Today’s news that all the Labour councils in London are to freeze council tax next year (I say all, they only have eight) came as something of a shock.
First of all, I don’t think London Labour have a particularly good track record of keeping council tax low. If you take the inner London Labour boroughs at band D they charge an average of £1,276. Conservative authorities charge an average of just £899. And those bald figures hide other facts. The most expensive Conservative borough, Hammersmith and Fulham has only been Conservative controlled since 2006, and in each year since then has actually reduced the council tax. And I would hope I don’t need to point out that Wandsworth has the lowest council tax in the country.
But what really gets me is that all eight find themselves in a position to declare no increase, when a year ago almost to the day they all rejected exactly that suggestion.
Conservative policy is to freeze council tax for the first two years of an administration. A popular policy you might think… but not, unfortunately, with London’s Labour councils who all declared they would not participate.
Apparently when the Conservatives suggested it (along with extra funding to help councils manage the freeze) such a freeze would result in “years of misery” as Labour leader’s across the capital second guessed what funding they would get from central government. This year, however, at exactly the same place in the budget setting process, with no promise of cash from the government they can all announce a freeze as a celebration of Labour efficiency.
The only conclusion you can draw is that when it comes to using council tax to buy a few votes for the beleaguered Prime Minister different rules apply.