Article after article by David Renard drives home the message that Swindon Borough Council ‘has no choice’. It has to outsource leisure facilities, close Children’s Centres, transfer services to parishes and abandon funding libraries save for the central one. How does this assertion look in the light of Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation and the rapid withdrawal of the proposed £4.36 billion cuts to Personal Independence Payments? What it surely shows is that the government can be made to retreat in the face of large scale opposition, including in the Conservative Party itself. Twenty Conservative MPs had written to the government opposing this outrageous attack on the disabled. The government knew it was unlikely to get a majority for this proposal through the House of Commons, especially when as Duncan Smith had pointed out it sat somewhat uneasily with tax cuts for better off and the rich. How could they say “we’re all in it together” when they do this, he asked.
IDS is not, of course, opposed to austerity per se but has challenged the way that it is being implemented. If he can challenge the government then why can’t David Renard and Swindon’s Conservative Group follow suit? IDS said exactly what I told Swindon’s Cabinet at one of its open forums, that their “fiscal self-imposed restraints” (the £10 billion surplus) are “more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest”.
According to the Financial Times IDS’s “central concern” is that
“…the Chancellor’s commitment to running a fiscal surplus is a self-imposed political decision that it would not be in the national economic interest to deliver at any cost. This accusation is difficult to refute.”
The FT had previously denounced this surplus target as unnecessary and “extreme”.
If the rapid withdrawal of the tax credit proposals last year, and the PIP cuts now, was possible as a result of the government being put under pressure, then why not mobilise pressure against the £6 billion cuts which are being imposed on local government and causing such damage? As I pointed out to the Cabinet if the Chancellor’s target was break-even rather than the £10 billion surplus then the local government cuts would not be necessary. None of the measures which Swindon’s ruling group is proposing would be necessary.
If the opposition within the Tory Party to PIP cuts does not give Swindon’s Tory administration the courage to abandon its supine position then what will? Do they really want to go down in history as ‘the wreckers’, in the words of the Swindon Advertiser Editorial? Did they really enter local government in order to destroy services? Why should they cause all this damage to the town’s social infrastructure in defence of a government strategy which even one of its central figures has now challenged together with others in their Party? Isn’t it time that this administrative put the interests of local people before Party loyalty to a programme which is rapidly unravelling and has been shown to have failed?
March 23rd 2016