Lambeth: from the council chamber to the wider movement (August 1985)

Graham Norwood, Lambeth Council Deputy Leader

London Labour Briefing, No 52, August 1985

The Lambeth fight continues apace – despite the surcharge threats, despite attacks from the Government and the Labour leadership, and despite legal moves to disbar Lambeth’s 31 no-rate Labour councillors from office. A rate was set in the borough only because a councillor resigned at a time which ensured the no-rate position would fail in the council chamber by a single vote. But that decision was merely a last ditch attempt by the Conservatives to prevent the tide of Labour’s policies continuing to roll throughout Lambeth.

Labour has a majority on every committee, has set up apparatus with the unions and the organised community to look at the financial running of the council, and we will use those advantages to effectively ignore the decision to set a rate.

Spending will continue as before, services will not be impaired and no job loss will take place – Labour is in business in Lambeth, and from August 1st we will return to a majority no-cuts position following a by-election victory in a seat now vacant in one of the party’s strongest areas. The 31 Labour councillors believe they have no choice. The Government wants us to;

– ‘freeze” all vacancies, irrespective of the effect on services to the public

– increase rents for the 50 per cent of the population in council property

– lose up to 1,500 jobs in one year from the 10,000  strong workforce

We are instructed to resist those effects by the 1984 Labour Party national conference decision calling on Labour councils not to cut services; this was endorsed by the 1985 special London conference explicitly backing the no-rate strategy. In Lambeth we have the additional support of the town-hall unions and the community, with us wholeheartedly.

Even the party’s national executive committee passed a resolution calling ón the movement as a whole to respond to Lambeth’s position, and to contribute to a fighting fund to legally resist that threat from the district auditor on behalf of the Government. So, in line with that statement, the fight now changes venue; from the council chamber we move to the wider Labour movement for support in continuing the struggle.


District Auditor

The right of a district auditor – an unelected, unaccountable bureaucrat – must be reduced to nothing as compared to the right of a Labour council with the proven electoral support of a population with needs to be met. The audacity of a state official who dares to personally ‘fine’ 3l councillors for implementing commitments must be countered.

The undemocratic nature of an auditor who threatens to throw out of office 31 people – ranging from full time councillors to those who combine jobs with their council work, from pensioners to young parents, including black members from the borough’s multi-racial composition – must now be exposed. The auditor is simply acting as another, insidious agent of the Government. He is coming today to remove democracy from Lambeth – tomorrow it could be any other area which dares to resist the dwindling force of Thatcherism, which can no longer rely on any public support to remain in power.



Proudly plead not guilty

Lambeth’s 31 councillors are therefore rightly challenging the powers of the auditor. We proudly plead not guilty when we are accused of “losing”, through alleged “wilful misconduct”, some £127,000 at least. Instead we point to the Government, whose own statistics show Lambeth to have multiple deprivation caused by unemployment, deliberate reductions in central cash help to improve housing, to cater for the single parent families and to provide for the growing needs of those who rely on council services.

That resistance however, costs money; over £50,000 may be needed merely to fight the case in the courts.

The Labour movement must now see the strategic value of Lambeth’s cause. We are now fighting for our rights in a way which any other Labour borough may have to fight next year or the year after; we are now fighting to resist the kinds of threats being posed to authorities throughout the country as the Government’s privatisation legislation channels specifically towards local authority services.

We need financial and political support; we need to bring into reality the promise made to the two Labour traitors and the Conservative/Alliance councillors who voted to set a rate – that if any action ís taken against the Lambeth 31, London will come to a halt.

If necessary, local government throughout the inner city areas should be made almost impossible to run until the threats made to the homes and livings of the 3l councillors are removed.

The labour movement has no time to lose. More rate-capped councils will be announced  by the Government soon and the need to resist as Lambeth has resisted will be seen nationally as council after council refuses to neglect its populations and its workforces.

The war is here – whose side are you on?

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