Fighting the Tories from Wales
By Len Arthur at May 26, 2012
The Welsh Government, being the only Labour government in the UK has a special responsibility to demonstrate what a UK Labour government would be like. But it also faces real problems in achieving this, experiencing Tory cutsof £1.9 billion up to 2014/15 – a 12.4% real term cut - as well trying to cope with the consequences of cuts in the non-devolved budgetssuch as those relating to welfare benefits. So in addition to providing a shining example of the future UK Labour Government it also has to find ways of resisting Tory cuts and, if possible, leading that resistance.
The task is fraught with difficulties and the responsibility has been made even greater by us in Wales winning 10 of the local authorities outright and being in coalition in another two. It means that the Labour Party will potentially have a deciding influence on the policies of the Welsh Local Government Association. Moreover added to this mix can be our influence and control in many if not most, of Wales’ community and town councils together with a fresh political influence with our new Shadow Secretary of State, Owen Smith.
Is it possible to square this circle?
Believe or not I’d like to suggest it is – but it could require a change gear for the Labour Party in Wales, moving from being political driven through the delivery of services in the best way possible to being equally involved in direct democracy and action; as well as being prepared to be very bold and creative in raising and controlling finance for investment.
Welsh Labour recently produced a report on what it has and is planning to achieve so far called Delivering for Wales. There are some excellent examples of action in this report that both defend the Welsh economy and services as well as challenge the Tories. For example the report places an emphasis on ‘a budget for growth and jobs’ together with ‘a plan for jobs in Wales’, which will directly help to create jobs and keep people in work as well as challenging the UK government ‘austerity’ policies. This has already been recognised beyond Wales.
The report goes on to the defence of health, housing and social services as well as detailing polices on communities and the environment. It is also defends the universal benefits achieved by Labour in Wales such bus passes and free prescriptions. There is much in this report that can be built upon but it is ‘listy’ and lacks a sense of coherent direction. Building on the idea of demonstrating what a UK Labour government could do and resisting the Tories would provide that direction.
A new Delivering for Wales should now be produced taking account of our influence in local government and through this other public services. The combined spending of the public sector in Wales is around 60% of our GDP employing directly around 24% of all employees. Some have argued like Peter Hainthat we should aim to reduce this proportion.
I would like to suggest it is actually a great strength. It provides a reasonably stable economic strength largely beyond the international market, that could be used more effectively, directing and attracting investment, creating new and sustaining existing products and services and thereby jobs, thus challenging and offsetting the effects of Tory austerity. We in Wales are now in a strong position to deliver such a vision. The borrowing power of the public sector could be used to great effect supporting this, especially if every £ raised was matched by an investment fund such as the Quebec Solidarity fund. Investment could be allocated in line with social and industrial policies and through a process like the European Investment Fund.
Tory cuts in welfare, benefits and the other non-devolved budgets will have a socially corrosive and economically devastating effect on individuals and families throughout Wales. A new Delivering for Wales programme should monitor and report regularly on this impact such as the work that Cuts Watch Cymruhas started. Policies and work to support people affected should be a key action of the Welsh Government coordinating local authorities, community councils, trade unions and other non government organisations.
Campaigns, demonstrations and other forms of direct and representative action challenging these Tory policies by people in Wales should be supported by the Labour Party and as a matter of principle by our AMs and councillors. At a fundamental level our government and councils should help fill the gaps left by legal aid and other representational losses.
The Welsh Government’s campaign against regional pay, working with our trade unions and the AMs respect of picket lines in the recent public sector strikes against pension changes are an example to all: our MPs, AMs and councillors should follow this lead at their local level working with trade unions and the local community and not against them. Unite for example has adopted a policy of community organisations which we all could work with locally particularly getting young people to join the union providing a collective way forward and providing a focal point and base to organise against the Tories. AMs and councillors will still face difficult situations but by sharing them with ‘open books’ and looking for collective answerswill help in sustaining our opposition to this government.
Clearly even all of this only starts to offset the huge effects of the Tories ‘scorched earth’ austerity policies. It does however, put people before economic madness and helps us to link into the growing resistance across the UK and Europe. We can by providing examples of an alternative economy that supports the public and at the same time helps people fight back not only lay the foundations of the next Labour Government but perhaps even take a step toward ending this disastrous government before 2015.