YOU may have guessed the could it have happened here pub debate which has been slightly more audible in recent weeks: would Camden’s Labour group have witnessed its own Haringey-style revolt had it not undergone a refresh last year. We’ll never know if there is any truth in that, or if it’s simply backbench bluster in the wake of the extraordinary events in the neighbouring borough.
Presumably, Sarah Hayward would have signed the letter to the Sunday Times which Georgia Gould refused to add her name to at the weekend (or at least had her name taken off); an attack on the National Executive Committee by 70 council leaders for responding to a request by Haringey councillors to brake their own leadership’s development ambitions. It is, however, hard to think of any policy which Camden has embarked on under any of its recent leaders or cabinet members as being as controversial as the Haringey Development Vehicle, a 50/50 bulk deal with developer Lend Lease.
Camden has had bits of neighbourhood flak for some of its CIP (Community Investment Programme) projects but nothing compared to the bloody argument surrounding the HDV. Its one of the reasons that even some (but, let’s be straight… definitely not all) moderate/centrist members in Camden are not so speedy to rush to an endorsement of the HDV, even if they think Haringey leader Claire Kober has otherwise performed well facing a rare list of challenges: Tottenham Hotspur’s threat to leave the borough, the riots, the Baby P tragedy and so on. Camden, after all, passed up on the option of going down a strategy similar to the HDV.
The absence of publicly drawn daggers in Camden, however, doesn’t mean the Labour Party in our borough isn’t split down the familiar with-Corbyn or against him track. In the middle, you can find people who are neither super enamoured with the Labour leader, or fired up against him; there are those too who revised their thoughts after the election manifesto last year and the party’s general election performance. But as they try to work with both camps under that old-fashioned belief that bringing Labour’s broad church together to fight the election would be the most productive course of action, there are reports from behind closed doors that the battle is getting weary to witness up close.
The word ‘toxic’ was used by more than a couple of sources after last week’s general members meeting in Holborn and St Pancras, for example. The wound this time was a disciplinary investigation which had run back for almost a year and led to an 80-page report on some internal flashpoints. When it came up for discussion last week, the results of this drawn out inquiry were simply noted and there was an attempt to move on without anybody getting too upset, the sort of half-measure which left neither side of the divide particularly ecstatic. The most aggrieved suggested the episode showed there was no point complaining about anything because no meaningful action would ever be taken. Others said accusations were too loose in the making.
Without going in to too many of the details – I wouldn’t envy anybody having to umpire this, so best of luck Patrick French, the constituency chairman – there are reports of shouting, a spot of bad language and a deluge of complaints about the handling of meetings and the organisation of the branch. That word toxic comes up: the right of the party are attacked for an apparent unwelcoming attitude to new Corbyn-enthused members and seemingly unable to see why people could be frustrated that the local leadership is not always attuned to their national counterparts. Meanwhile, the left is being talked about as being willing to provoke confrontation, as in to make meetings so… toxic… that opponents do not want take part and their course prevails.
Either way, these meetings do not sound like much fun to be at right now.