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Local democracy, not purges, are behind events on Haringey Council

THE people power that has brought an end to the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) has shown that surrender to the interests of multinational construction firms is not welcome by local residents and the many social movements that they are part of.

Councils in London are under great pressure to deal with the Tory-inspired housing crisis but, in boroughs neighbouring Haringey, Labour leaderships have responded innovatively but without capitulation to the corporations.

Camden, Islington and Enfield have all provided different models to deal with the crisis. The borough that is in cahoots with Haringey's chosen developer, Australian multinational Lendlease, is Southwark.

The redevelopment of Southwark’s Heygate Estate, in “partnership” with Lendlease, has transformed an estate with 1,200 socially rented homes into a gentrified enclave with some reports estimating that 100 per cent of the new homes have been privately sold, many two or three at a time, to Far Eastern “investors.”

Such are the seismic waves caused by the victory of people power in Haringey that Southwark councillors this week have voted not to proceed, at the moment at least, with their second phase gentrification project, the redevelopment of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre.

The HDV was not the only Haringey Council property deal to provoke controversy. The Hornsey Town Hall development involves the historic site being handed over to Hong Kong-based, but Cayman Islands-registered, developers Far East Consortium. FEC will build 147 apartments for the private sector and just 11 for social rent.

Not surprisingly 600 community objections were laid against the council’s Hornsey Town Hall plan but all were brushed aside.

A number of the Haringey cabinet members attended the disreputable property fair MIPIN held in Cannes on the French Riviera.

MIPIN acts as exchange for contractors, financiers and those from the public sector who feel they can mix it with the big boys. It was here that Haringey was introduced to Lendlease and plans for the HDV were laid.

There was an unprecedented coalition ranged against council leader Claire Kober’s grand HDV project.

Both Hornsey & Wood Green and Tottenham CLPs were opposed as were a sizeable number of Labour borough councillors. Social movements were joined by trade unions in opposition.

Perhaps most tellingly both local Labour MPs, Catherine West and David Lammy, were forthright in their opposition. Lammy, who has often been characterised as coming from the Blairite wing of the party, has remained extremely vociferous in his opposition.

When resigning this week Kober and her supporters have made unsubstantiated claims of bullying and worse in the Labour Party in Haringey. These claims were picked up and repeated by gullible, or complicit, journalists who have not sought, or could not be bothered with, the facts.

However, in his November 2017 letter to Kober giving notice of resigning from the council, Stuart McNamara says: “You have only maintained a majority in the Labour Group through a combination of patronage and punishment. Our interventions are regarded with suspicion and hostility and you have attempted to publicly humiliate some of us with suspensions, formal warnings and demotions so as to keep us in our places.”

When resigning from Kober’s cabinet in January this year Peray Ahmet wrote: “I had hoped that by serving in cabinet I could bring a divergent view and persuade colleagues to take different decisions.

“However, this has often proved futile with decisions made in advance and brought to cabinet and Labour Group to be rubber-stamped. This top-down style of leadership and failure to collaborate has led to poor decision-making on a range of issues.”

Most, if not all, activists acknowledge that women in public life do face sexism and no-one condones that. Claire Kober should approach her CLP for support and ask it to investigate if she is making specific allegations against local party members.

There was certainly no bullying in the recent councillor selection process. As a member of the party’s Local Campaign Forum I personally monitored the selection process in five wards during November and December last year. The only remarkable incident happened at Kober’s own selection meeting in Seven Sisters.

Some councillors who will not be contesting the council elections in May this year simply resigned.

Others, when local members decided they wanted an open contest, opted to withdraw at that stage in the process. Finally, a third group lost the ballot of local ward members to be candidates.

All three reasons for not being a candidate in May have been lumped together by much of the media and portrayed as a purge of the “moderates” when in the first two cases the sitting members chose to leave of their own volition.

In every case, secret ballots approved by the NEC and overseen by the party’s London Region ensured maximum member participation and showed the strength of democracy within the party.

Much has been made of the NEC apparent “intervention” in Haringey last week, but this was not an NEC initiative. Twenty-one Haringey councillors who were concerned that another group of councillors most likely be in a minority after the local government elections would bind the new Labour group to the unpopular and untested HDV wrote to the NEC asking for support.

The NEC course of action that was decided upon unanimously, including the local government representatives, was for mediation between the two sets of councillors in Haringey and, if mediation failed, the NEC as a fallback position agreed to “strongly advise” the Labour leadership of the council not to proceed with the HDV.

At no time, contrary to press reports, did the NEC issue any instruction to Haringey Labour Group or the leader.

In conclusion, much has been made in the media of the role of Momentum. This ought to be immediately discounted. If Momentum were organising a purge of the “moderates” surely this would be a national trend and not restricted to a single north London borough.

The events in Haringey have not been orchestrated by Momentum. This is a local matter that has been taken up by local members of the Labour Party and locally affiliated trade unions who said “No” to a neoliberal fix for the housing crisis in Haringey.

Adrian Weir is trade union liaison officer, Hornsey & Wood Green Constituency Labour Party.

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