just 1 in 2010 (though this may have more to do with their collapse then just our strength). Overall our total vote quadrupled. This is a positive trend I hope continues.

What really struck me about the election was the turnout.  Billed as the closest election of our generation, where each vote counted more than ever (under FPTP) turnout was expected to be much higher.  In Scotland where people are still mobilised from the referendum, and the SNP offers a credible electoral alternative of hope to the fear and austerity of the Westminster parties, the turnout was very high (reaching as much as 80% in places).  In England, where the main choice was between Conservative austerity, and Labour austerity-lite (with Ed Ball’s saying “There was nothing I would reverse” in Osborne’s last budget and all but 5 Labour MPs voting for Osborne’s austerity charter in the last Parliament) there was no change.  Turnout seemed much lower than everyone expected.

As Sam points out, the vote in Conservative strongholds had been predictably high, “the Tory core voters are usually the demographic most engaged by the system and most motivated to vote. This isn’t a new story”.  Continuing a trend of recent general elections, turnout in Labour centres was much lower.  It seems that just keeping the Tories out wasn’t a good enough reason to get a sizable minority of Labour supporters out to vote.  This is hardly surprising when Labour were essentially offering watered down Conservative economic policy as their alternative to Conservative economic policy.  Sam again lucidly explains:

“In this scenario Labour fails to activate their traditional voter base in sufficient numbers. Keeping the Tories out provides inadequate a motivation to bring people to the polls for Labour. This supposition is supported by the Ashcroft polling showing that 24% of Labour voters this year had previously voted for the Lib Dems, a very significant number. Only 64% of Labour voters this year voted for Labour in 2010, while 68% were traditional Labour voters. This compares to 81% and 70% respectively for the Tories…

Trailing Tory discourse on austerity, Labour sets themselves up as austerity-lite. This isn’t especially appealing to those damaged by the cuts, and to the middle voter Labour do not have the credibility to be able to institute such policy when the Tories are already there, doing the same job, and have demonstrated their ruthless capacity to follow through. Voters that consider austerity either never necessary or now no longer necessary made up 83% of the Labour vote, 55% of the Lib Dem vote, 54% of the UKIP vote, 81% of the Green vote, and 89% of the SNP vote. Considering how much support Labour lost to UKIP, Greens and the SNP this could have made a big difference in challenging the Conservatives, both in holding on to voters as well as activating the same fresh voters they did. Labour have to buck their internally dominant right wing to turn this around.”

This (much more eloquently then I could have) outlines much of my own thinking as to the main thing that went wrong for Labour in this election.  The last sentence seems most interesting in relation to Labour’s future and the potential growth of the Green Party.  Already the right within the Labour party has been shouting about how they lost the election because Ed was too Left, and too close to the unions (despite them all calling on him to reverse policy to no avail) and that they’ve distanced themselves too much from Tony Blair and New Labour’s record. I have a strong suspicion they may use this electoral defeat to move the party even further right. Already the Greens are gaining increasing support for our stance on social justice and support for ‘Old Labour’ policies like renationalising the railways and utility companies, redistribution of wealth, and opposition to austerity, etc. If Labour moves further right this could well alienate more of its core demographic, and could enable the Greens to gain more and more support.


Responding to BristolRed: dealing with a troll

Several years ago I tried twitter, but lost interest fairly quickly.  Having recently gotten more involved in the old politics game I thought I’d give it another go.  Twitter is great for a political activist, you can quickly get updates on all the latest news, you can get involved in campaigns through hasghtags, and keep in touch with political allies and personalities across the country.  Its format of 140 character micro-blogging also destroys any chance of having serious rational debate, which may have contributed to the platform being a hotbed of spite and bigotry (that and the ability to directly send messages to celebrities, and politicians, and people who you might generally want to attack).  The phenomenon of the twitter Troll is so common place it’s almost cliché.

The local Labour party (and anyone involved in politics in Bristol) is cursed with one such troll who goes by the alias of BristolRed (I say cursed, as even Bristol Labour party member admit he’s an embarrassment for their party).  Many of us in the local Green party have been on the receiving end of spiteful messages and attacks from this individual.  Instead of attempting to critique our actual policies or our record in parliament and councils, his usual modus operandi is to shamefully misrepresent Green policies and try and berate us with them, or to go in for some personal attacks.  His favourite line is that we all support ISIS and terrorism, due to our policy of no longer having a list of organisation the state deems to be terroristic. Its quiet funny that his tribal loyalty to Labour is such that he’ll wholesale reproduce this lie started in the Telegraph and other mouthpieces of the right wing Tory press to undermine the Green Party; when you’d think that as Labour are often on the receiving end of such attacks from those exact same papers he’d be more sympathetic.  The enemy of my enemy is still definitely not my friend if your name is BristolRed.

For the benefit of my fellow Greens who have had to endure interactions with this individual, I reproduce our exchange below which ended (in part) with him telling me he’d block me if I continued with our conversation.  That is my advice to anyone who gets attacked by BristolRed, respond calmly and in good humor and get him onto some facts and he’ll flounder, as despite being a barrister (a strange job for someone who loves to go around telling people they’re not working class enough) he’s surprisingly bad at arguing.  There’s a reason the Labour party has declined from a peak of just over 1,000,000 members in the 1950s (and a relative peak of 400,000 in 1997 before Blair’s victory) to less than 200,000 today – it has many many flaws, and you can easily point them out.  BristolRed as a long standing member of the Labour party is no doubt aware of this, and that’s probably why he’s so bitter.  I bet he can still remember when the Labour party actually stood up for ordinary people, instead of just being the more human face of neoliberalism.

I personally find BristolRed’s puerile remarks and the childish manner he chooses to behave in very amusing.  So actually fairly enjoy engage with him.  When last he decided to spout his nonsense a couple of weeks ago I called him out on deliberately misrepresenting our policy.  He didn’t like this and demanded I come to the pub he goes to and call him a liar to his face (I told him I’ll be calling him a misrepresenter to his face, and that he doesn’t get nuance).  Unfortunately as a night shift working theatre porter quiet caught up in the election campaign I haven’t had the chance to meet up with him and tell him the error of his ways face to face, so jovially let him known I hadn’t forgotten his demand and that as soon as possible I’d be fulfilling it.

Here is our twitter exchange,

*edit storify won’t embed properly so here it is on a link *