The English and Welsh local elections on 6 May have featured a lack of discussion about policies and politics.
The virtual destruction of local government is continuing at speed; but there is little mention of it in the election campaign, let alone real debate. The vote is mainly being treated as a national referendum on the parties’ popularity, but with little discussion of their national policies on local government or anything else.
At a national level, the Labour leadership has offered no theme other than a limp appeal to present 6 May as a chance to “send a message” to the Tories on NHS pay (but in addition to the fact that local government doesn't control the NHS, Labour isn’t supporting the NHS workers’ 15% pay demand...)
A serious left-wing opposition would have posed the elections as an opportunity to protest against the gutting of local government and demand its restoration. The Labour right has largely been unwilling to touch that issue. The Labour left has been remarkably reticent about it too.
The Corbyn leadership finally made the demand to restore all lost funding to councils only in the 2019 manifesto, after evading it right up until then, and even after right-wing Labour council leaders did make the call, briefly and without energy, in their mid-2018 “Breaking Point” campaign.
Under a left-wing leadership, Labour did very little to campaign against the assault on local government for over four years. It is unsurprising that it is failing to do so under a much more conservative leadership, but no less disastrous.
Labour’s biggest trade union affiliates are also the three main unions in local government (Unison, GMB, Unite). None of these exerts any real pressure for a Labour fightback against cuts and to restore local government. Labour movement activists, in the first instance local government workers, must demand that they do so.
The Green Party does have a national manifesto for the local elections, and it does call for the restoration of all lost funding. Labour activists should point this out in internal discussions.
However, the Greens are not really campaigning on this demand. Their record in local government is essentially no better than Labour’s. And they do not have Labour’s structural links to the organised labour movement.
Socialists and labour movement activists should campaign and vote for Labour, while working for a revolt against Starmer's (lack of) policies.
As well as fighting to refund and re-empower local government, we should fight to make it more meaningfully democratic. On 6 May the East London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham will be holding referendums on abolishing their executive mayors, in Newham explicitly in favour of a “committee” rather a more top-down “cabinet” system.