Our draft Budget for 2017/18 is now out. My Labour & Co-operative Administration is facing up to the harshest ever financial circumstances the city council has faced. We are making a stand, drawing a line in face of the biggest ever cuts imposed by the Conservative Government.
We are protecting:
Early years services including nurseries and childrens centres, child protection is our legal duty and top priority
Libraries, not just as a place to borrow books but as community advice hubs and assets, the heart of our neighbourhoods approach
Refuse, recycling and street cleaning, the basic service your council tax pays for, with £400k coming in from commercial waste collection. Investment in big belly bins, new street cleaning vehicles, garden waste are new service innovations.
Public toilets no more cuts proposed, none added in the current year, no additions to the closures chosen by the previous Green Administration
Domestic violence we are pushing back against to cuts to this vital preventative service
Rough sleeping we are succeeding working to prevent hundreds of families entering homelessness, and are resisting pressure from benefit cuts that put more at risk
Poverty proofing the school day was a key recommendation from the Fairness Commission, giving pupils a fair start at school
Living Wage protected at local level not the national rebranded minimum wage
Social care: we are reviewing and redesigning services to focus on effective signposting, build stronger communities through increased partnership working, provide preventative services and ensure people get the safe, high quality, personalised, accessible and sustainable support they need.
This is our plan, our positive way forward, building a co-operative council and city to keep vital services going:
Investing millions in digital customer services
Saving millions through managing assets better, like our move from Kings House which will save £2m a year
Designing neighbourhood services and partnering with other organisations to keep services going locally through local hubs, volunteer-run parks
Saving half a million through our new housingallocations policy
A £7m investment in better street lighting that willdeliver a £500k saving each year
Placing the Royal Pavilion into a trust to protect it and enable it to raise more money
Joining the Orbis partnership with neighbouring councils sharing support services to protect jobs and grow capacity
Housing investment in new council houses and truly affordable homes to tackle poverty and homelessness, and bring in new council tax
Major projects – new infrastructure, economic activity, more business rates/rents
Revenue generation from services like commercial waste, vehicle workshops
All this in the face of enormous pressures:
Government grant is down by another £11 million this year. It is shrinking from £140m to £6m over an 8 year period, a 40% funding reduction in real terms
We have already saved £70 million in last 4 years, £20 million in current year, leaving no easy cuts, no simple solutions, no savings that are pain-free
We still have to make £51 million savings over next three years, £24 million in the coming year
We are still £3m off balancing the Budget for 2017/18 – more savings need to be found
The £125m income from council tax is now smaller that £150m costs of care, increasing by £7m in the coming year
We are putting £1.5m more into supporting council tax payments for people on low incomes as Government funding for that scheme is cut
We are putting £300k more into free bus passes for older people, from the £562k additional parking revenue – the total cost of free bus travel is now more than £11m
We are making a further £2m of management savings
£750k from youth services, however £250k remains for advocacy, services and support for young people vulnerable to exploitation, involved in substance misuse, entering the criminal justice system or requiring emotional and mental health support. We also continue to fund Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) work, the Youth Employability Service, the Youth Offending Service, and services for adolescents.
£600k from parks covered in our Big Conversation, and £100k from sports club subsidies
£290k from supported bus routes – still leaving a £900k subsidy
We are not alone. This is all in a national context:
An additional 2% social care “precept” on council tax, above what was allowed in the last financial year, has been asked for by most councils responsible for for social care, but this was not announced in the Government’s Autumn Statement. Even if it is, it won’t be Government that pays it will be us, with them transferring the financial burden of social care on to local taxation.
LGA Chair Lord Porter (Conservative) warns that councils will face an ‘extremely challenging’ situation over the next few years to tackle the £5.8bn funding gap by 2020: ‘Many councils are faced with difficult decisions about which services are scaled back or stopped altogether.’ He said the government must take urgent action to fund social care properly, if councils are to stand any chance of protecting care services for elderly and vulnerable people. Porter said that extra council tax-raising powers would not bring in enough money to alleviate the pressure on social care services for elderly and vulnerable, and that people are at breaking point now.
So far 24 top tier councils both Labour and Conservative-led are taking up full increase in council tax allowed at just under 4%. The days of council tax “freezes” are over.
Other councils have it even worse. In Liverpool all council-run services, including libraries, sports centres, maintenance of parks, highway repairs, street cleaning and rubbish collections, would have to be cut by 50% to balance the books, with Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson warning there will soon be no funds left, even for basic services.
There is a nationwide crisis in social care: 77 of the 152 local authorities responsible for providing care for the elderly have seen at least one residential and nursing care provider close in the last six months, because cuts to council budgets meant there were insufficient funds to run adequate services. In 48 councils, at least one company that provides care for the elderly in their own homes has ceased trading.
Is the Government getting it’s priorities right? No.
The Autumn Statement gave £240m for Grammar Schools whilst failing to help councils with social care and basic service funding.
Over the course of the Conservative’s decade in power they will give away £21 billion in tax cuts for higher earners, and another £1 billion in inheritance tax.
In the same period they are handing over £12 billion in corporation tax cuts for big businesses.
All this while £7.6 billion is cut from local government. That’s councils like ours.
There is no sugaring the pill, no sweetening the message, no avoiding the truth. Your council Budget in the spring will contain cuts to services and jobs unlike any seen so far. We are likely to have to make savings of tens of millions in the coming years, on top of the £100 million savings that have been delivered over the past five years. At the same time it is likely that your council tax will increase by at least 4%. And the cuts will continue until 2020.
I know there will be campaigns and protests over many of the cuts we are being forced to make, strong cases put forward as to why services should be spared the axe, why they bring value above and beyond their cost. Those campaigns will be right, their anger justified and understandable. There are no services the council provides that do not bring benefit to you, your community or our city. Any cut we make will have an impact.
So why are these cuts happening? Three reasons. Firstly the Government is removing the third of our service funding it has until now provided. £27m is being cut from the money the Treasury gives Brighton and Hove each year by 2020.
Secondly, more and more people need the social care services the council has to provide. Care for the growing number of older people, people with disabilities or long term health conditions, and vulnerable children in care. It is the biggest part of our budget and we have to find £10 million more next year, and by 2020 care costs could eat our entire budget.
Last year the Government added 2% to permitted council tax increases to help fund this, but the £2 million that brings in isn’t enough to keep pace. Most Conservative-led councils agree. The government may yet add a further 2% for next year, although there was no indication of it in the Autumn Statement.
Thirdly, we are in the middle of a housing crisis with rising demand for temporary accommodation as many people struggle with rents due to benefit reductions. We are building new council homes and new affordable homes as fast as we can. Our joint venture with Hyde Housing due for approval in December could deliver over a thousand at just 60% of market rates.
Why aren’t we making other savings, finding new income or investing to save? We are. My team of Labour councillors is working tirelessly with support from officers to find new ways of meeting the financial challenges. we are joining an innovative scheme with East Sussex and Surrey to share “back office” support services like human resources, finance and legal.
We are investing money from selling buildings like Kings House in better online services, and in the process saving £2 million a year in running costs. We are innovating, changing, bringing co-operative ideas to how we work with you to keep services going. There will be many ways you can pitch in and play your part.
In an uncertain global economy we will fight for investment in good jobs and affordable homes in Brighton and Hove. Any new development brings in additional business rates and council tax to fund your services. We are earning money from new enforcement fines, clothing recycling and vehicle workshop services to help fund front line refuse and street cleaning services.
Over the past eighteen months we have been dashing to catch up with other councils who have been changing the way they fund and provide services for years. Transforming and innovating in what we do needs time and investment.
Why isn’t parking revenue used to offset the cuts? Most of the money we get from tickets, permits and charges goes to fund free bus travel for older people. Why not charge students council tax or just borrow more? The simple answer is that we can’t by law.
Will being able to keep all our business rates help? That won’t happen until 2020, by which time revaluations, appeals and discounts by Government may reduce what we get from local businesses significantly.
Why aren’t we fighting the cuts? The Green Administration waved placards and beat drums outside an empty Treasury, and handed petitions to No 10 that were simply ignored. That’s gesture politics, we are making the case to ministers, both directly and with our council colleagues across the country and across the political divide, for fairer funding, for the tools we need to do the job you expect us to do. Just as you have had to find new ways of making ends meet, so should we. Ultimately, by law we have to balance the books.
Despite the flood tide of cuts, we won’t just stand there King Canute-like as the water rises over us, we will lead the way to firmer ground. We won’t fall for offers of cheaper delivery from big private companies that could tie you into second rate services. We will work hard to get the basics right, to protect the vulnerable and to grow an economy that benefits everyone. We need your help and support. Let’s fight for your city and your services together.
Like Labour councils across the country, we are facing the complete cut of our support grant from the Conservative Government by 2020. Like Labour leaders, Labour mayors and Labour MPs, I have joined calls for them to end the cuts and stop the rapid erosion of the essential public services councils provide. I’ve taken those calls to the heart of Government, to Cabinet ministers and local MPs. Every week, in newspaper columns and in radio interviews, I remind the residents of our city of how deep and damaging these Tory cuts are.
Recently I and other Labour leaders met the Shadow Local Government Secretary Teresa Pearce MP, who was very supportive and pledged to lead the fight in the Commons for a fairer deal for our councils and local services. We have an excellent shadow CLG team in the Commons, including former council leader Jim McMahon MP.
We will tackle the 2017 Budget based on three Labour principles: getting basic public services right, protecting services for the most vulnerable, and ensuring everyone shares the benefits of a growing local economy.
So what is the scale of the challenge we face here in the city?
The council spends around £760 million a year on hundreds of different services from street cleaning to schools, libraries to homelessness, and street lighting to licensing bars and restaurants. The biggest part of our budget is social care, at around £163 million. In this budget we will have to address a predicted budget gap of £18m through savings, following a similar level of savings already being implemented this year.
This is because the government is cutting entirely what is called the revenue support grant to councils by 2020 and we have to meet growing costs and demands, across adult and children’s social services. The reduction in grant funding alone is around £27m by 2020. Our overall funding has reduced by around £45m over the last five years which, added to increasing costs and demands, has resulted in the very large annual savings we have and will continue to have to make.
As the government grant support is cut, there will be less money available for services the council could provide but isn’t required to provide. The bulk of the income we receive from parking charges, around £12.7m, goes toward funding the free bus passes for older people that the government does not fund. Similarly, we also have to put another £1.5m into support for people who can’t afford to pay all of their council tax, as Government is cutting the funding needed to do that.
The government is now also looking at councils taking financial responsibility for some NHS services, in crisis locally. Looking after older people, children in care and people with disabilities is already the largest part of our budget. Early estimates show that next year it will cost us at least £10m more. The government will again, through councils, allow two per cent to be added to your council tax bill to pay for this, but that will only raise £2.4m, not enough to keep up. Some councils are asking for another 2% on top of the 4% already allowed, but that would hit many on lower incomes very hard.
Your council tax used to make up around a third of what we spend on general fund services, with another third made up from fees and charges and the remaining third from business rates and government grants. There are also uncertainties regarding business rates; the government currently retains half of our local business rates, around £54m, and will be revaluing business rates next year. We don’t know how much we will receive from business rates by 2020, so we need to ensure more businesses come to the city. Businesses that create real jobs, not zero-hour contracts, and who pay a proper Living Wage, businesses that pay their taxes and are socially responsible.
As more students come to the city, fewer households pay council tax. While being a university city is part of our identity, there’s no ignoring the financial impact of providing services to non-council tax paying households. Landlords who let properties to students are also protected from business rates by the government; we have called for the right to charge landlords business rates so we recoup some of the money we need for public services.
Earlier this year we ran our City Innovation Challenge to find out if individuals, schools and businesses, had ideas to help out as our budgets shrink. Many said we should look to volunteering, and we have recently agreed a new volunteering policy. Meanwhile we are changing how we deliver services, with much more online, and more focus on joined up services in your neighbourhoods, designed by you around what works in your community.
As a Labour council we are building 500 new council homes, and 1000 homes to part-buy or rent at around 60% of market rates. Decent, truly affordable housing is one of the main ways we can get a grip on growing costs and tackle poverty and inequality locally.
We have no choice but to face the financial situation as it is, whilst fighting for a better deal from the Tory government. The Labour leadership made it clear last year that Labour councils cannot set illegal budgets by spending more than they bring in, and this was enshrined in Party rules by the NEC recently. We won’t be pushed down the wholesale privatisation route the Tories want, but we won’t just wash our hands of responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in – as the Greens did at the last budget council. The cuts we will have to make will be difficult and painful. None of us stood for election to make things worse, but we owe it to those who elected us to fight for the best possible outcomes under the worst of Governments.
We will make every effort to focus the money we have on getting the basics right, delivering the best services possible, and doing the right thing by those who most need help. We are paying all our staff the local Living Wage, and defending as many jobs as we can by bringing in new revenue. Where we can share services, use not-for-profit providers, get help from our communities and work in partnership with the voluntary sector to keep services running, we will.
It is a huge and very difficult task, but we are up for the challenge if you are behind us, supporting us in the face of these Tory-imposed cuts. Labour councils can make a difference, can deliver our values in office, and Labour will win nationally by showing we can run things locally. Let’s fight for our city and our services together.
You can find information about the council’s current budget here.
Chris Moncreiff, as a political commentator of many years experience, makes some valid points about the state of the Labour Party (Argus, Sept 8th). Some readers may worry what this means for the running of their local council in Brighton and Hove.
I’d like to reassure residents of Brighton and Hove that we are and remain a strong team focused on delivering what we were elected to do for all our residents and communities.
Cllr Les Hamilton brings four decades of experience on the council to the immense challenge of changing our council to meet the demands of a budget that is 40% smaller in the face of growing demand.
I’m working to build new partnerships to give us the muscle to tackle the big issues and compete on a national and international stage, and hope to be able to make a big announcement soon.
I’m proud to lead this great team leading Brighton and Hove. Despite the cuts and increasing pressures we face, despite the fact that the Greens and Tories can and do outvote us when it suits them politically, we will work every day to make a difference.
We will preserve and restore our city’s heritage, we will make our communities stronger and our society fairer, we will find new ways of funding the decent basic services you expect. Jobs, homes and schools remain at the heart of what we do.
We are here until 2019 at least, I hope longer, doing the job you expect from us whatever the national political situation . At its heart, politics is not about labels, it is about energy, ideas, aspiration and hope. We will do our best to deliver those for Brighton and Hove.
Labour fought long and hard to win in Brighton and Hove in 2015, to win three seats in the House of Commons from the Tories and Greens, and to win enough seats from the Tories and Greens on the city council to take power. Peter Kyle won Hove and Portslade, Nancy Platts came agonisingly close in Brighton Kemptown, and Purna Sen put up a strong showing against the sole Green MP Caroline Lucas. Had we won all three and other South East marginals, the Tories might have been denied a majority.
Locally we won a dozen seats from the Greens, and one from the Tories, whilst losing two, to become the largest party on the city council but five short of a majority. We have set about using the power we do have, with no majority in a committee system council, to make a difference.
To get the basics like street cleaning and refuse and recycling right, despite 40% cuts to our budget by central government. To tackle homelessness and improve mental health provision in the city. To make the private rented sector fairer for tenants. To build 500 new council homes for people on our waiting list, and a thousand truly affordable homes for people priced out of the housing market, people our businesses need.
To deliver a fairer city where everyone benefits from our economic success via the recommendations of our Fairness Commission. To restore our infrastructure and heritage, and create new infrastructure and business space to create jobs and revenue that will fund our basic services. To win devolved powers that will help create even more jobs and homes in our city for people who desperately need them. It involves making hard and unpopular choices. Always has and always will, but right now it is harder than ever.
We could not have begun any of this, and more, had we not scraped a narrow three-seat advantage over the Conservatives, who would by now be setting about the wholesale privatisation and closure of services across Brighton and Hove had they finished first. We need a majority in 2019 to finish the job. We need a Labour Government in Westminster to enable us to succeed. Winning elections means delivering change. Never perfect, but better than opposition.
Think about that. People taking a conscious decision to elect a leader they believe will lead his party to defeat. Deliberately choosing opposition over power. It is, in my view, a criminal abrogation of responsibility to those who need Labour in office, delivering change.
I’ve been a Labour member for nearly twenty five years, a councillor for thirteen, a campaigner in five General Elections and five sets of local elections in Brighton and Hove. Winning elections has always been my goal, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, to being in a position to lead change, not protest for it.
I want to be part of a party that strives for the power to deliver a better city and a better country, not a movement which shouts at perpetual Conservative government in the town hall and in the Commons.
I will choose difficult power over glorious opposition every time.
With just a week to go before ballots are sent out in the Labour Leadership election, there are, in my view, five clear reasons why Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead the Labour Party to victory at the next election.
1. The“silent majority” on the left is a myth. During last year’s election campaign, the argument for Corbyn was that there was a silent majority, a vast untapped resource of left-wing voters, just waiting for a clear socialist alternative to swing behind as and when it emerged. All surveys show that this is not the case, that the majority of voters identify themselves with the political centre.
2.Media. The idea that the media are biased against Corbyn is probably true. It has been about every Labour leader since the 1970s. Whether Murdoch or Dacre, Telegraph or Sun, the influence of the press has not waned in the face of falling sales and online clicktivism as many predicted.
They went after Miliband in the same way as they went after Kinnock and Brown, and yes, Tony Blair too in his early days. They tried every line of attack on Miliband they could until one stuck, around being the puppet of the SNP. They didn’t need to go near policy as subtle and not-so-subtle personal attacks on him and his family worked. The disposition of the press is unlikely to change. We are stuck with it. As the saying goes, “For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.”
Twitterstorms and Change.Org petitions, like rallies, don’t win elections. That was proven in 2015 and will be again with Trump in November. Elections are won in the millions, not in tens of thousands. The Corbyn-supporting echo chamber may convince itself that victory will happen, but it won’t reach beyond that. Even if the Labour Party is, at half a million, the biggest political party in Europe, it is still a tiny percentage of the electorate as a whole, some 46 million.
3. History tells us that if we do not learn from our mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. As honest, genuine and principled as Ed Miliband was and is, he could not persuade voters that he was a risk worth taking as Prime Minister. With Corbyn there is over three decades of backing causes that can easily be used against him in the run-up to an election. Whether it is alleged support for the IRA, being arrested at demonstrations, links to questionable overseas governments, whatever you think of those stories, they will frighten “middle England” in a way that means any positive offer will not even be heard. Five hundred votes against his Party’s own leadership will always mean Corbyn his hamstrung when it comes to loyalty
4. Entryists. There are not hundreds of thousands of devoted Trotskyists joining the Labour Party, and the vast majority of Corbyn supporters are not from the far-left. But there are enough members of the SWP, AWL, Socialist Party and other fringe-left groups to join and dominate local CLPs, to use the age-old tactics of intimidation and procedural obfuscation to drive away moderates from meetings, to make critics think twice before questioning Corbyn, to make it a real factor in this election. We saw it in Brighton and Hove, where a member of the Alliance for Workers Liberty was elected Chair of the City Party shortly after becoming a member, simply by being on the Momentum ticket. Others have written at length on how these activists don’t seek power via General Elections, rather wanting to establish a base of “true Socialist MPs” in Parliament, a vanguard for an extra-Parliamentary movement. If they win they will tear each other apart, and with it the Labour Party.
5. Polls. If you are one of those people who dismiss polls as being systematically biased, or fundamentally wrong, you probably won’t have read this far anyway. The polls are bleak. No escaping or denying it. They are representative samples of public opinion, collected and weighted using scientific methods. Labour’s unpopularity did not start, as Corbyn’s camp and indeed Corbyn himself have argued, at the time of the PLP vote of no-confidence in him. In some 95 polls after the General Election, Labour led in just three “outliers”. In the rolling average Labour has been behind throughout. Compared to where Labour were at the same point in the last Parliament, we are 17 points down on what proved to be ultimately a losing position.
Corbyn’s own ratings have not been undermined by the leadership challenge. He started in negative territory, and plunged to -45 by November of last year. He trails amongst all ages, all social classes. He is now by far the most unpopular Labour opposition leader in history:
Labour’s task at the next election was already immense, with boundary changes and Scotland meaning a swing bigger than 1997 is needed to secure even a majority of 1. As I wrote in my previous blog, Labour desperately needs another leader who can appeal to a broad range of voters, not just those who turn up at meetings and rallies.
I understand that for many, Jeremy Corbyn offers something different, something that encompasses the politics they have felt is out of reach for over a generation, a rekindling of the idealism felt fifty years ago, a statement and not a compromise. The hard fact is though that nowhere near enough people share those views, and are unlikely to be persuaded.
Re-electing him will not resolve any of these issues I have listed above, nor resolve the division within the Parliamentary Labour Party, most of whom now see their positions under threat either from deselection or defeat at the next election. Filling a Shadow Cabinet and ministerial team seems impossible, thus rendering a functioning Opposition unworkable.
I accepted the result last September, shook Corbyn’s hand at Conference and did not criticise his leadership for almost a year. Now I’m backing Owen Smith in this leadership election. It is, despite what I have argued here, a positive choice. Nevertheless, for me the consequences of a Corbyn leadership going into a General Election are too great to stand by and witness.
Britain needs a Labour Government. People on low pay, in poor housing, on zero-hour contracts, with no savings or pensions, a month away from unmanageable debt, eating from food banks and worse, need a Labour Government. Whatever Corbyn’s virtues, before casting your vote for him, please ask yourself whether he can win power for Labour and help those people who so desperately need it.
One rainy night almost a quarter of a century ago, two women rang the buzzer on my flat and said they were from the Labour Party. They were looking for people to nominate them for the local council elections in the very Conservative town I was living in at the time.
I let them in, gave them a cup of tea and signed their papers. Probably prompted by my copies of Anthony Crosland’s “The Future of Socialism” and a biography of Hugh Gaitskell, they decided I might be a potential recruit.
About eighteen months earlier, I’d made a promise to the person who succeeded me as President of the Students Union at Hull University that I’d join when Labour adopted “one member, one vote”. A book of political quotations he gave me, signed, sat next to the Gaitskell bio. John Smith had just delivered that reform, but sadly was to die shortly after.
The candidates who called round didn’t win. I probably never finished Crosland’s book. But I did join the Labour Party.
And my successor, the one who gave me the book? Whilst I spent the best part of a decade in call centres, he set out on a path that would lead last year to him becoming Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
So that’s how I came to be here, politically. I joined because of a need to make a difference, because of a century of democratic socialism, of the pursuit of change via the ballot box and parliamentary power.
I’ve spent more than a decade trying to win power to deliver that change here in the city I’ve thought of as home all my life. Change for the people who need it most, opportunity for those excluded, fairness for those at a disadvantage.
It is hard. It is complicated. It is full of difficult compromises and daily challenges.
I don’t have a majority on the Council. I don’t lead a Cabinet and must get everything agreed by committee. The Tory cuts are immense, the desperate financial position made worse by Brexit and the growing pressures of social care. But I would not give this up for the luxury of opposition. Never.
A little change is better than no change. Influence better than impotence. A seat at the table better than a protest in the street.
I’ve remained silent on the leadership of my Party till now, believing unity to be the best course. I believe politics at its best should be about bringing people together, not taking sides. I cannot in all good faith hold that position in this respect any longer.
It will come as no surprise that, having backed Liz Kendall last year, I was never going to be a convert to Jeremy Corbyn. It will come as no surprise that I support a change in leadership nationally. It will come as no surprise to me that this will draw a good deal of abuse from largely anonymous critics on Twitter.
We should be challenging a divided Conservative Government, one that has driven the economy over a precipice because of its split over Europe, one that is in the midst of its own leadership election. We should be seventeen points ahead. We are seven points behind.
I respect my colleagues and friends of long-standing in the Party who do back Jeremy. I respect those who are inspired by his particular brand of politics. I have less respect for those who were until very recently part of other parties and groupings on the fringes of left-wing politics, standing in elections against us, who now hold positions of authority. People for whom the finer points of political purity are more important than the messy compromises of delivering real change.
That century of Labour politics now stands at risk. That opportunity to deliver change could now be slipping away. Those who need us most could see us turn away, towards a kind of politics that indulges itself rather than engages with them.
Nearly three thousand people elected me last May for a fourth term on the council. Over one hundred and twenty five thousand votes for Labour candidates and the Labour manifesto secured a Labour-run council for Brighton and Hove. The Labour and Cooperative Group I lead will carry on with the job.
But we need a strong, credible, electable Labour Party in Parliament, in the country, ready and able to win. Able to reconnect with voters who feel abandoned and who are at risk of exploitation by extremists.We need change for that to happen. We need a leader who can win us millions of new voters, not just a few thousand new party members.Jeremy’s supporters promised that last summer, they have not materialised.
That Gaitskell biography of course recounts his most famous speech as Leader of the Labour Party, where he spoke of his determination to “fight, fight and fight again to save the Party we love.”
Now more than ever, we must undertake that task anew.
This is a purely personal reflection on the result of the EU Referendum last week.
You probably can’t grow up on the South Coast of England without having a slightly different relationship to the European continent than perhaps someone who grew up in Wales or Yorkshire. You can’t see mainland Europe from the Sussex coast but you know it’s there, over the horizon, just a short ferry ride from Newhaven.
I was only five years old when Britain joined what was then the EEC. Unlike the frequent power cuts of the first miners strike, and Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher’s axeing of school milk (and my job as a milk monitor), it didn’t register with me. Why would it.
School trips and family holidays to France and other European destinations were part of my childhood, as were the occasional spells with language students renting the spare room in my parents house. At around the time my sister moved to France to work, my family bought a barn nearby for a while; my aunt and uncle stayed and whilst my sister eventually came home, my niece and nephew are half-French.
A late-found enthusiasm for the language led me to study French for a year at University, then moving on to a politics course that took in what was then called European Community studies. Even after a four year break I was still proficient enough to spend the best part of a year working near Paris with a holiday company, which led to what was meant to be a part-time call centre job when I came back. That turned into a five-year stint managing the phone inquiry service for the French Government Tourist Office.
I’m not a big traveller, but in the years since leaving that job I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few summer holidays in Greece and Portugal, and a couple of trips to Prague and Budapest, seeing the places where my partner’s parents grew up. Like millions of people, my partner’s family have made a life in Spain where their young daughter is just as much Spanish as English.
They are worried about the implications of last week’s decision to leave the European Union. So is my friend, a special needs teacher originally from Germany, and one of my councillor colleagues who is also German.
Of course, in the long run their fears may be unfounded, just as the immediate and longer term economic effects may not turn out to be as catastrophic as some reports suggest. The legal, constitutional and financial negotiations will be lengthy and complex. For anyone perceived as not “British” though, the open and public actions of an ugly minority in recent days across the country is frightening. It should be for all of us.
At the heart of it I can’t seem to shake off a feeling based on something I had never considered during the long run-up to the vote, during the many debates about the EU as an institution and the effects of free movement on our society.It isn’t something that is in any way meant to be critical of those who argued to leave, including colleagues I respect.
It’s a feeling, not a practical complaint, as I know those occasional trips to a Greek island will of course still be possible, and things in terms of friends and family things won’t change. Like it or not we have no choice but to be part of Europe geographically and culturally, albeit one separated by a thin channel of water.
I will no doubt be sad to see Scotland go independent as seems likely, but having only visited there once I don’t feel the same connection. If Ireland and Wales go the same way we will all have to revisit what it means to be British or English in light of the 400 year old United Kingdom ceasing to exist.
I hadn’t realised how much my European citizenship means to me, and what it means to lose it. I will have to come to terms with the fact that I have, and that things will never be quite the same as they have been for the majority of my life.
There are undoubtedly more important immediate and practical things to worry about. We need to accept the situation as it is. I’ve a job to do in ensuring the city I lead succeeds and prospers through whatever happens next, but this is something I wanted to write down in the hope that I can deal with it and move on.
At an event to mark the end of Refugee Week I spoke about how proud I was of my home city, the city I’ve been given the honour of leading, having sent a message that it is an open, welcoming and international city this week. I spoke of how we welcome as we always have done those fleeing conflict, and pledged that we would take more children who have lost homes and family through war and give them a future. I said that we would do this to honour the memory of Jo Cox, who supported the Dubs Amendment, and that we would play our small part in continuing her work.
During the event a man came up behind me and shouted “don’t you know, the borders are now closed!” Clearly a reference to this week’s EU Referendum where for many, the motivation behind their vote was immigration. Now let me be clear that many who voted Leave are not racist, had a valid case for ending our membership of the EU, and who distanced themselves from some of the appalling rhetoric used by some during the campaign.
The worst was the “Breaking Point” poster unveiled by Nigel Farage in the closing days of the campaign, an image reminiscent of ones used by the Nazis of snaking queues of migrants, in this case refugees fleeing war in Syria on their way to Slovakia.
It is right that there is a discussion about migration, but it is very hard to keep that debate to the facts. Facts such as the net benefit to the UK economy and health service of migration, facts about UK residents migrating to other EU countries. The UK is not at “breaking point” in that our capacity to build and house a growing population exists, and that as the fifth largest economy – at least until last Friday – we can afford to play our part in receiving at least a fraction of the numbers of refugees as other states.
Elements of the media and groups like UKIP have for years fuelled a distrust and resentment of migrants, and the Referendum debate and result has exposed a deep seam of xenophobia and in some cases racism against anyone “foreign” or different, regardless of where they are from, how long they have been here or where they were born. Many people have, in the hours since the result, spoken of their fears, of the open abuse, of the uncertainty about their place in this country that they are now experiencing.
This cannot be our future; one built on the prejudices of the past. Not here.
Brighton and Hove is an international city, facing the European continent across the narrow Channel that separates us physically if not culturally or economically from mainland Europe. Our universities take in students from all over the globe, as do our language colleges. Eleven million tourists come each year, many to visit our historic Pavilion, built two centuries ago by a German prince to resemble an Indian palace on the outside, and a Chinese one inside. It isn’t, as some assumed, a mosque.
The vast modern European headquarters of American Express, completed in the past few years, employs more than any other business in our city, with a workforce blending the local and the global. Nearby work is underway on a £450 million hospital refurbishment that will create a regional centre for the 21st century, one that could not function without doctors, nurses and support staff from all over the world.
Our current and future conference centres depend on international convention business. Our creative digital industry sells to Europe and beyond. Our annual Festival and year-round cultural programme showcases arts from every corner of our planet.
Our city depends and thrives on tourism, healthcare, culture and businesses that in turn depend on being open to Europe and the world. We are indebted to those who come here, spend here, live here, pay taxes here, employ here, study here. I send out a clear message today that you are just as welcome tomorrow as you were yesterday.