Hackney council's ruling Labour Group has passed a motion (reproduced below) spelling out the ambition to "lead the fight against the cuts" at the same time as... making them.
This is a common line among slightly-leftish Labour councils.
The Labour Party nationally, and the Labour Group in Hackney, must (says the motion) "play the leading role in campaigning against" - if not the cuts as such, at least "the excessive speed and depth of the cuts".
Leaflets, petitions, street stalls, rallies, demonstrations, banners on demonstrations are promised.
The Labour Group resolves to "use the campaign against the cuts to recruit members to the Labour Party and drive the renewal of our ward parties..."
It warns that "leadership of the anti-cuts campaign must not be ceded to the SWP or Greens".
Yet the motion also notes that the "excessive speed and depth" is nowhere more excessively speedy and deep than in local government.
Thus the "disproportionate impact of these cuts on local government generally and on the most deprived boroughs such as Hackney".
What will the Labour Group do about those exceptionally "excessive" cuts? Implement them!
It notes "Our legal responsibility to set a balanced budget". "The Labour Party must put forward realistic deficit-reduction plans". The Labour Group will "set a balanced LBH [London Borough of Hackney] Budget which targets the massively reduced resources we will receive from central government on protecting services for the most vulnerable."
The contradiction is resolved in the councillors' heads by the thought that: "the electoral defeat of the Coalition parties and a Labour victory is the only certain way to overturn their policies".
Yes, we want the coalition out. But what do we do while the cuts are happening, between now and the general election?
The Labour Group has already told us that electoral victory for Labour in local elections in May will not "overturn" the coalition cuts, but at best produce a variant of them "targeted on protecting services for the most vulnerable".
How do we get a new Labour government which will actually "overturn", i.e. reverse the cuts and other Coalition policies, rather than building on them (if slowing them down) as Blair did with Thatcher's policies?
The motion warns against allowing the Socialist Workers Party and Greens to dominate anti-cuts campaigns. But if the local Labour Party is to be tied to carrying through the local cuts, then it can scarcely "lead the campaign" against those same local cuts. It can agitate against the general evils of the government, but that's all.
So, what are the alternatives to setting a "balanced budget"? Is the law actually such a decisive strait-jacket?
Labour councils that really want to "lead the campaign against the cuts" must prioritise working-class solidarity.
They should refuse to make any social cuts. In the short-term, while a campaign is being built up, this can be achieved through such gambits as finessing accounting structures, borrowing, and selling commercial assets. It is not true, under current law, that legal reprisals would be swift and devastating.
Labour groups should not rely on party structures alone but should organise and mobilise the entire council work-force, user groups, anti-cuts campaigns and communities for a fight. They should build towards a coordinated series of actions in defiance of the cuts.
Taking the Hackney Labour Party banner on a TUC demonstration is good, but not enough! "Leading the campaign" means coordinating budgetary defiance from the councillors, council worker strikes, rent strikes and the withholding of council tax.
The mobilisation of defiance cannot and should not be controlled by the Labour Party alone but should be based upon delegate committees of all those involved, holding councillors to account for their actions and making decisions in a democratic fashion.
If such actions were taken in Hackney and even a few other Labour controlled local authorities, then the Tory-Liberal government could be forced to back-track very quickly indeed.
In Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, the constituency Labour Party General Committee has passed a motion calling for defiance. A number of new members are putting themselves forwards as 'anti-cuts' Labour candidates in the upcoming elections.
We need to work on how to spread such ideas and organise defiance remains unressolved. In contrast to the 1980s, there is no substantial organised left in the party, and the left that does exist is similarly divided.
Perhaps a vigorous initiative from the Labour Representation Committee could help begin turn things round. You do not need to be a revolutionary or left-socialist to want to resist the cuts: you just need a basic sense of working class solidarity.
There are risks to a strategy of defiance - as there are in any working class mobilisation - but the legal threats to individual Labour councillors are lighter than in the past. The immediate risks to working class communities and to the future health and shape of the labour movement and Labour Party are very much greater.
Motion on Campaigning against the Cuts
This Group notes:
1) The massive cuts to public services announced in the CSR by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats
2) The disproportionate impact of these cuts on local government generally and on the most deprived boroughs such as Hackney specifically
3) The Labour Party’s alternative proposals set out by Alan Johnson that would seek to halve rather than eliminate the deficit and to achieve this through a greater emphasis on tax changes
4) Growing public anger about the impact of the cuts on vital public services, jobs in the public and private sectors, grants and fees affecting school and FHE students, and on the lives of the most vulnerable citizens. 5) Our own LBH budget faces cuts of up to £60m
6) Our legal responsibility to set a balanced budget for LBH
7) The TUC National Demonstration against the Cuts on 26 March
8) The Mayor’s high-profile media role condemning the cuts
This Group believes:
1) That the Labour Party must put forward realistic deficit-reduction plans but also play the leading role nationally and locally here in Hackney in campaigning against the excessive speed and depth of the cuts
2) That the Hackney Labour Group and the Mayor of Hackney have a particular responsibility to lead the campaign
3) It is essential that leadership of the anti-cuts campaign must not be ceded to the SWP or Greens
4) That ultimately the only way in which the Coalition’s policies will be reversed is by a Labour General Election victory 5) That our Budget strategy must be guided by seeking to protect services for the most vulnerable and to fund as many as possible of our 2010 Borough Manifesto policies
This Group resolves:
1) To set a balanced LBH Budget which targets the massively reduced resources we will receive from central government on protecting services for the most vulnerable
2) To work with the local MPs, CLPs and LGC to campaign against the Coalition’s imposition of cuts in the media and through social media, leaflets, petitions and street stalls
3) To continue to prioritise electoral campaigning as the electoral defeat of the Coalition parties and a Labour victory is the only certain way to overturn their policies
4) To support the TUC National Demonstration against the Cuts on 26 March through mobilising Hackney residents to join the march and having an active presence there with Hackney Labour banner and placards
5) To continue the current media campaigning against the cuts
6) To ensure that all our messaging stresses the Coalition’s responsibility for imposing cuts on Hackney Council
7) To organise a local rally with the Mayor and MPs as speakers as a mobilisation event in the run-up to the TUC National Demonstration
8) To liaise with local community organisations, including TRAs, Hackney Unites and Hackney TUC, with a view to joint campaigning.
9) To set up a joint campaign working group with the LGC/party and MPs to enable members of Group to be involved in planning and executing this campaign
10) To use the campaign against the cuts to recruit members to the Labour Party and drive the renewal of our ward parties, by stressing the importance of an electoral defeat of the current government.