Yesterday I attended Labour’s Local Government Conference. The atmosphere hummed as around 300 councillors gathered with Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, several members of the Shadow cabinet, and a multitude of Leaders of Labour Councils. Everyone came to listen and debate: ‘Labour needs to listen to local government’ and ‘MPs can make less of a difference than local councillors’ were the encouraging words that set the tone.
Councils were praised for their work leading the way in devolution, in building communities, and in protecting services. There were many stories of Labour councils’ innovative work: for example, as well as building social housing Lewisham is building houses-to-let in the private sector for people like teachers. The message was clear: the austerity of the Tories is a political choice and the biggest cuts are to the poorest. We now need to get this message to the press and we must win local elections.
Too much power lies in Whitehall and it must be moved out. Nor was criticism confined to the Tories. Labour governance was far too top heavy and the voice of Local Government needed to be heard far more. More Councils should be represented on both the NEC and the National Policy Forum. Labour technology needs to be updated. Regional Offices need to advise and coordinate.
Jeremy Corbyn’s keynote speech concluded the conference. Speaking with authority and without notes he reminded us that ‘we talk of honest politics, we must stand up for people, defend local services and show there is an alternative to privatisation. We stand with the NHS and for Social Care.’
It was an inspiring day for councillors. Let us work even harder to get a Labour government back in power!