In his last chance to lay out Labour’s case for the local elections this Thursday Labour leader Julian Bell had nothing positive to say. No new ideas. No policies to explain. Instead he laid into the local Conservatives.
He first talked about proposed changes to the NHS. He blames the “Tories” for these changes without mentioning that the driver for “Shaping a Healthier Future” is Labour’s own £20 billion Nicholson Challenge programme which was kicked off in 2009 by Andrew Burnham. Labour’s attempt to rebrand their own policy has been going on for four years now. The proposals we are having to endure were dreamt up by NHS managers in response to a financial constraint that was built into the NHS already in May 2010. None of us like their donut solution which leaves our borough with an A&E hole. But, the courts agreed the process was sound when the council took it to judicial review. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel agreed with NHS North West London’s proposals. The only actor in this whole drama who has given Ealing any relief is the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. Bell and Labour may denigrate Hunt’s promise but it is the best we have had so far. What you will not hear is any Labour politician saying that Ed Balls is going to spend £20 billion undoing Nicholson. Come on Cllr Bell – if Labour is going to undo these changes let’s hear about it. So far we have a promise from Hunt and nothing from Labour.
Bell then goes back to the cuts chant he has been repeating for four years. His argument is rather undermined by council questions (questions 41 and 42), formally answered by council officers, that show that the council is spending much more money than it was in 2010 and is employing the same headcount pretty much. After “unprecedented cuts” the council is the same size as, or even bigger than, it was in 2010. Once you get out of the local government finance hall of mirrors you are left with a huge organisation that is still huge.
Again, you will not hear any Labour politician promising to unwind the tighter financial settlement being imposed on councils.
Labour is trying to scare voters with stories about how extravagant the Conservatives’ pledge card is – at least ours makes some promises unlike Labour’s which is not exactly tangible. In reality our promises are very modest and affordable.
Three years of council tax freeze are already built into the council’s medium term financial strategy (MTFS). The MTFS assumes that parking charges will not rise. The garden tax pledge will cost about 0.15% of the council’s total spending. The roads promise is a choice – there are lots of things we won’t do but we will prioritise the road outside your house. Labour found the money for a useless car park in Southall. Any spare money will go on the road outside your house if the Conservatives are in charge.
Julian Bell and the Ealing Labour party have lost the argument. They are left with cheap insults and scaremongering. The fact is that everyone is talking about the Conservative offer and they like what they see.