Article published: Tuesday, May 3rd 2011
Chances are that throughout Spring you’ve had dozens of election leaflets drop through your letterbox, and it’s quite likely they haven’t been very welcome – particularly if they belonged to the Liberal Democrats.
Faced with an unanticipated level of hostility from the public over the past year following their amalgamation with the Tories and their accessory to the unmandated raft of cuts and privatisation, the Quisling party have desperately tried to scrub their fingerprints from the crime scene.
The only choices for local Lib Dem activists and Councillors, generally more left wing and progressive than the Orange Book faction currently in control of the parliamentary party, is to either leave the party or actively resist the cuts – or both. In some parts of Greater Manchester, they’ve done the honourable thing. Yet their strategy in Manchester has been to present themselves as the anti-cuts party, resisting the Labour Council while making no mention of their superiors in Whitehall. They evidently possess not only no self-respect, but a conspicuous lack of respect for their electors’ intelligence.
The central claim in the leaflets being distributed around the city is that Labour controlled Manchester City Council have made huge frontline cuts in order to foster anger against the coalition. According to leaflets distributed in Withington, “Lib Dem councils like nearby Sheffield and Newcastle, as well as Lib Dem/Conservative run Birmingham are protecting the frontline services Labour in Manchester has chosen to cut.”
This is not true: the Lib Dems in Sheffield have only made a budget for 2011-12. The local government settlement – the cuts imposed by the coalition on local Councils – was made for 2011-13. Since the defection of a Councillor from the Lib Dems to Labour in September last year, the Lib Dem majority in Sheffield has been only one Councillor, and they are unlikely to remain in power after the local elections. Figuring that Labour are on the way in to power this week, they’ve simply opted to ignore the cuts and make it their problem.
In the same leaflet, the Deputy Leader of Birmingham Council, Paul Tilsley, is quoted as saying: “Manchester may be closing public libraries, public toilets and leisure centres. But [our] budget does not include anything like that”. Tilsley is being extremely economical with the truth: Birmingham Council have stripped £212 million from their budget, including £118 million cut from adult social services and £69 million cut from children’s, with 10,000 jobs to go by 2015. Notably, they refused to cut the salaries of the highest paid members of the council.
The leaflets are also disingenuous about the amount that is actually being cut. Claiming that only 8.8 per cent of Manchester’s budget was cut by central government, the Lib Dems then go on to list the library, youth centre, leisure centre, public toilets and the closure of Manchester Advice as making up part of this figure. In reality, all are being closed to make up for two years of cuts. Since the 2012/13 fiscal year will see a 6.7 per cent cut to Manchester’s spending, there will by then be a 15.5 per cent cumulative total. On top of this, there are several further cuts that have nothing to do with the cuts to the main grant, most importantly the £33 million Area Based Grant. In short, the Council isn’t lying when it claims it has to make total cuts of 25 per cent, but the Lib Dems are when they claim it’s only 8.8 per cent.
They are telling the truth, however, when they claim that the Council has a poor record collecting Council Tax. This is most likely because there’s previously been very little point in collecting tax from some of the most deprived wards in the country. Before the cuts, Manchester got £430 million from central Government, and just £143 million from council tax. For Tory Trafford, £70 million came from the Government and £88 million from council tax. Manchester therefore makes a quarter of its budget from tax, whereas Trafford makes over half, which is why Coalition comparisons of Manchester to Trafford are deliberately misleading. Manchester gets more money from central government because Manchester has more deprived areas, unlike affluent Trafford. To demand that the Council better tax some of the poorest people in the country is not only not a valid way of making more money – with £12 million uncollected it would only make a dent in the total cuts – but it seems a perverse principle, especially when the coalition has taken such a lax line on corporate tax avoidance and bankers’ bonuses.
Their literature also overstate the extent and sincerity of local Lib Dem campaigning. They make much of John Leech’s campaign against the closure of a walk in health centre in Withington, but Leech voted against a recent parliamentary motion criticising the coalition’s plans to begin the privatisation of the NHS. Similarly, despite Vince Cable pressing for the privatisation of the Post Office, a Rusholme leaflet claims that the “Lib Dems in government have reversed decades of Labour cuts in the Post Office network”. They also recently angered locals who had campaigned against the Levinshulme Baths closure and those involved in Save Manchester Sure Start by publicly taking credit for the campaigns, despite having little to no actual presence – and being responsible for the national cuts in the first place.
If the Labour Party really wants to fight the cuts, it should return to the militant, radical anti-Toryism that made them a vital progressive force in the first half of the last century, and not assume, as they are now doing with Blairite arrogance, that they are the Government in waiting. But criticism of them should not distract from the venality, moral bankruptcy, and complete absence of principle that defines the Lib Dems. If their Council members really want to represent progressivism and support their constituents, then rather than spreading lies they should resign from the party en masse. After all, they’re losing their jobs on Friday anyway.
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