Friday, 7 September 2012

Community Campaign Aims To Pile Pressure On Glasgow's Labour Run Council

Labour needs to be held to account for its promises in Glasgow.

Many people thought that Labour would lose control of Glasgow during the local elections, this May.  They didn't.  Part of the reason was that Labour was able to win the support of different interest groups and communities with a range of promises contained in a manifesto document, called Labour's 100 Promises.  The early indications, as revealed on Newsnet Scotland, that Labour's Commonwealth apprenticeship scheme is not delivering the jobs which have been promised, are not convincing.

During the election community leaders from across the city launched a campaign, to win commitments from each of the political parties standing for election, on what they would do if they were elected.  This was an expressly non-party political campaign, aimed solely at winning commitments on a range of community issues.  Many councillors who were later elected committed to meet with community leaders to discuss their concerns, but one commitment which stood out at this time was Labour Councillor Mohammed Razaq's promise to up the number of socially rented homes at Maryhill Locks from 143 to over 400.  He was re-elected.

Labour's manifesto too contained a number of high profile promises.  In a make or break election for the party they gave some commitments which were very bold indeed.  Consider that in 2009, Labour closed over a dozen schools and a dozen nurseries, in a second round of school closures.  The party's promise then that, "Labour will rebuild or refurbish your local primary school," Was a marked change in tack.  Dozens of schools had been closed by the last Labour administration, and yet here Labour promised to rebuild them all.  Equally, Glasgow's sick man of Europe health record was to be eliminated with the party promising to eradicate health inequalities.  Given that a man in Calton in the East End of Glasgow can expect to live to 54, yet the city's average life expectancy for men is 71.6, that particular promise is of huge significance to lots of people.  If they meant it.

It has become popular in recent times to say "all politicians are @&!"(&(," and to leave any explanation for a lack of political integrity with a kind of 'plague on all their houses' mentality.  It is certainly true that Labour in the past have been found to have lied on important matters.  And it is equally true that all politicians are wont to be economical with the truth.  That is how politics works in this country unfortunately.  However it is also very important not to let politicians off the hook.  Too often cynicism has actually allowed politicians to get away with uncosted promises, to ditch manifesto commitments, and to slough off accountability.  However politics being what it is, at some point politicians have to be held to account for their actions.  If nobody was paying attention, because everyone assumed that political promises are just sugar coated lies, then this makes life easy for those who would take the citizens of this country for fools.  We need to ensure that if politicians are found to be lying that we pile on the political consequences for doing so.  We need to shout from the rooftops wherever politicians are found to be lying.  This is the only way we are going to be able to restore power to ordinary citizens.  It is not on that a group of creeshy wheeler dealers can play fast and loose with our democracy.

This takes us to another point, about Labour's campaign in Glasgow.  The party which was fighting for its political life during the local elections did something unusual during that election: it made some very serious promises and commitments which it believed set it apart from the opposition.  The SNP argue that these promises were uncosted, and that they were essentially a bunch of fibs which Labour used as a springboard to cling on to power.  But Labour promised to wipe out health inequality, a very serious issue, and a personal and tragic issue for the families of those in Glasgow whose lives have been cut tragically short from ill health and poverty.  If Labour were just shooting their mouth off with that commitment, I'm sorry, but how dare they?  That would be an absolute scandal, to use the rotten life chances of the poor like that for narrow political advantage.  

There were a number of promises Labour made which it would be utterly inappropriate, wrong and completely corrupt for the party to have made, had they never intended to implement them.  Indeed community leaders met after the election to assess how our campaign to win promises from politicians had impacted the city.  We knew, given that Labour had made a bunch of commitments and had been re-elected that our job in our accountability campaign was not over once the ballots were cast.  And so we assessed what we had won, and we looked at Labour's manifesto.  One of the leaders involved drew up a shortlist of manifesto commitments which Labour made and put that shortlist to a meeting of residents association, community council, and local campaign group community leaders as the key promises in the Labour manifesto.  We voted unanimously to campaign around 40 of Labour's 100 promises, to hold the party to account on these promises over the next five years.

How do we do that?  Well, we all know Labour's stance on the referendum: jam tomorrow.  Whatever you think about jam tomorrow as a political position, it relies primarily on trust.  In their Better Together campaign Labour will be asking Scots to believe that they will provide greater devolution to Scotland to meet Scotland's aspirations.  So one of the things in our accountability campaign which community leaders are currently focusing on in Glasgow, is to produce a documentary film of our efforts to hold Labour to account.  We will show how they do, whether they have been honest and are keeping to their word, or whether they have cynically taken the people of Glasgow for a ride.  

We are currently looking for sponsors to make this film a reality, but, should we be successful in meeting our funding target, we will be releasing that film online, on DVD, and in screenings across Scotland, in September 2014, showing just exactly how Labour have implemented their manifesto in Glasgow.  We will shout it from the rooftops, and we will use that film to make our voice heard, loudly and clearly.  We know that will raise the political stakes.  More fool the Labour Party if it allows its narrow self-interest in Glasgow to undermine its 'Vote NO' referendum campaign.  We know that this will raise the stakes for Labour very significantly, as ‘Vote No’ is something that the Labour Party leadership genuinely cares about.  We hope that folk will agree that this is the right time to be applying pressure on Labour to show us whether they have integrity.  Their political message at this most significant of debates will rely on people believing they do.

We will be launching our campaign in a very public way this autumn, but in the meantime, please consider giving community leaders in Glasgow your support.