The campaigning frenzy is almost over. After probably Somerset Labour’s biggest, most ambitious, most co-ordinated election effort in its history, all there’s left is to man the polling stations, adopt the brace position and wait for the results to roll in.
Somerset last shuffled to the polls in 2009, before the cuts, before the Coalition and before the country had been hit with the full force of the recessionary tidal wave. The result four years ago, tragically, offered a taste of what was soon to follow at national level – the Tories were unmuzzled after 16 years away from County Hall, and quickly set about taking out their political frustration on Somerset’s most vulnerable.
When the Coalition arrived, things got worse – together, the Tories and the Lib Dems sawed through local government funding from Westminster, giving Conservative-held County Hall the green light for a budget-chopping frenzy. Over a thousand council jobs were lost, the road repair budget was halved, bus subsidies were slashed and almost half the county’s recycling centres were closed. Somerset was the only county in the country to lose its entire arts budget.
Tories are playing politics with Somerset’s safety
The figures alone are horrifying. County Tories want even deeper cuts in the years to come – £26m in 2014/2015, and £24m in 2015/2016. With £7.69 million due to go from the Commissioning of Care, the elderly and the disabled, Somerset’s most vulnerable, are being callously thrown in the line of fire. And with £600,000 set to be lost from the Highways, and a terrifying £5.5 million from the Fire Service budget, the Tories are playing politics with Somerset’s safety.
The Lib Dems didn’t have to put the Tories in power-but they did!
But what about the Lib Dems? For years, the all-purpose protest party of Westminster politics and, so they claimed, Somerset’s anti-Tory alternative. Then they were given a once in a generation opportunity to show what their true values were. Given the first whiff of power, they threw away the landmark policies they’d trumpeted for years – remember their tuition fees pledge? – and joined the most socially destructive Conservative government in a generation.
No matter what they say, they didn’t have to join the Conservatives in government. They could’ve remained separate, retained principled independence. Instead, they betrayed everyone who ever voted for them as the “God-anything-but-the-Tories” option.
Local Lib Dems can protest that the Coalition deal was made far away and was beyond their control – but their Somerset MPs have been integral to pushing through the most harmful, regressive policies we’ve seen since Thatcher.
Somerset’s liberals are NOT an alternative
Yeovil’s David Laws, known to be among the most pro-Tory in the party, led the Coalition negotiations with the Conservatives. Jeremy Browne in Taunton is another of the Tory Party’s favourite pet Liberals. Farming Minister David Heath abolished the Agricultural Wage Boards, a decision that will make millions worse off across rural areas. And, as a Lib Dem whip, Wells’ Tessa Munt has been responsible for ensuring that her party’s MPs – including all the above – voted for everything from the bedroom tax, the part-privatisation of the NHS, tax cuts for the wealthiest, and massive cuts in local government spending.
Given everything, then, how can Somerset’s Liberals provide an alternative to an austerity agenda that have done so much to bring about? Throughout the campaign, they’ve desperately tried to claim they can. But obviously they can’t.
It’s Labour that’s leading the resistance to austerity in Somerset – that’s fighting the bedroom tax, campaigning against reckless, dangerous cuts to the Fire Service and social care budget, constantly calling for proper planning consultation when Tories push deals through regardless of the impact on local communities, and, in general, battling an agenda that’s punishing the struggling majority for the economic mistakes of a tiny elite.
Labour, in short, is the only viable alternative – on May 2nd, vote Labour for Somerset’s sake.