One of the themes of this Saturday’s Third Place First conference will be about fighting every seat in every ward on every council.
This is important because Labour in local government can and does make a difference even when we are in opposition
I would like to tell you about my local authority of Rushmoor, the towns of Aldershot and Farnborough, in the Tory heartland of Hampshire. There are 25 Tories, two Ukip councillors, one independent and a fantastic group of 11, yes 11, Labour councillors.
In December 2012 we proposed a motion to full council seeking the council to endorse the living wage, and that any members of staff who are paid less than £7.45 per hour be paid the living wage. Tory after Tory spoke and said this was Labour propaganda and a gimmick, but we argued our corner with evidence, facts and, importantly, following our true values we persuaded the controlling Tories to undertake a review of all staff and that officers would come back with a report. Months passed, we waited, but no sign of the report and we feared the Tories had kicked this into the long grass and been forgotten and lost without trace. However, being good trade unionists we lobbied and demanded the report be published. And in May, some five months after our original motion, the report was presented to the council’s corporate scrutiny panel. It confirmed seven members of staff were paid less than the living wage – seven cleaners. And it would cost £9,500 per annum. I moved and by the other two Labour members of the panel that the seven cleaners be paid the living wage with immediate effect. The Tories tried to use every bogus reason they could think of not to support our proposal. However, we stuck to our guns and took the moral high ground, and, again, like good trade unionists, we repeated our case over and over and we persuaded the panel, with the help of one the old-fashioned One Nation Tories who abstained, to agree to propose to cabinet the council pay the seven cleaners the living wage.
After the meeting the Tory chair turned to me and said: ‘The trouble with you, Councillor Dibble, is that you make this panel political’! After another long delay the item finally appeared on the cabinet agenda. Once again we thought the Tories would kick it out. My Labour group colleague Les Taylor addressed the cabinet he repeated the moral case which represented our Labour values, and the cabinet to their credit agreed to pay the seven cleaners the living wage with immediate effect.
For those of you in our Labour-controlled cities and towns this may seem a small issue. However, to those seven cleaners living in an area of very high housing and living cost this will make huge difference to their lives. If Labour is truly a One Nation party, we must not just represent our Labour heartlands but the whole country and we should never forget the work undertaken by Labour opposition groups who stand up for our values in the Tory shires.
Keith Dibble is founder of Third Place First and a councillor in Aldershot. He tweets as @keithdibs
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