Brighton Greens demand referendum to save care services: the fight is on
Brighton and Hove council’s Green Party administration has announced it will be pushing for a referendum on whether to save vital care services by increasing council tax by 4.75%. Here are ten immediate thoughts:
1) councils have been hit exceptionally hard by the cuts. This means services they provide – particularly social care for the most vulnerable people, have been brutally hammered. Here in Oxfordshire, elderly people are being priced out of care homes, people who need help to eat or to get out of bed or to wash are losing it.
2) council tax is a bad tax, but it’s the only way councils have to raise significant amounts of revenue that is even vaguely progressive. Given how hard the most vulnerable are being hit by the cuts, a small increase in council tax after two years of de-facto tax cuts (rises below inflation) is the right thing to do. I have stood on doorsteps in working class streets in Oxford and made the case for this there, and I would happily do the same in Brighton. Of course we should keep fighting austerity nationally, and of course there are better things the national government could do to raise revenue than raise council tax, and yes, councils should play their part in the movement to fight for those things. But that doesn’t mean that councils shouldn’t do this.
3) the Greens proposed this before, two years ago, but Labour and the Tories worked together and instead voted to impose more cuts on Brighton.
4) Here in Oxfordshire, a council tax referendum is hugely popular. In one street survey, the journalist couldn’t find a single person who didn’t say they’d vote yes. It was one of the main things we campaigned on in one of the wards, and we won with a stonking swing. People know how important social care is, and are happy to chip in a bit so their elderly neighbour gets what they need.
5) A poll in Scotland earlier this month showed that 2/3 of Scots would be happy to see a council tax rise there to pay for local services. Council tax in Scotland has been frozen since 2007, so the situation is a little different, but I don’t see any reason to believe that polls down here wouldn’t at least show a majority saying the same, were anyone to ask the question.
6) This is good politics. The Brighton Greens have fallen out over the last year, let’s hope they all now have something to unite behind. It also helps to change the story. If the referendum goes ahead, then that’s what people will remember of this council – a council hit hard by government cuts who did what they could to fight them off.
7) It is impossible to engage in ‘what ifs’, but I suspect we wouldn’t be here if the left of the party hadn’t put pressure onto the council leadership. That said, for all the anger with the leaders of the council over the last year or so, this is a brave decision, and they should get credit for that.
8) If Labour and the Tories (who have a majority on the council between them) refuse this, and impose more cuts on the city, then the administration should stand down. It is a basic principle of politics – normal in all political parties – that if you can’t get your budget through, then you just become a political shield for someone else’s budget. It will be painful. There will be things they could have otherwise done that they can’t do. But if you can’t get your budget through, you are in office, but not in power. And that’s the worst position you can possibly be in.
9) it’s worth noting that not a single Labour council in the country has proposed such a referendum. This is a bold move. The leadership have put their careers on the line. It shows why it is so important to have a party to the left of Labour showing what can be done.
10) there will be lots of complaints about the cost of the referendum. But if it’s held on the same day as the European elections, it doesn’t need to be particularly expensive – all of the infrastructure will be in place anyway.