On Wednesday February 7, another protest will be taking place in the London Borough of Haringey against the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), marching through the area and then lobbying an emergency council meeting, writes Susan Moore.
If you get your news only for the mainstream media, you could be forgiven for thinking that the mobilisation will involve only supporters of the ‘hard left’, particularly Momentum, will be male dominated and bullying that nice Council leader, Claire Kober, whose only concern is the needs of the borough’s population.
That would be a big mistake.
There has been a broad campaign against the council’s plan ever since it was proposed to go into partnership with a global construction and development corporation, Lendlease, supposedly ‘to regenerate’ the area. Housing campaigners – and indeed a broader group of local residents – are furious at the council’s failure to consult the people whose homes and communities are under threat– or to listen to their concerns and objections.
And there is an alliance that has grown as the campaign has continued which also involves all the major trade unions in the area, together with many activists from the local Labour parties – including but not limited to Momentum members. Meetings, demonstrations and lobbies have been organised over the months since the council proposals first surfaced. The slogans and the atmosphere were positive, focused against the HDV itself, against the social cleansing it would result in and for increased council housing (rather than the illusionary slogan of so-called affordable housing.) Many women were amongst those who addressed the crowds and there was almost no mention, either in speeches or slogans, of council leader Claire Kober. This was a battle over principles and the reality of people’s lives – not a vendetta against an individual.
The two local (Labour) MPs Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) and David Lammy (Tottenham) have urged the council not to go ahead with the scheme. Lammy in particular can hardly be described as a Corbynista – but he has been solid on the HDV, as well as intervening strongly over the horrors of the disaster at Grenfell.
In a letter to Kober in July 2017, Lammy refers to the HDV as ‘the most contentious and controversial political issue that I have seen… since my election to Parliament 17 years ago, refers to the council’s ‘high-handed’ approach and wants to ‘make absolutely clear that I am not persuaded that entering into this agreement with Lendlease will deliver the social homes and genuinely affordable homes that the people of Tottenham so desperately need.’ Not much to disagree with there (though as I implied earlier, I’d prefer not to use the term ‘affordable’ housing, and in the context that Housing Associations have become more and more like businesses, think the focus needs to be on council housing…).
It is certainly true that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in October 2015 impacted on the campaign. In Haringey, as across England, the campaigns to elect Corbyn and then a year later to defend that leadership saw many joining or rejoining the Labour Party. A strong local Momentum group was set up and many of its supporters were active in the campaign against the HDV. Tottenham Constituency Labour Party (CLP) was for a long time a stronghold of the Labour left, but neighbouring Hornsey and Wood Green much less so. And there can be little doubt that the battle against the HDV was a significant factor in the left’s success there in 2017. Both local CLPs have been consistent in their opposition to the scheme.
Campaigners from Haringey took the issues they were facing locally up within the Labour Party nationally by sending a motion to Labour Party conference 2017 around housing. And they weren’t the only group of Labour members battling against Labour councils misusing the term ‘regeneration.’
Architects for social housing put it like this: ‘And high in the list of that brutality is the estate regeneration programme that threatens, is currently being implemented against, or which has already privatised, demolished or socially cleansed 237 London housing estates, 195 of them in boroughs run by Labour councils, which vie with each other for the title of ‘least caring’, and among which the councils of Hackney, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth and Haringey could give the Conservative-run Kensington and Chelsea council a lesson in disdain, privatisation, failed housing policies and the inequality they produce. (and there are certainly Labour Councils that should be on this role of shame missing from their list – Brent for example, and more latterly Walthamstow ( see here and here).
When Labour Party conference debated what views the party should put forward over the housing crisis, the vision was a far cry from that of Claire Kober and the other Labour leaders pushing similar schemes. One particular noteworthy aspect of the new policy was that existing tenants should be consulted over new schemes through a binding ballot. And if the Labour right hoped that the motion would disappear quietly, they were not happy with the fact that Jeremy Corbyn, in his key note speech to conference underlined the point, as Veronica Fagan explains here.
In May 2018, there will be local council elections for all the seats in Haringey, as in every London borough. It is no surprise that the debate over the HDV should be a key issue in the internal Labour Party process of selecting their candidates. Claire Kober is reselected early in the process (in a meeting where there are allegations that there were dubious practices), but a number of her allies are not. Others of her supporters withdraw from the process.
“At the start of this process there were 29 Labour Councillors for the HDV and 21 against – that has shifted dramatically to only 12 for and 45 against. As the Liberal Democrats also oppose the HDV, the incoming Council after May 2018 will almost certainly no longer support the Joint Venture with Lendlease. Now we have to be prepared to stop the current Cabinet from signing the scheme before May. If they did it would be an outrage as they clearly have no mandate to do so ”
Local campaigners had raised £24,000 to fund a legal challenge and obtained a Judicial Review to try to stop the council or, at least, delay the implementation of the plan against the HDV on the basis of lack of consultation, lack of an equality review and more. Though the hearings took place in October 2017, no judgement has yet been forthcoming.
But despite the fact that they had lost the selections and were isolated locally, Kober and her allies seemed determined to press ahead with the scheme. On January 9 2018 at a council meeting a motion was moved calling on Kober not to sign any further documents in relation to the HDV in the next three months. Given the council elections in May 2018, this would have meant the death of the scheme.24 councillors are reported to have voted to press ahead with the HDV whilst 22 voted against.
On January 23 2018, the Labour Party National Executive Committee, at the first meeting attended by three newly elected constituency members from the left, voted to ask Haringey council to halt the HDV. The motion moved by Jim Kennedy from the union Unite, is amended by Jeremy Corbyn to include a proposal for mediation.
The NEC discussion follows a request by 22 local Haringey Labour councillors asking them to intervene, a fact you wouldn’t have gathered from most media reports, which claimed that it was unprecedented for the Labour Party nationally to act in relation to what a local council does. As countless threads on social media pointed out, sometimes people have conveniently short memories. The most notorious case in my memory at least was Neil Kinnock’s conference speech in 1985 where he spoke about ‘the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers’ targeting Militant’s leadership of Liverpool council as part of a sustained attack against the left.
But it was significant that the NEC acted in January 2018, a sign of the growing confidence of the left inside Labour. There was a consistent line from the motion and Corbyn’s speech in October 2017, and a wish to support those selected to follow Labour Party policy in Haringey in the local elections. But more than that, there perhaps also an understanding that Labour in local government up and down Britain has done far too little to fight austerity.
The local elections in May 2018 will be another important test for Corbyn’s leadership of the party. ‘Regeneration’ schemes which result in the loss of council housing and other community facilities and are imposed on working class communities are hardly the advert Corbyn’s Labour needs. So the NEC intervention is not only about a single London borough, but about what kind of future Labour wants to offer. Of course it’s only with a Labour government that the level of financing needed by local communities can be fully restored, but in the meantime attacking the very communities you ask to support you cannot be justified.
Back in Haringey, on January 30, Claire Kober made statements to the media, attacking the NEC intervention and saying that she intended to stand down as leader of Haringey. This really does look like the end of the HDV. But before campaigners toast their success, Kober leaves us a parting gift …
Her resignation was headline in The Evening Standard. She claimed:
“The sexism, bullying, undemocratic behaviour and outright personal attacks on me as the most senior woman in Labour in Labour local government have left me disappointed and disillusioned.”
As NY Brit expat has pointed out
“One cannot help but think that this is a cynical misuse of the word sexism especially in a period when there is rising feminist consciousness of “every day” sexism which women live with. This accusation looks like cheap political manipulation rather than a real situation where the council leader was solely attacked because she was a woman rather than for the policy that she was espousing”.
As far as I can see, this was the first time an allegation of sexism had been made in all the months of this intense debate. And of course it’s almost impossible to prove a negative. Local women residents who opposed the HDV responded to her charges of sexism and lack of democracy with this letter:
“The Stop the HDV campaign group is a broad-based group made up of people from different parties and none. The HDV would have affected council tenants, housing trust tenants and home owners and they are all represented in the group. At least fifty percent of the group are women and they have been extremely active in the campaign; organising marches, chairing meetings and speaking on behalf of the group. We have used our democratic right to protest against the HDV, attend public meetings and speak openly about our opposition to this policy which we feel would be devastating to our community. Many women, particularly single parents, would have been adversely affected by the HDV.
Those of us who are members of the Labour party chose to support candidates opposed to the HDV in the democratic selections so that we had candidates who represent our views rather than those who think they know what is best for us. Numerous sitting councillors chose not to fight for their seats. Many able women have been chosen to stand as Labour candidates in May.
As women, many of us have experienced sexism and we agree that no woman should be subjected to it. However, this campaign has been about Clare Kober’s attempt to impose the HDV not about her as a woman.
Ms Kober, vocal opposition to an unpopular policy which is being implemented in a paternalistic way without proper consultation is not bullying or sexism, it is democracy.”
In solidarity with those sisters, and everyone else who has fought so hard against the HDV in Haringey – and similar schemes elsewhere, let’s make what is hopefully the last protest against social cleansing in the borough the largest and loudest ever, as we finally drive a nail through the coffin of this reactionary scheme. And whether you can be there or not tomorrow, join the Thunderclap here.