Any allusions in the anti-establishment credentials of Portsmouth’s new UKIP Councillors were swiftly dashed after they joined forces with New Labour and the Conservatives to support the newly installed Tory minority council.
Last month’s election results left the Conservatives with 12 of the city’s 42 seats, while the Lib Dems were left with a reduced majority of 19. This meant the Tories were forced to rely on the support of the six UKIP and four Labour candidates, who readily provided it.
The new council is to be led by former HBOS banker Donna Jones, who so struggled to find any policy differences between her and her allies in the other establishment parties that her flagship election pledge was to attract car dealerships to sponsor public toilets closed by cuts.
While the election cost the Lib Dems control of the city, it was Labour who fared worst. They were defeated by UKIP in every ward, losing a Councillor in Paulsgrove, their only electoral stronghold in the city.
Labour continually refused to address the issue of austerity, instead choosing to focus their campaign on closing a local swimming complex, The Pyramids Centre, while attacking disgraced MP Mike Hancock.
Portsmouth Labour’s Trade Union Liaison Officer, and Socialist Appeal supporter, Sion Reynolds went so far as to call a position which opposed all cuts ‘imbecilic’, perhaps forgetting that it is the official position of Portsmouth Trades Council. Similarly, when challenged on cuts to education, Labour leader John Ferret described himself as ‘agnostic’ to free schools and academies, refusing to take a position.
The decision by Labour to unite with UKIP behind the Tories simply officialises what has long been true. The role of official opposition must now fall to the city’s trade unions and community anti-cuts groups.
Portsmouth Socialist Party, working with its allies in the RMT and other unions, challenged the cuts consensus by standing fourteen community candidates across every ward in the city. It is now vital that the campaign continues to unite all those who demand an alternative to austerity.
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