Eric Pickles and reverse psychology…
Normally, there is something of schism between local and national politics. This time around however, I feel that the cutbacks to councils are an important and possibly pivotal national battleground. Eric Pickles accuses Labour councils of ‘returning to the 80s’ in his Spring Conference speech which, given the fact they are implementing swinging cutbacks and setting legal budgets, really constitutes an outstanding display of ingratitude.
Pickles is playing to the gallery of his own supporters but also, crucially, the fears of Labour’s leadership and activists. It’s a classic piece of reverse psychology. Labour councils obviously are not behaving nowhere near like they did in the 1980’s but in implying they are he is raising the subconscious fear that governs Labour’s actions; that it will become unelectable.
This shows a level of joined-up thinking that we don’t seem to be matching . An essential part of this governments narrative has been that Labour would have done the same, had they won in May 2010. Our current strategy in local government seems to be designed with the rather odd aim of proving this entirely correct. Boxed-in between this option and spectre of the 80’s, most comrades are choosing what seems to be the safe option, except in the long-run its much more dangerous.
You see, this government is quite happy to take a hammering in the council elections this year, next year and probably the year after that. As far as it is concerned it has 5 years to play with. It’s therefore ridiculous that comrades worry and fret about our ‘credibility as a government’ when we have not yet even established our credibility as an opposition. An opposition, to be credible has to prove it would do things differently, not just mildly differently, but different enough to justify our opposition in the first place. Once this is established, you can then talk about how we would govern.
However, our strategy in local government is predicated on the assumption that people are basically stupid enough not to notice the composition of their local council where we are in power. It also establishes a worrying dichotomy between what we say and what we do with seemingly little attempt to even establish a appearance of reluctance. We will get away with this for a certain amount of time because people will gravitate to us naturally but there are no indications in the long-term this strategy is sustainable.
In the long-run, people will want more than words from Labour where it is in power. Regarding the attitude of voters in Manchester this passage is illuminating:
Many residents seem unconvinced that the council leadership is fully considering community needs.
In the long-run, this drip-drip will become a flood that will mean in a relatively short order our credibility as a serious alternative will be in tatters. Leaving aside the legal/illegal budget question for now there are clearly things Labour should be doing in local government to establish itself as a credible opposition to the cuts:
Moves towards creating alliances between local councils for non-implementation of the cuts, as proposed by Labour councillors in Hackney recently, might convince protestors of their sincerity.
Non-cooperation with government projects is also an option that has to be considered and similarly alliances should be pursued on that level. If a sufficently large gap continues between our oppositional rhetoric and our practice in local government our credibility will simply have vanished into thin air before we even get close to national government and there, sniggering silently in the background will be Eric Pickles.