It is a truism of British local government that residents generally detest ‘the council’ but are at the same time deeply appreciative of its services, especially libraries and parks. Streetcleaning is another favourite. Many seem not to link these to council staff allegedly chomping on biscuits and slurping tea at public expense, so ‘someone’ should get rid of them. Only when these prized services start to be cut or even disappear, because those who run them are being made redundant, will the penny drop.
I have written about this before. My prediction stands: once voters realise what is going on, ostensibly in the cause of deficit reduction, they will begin to punish those they hold responsible. The perception that the Cameron government is in peonage to the City (“One false move and we sell you out in an afternoon, then leave”) will become more and more widely shared.
This is a chance for Labour to change the narrative for outraged and resentful citizens, and point out what is really happening. But will they do so? The Conservatives – and here I pause to say that Cameron is as much a Conservative as Blair was a socialist – are simply against public services. This is a fact that will percolate, at last, through the minds of middle England who are natural Tories no longer.
But I doubt that Labour can make this happen. It had its chances and it blew it. Enter the Liberal Democrats. They are part of the coalition government, to be sure, but not for much longer. They have the opportunity now to stop this slide into the abyss, and if Clegg is skilful they can do it, but they need support. Not from Labour, but from the voters. Will they wake up in time for the elections this year?