Bexley socialists launch Manifesto for May 2022

By Bexley Labour Left

 For many years, socialists and left-wing activists of the Labour Party in Bexley have fought, with far more frustration than joy, against the Conservatives’ catastrophic misrule of the borough.

Most, if not all, of the biggest problems facing local government over the last decade can be found in Bexley. The difference between this corner of south-east London and other areas in the capital and beyond is that the Tory administration’s flawed ideology and general incompetence have made, and are making matters worse.

The Conservatives have accumulated a borrowing debt of £223 million – nearly £1,000 for every person in the borough, and are having to make sweeping cuts to staff and services while increasing council tax. This cannot simply be laid at the feet of Covid-19.

There is a chronic homelessness problem and social housing shortage in Bexley. The Tories got rid of virtually all of the council’s housing stock in the 1990s.

And their lust for uneconomical outsourcing and privatisation culminated in a hellish six-week refuse and street cleaning strike in the summer amid hot weather.

The left manifesto

For far too long there has been an acceptance and complacency about the way things are done in Bexley – unsurprising in the case of the Conservatives, but, more worryingly, it is also true of the Labour group.

Socialists and activists came together, under the banner of Bexley Labour Left, to write a manifesto and set out some of the pressing problems in the borough, and how they can be tackled and fixed.

Some of the recommendations in the policy paper could be enacted by what we hope will be a progressive Labour administration in the not-too-distant future. Other broader aims would require action by central government.

But what is no longer acceptable in Bexley, is business as usual whereby the Tories govern badly with the tacit consent of the Labour group in a spirit of bipartisanship.

Many of the borough’s activists, and residents too, have become increasingly exasperated with the performance, or lack of it, of the Labour group.

The manifesto has already been widely circulated in Bexley and beyond and is intended to radically alter and widen the terms of political discourse.

Some of the vitally important issues the policy paper speaks to, like climate change, education and equality, barely get a mention in some political and social circles locally, or are treated with casual indifference.

Bexley Labour Left is determined to influence and shape political discussion in the borough.

The election

Labour currently has ten councillors in Bexley and Tories hold all but one of the other 35 seats.

A local election will take place in the borough in May 2022, and barring anything completely unforeseen, the make-up of the council is not likely to change significantly. Large parts of Bexley are not natural Labour territory.

Since the last election in 2018, the Labour group has done little or nothing outside of dry technical debates in the civic offices, which are not followed by many people, to set out an alternative vision or programme to residents, or build support with consistent messaging and community engagement.

Some campaigning and phone banking was done for the London mayoral election in May, and attention has now been turned to next year’s local election in Bexley. 

But canvassers are currently knocking on doors merely to ask residents if they intend to vote Labour. There is no manifesto in place, or distillation of some such document. It makes no sense to spring a thin, bland and largely meaningless manifesto on residents, who may see a Labour campaigner once every four years, on the eve of an election. 

The right-leaning Labour group operates like an old boys’ network which is concentrating much of its efforts on recruiting in its own image regarding prospective councillor candidates, and shutting the door on left wing and progressive voices.

Some appear happy to bask in the status of being a paid councillor, or treat the role as a launchpad for a run as an MP.

The creed for some, and other careerists and wannabees, is self-advancement rather than actually challenging the Tories and fighting for vulnerable residents.

Come May, the Conservatives would have been in power for 16 years. Change is needed all round.

Bexley Labour Left, Making Bexley a Better Place to Live: A Policy Document and Manifesto. The whole document can be obtained by emailing bexleylabourleft@hotmail.com We reproduce here its Executive Summary:

Executive Summary

(This document reflects the views of Bexley Labour Left regarding the governance of the council, and the country.)

Bexley’s local election in May 2022 will provide the borough’s residents with a simple choice: to continue with disastrous policies by re-electing the Conservatives, or opt for a better and more sustainable future with Labour.

There is no area of local government in Bexley untouched by the Tories’ flawed ideology, or plain and simple incompetence.

From the dire financial position the borough is in, to the catastrophic effects of laissez-faire privatisation, which lead to a summer of discontent with the refuse and street cleaning strike, the Conservatives’ rap sheet is a long and sorry one.

Wherever residents turn their attention, there are serious problems including the drastic cuts being made to personnel and services across the board and the homelessness and housing crisis.

Finance

The 2008 global financial crash changed the economic and political landscape worldwide. The ramifications from that event are still being felt today.

Bexley Council, under the stewardship of the Tories, has endured its own fiscal meltdown in more recent times, and the borough’s residents are paying the price now and will continue to do so for years to come.

The Conservatives racked up a breathtaking £223 million borrowing debt as set out in Bexley Council’s audited accounts in 2020. That is almost £1,000 for every person in the borough.

Such is the trouble it is in, that it was one of four authorities to be offered an emergency bailout by the government. In Bexley’s case, up to £9 million was made available.

These are problems long in the making and cannot simply be explained away by the Covid-19 pandemic, which they, by and large, precede. The Conservative government’s assault on local authority funding since 2010 is a factor, but just as big a part of the picture is the local Tories financial mismanagement in Bexley.

A Labour-controlled administration would do far more to attract businesses and investment into the borough, and thereby increase employment, local spending power and tax receipts available to the council.

Sensible financial management would include abandoning the pretence that services can be provided while insufficient money is raised, or wasted as debt piles up to satisfy bogus ideological claims of fiscal prudence.

And Bexley, in Labour’s hands, would not squander huge sums of taxpayers’ cash by pouring money into the pockets of private companies if it is not actually cheaper, and delivers inferior services – while council tax rates steadily rise.

Where it makes economic sense, services would be brought in-house under local authority control where possible.

Health

Bexley Council should work with local and national health professionals, organisations as well as trade unions to protect the NHS.

Labour will campaign vigorously, for and on behalf of the borough’s residents, to achieve this aim.

Any legislation or proposed law to monetise and privatise the NHS should be repealed, or rejected. Such an ambition would require working with an amenable government.

Even in today’s highly financialised world, the dictum that “the first wealth is health” is an eternal truth.

It is a reminder, if one is needed, that the National Health Service is the cornerstone of British society, and has been so since its creation in 1948.

A public NHS that is fully funded and free at the point of delivery for anyone who needs it, is vital for the health of the nation. It is no exaggeration to say society cannot function properly without such a service.

The crucial and life-saving importance of the institution has been demonstrated in the fight against Covid-19.

Some degree of control was only gained after the service took on an increasingly central role, instead of disastrous and shockingly wasteful schemes like test, track and trace.

But the NHS should not be taken for granted. For many decades now, there has been a move to privatise aspects of the organisation, or open them up to market forces.

Starting from the Conservative Party’s drive towards internal market reforms in the late 1980s and early 90s to today’s NHS Bill, governments of all hues have introduced, extended or accepted the principle of competition and markets in health provision.

This poses enormous dangers. As healthcare providers seek to make or keep more money by restricting the breadth and quality of services available, patients’ health suffers unless they can afford private care.

It is unlikely any government will openly privatise or sell-off the NHS because that would be too politically unpopular. But there is an ongoing attempt to stealthily do precisely that via the back door.

The more the public service deteriorates as private providers gorge on taxpayers’ money while providing less and less, people will have to take out private health insurance to guarantee satisfactory healthcare provision.

A return to pre-1948 days when large numbers of people could not afford to pay doctors’ fees or insurance, may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Adult Social Care

Labour would work towards an effective and efficient, publicly provided and accountable, adult social care service free to all at the point of need.

The steps required to achieve such a framework would require bringing residential, domiciliary and nursing care services back in-house at local and national level, and funding them properly.

However expensive this proposal is now, it will become necessary as private provision fails, and the cost will increase over time.

Adequate levels of properly trained and appropriately qualified staff will help to ensure a compassionate and caring service, which guarantees dignity and a high quality of life for vulnerable users.

Additionally, the service should be run by, and be accountable to its users, providers and elected public officials.

Local authorities could provide more of their own social care facilities if the government restores some of the billions of pounds of central funding that has been cut from the service since 2010.

Where providers remain in the private sector for whatever reason, there should be a stringent legal framework to ensure they adhere to strict ethical standards with effective monitoring and enforcement.

It should be noted that Bexley Council has a statutory duty of care to its residents.

The unaccountable, underfunded, private service that currently exists has failed badly.

Residential, nursing and domiciliary care is mainly provided by the private profit-making sector.

The obvious contradiction here is that a labour-intensive service can only become profitable by driving down staffing levels, wages and conditions.

That inevitably leads to low staffing levels, poverty pay, appalling working environments which in turn results in poorer levels of care. No serious thought has been given to the devastating effects of widespread privatisation in the care sector.

Climate Change

The evidence has been steadily building in front of the world’s eyes for decades. Today, only a crank, a fool, or someone who puts material consumption above all else, would attempt to argue about the reality of climate change and humankind’s desperate need to halt or even reverse the process.

The argument has never been about whether human activity is negatively affecting the Earth’s climate; the question is to what extent is it doing so. The evidence is abundantly clear, and stacking up on a daily basis.

From droughts, freakish rainfall, storms and floods, wildfires to melting ice caps, humanity is experiencing events never seen before, or with greater regularity and intensity due to the warmer air created by burning fossil fuels.

But, it is not just down to governments to tackle this problem; everyone has to play their part.

Introducing a policy to ensure that every and all decisions undergo a Sustainability and Environment Impact Assessment, to determine if any proposed action or development is good for the borough’s residents and our planet, would be an utmost priority for a Labour council.

Such an administration would also vigorously lobby central government to effect appropriate legislative changes.

If the Earth’s temperature rises in line with current predictions in the absence of any remedial action in the decades ahead, sea levels could rise by an extraordinary amount.

Abbey Wood, Crayford, Erith, Lower Belvedere, Slade Green and Thamesmead could be under water in such a scenario; while millions of people could be displaced around the world.

Homelessness and Housing

One of the biggest problems the nation faces is what is sometimes referred to as the national housing crisis.

Throughout the country, millions of people cannot afford to buy a home or even find somewhere to rent. For those who need social housing and the homeless, the situation is even bleaker. These problems are alive and well in the London Borough of Bexley.

The nation’s failure over decades to build enough homes in the right places, and rising house prices because demand outstrips supply, lie at the root of the problem.

Bexley Council should develop a comprehensive and systematic plan to build homes and social housing in the borough.

Those in temporary accommodation or who are homeless far exceeds the authority’s available housing stock, not to mention the exorbitant costs of paying private landlords to house such people. A false economy if ever there was one.

Central and regional government grants are available to councils with social housing, and to facilitate building initiatives in that regard. And all housebuilding must be environmentally sustainable.

Community

Conservative mismanagement runs right across the spectrum in Bexley. From the disastrous refuse strike, which created a health hazard throughout the borough, to the spectacular near quarter-of-a-billion pound debt the Tories have conjured up; such stunning ineptitude has real consequences for residents.

The council has to scale back the services it provides and reduce staff numbers as it grapples with its self-inflicted financial wounds. Libraries, Leisure, Highways and Environmental Services are areas where staff are being sacrificed.

Bexley’s voluntary sector partnership development, involving many organisations, will also take a hit as a result of the retrenchment.

Any authority’s first duty to its residents must be to run its financial affairs, partly funded by local council tax payers, properly; and adequately fund essential services.

A second obligation must be not to become transfixed by economic ideology and dogma even when it produces inferior, less efficient services at greater cost.

Education

Education is a social good, or what some people refer to as being for the common good.

In a market-based society, it is very easy to think of education as being nothing more than training for work. But, its importance far exceeds that requirement alone.

Of course, any education system needs to teach the skills and impart the information that is necessary for the economy and society, more generally, to function properly.

Ability and talent come in many forms: academic, creative, sporting and technical. An education system must be broad in scope to cater for all. It can help everyone to understand himself or herself, other people, the world and reach self-actualisation.

For all of these reasons, education is far too important to be left in the hands of profit-making or sectional interests, or to be allowed to meet the needs of some children but not others.

The highest quality system, fully accountable to the community, should be available to all children no matter their background, or the status of their parents.

Academisation should be stopped in Bexley with all of the borough’s schools returned to local authority control. This would mean they are run with community-oriented goals that benefit children, teachers, families and the whole borough.

Rejecting academisation would also help to ensure that each school’s governance structure has places for community members, councillors, parents and unions.

Research shows individual academy schools or those in multi-academy trusts fragment the education system, and do not perform better than local authority schools.

But ultimately, there is no way currently of returning an academy back to public control, so the Department for Education will have to be lobbied to introduce such a mechanism.

The eleven-plus, the practice of stigmatising and condemning many youngsters to a less well-resourced education, should be abolished.

Equality

An important step in tackling equality matters in the borough would be to set up a Bexley Equality Council. Its work would be to oversee all issues relating to disparities and inequalities concerning age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender rights. The body would monitor, collect data and report on the aforementioned areas. Such an organisation should also act as a forum for anyone who wants to flag up something that would require looking into by the council itself, or referred elsewhere as appropriate.

Disparities and inequalities, of various kinds, remain stubbornly persistent in Bexley and nationwide. One area that gives a window into some of the attitudes that remain deeply ingrained in society concerns the racist abuse black footballers, in particular, receive. These attitudes exist in all spheres of daily life, and not just in sporting arenas, which typically are the venues for the outward expression of such bile.

There remains much work to be done to tackle racism, prejudice, discrimination, bias and the ways in which they manifest themselves to the detriment of various groups.

Image:Bexley in Greater London. Source: This W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Adobe Illustrator.. Author: TUBS, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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