HARINGEY Labour looked at us all gossiping about the divisions in the party in Camden and said, to use one of the more tired social media memes, hold my beer.
We may have witnessed the Haywardite-Tulipista tug-of-war, the Gimson rebellion, the obvious differences of opinion between Corbyn’s admirers and sceptics sat there now under Georgia Gould on our side of the border, but it’s hard to remember a time when the Evening Standard, London’s newspaper, was moved to write such a panicked leader about the parochial politics of a single borough.
There had been a plot, you see, to deselect council leader Claire Kober ahead of May’s Town Hall elections. The word plot suggests something Fawksian known only by a small number of conspirators, however it seemed like the whole of north London knew of the likes and dislikes here before game day last week.
Cllr Kober in the end was re-selected comfortably, but not before the Standard’s editorial had warned of what those Crouch End Corbynistas were up to: “If they succeed, as well they might, in bringing Ms Kober down, then there won’t be any new money for housing in Haringey, and no new school or health clinic or town centre,” it read. “It will be the thousands of poor residents trapped on housing waiting lists or stuck in substandard council homes who will miss out. But the Corbynistas won’t care. They’ll go home tonight to the nice middle-class homes they own in leafy Muswell Hill and Crouch End to celebrate another victory for their twisted revolution and think to themselves: today Haringey; tomorrow Britain.”
Some of the losers of the night joked it was this rousing dispatch which saved Cllr Kober – i.e. ‘it was Gideon wot won it’, due to the general public assumption that editor George Osborne personally writes every last letter of the leader column. You wonder, though, whether it was the most helpful endorsement ahead of a selection meeting in which members were arguing that something as grand as the soul of the party was at stake.
What George’s twisted revolution is really about is a loud opposition to the Haringey Development Vehicle, the property deal with LendLease which has dwarfed any of the controversies that have sprung up here and there around Camden’s Community Investment Programme. Indeed, Camden quietly declined to enter into a similar strategy to Haringey, quietly, you’d presume, so not to cause Cllr Kober any further strain.
The deal in the neighbouring borough, which has been challenged in the High Court, will see the private property group brought in on 50:50 basis: Haringey lets them work on some key sites – on which it will inevitably make a fair amount of money – in return for the delivery of new homes, a school and so on. The opponents say public land, our land, is being too easily surrendered. Jeremy Corbyn, unhelpfully for Haringey but without mentioning them, disparaged such arrangements at the Labour Party conference. David Lammy, the MP in Tottenham, meanwhile said the deal made the council look ‘out of the touch’. Haringey in reply ask how else can it pay to house people in decent homes?
Watching from the outside, you eventually come back to the line in the Standard‘s leader: There won’t be any new money for housing…
Why?, ask the rebels to that, because the government says so? Remember, Labour streetfighters believe that all leader columns in the Standard are authored solely by Osborne, and therefore see this as the former Conservative chancellor richly telling us all in black and white that the government simply won’t and will never invest in public services. Rather than do deals like the HDV, however, a coalition of opponents want like-minded councils to band together and refuse to sign contracts with private developers and demand traditional investment for community needs from the government. The Panama Papers, they think, explains where the magic money tree is to pay for it. A similar case is being made at the Whittington Hospital, where the board is working with a developer to raise money on its publicly-owned land in Archway.
All of this protest has sometimes been characterised as a Momentum campaign, and some of the most passionate/vicious (delete, depending on which side you are on) are fully signed up to the Corbyn cause. But on the HDV, this picture also slightly misreads the fact that the opposition to the megadeal has also caught up members who are ambivalent to Corbyn too, supporters of other parties and, yes, people who don’t want bulky developments on their doorstep.
Most of London’s councils, however, are run by pragmatics who are not prepared to wait for cash to be unlocked from up high and, deep down, whisper it, do not believe Corbyn will ever reach Downing Street, let alone be in any negotiating position to be change policy and shower coins on council estates. They will tell you that it’s great to be an idealist, but there’s not much currency in it when you are sat in a councillor surgery telling a family why there’s nowhere for them to live. Doing nothing is not an option. In a way, the whole see-saw debate of local government funding is being encapsulated right now in Haringey.
What does it all mean for Cllr Kober, a local authority leader who has already faced more challenges than nearly all of her neighbouring counterparts: how many could cope with the unprecedented disorder of the 2011 London riots emanating from their patch and also the poker game the council had to play with Spurs, who, no bias, petulantly threatened to move to Stratford if it did not get the stadium redevelopment it wanted. The local economy in N19 would have been, as we all know, devastated if it lost a Premier League football club. The Chalcots crisis aside, Sarah Hayward and now Georgia Gould’s job must have looked relatively simple from Cllr Kober’s desk.
There were congratulations for her from the moment she was re-selected last week with the authority of a landslide result; you may have seen some celebratory tweets from Corbyn sceptics from Camden. Less than a week later, however, Labour councillor Lorna Reith – pro-HDV, a former deputy leader of the council – found herself deselected last night. You could feel the hurt this has caused by speaking to Labour councillors in Camden today who are of a similar persuasion politically and were using the word plot again. Nothing stings like a deselection dagger.
Charles Wright, the chair of Haringey’s scrutiny committee, was deselected this evening in the Woodside ward as members instead chose Mark Blake – an anti-HDV Labour councillor switching from the split ward in Muswell Hill. Alan Strickland, Cllr Kober’s regeneration chief, is up for re-selection in Noel Park on Wednesday.
The not so subtle whispers coming out of the rebellion in Haringey is that Labour councillors who feel their own party’s redevelopment policy has turned their residents against them will now try and change things at the top themselves with a leadership challenge from within the council group, Gimson-style, but have they got the numbers?