• Jo Bird

Why I am standing for socialism in local government

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

I am proud to stand together with Cllr Matt White to represent local councillors on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. Like many in the party, the values of justice and socialism are close to my heart. My own family history and our Labour movement’s collective struggles drive me to ensure that these values are put into practice, rather than just being empty words.

Justice and Jewishness

One of the biggest forces of my intense desire to tackle injustice is the horror of fascism faced by my Jewish family. My Jewish great grandparents were refugees who fled from the horrors of hatred in Europe, and my grandad’s cousins perished in the Holocaust.

They were also proud Jewish socialists and radicals. My Jewish grandad was arrested fighting Mosley’s fascists in Manchester, and my great uncle fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigade. My non-Jewish grandad died fighting Nazism as a soldier in the British army. They were men of principle, and I hope that I continue their tradition of love, humour and socialist politics.

These memories and experiences are something I think about often, and has made me more understanding and sympathetic to everyone in our great diverse society. I was therefore thrilled to re-join the Labour Party when Jeremy Corbyn became leader. As a Jewish woman, I experienced nothing but warmth and welcome at almost all levels of the party. I was elected chair of Derry~Londonderry branch, and when I stood earlier this year in an NEC by-election, nearly 50,000 members supported my campaign.

Having listened to and spoken with thousands of Labour supporters across the country, I know that party members are hungry for fair and just disciplinary processes, worthy of our trade union, labour and co-operative values. As someone who was publicly suspended, only to then be swiftly re-instated - not once but twice - I strongly believe that the party must not outsource membership decisions to an outside body.

There is no place for injustice in our Labour Party. The party should retain and reform our complaints system, based on the principles of natural justice and proper process. One improvement would be the lifting of Kafkaesque burdens of complete confidentiality. Another would be for the accused to know who their complainants are. The Labour Party must be an example of natural justice, learning and solidarity.

In its internal elections also, our party must be the leaders in fairness. Why did some of the current NEC members impose Single Transferable Vote for the elections to all nine Constituency Labour Party NEC seats, but then ignored their own logic for the two Local Government NEC seats?

But of course, justice and socialism must not just be practised inside the Labour Party, but perhaps more importantly, emanate outwards. I am therefore proud, together with Cllr Matt White, to be backed by organisations of the Labour Left – including the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour Councillors, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Don’t Leave Organise and Jewish Voice for Labour – to run on a platform of socialism in local government.

Socialism in local government

Communities across our country face four crises – coronavirus, unemployment, systemic racism and climate change. The answer to these crises is not more cuts to public services that we rely on. Of course, all councils are required to balance their budgets.

Nevertheless, all Labour councillors should mobilise and campaign together to properly challenge and resist this cruel Conservative government to provide funding based on the needs of the people whom we serve. For example, supporting Unison’s call for £10bn to Save Our Local Services, a completely reasonable ask from this government which found £15bn for so-called PPE contracts with scarcely any transparency, and continues to pour billions into Trident. Furthermore, this government should cancel all local authority debt, just as they cancelled NHS debt.

On a more personal level, I’ve worked for almost three decades with co-operative enterprise, including co-founding a housing co-op and workers co-op. I’ve helped hundreds of people take democratic control of important jobs and services. As Jeremy Corbyn said, “we are an existential threat to their economic system”, and socialist Labour councils can be at the forefront of this charge.

This means that no more public money should go to private sector companies that do not pay at least the Real Living Wage nor recognise trade unions. Moreover, communities are tired of outsourcing, wealth extraction and neoliberal management of Tory cuts. Labour councillors can provide the socialist alternatives which are so desperately needed.

As a proud Labour and Co-operative councillor on the Wirral, I am very aware of the challenges of local government. Socialist responses are being pioneered by dozens of Labour-led councils. These have included:

  •  Local and public test, track and trace

  • In-sourcing of care homes and other services

  • Community wealth building and common ownership

  • the Real Living Wage embedded into contracts

  • Council and community-led housing, shielded from the right to buy

  • No compulsory redundancies

  • Public and active transport

  • Ethical investment of our pension funds

  • Acknowledging all histories in our public spaces The Labour Party will be sending out NEC ballot papers to six thousand Labour councillors around the country from Monday 19 October. I urge all Labour colleagues to support justice and socialism, and to vote for myself and Cllr Matt White. If you are a Labour Party member, please ask any Labour councillors you know to support us. Perhaps even more importantly, please urge your Labour councillors to maximise socialism in local government.

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