SO it’s time to get serious, the first week back at school after the summer holidays. It’s September, the evenings will soon be drawing in, councillors will be pulled back to the Town Hall from their sun loungers and city breaks, and conference season is upon us. Over the hot days, the pace of posts slowed on these pages because I spent these hols moving house, although I’ll spare you a Rafael Behr style piece about moving to the seaside or a weepy long-player about the cost of property, renting or buying. Most of us, in some way, have been spammed by London’s housing crisis, and needless to say it’s destructive, divisive to the communities we grew up in, breeds awful resentment and leaves people making all sorts of unpalatable compromises. If only housing stories, now a buzz topic, had interested national newsdesks ten, 20 or 30 years ago.
Before we get onto more regular updates here, though, a little look back on some of the things that have been happening over the last week…
ENTER THE COMPLIANCE UNIT
IT has all got a little fraught in Hampstead and Kilburn where Terence Flanagan, a member of the Labour Party for 40 years, has been suspended after a long-running stand-off with councillors over letters to press comparing them to Goebbels and his choice of language in emails to them about Israel. West Hampstead councillor Phil Rosenberg made the complaint to the ‘compliance unit’ and says he handed in 17 different documents as part of his case. Theo Blackwell, another councillor who hasn’t seen eye to eye with Mr Flanagan over this past year or so, meanwhile has posted extracts of the emails to Twitter to show the angry, block capital tone of his messages. It’s a messy case though, and not simply because Mr Flanagan’s friends say he dispute all that he has been accused of, nor for that matter that Labour has chosen such an odd name for its disciplinary team; compliance unit sounds like somewhere the droogs might be sent to in A Clockwork Orange.
It’s more the timing of the case. Mr Flanagan has clearly upset some of his comrades, but the timing of the suspension plays into the view of Mr Flanagan’s supporters that he has been kicked because of his support for Jeremy Corbyn, and his dislike for those who proved disloyal to the Labour leader in recent months. Just as the voting cards went out, Mr Flanagan was suspended, but it had been months since his first public attacks on Labour councillors in the local press. Having failed to resolve the dispute for so long, now Labour, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, risks looking like it has been motivated by the leadership contest rather than the content of the complaint, as Mr Flanagan has no opportunity to appeal and, if he was successful, to get back in the game in time to vote.
Messy too was constituency secretary Peter Taheri’s response to some of the messages flying around Labour inboxes. “Apart from not sending inappropriate (or ambiguous) emails, one way of avoiding creating a rod for your and everyone else’s back is to check carefully the recipient list for each e-mail you send and delete from the list anyone that you do not know will want to receive your email or anyone who you do not know,” he wrote in a message all. When he was alerted that this in itself sounded ambiguous, in that it could be read like it was ok to be sharp-tongued, or even anti-semitic, as long as you didn’t share it around the wrong people, he wrote again to clarify that prejudice was not acceptable in any form or in any forum.”The primary point was, as I said, that we will not condone, accept or tolerate anti-semitism. This goes for private communication just as much for public sentiment,” Mr Taheri said, sounding mortified. It must be a wrench for organisers that they need to be put any of this in writing in the first place, as if it isn’t a given that racism and anti-Semitism is unacceptable.
Constituency members have, of course, passed a motion this year publicly stating its belief in a hard stance against racism, although did so with the warning that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters should not take the exclusive blame for it where it emerged from within the party.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE COUNCIL GROUP IF LABOUR SPLITS?
WHEN Labour members opposed to their current leader predict a historic split in the party should Jeremy Corbyn win the leadership contest this month, is it a genuine existential risk to the party as we know it, or more of a threat from Owen Smith’s supporters to scare the undecided that a vote for Cobyn is simply pressing the button on the final destruction of the party? We shall see if Corbyn wins. But if there was a split what would it mean locally? As it happens, nobody seems too clear on how the scoring would work on this game of hypotheticals should there be a divide. There would naturally be a fight for the Labour branding in need of resolving, but what would happened at the Town Hall, given more than 20 councillors, at least, are in the Corbyn Out camp.
If the party splits nationally, it seems odd that the council group could operate in the same way that it currently does, glueing together councillors from both sides of a split. Surely if there are two forms of Labour at Westminster, we’d need to know the allegiance of the councillors in the ruling group in Camden, and while a new New Labour group would probably still hold a majority, it wouldn’t be as big as the commanding lead it has now in Camden. Presumably then, they’d not only be facing the Conservatives, a Lib Dem, a Green and an independent on the council benches, but also a Corbyn crew too. Like I said, a game of hypotheticals, at this stage, but intriguing nonetheless.
NATALIE SIGNS OFF
IN search of some media attention, the Greens always set off the conference season early and members met in Birmingham over the weekend to announce Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley as its new co-leaders. It’s sign-off time for Natalie Bennett then, and while she is confident about the party expanding its influence in her home patch of Camden, she is apparently not planning a third run at Holborn and St Pancras constituency.
THERESA, THEY’D LOVE A SNAP ELECTION IN HAMPSTEAD
AS often as national pundits cry ‘we don’t believe you’ whenever she says it, new Prime Minister Theresa May repeated again that, in the interests of stability, she is not planning a snap general election. She must have missed the bit in the Gordon Brown biographies about how well the country took to a leader who decided to rule without going to the public. As fatigued as we all are by elections and referendums, maybe the Conservatives in Camden will be kicking their feet at the lack of gung-ho spirit May has for the idea of razing Jeremy Corbyn’s warring Labour Party.
In Hampstead and Kilburn, they would surely relish taking on new Labour MP Tulip Siddiq on this new surface. She plays, after all, with a majority of only 1,138, which sounds a lot given Labour’s lead was only 42 votes in 2010 but still keeps the seat as a Tory target. But as every month passes, she gains a little bit of incumbent advantage and there is a bit more time for Labour to steady the ship, either under the current leader or with a new one. Perhaps even more relevant is the possibility for boundaries to be shifted in Tulip’s favour before the next general election to make the task of unseating her harder.
The downside for the Tories interested in an immediate battle is that they have not quite cultivated a candidate guaranteed attract Camden’s Europhile voters. The counter story, as bizarre as sounds, is that some Labour supporters despairing that Jeremy Corbyn would just keep winning no matter how many times the party holds a leadership contest and in the face of any rule changes, is they now feel the only way to rid themselves of him is for a car crash general election result after which he’d be forced to resign.
YOU THROW TOMATO, AND I THROW TOMATO
WE know what Fortune Green councillor Lorna Russell did on her holiday. She got drenched in tomato juice at the annual La Tomatina tomato-throwing fight in Valencia. Maybe they should decide the Labour leadership contest with a food fight just like this.