Brighton Greens vote for Labour’s £25 million cuts Budget
In 1931 a minority Labour government was faced with a crisis – whether to betray its electoral promises and vote through a massive austerity package, or resist doing so. As a result of an economic crash and a financial deficit the Treasury, the City, and the newspapers demanded £70 million of “economies” (i.e cuts) in social and welfare spending, including a 20% cut in unemployment benefit. Although Labour’s left wing, the TUC and others wished to resist the pressure, Labour Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald and a handful of supporters capitulated totally and delivered the cuts (by forming a “National Government” with the Tories and Liberals).
The Green Party now has its own little Ramsey MacDonalds. On March 3rd the majority of Green Party Councilors in Brighton & Hove voted for a 2015-16 Budget containing nearly £25 million of cuts. This will deliver over £8 million of cuts to adult services, nearly £4 million of cuts to children’s services, and nearly £5 and half million in cuts to environment and housing services, as well as other cuts to public health, arts and leisure services.
The local Green Party did not want this. In January 2015 a well attended General Meeting (GM) passed a motion by 38 to 15 that Green Councilors should not vote for any cuts budget, and that the Green Council and Party should instead mount a massive anti-cuts campaign including refusal to assist Whitehall officials sent to dictate cuts to local services. But the underlying democratic problem of the Brighton & Hove Green Party – the virtual independence of the “Green Group” of Councilors from the local members, to whom they rarely listen and whose motions they ignore as they please – kicked in. This motion was not publicised or implemented by the Green Group. Attempts by elected officers to action the motion were ignored.
At an Emergency General Meeting on February 24th many of the Councillors and members who had opposed the No Cuts motion put their own motion forward advocating that the Green Group propose a Budget with a 5.9% rise in Council Tax. This budget, if passed, would require ratification by a local referendum to become law (the current government has legislated that any Council Tax rise of 2% or over must be subject to a referendum). A 5.9% budget would protect more services than either of the two alternatives – the Tories’ 0% Budget, which would deliver about £26 million of cuts, and Labour’s 1.99% Budget, which would deliver about £25 million of cuts. A 5.9% budget, though, would have still delivered about £18 million of cuts to local services.
The EGM vote was 73 for the 5.9% motion and 55 against. But the motion passed contained a crucial amendment about what Green Councilors should do if the 5.9% Budget fell at the first Budget Council – as was predictable, with both Tories and Labour voting against it. The amended motion read “Should the 5.9% budget fail at Budget Council we request that Green Party Councilors adopt a "No Cuts" policy by voting against all other budget options”. As those who voted against the motion did so because they supported the January No Cuts motion, the one thing that all members – whether voting for or against the EGM motion - were united on was that if the 5.9% budget fell then Green Councilors should NOT vote for the remaining budget options and should adopt a No Cuts policy.
At the first Budget Council on February 27th the 5.9% Budget option fell. Tories and Labour voted against it because they supported their own budgets. Six Green Left Councilllors voted against it because they took the principled position that as the Green Party was an anti-austerity party they should vote against cuts, in whatever guise. But if all Green Councilors had voted for 5.9% it would still have fallen.
Green Councilors then had two options:
1) to stand by the policy in the EGM motion and to vote “No Cuts”. They could have done this by proposing an “alternative budget” produced by the local party, which was essentially the “threshold budget” with the cuts taken out, i.e it was based on demanding the restoration of £8 million of Rate Support Grant to Brighton Council. Local activists and campaigners urged that they propose this and use it as the basis of a refusal to vote for the cuts contained in the remaining budget options, and then to take the fight to the government.
2) to collapse totally and vote for Labour’s 1.99% and £25 million of cuts.
Most of the Green Group chose option 2. Because of unavoidable absences, only three of six Green Councillors who had voted against cuts on Feb 27th voted No Cuts at the second Budget Council on March 3rd. Two other Green Councillors abstained. The majority voted for Labour’s Budget. They did so because they said the result of not setting a budget was that Whitehall would come in and set one anyway, which would be even worse. That remained to be seen or proven, and ignored the fact that the responsibility for the cuts would then be very clear.
These Councillors ignored pleas by party members and local campaigners to refuse to vote for cuts and to become the leader and focus of a wide-spread anti-austerity and anti-cuts movement. As a result, we now enter the General Election period with our anti-austerity image tarnished by Green Councillors who have voted for a massive package of cuts and refused to lead any real resistance to them. On the contrary, at the second Budget Council Green Council Leader Jason Kitcat reserved his fiercest condemnation not for Tories and Labour but for those Green Councillors who refused to vote for any cuts budget, for “seeking to frustrate the budget process”.
Brighton is now a stark warning of what happens when the Green Party has no real idea how to confront and resist political, institutional and media hostility to our anti-austerity agenda. Ultimately most Green Councillors in Brighton had no wish to think or act outside the box, or to mount a wide-spread popular campaign against cuts. Most of them derided the very idea.
The morning after Brighton Green Councilors voted through Labour’s Budget and £25 million of cuts, the Green Group put out a PR. It did not mention the vote or the cuts. It was entitled “Green Council leader, Jason Kitcat, honoured for contribution to local government at Westminster awards ceremony”.
A personal view of the situation in Brighton by Green Left and Brighton & Hove Green Party member John Medhurst, who proposed the No Cuts motion to the January General Meeting.