How the Green Party just surrendered Brighton to austerity politics

The decision of Brighton and Hove’s ruling Green administration to hold a referendum on a 4.75% Council Tax increase  is being hailed by many – most of all outside Brighton – as a bold blow against  austerity.  It is nothing of the sort.  By failing in its duty to seat a budget and instead to hold a referendum it probably won’t win it has undermined local democracy and ensured that the essential services that the Green administration was elected on a promise to protect will now be the collateral damage in the Tories’ war on councils.

Consider the implications.  Leaving aside the issues around a rise of this level at a time when pay continues to fall and the cost of living continues to rise, what if the referendum does not deliver a council tax rise? Is there a Plan B to deal with the deeper cuts that would result from losing the referendum?  Is it really fair to increase the uncertainty for those dependent on services in this way? Remember, this is an administration whose credibility is, after three years in office, shot to pieces – even if this referendum were a piece of serious politics, what hope have they of winning what will inevitably turn into a referendum on their administration?

But at the heart of this decision lies a paradox.  Greens think they are attacking austerity; but by holding this referendum they are entrenching it.  They are delivering exactly what Pickles wants – the principle that local accountability is exercised not through decisions in the town hall, but through plebiscites; all of a piece with the Tory view that local government is no more than a commissioning body for services at the lowest cost. It’s running away from political responsibility.

Moreover, the history of the Green administration gives vital clues to the motivation behind this decision. It’s difficult to avoid the  impression that this is about papering over the cracks in a bitterly divided administration, with whose leaders the local MP is desperate to avoid public association.  It’s what happens when a party of protest finds itself out of its depth, illustrating that, for all the rhetoric, it’s a party with no real taste for the political heavy lifting of opposing austerity; it’s the politics of diversion and adolescent gesture.

And it’s the moment when the Green Party finally demonstrated that it has lost the will to do serious politics, in Brighton and beyond.

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7 thoughts on “How the Green Party just surrendered Brighton to austerity politics

  1. Right … so the answer lies with Labour’s approach, who have just offered to form an administration with the Tories to oust the Greens.

    Sorry, does not compute.

  2. It seems to me they are taking one of the only the responsible options open to them in order to protect the people they serve.

    Not trying a referendum could have been argued to have been ” a sin of omission”.
    And they are not refusing to set a budget as you infer, they are trying to use the referendum to set the best one they can.

  3. Pingback: Greens, council tax plebiscites and the undermining of local democracy | Notes from a Broken Society

  4. I notice that you do not consider the alternative in detail, which is to impose a massive cuts budget without a fight whatsoever. The alternative is hardly anti-austerity!

    in my opinion this is the best solution given limited options. If the likelihood is that the referendum is lost, then at least The Greens stood up to austerity and the cuts will be no different to what would have happened without a referendum.

  5. Have they looked at ways in which they could get local businesses to pay more? Do local councils control the Business Rate, or is this set by central government? Do they have the power to apply the Council Tax on a sliding scale in which the rich pay more? Ther are plenty of rich people in Brighton comapred to the rest of the country, especially hoteliers and some of the big players in the tourist industry. If the answer to my questions is that none of this is possible, then it was a grave mistake, caused by ambition, for the Greens to assume leadership of the Council knowing that central government controlled their budget 100% and had an austerity agenda.

  6. High time the public took some responsibility for outcomes by learning where the money goes and where needed. Maybe they will start asking serious questions and ENGAGE! Especially if it is going to be their decision.

    For well over a year now – long after all flesh was scraped from the bones of this council by the Tory Administration and early efforts by the Greens that followed, and bone hacked into, we are now down to life and death marrow munching. For well over a year now BHCC has been stripping the seriously needy elderly and disabled of their home helps in a ruthless slash and burn of ‘clients’ and imposition of untrained, unreliable volunteers, etc.

    I think the referendum is about more than the budget. All those voters who have had their home helps stripped away from them might be persuaded to not blame the Greens for letting it happen if they promise that the council tax rise they want is going to be for them. Not going to happen. It will still go to PC causes.

  7. Pingback: Budget – What is going on? | CllrEmmaBlogs

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