Will Haringey be Momentum’s first council?

Submitted by SJW on 9 May, 2018 - 1:50 Author: Elizabeth Butterworth
Haringey Local Government conference

On 4 May, there were two announcements significant to Haringey Labour.

One was that we won 42 seats in the council elections, with the Lib Dems winning 15. The other that the former Leader of Haringey Council, Claire Kober, had found a job in a major property development company, Pinnacle.

Pinnacle was one of the three companies that had bid for the now permanently shelved Haringey Development Vehicle, a project which would have put an estimated £2 billion of public assets into a jointly owned public-private venture.
Kober becoming an executive at a property development company is the kind of news which should bring shame to the Labour Party. It exposes the side that she and her supporters are on politically.

Stuart McNamara was Haringey’s Cabinet Member for the Environment until November 2017. He published a stinging, succinct resignation letter1. The letter exposes the contempt with which the former council leadership treated Party members, residents, and even fellow councillors who disagreed with them. It also exposes the hundreds of thousands of pounds squandered on vanity projects and “experiments” while services were slashed.

Discontent with our former council runs deeper even than the Haringey Development Vehicle. Numerous other projects were deeply unpopular with residents. To name but a few: the proposed closure of Highgate library, the sell-off of Hornsey Town Hall and the proposed closure of Osborne Grove nursing home2.

Councillors were not providing full enough reports to scrutinise their decisions, or to challenge them. Some councillors had stopped attending the branch meetings of the branches that enabled them to stand under the Party name.

The Stop HDV campaign initially raised funds to mount a legal challenge against the HDV as well as demonstrations and petitions. It lost the judicial review, but when council selections rolled around, Labour members were presented with another way to stop the HDV.

Prior to this, Labour lefties had won control of the local Party in Hornsey and Wood Green, including winning a majority on its General Committee, Local Campaign Forum seats and key posts within branches3.

By the time the selections process was underway, we had built networks within branches that we could then mobilise.

This left wasn’t organised through Haringey Momentum but a broader caucus of left-wing activists, including some Momentum members. National Momentum did, however, send emails and texts encouraging Labour Party members to attend the meetings.

The selection process went according to the Labour Party’s rulebook. In the first tranche, we had mixed results from our shortlisting meetings and we had to learn some hard lessons.

In the next tranches, members leafleted meetings with crib sheets explaining the process and Stop HDV leafleted every meeting explaining its view on which council candidacies should be opened for other people to run. When this began to work, we then saw a string of tantrums from the Labour right, who, realising they wouldn’t win a more open selection, stood down after the shortlisting meetings, claiming they were being “bullied” by the hard left. They refused to defend their views to members. Meanwhile the left canvassed members to win support for our preferred applicants and won most of the selection meetings.

All was not won, however. Labour Group, made up by sitting councillors, still had policy to back the HDV, and according to the Party’s own norms, voting against the whip could result in suspension.

We were worried the HDV might be pushed through as a last stand of the existing administration. We needed national support at this stage and wrote to the Labour Party’s NEC (where the left had recently won a majority) to ask for their help. We got that help and the Party advised Labour Group to pause the HDV.

The Local Campaign Forum and volunteers from both constituencies put on a special two-day conference to help design the manifesto that members could have direct input into – the first of its kind, and something that Workers’ Liberty supporters agitated for. Motions from branches and socialist societies were composited and voted on by members from both General Committees.

Not every motion made it into the manifesto that the working group created, but to its credit, the working group did take a general steer from the conference. If we hold good to our manifesto, we will provide every primary school child in Haringey with free school meals, 100% council tax relief to our poorest residents and more social housing4.

Into the local elections: we won 42 out of 57 seats. We are disappointed to have lost 7 seats to the Lib Dems (they previously only held 8), but this should be placed in context.

The Evening Standard printed thousands of words of copy of half-truths about our candidates and campaign. Some residents were understandably concerned about antisemitism in the Party. Some didn’t want to vote for a divided Party. Local issues such as Hornsey Town Hall came up on the doorstep. And the Lib Dems capitalised on voters who might normally vote for another Party rallying to them as our only real challenge. We failed to win over everyone in Haringey and articulate our vision.

But there is much to be upbeat about. We have started a national conversation about what real democracy in the Labour Party could look like.

Ordinary members will have a say in who should be council leader. The LCF has organised a husting where an indicative vote will be held from both CLPs’ General Committees. We have stopped the short-sighted mass sell-off of public assets. We have selected then helped to get elected councillors who are more accountable to residents and members.

If the Corbyn movement is to achieve anything, it should be doing so through mass democracy.

This will not be Momentum’s first council, nor a hard-left council. Our candidates were selected on the broadest possible basis of being anti-privatisation. We have yet to see an intention from our new councillors to coordinate an urgent national fightback to local government cuts. We must hold them to account at every turn.

But compared to a year ago, where we are now feels like a different world.

(1)  Read the full letter: bit.ly/2y0HUDK
(2)  Seema Chandwani’s interview in Red Pepper: bit.ly/2KFnxTo   
(3)  Report in the Clarion: bit.ly/2z22Xti  
(4)  Haringey Labour 2018 manifesto: bit.ly/2JYi8Wm

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