I’ve been wanting to type those words for such a long time. And it’s true!
Unfortunately, as you’ll probably know if you’re from Manchester, I’m only on about John Cameron, Lib Dem councillor for Burnage ward (his website bio is a hastily-done mix of present and past tense, like the Wikipedia page of someone who may or may not be dead), who has announced he will be stepping down in May.
It’s the only good thing a Lib Dem has done for Manchester in quite a while. Not content with propping up the Tory-led government that has stunned our city with £109m of unfair cuts, Lib Dem ministers have been lining up to attack us over the last few days:
Nick Clegg accused Manchester Labour of making cuts for political reasons.
Danny Alexander accused us of hoarding reserves when we should be spending them on services.
And like the little kid in the playground who hangs around behind the bullies shouting “Yeah!”, Manchester Lib Dem councillor Martin Eakins forwarded Clegg’s speech full of lies to the Labour group, just to make sure we’d all seen it.
Let’s be completely clear: they’re talking rubbish. Manchester Confidential comprehensively fisked most of the right-wing claptrap flung at our city about the cuts last month, and I’d urge you to read their piece here. But to address the points made by Clegg and Alexander:
No, Manchester City Council is not ‘hoarding’ reserves.
There is no Scrooge McDuck-style swimming pool full of gold under the Town Hall for Richard Leese to go swimming in, compelling image though that may be. The council has had to make 2000 people redundant. And pay them all redundancy pay. That’s why we’re not spending the reserves on keeping the public toilets open.
No, Labour Manchester and Lib Dem Sheffield have not had to make ‘almost identical savings’. Clegg said himself that Sheffield is having to make 8% cuts. Manchester’s cuts are over 20%. Besides which – why, when the local government settlement has been made for 2011-13, has Sheffield’s Lib Dem council only made a budget for 2011-12? I’ll tell you why. Local elections take place in seven weeks. Have you seen the Sheffield Lib Dems’ majority? They don’t t want to take the flak for deeper cuts when they know they won’t be in power long enough to implement them. Seven weeks on Friday, they won’t be running that council. Seven weeks on Friday, the Liberal Democrats will be waking up to find themselves decimated in local elections across the country. John Cameron is getting while the getting’s good. If only Martin Eakins and Nick Clegg had as much sense.
And no, Manchester Labour is not ‘making cuts for political reasons’, and it is offensive to say so. I was at some of the meetings where the scope of these cuts was discussed: Labour councillors were in tears. What the Tories and Lib Dems do not understand is that we are proud of this city, and proud of what Labour has helped it to become. The best analogy I have heard for the cuts to Manchester was from Cllr Jim Battle, who said “It’s as if you’d built your house with your own hands, and lived there all your life, and then one day someone came along and said ‘You’re going to have to tear the roof off, smash the windows out, rip out the central heating and burn all the furniture.’ And then you have to carry on living there.”
You can not take £109m out of a local authority budget without affecting frontline services. You want Manchester City Council to cut the waste and the drinks receptions? They’ve done that. It didn’t save £109 million. Of course it didn’t.
Of course, the Lib Dems’ Tory masters have had all the answers for Manchester since January. Grant Shapps, Eric Pickles and David Cameron himself slammed our council for wasting money on ‘non-jobs’ like a ‘Twitter Tsar’ and for paying the chief executive ‘more than the Prime Minister’, that magical figure. We don’t have a Twitter Tsar, unless it’s me (and I don’t charge). We have a staff member for online communications, like any 21st century organisation; and yes, we have some highly-paid staff, Howard Bernstein included. But guess what? So does Eric Pickles’ own government department. As Bolton Council agreed at their meeting earlier this month (sorry, I haven’t been able to find a link for this), requiring councils to publish their staff’s pay is all very well, if the same is going to apply to central government civil servants too.
Did you all see the real Nick Clegg found chained in Conservative Party basement story, mocked up by Greg Stekelman, earlier in the week? I found it hilarious and disturbing in equal measure. But I saw a lot of people commenting on it along the lines of “This would explain everything!” When it comes to Nick Clegg, I don’t believe there’s much to explain: he’s always been a Tory in almost every respect. He’s demonstrated this as clearly as can be by colluding with the Tories attacks on Manchester – first on our budget and then on our reputation. And I doubt the people of Manchester will let him forget it.