I speak on behalf of Rachel, Seyi and myself when I say we are still reeling after the election result 10 days ago. I personally feel like there is a huge weight in my chest, terrified for the prospects of residents who need our support. Subconsciously I think I was working towards a time when things would get better for our community, counting down the days left of this government. (It’s 1815 days now btw).
But there is little point in dwelling on what has happened, we need to understand what this means for Newham and what can we do to together to make the best of it? Since 2010, government grants to town halls have been cut by more than a third, the most savage in the public sector. By the end of this government, in Newham, we will have £91 million less than we have now to spend every year. That’s more than we spend on street cleaning, collecting the bins, street lighting and running libraries – twice over. In addition, the Tories have pledged £12bn annual cuts to welfare, £120m through axing housing benefit for most 18- to 21-year-olds. Their commitment to lowering the benefit cap on top of extending the right to buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants will make it even harder for families to find an affordable home in Newham.
But that is democracy, and while Newham may have overwhelmingly voted Labour the rest of the country did not. So what can we do?
1. We promise to protect services that matter:
I didn’t come into this role to chose between the least worst options, and I don’t intend to do that. We will protect the frontline as far as possible with even more efficiency savings. Despite the challenges of the past five years we have strived to protect the services which matter. My portfolio covers our back office shared service called oneSource which has been in place for one year. In that time we have met our savings targets of £4.1m. We will need to go further, and be more imaginative.
2. Help us make these ‘tough decisions’:
Join in the debate. Soon we will be launching an exercise to engage, listen, discuss and consult with residents in Newham so everyone gets a say in what services you value most (we will keep you updated on this). Make sure you join in and encourage your friends and neighbours.
3. Be nice!:
As users of public services as well as 20% of Newham residents who work in the public sector, this is going to be a tough five years for us all. (To coin a phrase – we are all in this together…). Let’s smile in the street a bit more. Please be patient with us and try to see the big picture. I am not saying that you shouldn’t moan when we don’t deliver the service you are entitled too but please do note that we are trying our best in very challenging circumstances and have to prioritise; be constructive critics!
4. Join us:
So, how does the Labour Party move on from here? I don’t pretend to know what the answer is for the Party but I am sure it isn’t to fall back into the old arguments, perhaps we should ‘move more to the left’, or ‘appeal to the right’, perhaps we should have won more green votes or UKIPers. What we can do is start the fightback now, the government won’t wait for us to stop looking inwards, we can build from the ground up in Forest Gate. The Labour Party clearly needs to get better at listening but we also need a wider range of voices to listen too. Nearly 77,000 people voted for the Labour Party in Newham, don’t stop there.
Join the fightback. We need your voice now more than ever.
Are you with us?
You can join the Labour Party here.