Haringey Unite campaigners back setting illegal council budgets

by Dave Hill

Haringey is the London borough where Labour Party members strongly supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership have been making the biggest inroads into local party structures. Earlier this month, candidates backed by Momentum won clean sweeps of officer positions in ward branches and in the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency party, where long standing chair and London stalwart of Unite Steve Hart was deposed.

Hart had lost influence within his union in recent times, during which it has become more militant and strongly Corbynite. On Monday, the borough’s branch of Unite Community, a wing of the union that fosters community activism among people not in work, passed an interesting motion. I quote in full.

The purpose of any local authority is to safeguard the well-being of everybody governed by that authority without prejudice. British local authorities are prejudicing people’s well-being because the funds made available to them by the current national government are inadequate. Unite recognises the primacy of safeguarding the well-being of its members without prejudice, even if that means breaking the law.
This branch calls on Unite and other trade unions and community groups to demand that local authorities set needs-based budgets, not budgets within a legal framework intended to safeguard the well-being of the advantaged minority at the expense of the well-being of the majority disadvantaged by them, even if that means breaking the current law.
Those words will trigger vivid memories among older readers and those with a taste for London local government history. Defying national governments over the raising and spending of local taxes has a celebrated place in the capital’s Town Hall annals, at least for some on the Left. George Lansbury’s 1921 Poplar rates rebellion is the benchmark. More recently, a group of Labour-run councils dug their heels in against Margaret Thatcher’s rate-capping policies. That ultimately failed mid-1980s campaign was hailed long after as one that could have been won.
I don’t know Steve Ballard, who proposed the Unite Community motion (and is also a Haringey Labour branch secretary), but I’m told he is a retired schoolteacher, so I’m assuming he remembers those distant Maggie-resisting times. (Apologies if I’ve got that wrong).
The cause doesn’t offer the scope for martyrdom it once did: these days, rather than having rebels carted off to jail, the department for communities and local government simply sends in accountants to take over. But it is clear that the political case for setting illegal council budgets and their inevitable corollary, high profile confrontation, remains persuasive for some. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, for instance.
Where might ripples from the motion spread to? Probably to branch and CLP meetings in search of wider backing. It remains to be seen if they then grow into waves. But the Unite Community motion is, if nothing else, a further sign of local membership ferment against the current leadership of Haringey Council and their headline policies, which include a long track record of holding down council tax.

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