Lambeth says: No Rate! No Surcharge! Don’t leave us to fight alone! (July 1985)

Joan Twelves, Secretary, Vauxhall CLP, and Regional EC member
Greg Tucker, Chair, Lambeth Local Government Committee

London Labour Briefing No. 51 July 1985

Lambeth councillors are facing possible surcharge and disqualification from office. Because they have consistently refused to comply with rate capping, 32 of Lambeth’s Labour councillors have received letters from the District Auditor stating he is ‘calculating the losses consequent upon the Council’s delay in making a rate’. An ‘extraordinary audit’ has been ordered. The Government has finally responded to our challenge to their attack on local democracy.

The only way the Tories can now implement the Rates Act is by removing elected councillors from office. The slowness in which the District Auditor has moved is an indication that the Tories are reluctant to take this step. The labour movement now has to ensure that we can turn that reluctance to our advantage.

Lambeth has stood by the policy of the London Labour Party – overwhelmingly agreed at two conferences. Now individual councillors who have accepted the Party’s mandate are at risk. They could be declared bankrupt and disqualified from holding office. If they are found guilty of ‘wilful misconduct’ they will be personally liable for thousands and thousands of pounds. If they don’t pay, they could lose all their property and possibly face imprisonment. The whole labour movement has a duty to protect those who have stood firm on its behalf. 

For the past three months the struggle against rate capping has centred on council chambers. Councillors were put under enormous pressure. People who were elected to manage bin-emptying, social services, housing repairs, were asked to be the standard bearers for the movement. It was a war of nerves, with the Government sitting tight as it waited for the Labour Party, true to form, to crumble in the face of the threat of legal action.

The collapse of the miners’ strike the debacle at County Hall, the lack of support from the Party’s leadership, the defection of right-wingers, all contributed to the failure of other councils to stick to the agreed strategy. But a unity has been forged in Lambeth between the councillors, council trade unions, local Labour Parties, tenants associations and community groups which has helped ensure the councillors know they are not being asked to stand alone. That unity has to be continuously nurtured, but we all know that compliance means the destruction of many local services and positive initiatives.

Lambeth hasn’t found any crocks of gold in the cupboard. The cuts would be for real in a borough where at least one in three households are on or below the poverty line. Compliance would also mean stabbing the council workers in the back.

But the question is being asked. How can Lambeth stand alone? The tactic of not setting a rate was specifically aimed at providing a focus for unity amongst the rate capped authorities. However, most Lambeth councillors and activists recognised from the start that we had to make a stand irrespective of what their councils decided. The fact that there was general agreement over strategy and tactics was to everyone’s advantage, but it was anticipated that not everyone would be able to keep up the fight.

Support for Lambeth now has to become the focus of a new unity. All those councillors who stood firm in other councils – and those who caved in, all those trade unionists fighting the cuts in jobs and services that rate capping is all about, councillors and trade unionists fighting cuts and privatisation in Tory areas, all those who voted for the policy of non-compliance, all must rally to support Lambeth. We have heard a lot about the fight against rate capping being over for this year, defeated. We are not defeated in Lambeth.

 

Next year

The rate capped targets for next year are about to be announced. We’ve always known this years were soft to undermine our fight back. The London borough elections are next May. The Tories are planning increased attacks on councils with their plans for wholesale privatisation, restrictions on spending and advertising, bans on contract compliance, etc. If other councils want to fight back next year, the only way is to start by making sure that Lambeth wins now.

Lambeth Labour Group, the CLPs and the trade unions are mobilising to win support. Councillors are touring the borough, talking to local people and community organisations – the Vauxhall GLC by-election on 11th July will give an indication of the support we have. But we are also calling on the labour movement nationally to support us. NALGO conference has overwhelmingly pledged support and will back industrial action   when the time is right. Other trade unions must follow suit. Labour Group has set itself the aim of organising fringe meetings and platform speakers at this year’s major union conferences. Cllr Jock Quinn, Chair of the Broad Left Organising Committee (BLOC), has been given the job of co-ordinating trade union support. 

In parallel with the political campaign, the councillors will be fighting the issue in the courts – not that we have any faith in Tory judges. This costs money. To run the campaign, to afford to go to court, and to prepare for all eventualities, the London Bridge trade unions are aiming to raise £250,000 in London alone. Labour Group and the Local Government Committee have each set up Fighting Funds, and party members are being asked to pledge regular contributions. Both the NEC and TUC have agreed to fighting funds on paper – these have to be turned into hard cash and political support. The buckets will be out on the streets once more!

Lambeth Council meets again on 3rd July. Labour Group intends to continue its policy of not setting ¡ rate. A massive mobilisation of support will show the Tories that Lambeth is not alone!

 

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