Many council seats are up for grabs on May 6. Where they are in control, David Cameron’s Councils reveal a Tory program of cuts and increased charges.
Amid the excitement of the leaders’ debates and hung parliament number-crunching, the local elections have taken even more of a backseat than usual. But one third of seats on unitary, district and metropolitan councils and all seats in the 32 London boroughs are up for grabs on May 6.
The Tories are looking to build on their success local election success in 2006. Where they are in control of local authorities, David Cameron says that Tory councils “demonstrate Conservative government in action”. But the decisions of Cameron’s Councils reveal a Tory program of cuts and increased charges driven by dogma rather than the needs of local communities.
Many Tory councils refuse to take up Labour initiatives intended to benefit families and pensioners, like free swimming, for purely ideological reasons. One Tory Leader said, “We do not in principle favour ‘free this and free that’, such as swimming or transport, school meals or computers or whatever it is.”
The actions of Cameron’s Councils include:
• Slashing frontline services in Harlow
• Treating council tenants with contempt in Hammersmith and Fulham
• Cutting investment in young people in Brighton
Barnet Council’s ‘budget airline’ approach, where residents will have to pay ‘top up’ charges for all but the most basic services has been well-documented. But it’s not just Barnet that’s following this model. Walsall and Wolverhampton are just two more of the many councils hitting families and the vulnerable with charges they can’t afford for services they desperately need. The actions of these councils are often in direct opposition to Tory national policy, leading to accusations that the Tories are ‘saying one thing but doing another’.
So when David Cameron says he wants to “create a supportive funding environment for volunteer-based charities and community groups” or that he wants to encourage a “Green Consumer Revolution” by rewarding recycling, his councils in Swindon and South Ribble, Dartford, Calderdale and Bexley are doing the exact opposite.
These are not just the actions of one or two rogue councillors unconnected to the national party. Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader of Tory Hammersmith and Fulham, is Conservative Home’s Local Hero 2008 and a former head of David Cameron’s Council Innovation Unit. Mike Freer, ex-Leader of Barnet Council and architect of easy-councils is the Tory candidate for Margaret Thatcher’s old seat of Finchley and Golders Green. These people are at the heart of the Tory vision for Britain.
There’s a generation of voters who are curious about what a Tory government looks like and the memory of the last Tory government is dim at best for many more. But far away from the debate beauty parade, millions are already experiencing what the government may well look like on May 7. We can’t say we weren’t warned.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.