Haringey has become the focus of national media attention as local issues have led to a push for more democratically representative candidates in its local Labour Party. Liam McNulty is the Chair of Noel Park Branch Labour Party and is a UNITE delegate to Hornsey and Wood Green CLP. He writes in a personal capacity.
Labour Party politics in the the London Borough of Haringey, in the north-east of the city, has captured national media attention recently. The selection process for the 2018 local government elections has seen the dramatic de-selection of councillors supportive of a controversial housing “regeneration” scheme, the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – including several members of the council’s cabinet. In a huge turnaround, Labour will now go in to the local elections next year with 45 candidates out of 57 pledging their opposition to the HDV.
Why is the scheme so controversial? In the context of relentless cuts to local government, and a growing housing crisis in London’s fourth most deprived borough, a council review recommended setting up a joint vehicle between the council and a private developer. In the end, a bid was accepted from the Australian multi-national Lend Lease, to set up a 50/50 limited liability company, in which the council contributes the land for redevelopment (including homes, businesses, schools and other public assets) and the developer provides funding and expertise – in return for profits.
One issue has been the choice of partner. UNITE has come out against Lend Lease because its predecessor and subsidiary companies have been accused of involvement in blacklisting. Its track record, even in London, has been worrying, to say the least. In Southwark, Lend Lease’s redevelopment of the Heygate estate resulted in the demolition of over a thousand social housing units, replaced by just 82. Haringey residents understandably fear the worst. Though the council promises a right to return on equivalent terms, Lend Lease is prioritising “a single move for residents rather than Right of Return” and its business plans “do not allow for rehousing of housing association tenants”. Social homes will be demolished and there are no promises that they will be replaced. Instead, the council is promising 40% “affordable” homes which, in a borough with Haringey’s levels of poverty, will be out of reach for most residents.
Added to this, the council’s own Housing and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee released a report highly critical of the HDV, on the basis of a lack of democratic oversight and potential financial risk. Though the council and Lend Lease will each have half the seats on the board of the HDV, Lend Lease is by far the more powerful of the partners, with greater recourse to legal and financial expertise. As a private company, the HDV’s decisions will be opaque, not as open to freedom of information and other democratic oversights as the local authority.
Much of the press coverage has been misleading, crafting a narrative based on a supposed “left-wing coup” in the party. The left is united in its opposition to the HDV and is well-organised. We should not be squeamish about accusations of “factionalism”, as all this term means is organising around political ideas, and fighting within the broader movement for your ideas and programme. It is a healthy part of any broad labour movement-based organisation; Labour needs more “factionalism”, not less!
In truth, however, concern about the scheme have been growing for almost a year, across a wide spectrum of opinion. Both of Haringey’s MPs, David Lammy and Catherine West, have come out against the scheme; as have the local trade unions and both local Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), Tottenham and Hornsey & Wood Green. The fact that the Blairite leadership of the council fully intends to push ahead with a scheme in a high-handed way, regardless of local party democracy, explains the level of anger that has now resulted in around two dozen councillors either not being re-selected or standing down after failing to achieve automatic re-selection.
During the selection process, well over a thousand party members took part, with 36 meetings being organised in wards across the borough over a four week period, several of them attended by over 100 members. This was an exercise in mass labour movement democracy and accountability, and the results were a jolting corrective to a Haringey Labour Group on the council which was increasingly out of touch with the views of the local labour movement.
The growing consensus against the HDV is testament to the work of a grassroots StopHDV campaign, set up in early 2016, bringing together activists from Labour, Momentum, the Green Party, members of other left organisations and none, local residents and trade unionists. The campaign has employed a variety of tactics, from demonstrations to resident engagement to legal challenges, to expose, delay and hopefully stop the council’s plans. The movement has created growing awareness of the HDV, cutting through the council’s spin operation, and it is fair to say that the more people knew about the HDV, the less they liked what they saw.
With the cabinet member for Housing and Regeneration, Alan Strickland (who is standing down in May), promising to push ahead with the scheme, the campaign against the HDV plans to step up the pressure. The Labour Group on Haringey Council never had a mandate for the HDV, which was not in the 2014 local government manifesto. Now, following the selection process, it has no legitimacy whatsoever.
As well as this, the labour movement in Haringey needs to urgently discuss the political priorities of the incoming anti-HDV Labour councillors. We should be demanding that any incoming Labour government restores, as a matter of extreme urgency, all the local government cuts since 2010. Labour councillor should base themselves on, take advice from, and be accountable to local labour movement organisations, rather than the permanent local government bureaucracy, and encourage working-class mobilisation to fight for the funding we need to solve housing and other social crises.