On May 4th millions of voters in England will go to the polls to elect local councils. In this issue we feature one candidate from Southampton who would like your vote. Catherine Clarke is standing for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition on a left of centre manifesto. 

In 2022 TUSC received 29,169 votes in total across the local councils, mayoral elections and Scottish elections in which it stood candidates. But the media obsession with treating local elections as if they are nothing more than opinion polls on the state of the main parties means that the only way for their candidates to break through is by bypassing the mass media. And, in this way, they will always be at a disadvantage compared to the major parties.

This, incidentally, has nothing to do with first-past-the-post as compared to proportional representation. In a political climate in which the mass media are always willing to give airspace to the right but not the left, proportional representation tends, as it has in much of Europe, to favour the small right-wing parties over those of the left.

Many people use local elections as either a protest vote, voting for a party that they would never vote for in a General Election, or don’t bother to vote at all. This is a shame. Local authorities had budgets amounting to £105.6 billion in 2021-22. That is a lot of money. It is your money. And you deserve a say in how it is spent.

The real scandal though is that these elections, the only chance you get as a citizen to influence local politicians, will not focus on what councils do but rather on the national policies parties want to highlight ahead of next year’s General Election. 

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party Chair, rather gave the game away at the launch of the party’s local election campaign. He said May would begin “our two-year election campaign”. Nothing at all about local services, nothing about whether you would have your rubbish collected regularly or whether local libraries were worth investing in or what type of bus service you need. In launching Labour’s local election campaign, Sir Keir Starmer highlighted the cost of living crisis claiming that the average family would be £2,620 worse off under the Tories. But how you vote on May 4th will make no difference to that. The election slogan – “Putting Unity back in our Community” – was about as vacuous as it is possible to be. It is interesting that in 1904, whilst then a member of the Independent Labour Party, Labour traitor Ramsey MacDonald wrote: “I reject what seems to be the crude notion of a class war, because class consciousness leads nowhere … The watchword of socialism is not class consciousness but community consciousness.” At least he was able to use the word ‘socialism’ without choking on his breakfast cereal.

If local elections are nothing more than opinion polling for the General Election, how should socialists approach them? According to the Local Government information Unit, 88% of councils in England and Wales will need to implement cuts next year. Most have already put up Council Tax as high as they can, but over 50% of local councils intend to cut services over the coming 12 months. Who do you vote for?

Do you want to pay higher taxes for fewer services? These decisions have already been taken. They are not on the agenda for May 4th. TUSC oppose cuts but are unlikely to win control of any councils. There is a myth on the left that Tories cut and Labour preserves. Two months ago a council closed two children’s day centres and a school meals service. That council, Liverpool’s Halton Council, was Labour run. There are other examples. Those cuts may well be the fault of the Tory Government who have reduced local government budgets, particularly of Labour controlled councils. But shouldn’t local elections focus on local services and not the Government?

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