This is a guest post by @greenhousedani, which is her prize for winning my Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Election turnout sweepstake. She correctly bet that the turnout in those elections would be 16%, which was more accurate than all the pundits.
I have voted in every election I could, since I was 18. I even voted in the farcical Police and Crime Commissioner elections, thought I don’t really know if that was the right thing to do. But I’ve never thought voting alone would make a real difference to the way things are organised and run.
For me, voting is an absolute minimum floor for political engagement. I don’t have much time for political parties these days, but I think engaged and informed citizens can and do change the world every day, by voicing their opinions and by taking action in their communities.
I’ve voted Green in the last few local and general elections because I think climate change is a global emergency, because I support their anti-capitalist platform and because they are the only party with a chance of winning seats which opposes austerity.
Though I sympathise with the plight of the minority Green administration on Brighton & Hove City Council, I have been disappointed by the behaviour of the Green Party in office up to now. If I’d wanted a local council that complained bitterly about the national cuts being imposed, while sadly passing them on to residents, I would have voted Labour.
Here’s a quick quiz – see if you can match up the council leaders to their statements about the cuts:
Statement A: “We have some very tough choices to make whilst focussing on protecting essential services and providing value for money.”
Statement B: “A responsible government would never have done this. We would not have been cutting as fast or as deep as we have been forced to do.”
Statement C: “This is not the budget we wanted and I am sorry it’s not been possible to protect every service we all care about but it is the best we can do in these challenging times.”
Statement D: “This budget is painful, but necessary. We have managed to safeguard the most essential services, increase income equitably and where reductions have to be made, they have been made with care.”
Council leader 1: Jason Kitcat, Green Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, which faces a further £25 million budget cut in 2012-13
Council leader 2: Richard Williams, Labour leader of Southampton Council, where after defeating Tory proposals for wage cuts and winning control in May 2012, the Labour administration is now proposing £20 million cuts, leading to 300 job losses, closure of youth services and cuts to library, parks, refuse and street cleaning services.
Council leader 3: Richard Leese, Labour leader of Manchester Council, which was forced to cut £109 million from its budget in 2011-12 and a further £61 million in 2012-13, resulting in the closure of supported housing, Sure Start centres, libraries, swimming pools and youth centres.
Council leader 4: Steve Reed, Labour Leader of Lambeth Council, where cuts of £37 million in 2011-12 and a further £29 million in 2012-13 have so far resulted in job losses and privatisations across a range of council services
Scroll to the end of the post to see if you got it right. It’s not easy to spot the one Green out of that lot, is it?
We have a Green-led council here in Brighton & Hove whose policy on the cuts is indistinguishable from that of Labour councils all over the country – balance the books, keep within the law, do your best to stop it hurting people, ride out the storm when it does.
As if that weren’t depressing enough, we have a Labour party which specialises in attacking the Greens for doing precisely what Labour councils are doing everywhere else!
Meanwhile, in the real world, benefit cuts are causing families to become homeless, much loved youth services are closing, the NHS is being sold out from under us, disabled social housing tenants will be forced to move by the bedroom tax, council tax benefit changes will turn the screw on the poorest while depriving local councils of yet more funds, sick and disabled people are being denied benefits after shockingly poor (1.2MB PDF download at that link) “assessments” by a private company, while the care and support many people need is more and more precarious and threatened.
What we need from our political representatives in this situation is not petty point-scoring about parking, leaks to the press or water meters. That just makes everyone involved look foolish and out of touch.
Is it any wonder that most people don’t think it’s worth voting for anyone in local council elections?
What we need instead is some of the fighting spirit that abounds in Brighton & Hove. Our city has a proud tradition of people who care about social or environmental injustice getting together and doing something about it.
Brighton & Hove Green Party itself is rooted in this tradition (as is the Labour Party, for that matter). At a time when everyone (except perhaps Steve Bassam) is coming to realise that the very existence of local government is threatened, what have the Greens got to lose by taking a risk, going back to their roots and refusing to follow the script any longer?