Studying the Politics of Austerity in Leicester

City studied 3 Dec 2015

In a welcome move for local anti-austerity campaigners, Sir Peter Soulsby and his army of determinedly New Labour non-Corbyn-backers currently mis-running Leicester City Council, will soon be coming under close scrutiny from academics at De Montfort University (DMU).

The first piece of research being undertaken by DMU’s new Centre for Urban Research on Austerity revolves around a study of austerity in eight major world cities, including Athens, Baltimore, Barcelona, Dublin, Melbourne, Montreal, Nantes, and here in Leicester.

Professor Jonathan Davies, the Director of the new centre, said: “Ultimately, with this research, we hope to say something new about the relationships between city governments and citizens during a period when, to a greater or lesser extent, austerity dominated.

Jeremy Corbyn is of course “a committed socialist and anti-austerity activist.” So upon winning the Labour leadership battle, professor Davies was quick to warn how hostile commentators, including within the Labour machine itself, “fear that he really could threaten the enervating austerity consensus.

Corbyn may be vigourously opposed to the insanity of Tory and New Labour austerity, but Soulsby most certainly is not.

So what the new research centre unearths in the coming years will certainly be intriguing to local anti-austerity groups, who continune to call upon all working class politicans to join Corbyn in actively opposing the harsh and dangerous public sector cuts being forced upon us under the mysterious guise of austerity.

This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury on November 29. Shorter version published on December 3.

Austerity

In his book chapter “Back to the Future: Marxism and Urban Politics” (2010), professor Davies is highly critical of the current “partnership” approach in local governance.  A local example is provided by the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) — an openly “business-led partnership,” which has been keenly supported by Sir Peter Soulsby since it was established in early 2011.

Although not writing in reference to Leicester, professor Davies writes:

“The idea of ‘partnership’ became part of the commonsense of many  on the moderate left in the UK and, as a ‘motherhood and apple pie’ concept, influenced citizen activists who might previously have looked to struggle for solutions. Influenced by the US, the Thatcher  and Major governments introduced urban policy programmes  promoting collaboration between  business  and  local  government…

“Since 1997, partnership institutions have penetrated every sphere of local government. The discourse and practice of partnership is hegemonic to a degree that it probably would not be if not for the gravity of the class defeats of the 1980s and New Labour’s adaptation to them. City strategic partnerships are a prominent example. Comprising state, market and ‘third sector’ actors, they are supposed to tap in to supposedly diverse centres of power not through hierarchy, but negotiation, diplomacy and building trust. Importantly, they seek to include citizen activists as part of the governing effort. In these ways, partnerships are supposed to eliminate nugatory effort, generate capacity, or ‘power to’ and enhance joined-up government.

“Yet, despite dominating the local political landscape, partnerships are frequently dysfunctional. Far from facilitating political agreement between actors with congruent interests, political debate and dissent are taboo. Community activists are sometimes ‘captured’ or ‘co-opted’ but they are often angry and bitter about their  treatment at  the hands of state managers. Dissenters are branded troublemakers and marginalized…” (pp.23-4)

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