A New Year, same pain is the message coming from Labour Councils – mainly in the North. Looking at my old stomping ground of Levenshulme, Manchester – the cuts beggar belief. Labour’s slash and burn approach to Municipal Governance has come to the fore. Levenshulme has fought off attempts to close their swimming baths three times – now the campaigners are out in force as Labour tries again.
A letter written by the Labour Leaders of Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle to the Guardian Media Group interrupted my Christmas cheer. A letter pleading poverty, claiming that the cuts they ‘…had to enforce’ would lead to ‘civil unrest’. This ‘threat’ garnered great publicity, job done you would assume.
One obvious name missing from this list was Manchester. Well done, I thought – at last a degree of maturity from a council I had previously described as ‘reveling in the cuts for political gain’. This, of course was what we call a ‘lay’ year in the business – i.e. no elections so no political gain to be had. I was wrong, Labour in Manchester came out of the blocks in the New Year with a punishing announcement. Firstly, they were going to increase Council Tax by 3.7%, they refused £1.5m from the Government to freeze Council Tax and they were going to shut every community facility they had aspired to close and had to refuse because of short term political gain.
The ‘lay’ year was an opportunity for Labour to close the baths I learnt to swim in, close the library where I read my first book and close down a facility where John Leech scored the winning goal in a community football tournament years ago. You see, no community kick back – the ballot box put on hold for a year – get the bad news in now!
I quit the Lib Dems about six months ago – I have re-joined why? Because we need to campaign together against this sham Labour campaign. The Conservatives are apologists for any cuts, Labour are taking full electoral advantage – we as Lib Dems need to be a critical friend. Yes, we acknowledge that cuts need to be made but we have to ensure that we evaluate the choices available. Take Manchester as an example, close down a number of swimming pools or pay for a one-off concert by Alicia Keys? Labour’s choice? Alicia Keys. It’s baffling. Here’s another – put Council Tax up 3.7% in a sham example of political posturing or take advantage of a £1.5m grant from Government to freeze Council Tax? Labour’s choice? Put Council Tax up!
These next few months will give us all an opportunity to knock on doors, to speak to people. To let them know that Labour have had choices and which way they have gone – short term political gain or long term community gain? Labour’s choice? You’ve guessed already!
* Dave Hennigan is a Lib Dem member in Macclesfield (formerly Levenshulme)