Increased council tax bills, along with another round of cuts, fuelled voters’ anger in the Coxford ward council by-election in Southampton on 14 March.
Socialist Party candidate Sue Atkins, standing as Socialist Alternative, won an excellent 368 votes and 14% of the vote. The short six-week campaign followed the retirement of anti-cuts councillor Keith Morrell.
Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
It is disappointing that we weren’t able to hold Keith’s seat. But the campaign has ensured a strong basis of support for clear anti-cuts, socialist policies – with May’s local elections looming – which will continue to pressure the new Labour councillor for Coxford to fight cuts.
Schools’ funding campaign
It has been a turbulent few weeks locally as yet another round of cutbacks, implemented by Labour’s right-wing Blairites, had its effect. Election Day campaigning began on the picket lines at Valentine Primary school, where National Education Union (NEU) members were striking to stop school cuts.
After a 100% vote in favour of strike action, 100% of NEU members stood on the picket lines with parents and children. Socialist Party candidate Sue Atkins, an active member of the Southampton ‘Fair Funding for All Schools’ campaign, and Socialist Students members from the university were also out in force. The NEU called on Southampton Labour council to give schools financial support to avert further cuts.
But the right-wing Blairite councillors are playing a rotten role. At first Councillor Paffey, the chair for education, refused to meet with the union. But under pressure from the strike and its support, he then agreed to meet for talks which rapidly broke down. NEU members are now preparing for further strike action next month.
It came as no surprise to us that the only councillor prepared to give full backing to Valentine Primary was Coxford’s anti-cuts councillor Tammy Thomas.
The council leader also failed to respond to the NEU’s very moderate request to allow schools to hang banners outside to highlight the cuts each school in the city is facing.
Television and radio coverage of the strike carried on over the weekend, featuring in the Sunday BBC Politics Show.
Elsewhere, the threatened closure of care homes in the city lead to a campaign among public sector union Unison and Unite the Union care workers to oppose the cuts. While the campaign forced the council to retreat and keep one home open, another – Glen Lee – has been targeted for closure.
These two battles show how the anger at austerity can push struggles to develop and a campaign to grow locally and nationally to fight council cuts. It shows the potential that exists.
No-cuts budget needed
If Corbyn were to give a lead, mobilise his supporters to select fighting anti-cuts candidates in May, call on Labour councils to use reserves and borrowing powers to set no-cuts budgets, and unite with council unions to mount a decisive battle to end council cuts, it would transform the political landscape in his favour.
Across Coxford, we met hundreds of angry residents and their families. We had many conversations outlining our proposals, to build a campaign to restore the £136 million government funding stolen since 2010, which could begin to repair the damage.
As the election approached, more and more people came over to discuss with us at our campaign stalls, enthused by our socialist policies, with many describing themselves as socialists too.
One of our active supporters was a fourteen-year-old school student, a Corbyn supporter. He soon became a regular presence on our stalls and came out canvassing. He attends the local secondary school, Oasis Academy, where the effects of school cuts have been felt.
In a short few weeks, we got Sue Atkins’ name into the minds of hundreds of voters as someone who had backed anti-cuts councillors Keith, Don and Tammy and was prepared to continue that fight. We held two public meetings to promote the campaign, which will now continue in the lead up to the May elections.
None of the other candidates put forward any policies to address the issue of austerity. From the impact of Universal Credit, the Bedroom Tax, and the housing crisis, to social care cuts, the lack of youth facilities, problems around parking and rubbish collection, it is clear people are looking for a way out of this crisis.
Everyone who helped canvass in Coxford will have felt the impact Keith, Don and Tammy have made with their stand to oppose cuts. Their refusal to vote for cuts on the council, their victorious campaign with the community and council unions to save Oaklands Pool, is rooted in the memory of Coxford.
We fought hard to keep that memory alive and will continue that fight in Coxford and across Southampton to offer voters an alternative to austerity in every seat in the May elections.
The election is over, the cuts continue and so does our campaign. We were the only ones out in Coxford on the Saturday following the election building support for the schools campaign and strike at Valentine school.