Not since the 1980s have our public services faced such an attack. The secret hope of this government of millionaires, that a quiescent public might endure the erosion of their wages, living standards and services without protest, has slipped away. It’s been replaced with a fear that a dynamic assembly of trade unions and community groups will change the political geometry of our country. They should be frightened because cuts are not economically necessary – they are the political choice of people who themselves will not bear the burden. The TUC demo on March 26 warned of the storm to come if government policy does not change and it is a storm that will sweep away this Cabinet of the rich but also those in our movement who fail the test of leadership.
The great strength of this wide-ranging book, whose subtitle is Towards a New Basis for Local Democracy and the Defeat of Big Business Control, lies in its historical perspective and analytical force. As Kelvin Hopkins MP says in his foreword, “The most astonishing conversion to neoliberalism was that which overtook the Labour leadership and persisted through the Blair and Brown years. “What Peter Latham has done has shown clearly how new Labour policy, each initiative and every new direction was driven by that neoliberal ideology, down to elected mayors, social enterprises, housing Almos and much more.”
The book provides a sustained analysis of the factors that underpin the subordination of both central state and local government to big business control and priorities. Dismantling the state is an article of faith among the key movers in Cabinet. Replacing central state delivery with outsourced services dovetails with the new enthusiasm for privatising local government functions. The end game — public service provision as the source of revenue streams and profits for the private sector — is barely disguised.
Also in focus is the experience of Labour campaigns for open local government and Latham ranges too over governance issues in the US, South Africa, China, Kerala, Cuba, Venezuela and Porto Alegre. In doing so, a wealth of data on elections, taxation, privatisation and marketisation is included.
But despite its depth and detail it is no dry academic read. It clothes its Marxist standpoint with a refreshing spirit of resistance combined with an account of strategies to blunt the Conservative-Lib Dem offensive. It draws on Gramsci’s notion of the historic bloc in proposing strategies for the creation of a hegemonic alternative that will turn back the three main parties’ neoliberal project.
Those who have worked for the state, particularly in the civil service through the Thatcher and Major years, retain a deep sense of disappointment at Labour’s failure to chart a new course. But PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commends the book as invaluable not only in providing a valuable insight into that state transformation over the last three decades following the break-up of the post-war consensus. “It also demonstrates how local democracy has been sidelined through increasing centralisation and privatisation” he says. Who would disagree?