Dr Peter Latham, Communist Party candidate for Broad Green gave a good account of himself at the local election hustings in Broad Green on 15 May. There was a healthy turnout and a good debate.
Dr Latham said, “London is the capital of the world’s super-rich with 72 billionaires. None of them, however, live in the five wards of the central north area of Croydon: Broad Green, Bensham Manor; Thornton Heath; West Thornton and Selhurst. According to the GLA, parts of Broad Green are amongst the 10% most deprived in the UK. Councils are currently half way through a scheduled 40 per cent cut in funding from central government. As a result of these cuts councils in many areas will not have enough money to meet all their statutory responsibilities. The current formula for local government funding is putting councils – quite needlessly – in danger of bankruptcy.”
“An alternative political and economic strategy is needed. But Labour’s leadership are committed to maintaining the public sector pay freeze, abiding by Tory-led Coalition Government’s spending plans for one year after the general election and sticking to a welfare spending cap for the entire parliamentary term. Labour need to be bolder and offer a genuine, socialist alternative to endless austerity.”
The Communist Party’s proposals are modest:
• Repeal of the Localism Act (except the provisions giving councils the right to return to the committee system and all councillors the right to make policy again in England and Wales; those protecting private tenants’ deposits; and the “general power of competence” to expand their functions).
• Abolition of US-style directly elected executive mayors and the cabinet system which under New Labour’s Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 created indirectly elected mayors by giving council leaders virtually the same powers as US-style directly executive mayors.
• No councillors should be paid more than average annual full-time earnings in their locality. For example, the London Borough of Croydon has a cabinet system and a leader who in 2013/14 received £65,466 – 5.8 times greater than the basic allowance of £11,239 received by backbench councillors with no special responsibility allowance. The total cost of the basic and special responsibility allowances in 2013/14 was £1,617,706. The total cost of SRAs was £830,976 for the seven cabinet members, the 10 deputy cabinet members, the 10 committee vice-chairs and the seven shadow cabinet members. Annual mean full-time gross earnings (excluding overtime) in Croydon in 2012 were £29,481. The prospect of fewer SRAs may be the major reason why only nine councils have opted for the committee system since the Localism Act. If in May 2014 Labour wins control of Croydon Council – where the current leadership controls the allocation of 43 out 55 SRAs (the other 12 are allocated by the Labour Group) – the Labour Group’s material interests will ensure the status quo continues: unless the Left in the forthcoming period builds a broad alliance able to win a return to the committee system.
• De-privatisation and the direct provision of local authority and other public services.
• A statutory living wage, abolition of zero hour contracts and an end to the wage freeze.
• A mass programme of council housing built by direct labour with proper apprenticeships to cut mass youth unemployment, rent control and abolition of the Bedroom Tax.
• Investment to create green jobs, which would also cut unemployment.
• Increasing social benefits and pensions in line with inflation.
• Stopping the scapegoating of immigrants and welfare claimants.
This could easily be paid for by:
• a two per cent wealth tax on the richest 10 per cent of the population – who own 41 per cent of Britain’s wealth estimated to be £4.5 trillion (revenue £90 billion a year)
• ending tax dodging by the super-rich and big business (revenue £70 billion a year)
• a 20 per cent tax on the super-profits of banking, energy, retail, arms and drug monopolies (revenue £16 billion a year)
• a ‘Robin Hood’ tax on City transactions (revenue £7.5 to £112 billion a year)
• a rise in the threshold for income tax to £30,000 by introducing a new 60 per cent rate of tax for incomes over £60,000
• a new system of local authority finance based on abolishing the regressive council tax, stamp duty land tax and business rates and their replacement by a new system of annual land value taxation (LVT). Local authorities would retain up to a third of the revenue collected, with the rest going to central government (or the devolved governments in the case of Scotland and Wales), which is then redistributed back to local authorities on a per capita basis. Only freeholders and landlords would pay LVT and buildings tax; and the owners of large estates would pay more because their acreage is greater than a semi and they often own valuable sites in town and city centres. Tenants would no longer be liable to property taxes. LVT would also avoid the main shortcomings of a local income tax (LIT), which would be more complex and costly to collect, especially if it included unearned income not covered by PAYE, due to so many people living in a local jurisdiction different from where they work; and LIT would also be inequitable because of the large difference between mean or average income in more affluent areas and in poor areas.
Dr Latham concluded, “Austerity is unnecessary because we are a rich society. Today only parties to the left of Labour (i.e. the Greens, TUSC and the Communist Party) advocate genuine change: which indicates the scale of the crisis of working class political representation locally and nationally. This is why Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey in April warned Labour to drop its austerity policies or face election defeat and the possible establishment of a new workers’ party. Vote for a socialist alternative. Vote Communist on 22 May!”