The lost decade of Tory austerity has hit the foundations of public services in our country and starved our communities of vital investment needed to recover after the financial crash. For millions it has been Labour in local government that has been the last line of defence – and you’d expect that. But more so, it has been our grassroots government that has given hope in hard times, driven forward growth and offered real examples of what Labour can achieve in power.
Our movement collectively owes our councillors, mayors and police and crime commissioners a great debt of gratitude and respect. It is therefore important then that the forthcoming elections are treated with the importance they deserve as we look down the dark tunnel of a further five years of Tory rule. Given the aftermath of Labour’s general election defeat, campaigns for leader and deputy leader have begun in earnest, but for many the long campaign to rebuild after the general election will come much sooner.
May 7th will see 118 English council elections – including 34 metropolitan councils, some covered by metro and directly elected mayors – as well as 40 police and crime commissioner elections. And there will also be the not so small issue of the London mayoral and London assembly elections.
In the midst of all these pressing elections we must take the commitment to grassroots government further. It is not enough to acknowledge that the work they do locally and regionally when, nationally, Labour sits in the cold of opposition. For Labour to change the country we must have a new power settlement too, where the best of Labour is trusted to do more, free from centralised command and control.
And if we are to rebuild trust with the electorate, it is stating the obvious but it won’t be achieved simply by changing the leadership. It must be rooted in community and built from the ground up. A programme of radical localism supporting devolution and decentralisation. It goes beyond resources – though vital as they are – to culture and how we do things.
The leadership contest allows the platform to progress these ideas, and to demonstrate that our councillors are front and centre of a future new settlement. It’s a good job too, as with the timetable now set the new leader and deputy will be announced four days after nominations open for the May elections.
These elections are not simply a temperature check, they are much more important. They mean that at least some will see the benefit of Labour in power. And that the best of our movement is leading from the front, showing the difference that Labour can make and helping to win the country for a future Labour government.