On Wednesday 13 February, Lambeth Council voted through another cuts budget. The document included a line in a table cutting £500,000 from Children’s Services. Five children’s centres are to be closed, seven more will have their service provision cut, and staff across the borough will lose their jobs.
Outside the Town Hall, Labour members, trade unionists and families sung and chanted in protest. A deputation of mums addressed the Council meeting to explain how much the Centres mean and to propose an alternative. They distributed a counter-proposal, A Better Plan, written by the Lambeth branch of the public services union Unison in collaboration with local families and professionals. The plan asks councillors to use reserves to fund the continuation of the Centres, and to launch a campaign to demand adequate early-years funding from the government. (Lambeth council has suffered cuts of £238 million since 2010).
Many Labour wards have passed motions against in support of the Children’s Centres campaign and are getting involved. Activists in neighbouring Wandsworth have proposed a motion to Labour London Conference for Labour to commit to restore local government funding to 2010 levels by 2022 and build a mass campaign against council cuts now. We have received fantastic solidarity from campaigners in Tower Hamlets who attended our actions and give us advice based on the experience of fighting cuts to their Nursery Schools.
Building a campaign compatible with parenting babies and toddlers has been a challenge, but has produced creative actions. Families have been holding stay-and-play occupations of the town. Peppa Pig attended our recent demonstration. And we plan to hold messy craft placard-making days.
A useful day in London
On Saturday 9 February, Dulwich and West Norwood Momentum and Labour Left hosted a day of discussion and debate for Labour Party members. The event, in south London, drew together national speakers and local activists with panel discussions and workshops on the economy, anti-racism, trade unions, the NHS, the environment and local government.
Local government dominated the agenda. Lambeth and Southwark members grappled with how to build Labour in communities where Labour councils are the administrators of austerity and gentrification.
There were sessions on social care, children’s centres, libraries, education, and housing, as well as an anti-racist session that focussed on institutional racism in councils and how to ensure our councils help migrants with “no recourse to public funds”.
John McDonnell spoke in a panel on municipal socialism and gave the day’s closing address. He was much welcomed, but provoked heckles on announcing that the City had nothing to fear from a Labour government. Labour, he said, would respect the investors’ wish for good returns on their investment, but the wealth should also be shared “amongst the many”.
A lot of local Labour lefts should take a few leaves from the book of Dulwich and West Norwood. The event was addressed by invited speakers from a range of backgrounds, traditions, and positions. Disagreement and debate were welcomed. The positions of the national and local Labour leaderships were challenged — or defended — from many of the “top tables”.
The day wasn’t perfect. A low point for me was when two speakers from the floor asked the municipal socialism panel what Labour was going to about the “smear campaign” by the “Israel lobby” against Corbyn. But a chance to honestly debate the ideas in our movement, good and bad, is a better than a stage-managed affair where our mistakes and intentions are hidden from view.