The Home Care banana skin…
The news just in is that ‘Consistent’ Stevie Comer, the glorious new Lib Dem leader, has been reelected to the National Executive of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union) to continue his selfless battle on behalf of his members against the privatisation of public services.
He’s been elected again as part of the union’s ‘Democratic Alliance’ slate, a left-wing grouping within the union that supports a larger grouping that’s even further left – ‘Left Unity’ – against what they describe variously as ‘right-wingers’ and ‘Blairites’ who support further privatisation of public services.
Comer, a week into his new leadership role here in Bristol, has so far remained eerily silent on the matter of home care privatisation – or any other policy for that matter. Not for him any “it’s business as usual” statements a la Janke on election night just before she was unceremoniously dumped.
Apart, that is, from Comer enthusiastically confirming Janke’s nomination of Abdul Malik for Mayor to The Evening Cancer yesterday. As if anyone gives a toss which councillor gets chauffeured around Bristol in a Roller wearing fancy dress to meet the Rotary Club and open fetes?
So the question is: will Comer, the trade unionist, follow his apparent convictions, perform a credibility-shredding u-turn and scrap the privatisation of Bristol’s home care service? Or will he prove he is yet another leader with plenty of ambition and no convictions and continue with the home care privatisation? No easy choices there.
Or has Comer got another plan? His silence, apart from a few bland words over the weekend, means he hasn’t yet committed the Lib Dems to running another minority administration. So what’s to stop him inviting the Labour Party to act on their apparent mandate from the electorate, form a minority administration propped up by the Tories and reverse the privatisation of home care themselves as they’ve pledged?
It’s hard to see how the Labour Party could decline the offer. After all they had home care workers out campaigning for them during the elections, they had the T&G printing leaflets supporting their stance on home care and they were promising the electorate they would stop the home care privatisation. What an opportunity for them to put their beliefs into action…
Not quite. Actually doing what they’ve promised might prove difficult. Firstly the Bristol Labour group would have to defy their own government’s policy on home care, which they may get away with. But what might prove more tricky for them to do is rip up their own blueprint for Bristol’s social services they bequeathed the Lib Dems when they left office in May 2005.
After the discovery of a £21m hole in the social services budget in 2004, the Bristol Labour group unaminously agreed to implement – wholesale – the proposals contained in the ‘Parrott Report’. A report they personally commissioned from an ultra-Blairite consultant – John Parrott.
The report basically proposed the privatisation of most of Bristol’s adult social services including meals on wheels, home care and care homes and has been being implemented for the last two two years. And unfortunately no plan B was drawn up or proposed by any party on the council.
So whilst the Labour party are at liberty to reverse their own policy derived from their own report they may find that doing so plunges the city council’s social services back into a financial black hole. Especially when their T&G paymasters object to the next phase of Labour’s Parrott plan – the selling off of council care homes and the privatisation of that service.
Bristol Labour Party appear to have backed themselves into a corner here. If they don’t do what they promised the electorate, they’ll be exposed as the bunch of opportunists they really are. If they do as they promised, they’ll create yet another financial crisis in social services and plunge the city back to the dark days of Micklewright and Bunyan and short term fixes – running up and disguising huge debt, making arbitrary cuts in other services and slyly selling off any assets and services not nailed down. In fact, precisely the kind of privatisations they’ve campaigned against at these elections.
The ball’s firmly in Comer’s court on this one then. Does he go for glory, run the council and become a laughing stock, rank hypocrite and lead the Lib Dems to further electoral doom and gloom in two years? (Already, whilst the PCS leadership remains tight-lipped about him, there are whispers from grass roots members of the PCS asking what an Orange Book Lib Dem is doing in their midst. These whispers can only get louder…)
Or does Comer hand the reins to Labour, sit back and watch the biggest and most sensational Labour meltdown to have happened in Bristol in living memory?
Over to you Stevie.