As recently as 2018, Trafford was known as one of the jewels in the Conservative crown. “Tory Trafford” was that rare beast: a Tory Met in the north of England. The local elections in 2018 and 2019 brought this Tory hegemony to an end. We bucked the national trend, with Labour becoming the largest party and the ruling group with four gains in 2018, before taking six seats from the Tories in May 2019 to secure the first Labour majority in Trafford for 16 years.
As is always the way with successful campaigns, there were many reasons for this triumph. But it’s important to recognise the relentless campaigning that has taken place in Trafford and to thank all of our members who have been a part of that. And nearly two years after forming a Labour administration, those members are entitled to ask “so what?”. How has a Labour council made a difference for residents?
This is an especially difficult question to answer in the current political climate. There are still some – including in our party – who believe that Labour councillors are simply enabling Tory cuts and somehow sell out on our values just by setting legal budgets. I know more than most how much harder it is to be in office than in opposition. In Trafford, we have seen around £160m stripped from our budgets since 2010, and this looks set to continue in the years ahead. Of course, this restricts the extent to which we can put our values into practice, but we’re still making a difference every single day.
What has a Labour council meant in Trafford? What difference have we made? Protecting residents and services? Yes: we’re about to move our second budget as a Labour administration, and again this year through innovation and careful management we will protect all frontline services with no job losses. There will be more challenging years ahead – indeed 2021/22 looks set to be incredibly difficult in Trafford – but after years of local Tories slashing key services, two consecutive ‘no cuts’ budgets is something of which we can be rightly proud.
Our changes to policy speak to what we believe and show Labour values in practice. We’re directly funding the delivery of social homes, with our first scheme given planning permission just a couple of weeks ago. We’ve insourced the council’s youth service – previously stripped to the bone by the Tories – and recruited additional youth workers who have already engaged with thousands of our young people. We’ve invested in funding for advice services for residents to help mitigate the worst effects of austerity, and we’re driving a thriving local economy having trebled spend with local suppliers in our first year in charge. There are many more examples I could give, but these measures show why it was so important that those members who supported us in Trafford helped us over the line and into power.
The next five years will be bleak. The Tories have a mandate to wreak untold havoc on the very people we exist to protect. Labour councillors are on the frontline, making a difference in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. The party needs to learn from our experiences, and use the skills and expertise we have to help lead the fightback nationally. Too often, the work of councillors is overlooked, and it feels like local elections are not prioritised by those at the top of the party. Now more than ever, we need to see councillors given a stronger voice in the party, leveraging our practical experience of delivering services to help develop the policies that will lead us to victory in 2024.
That’s why I hope our next leader will ensure that Labour councillors are properly consulted on policy related to local government and the range of services with which we interact as councillors on a daily basis. Nobody is suggesting we should have the final say but the party must recognise the role councillors will play in delivering policy in these areas, the skills and experience we have as elected member, and our unique insight into what will and will not work in local government.
Winning more councils for Labour is critical to building a strong base as we look to win back power nationally. More than that, it’s a chance to showcase the difference Labour values can make in practice. It may be tough, and we may wish we could do so much more, but I’m proud of the difference we’re making in Trafford and grateful to everyone in our movement who has helped to make that happen.