Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Redistributing misery

Lively hustings meeting last night with all the candidates (but with the Tory arriving half way through) and much heckling. Ninety people present (which is more that you usually get at a hustings for an election to parliament). Maybe it's this part of Brixton or maybe a local election generates more interest amongst a minority. In any event, the Brixtonblog is to be congratulated for organising it.

The Labour candidate was in a hopeless position, trying to blame the ConDem government for the cuts but defending the way Labour-run Lambeth Council were implementing them. The LibDem candidate was also in a hopeless position because she was unable to criticise what the government was doing and the effect this was having locally and was reduced to extolling her own virtues. No wonder the Tory turned up late as what could he say (beyond, as he did, that they hadn't done much leafletting or canvassing as Tulse Hill was not an area where they were strong on the ground)?. The Green Party candidate didn't really follow through his strong case that "right across Lambeth Labour is pursuing a programme of evictions in order to sell housing to developers and profit from high property prices" (he didn't even switch his mobile phone off).

The UKIP candidate was more prepared than last time (she was also their candidate in the Brixton Hill local by-election in January), specifically targetting Labour rather than Tory voters, presumably in pursuit of some UKIP national strategy for inner London and Northern cities; interesting display of populism, though. The TUSC candidate put across their single-issue "No cuts" campaign and got denounced by UKIP as "Bob Crow's fan club". The Independent candidate explained his case against the Labout council's plan to move him and his fellow residents from their sheltered housing and sell off the land to developers. Our candidate said that it was capitalism, not the government or the local council (or the EU), that was responsible for the problems facing people in Tulse Hill (and elsewhere) and that the other parties' claims to be able to solve them were just empty promises worth nothing as many non-voters already understood.

What the Green Party had called "Labour's programme of evictions" turned out to be one of the main issues of the meeting. It really is the case that the Labour Council has decided that, to raise money to try to compensate for the cut in grants from central government, it will sell off part of its land and housing stock to private developers. This of course involves removals and evictions. This was not popular with the audience which gave the poor Labour candidate a hard time (she'll probably still win, though).

Local councils do have a choice, not to not make any cuts, but to decide how to apply them. It's as if the central government (which is responding to the current economic crisis by cutting its spending so as to give profits, the life-blood of the system, a chance to recover) has said to local councils: "you've got to make cuts, but you choose where to make them". Lambeth Council has decided to sell off some of its housing assets. It may well be true that this will provide them with some money to avoid cuts elsewhere but at the cost of bringing misery to those affected. They could have chosen not to do this, but they would then have had to make more cuts than otherwise and impose the misery on someone else.

That's the sort of choice of redistribution of misery you have to make if you assume responsibility for running capitalism at local level. Not even the TUSC policy of the council refusing to make any cuts and acting illegally would work. The central government would just send in a commissioner and impose the misery anyway. Quite simply, there is no way under capitalism in an economic crisis of avoiding cuts and the misery they bring; one way or another, in one form or another, they will be imposed. It is good that people don't like this but discontent and protest is not enough. The only way out is to get rid of the capitalist system and replace its minority ownership and control and its production for profit by common ownership and democratic control and production to meet people's needs. As one persistent heckler, a socialist, put it, get rid of the system.

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