The future of the left since 1884

The fightback should start with our local councils

It may sound obvious, but the people of Brentford and Isleworth didn’t elect me in May to sit on the opposition benches. They voted for me because the wanted to see a Labour government abolish the bedroom tax and protect...


It may sound obvious, but the people of Brentford and Isleworth didn’t elect me in May to sit on the opposition benches. They voted for me because the wanted to see a Labour government abolish the bedroom tax and protect the NHS. A principled opposition is pointless. The Labour Party was created to govern.

I haven’t been around Westminster for long, but I’ve been there long enough to know this – being an opposition MP is no fun. Sitting across from this Tory government as they gleefully implement their harsh ideological agenda is awful. There has been plenty written about why we lost and what we should, and shouldn’t, be doing in order to win in 2020. Now it’s time to begin our fightback, I believe we should look to our Labour Councils.

Before being elected in May, I served as a Hounslow Borough Councillor for over 20 years. I initiated the regeneration of our high streets, helped turn Hounslow into a London Living Wage employer, and led the campaign to oppose further expansion at Heathrow. We were one of the first Councils to start building Council housing again in the noughties, and Hounslow is still delivering on a pledge of 3,000 new affordable homes over four years, despite the government constraints. I know first-hand that Labour run councils can both protect residents against the harshest effects of a Tory government, and also be the source of innovate ideas to deal with some of our biggest issues.

In London, housing is arguably the most pressing concern for residents. It was the issue I received the most casework on as a councillor and it’s the same now I’m an MP. We know we need more affordable housing, and we know that space is at a premium. Central government clearly has a massive role to play in terms on funding and regulation, but Labour run councils have already come up with creative proposals in this area. Islington Council have launched their own lettings agency, reducing agents fees and bureaucracy.  Manchester City Council are using investments from a local pension fund to help build affordable homes. Stevenage Council have piloted a scheme that funds green homes, meaning council tenants will have very low, if any, energy bills.

There is cross-party consensus on the need to integrate health services, and Blackburn with Darwen Council is integrating public health throughout their delivery functions, and is working with partners to scope out how the role of the Clinical Commissioning Group might become more integrated to include adult social care, public health commissioning and tackling the social determinants of health. Waltham Forest Council is using planning constraints on fast food outlets in an effort to help tackle childhood obesity.

It’s happening with education, too. The London Borough of Newham provides free school meals for all primary school children, which evidence shows helps with their development and is a massive aid to working families. The council has also committed to a minimum 90 per cent literacy target by 2014 to tackle low literacy rates. Elsewhere. Newcastle Council is attempting to have schools work collaboratively rather than in competition, encouraging co-operative style schools over new academies and free schools. The council is also working with schools to introduce a city-wide trust model to sustain partnership and collaboration.

Let’s be clear – we must all be fighting towards attaining a Labour government in 2020. Local Councils are already stretched thin and are having to come up with ever more creative ways to meet targets for cuts imposed by central government without demolishing local services. With ever dwindling resources and a limited mandate, local government can only ever be a part of the solution. Whilst we in Parliament are fighting to hold the government to account, and whilst we are fighting to rebuild our party, our local councils – and, just as importantly, our councillors – should be central to what we are doing. They can help us fight against this government’s ideological agenda, and can be the source of innovative solutions to renew our party’s purpose.

Ruth Cadbury MP

Ruth Cadbury is Member of Parliament for Brentford and Isleworth.

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