In 2017, a grassroots rebellion against a right-wing Labour Council led to the election of the first so-called “Momentum Council”.
The new councillors were often supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, but most of all opposed to Haringey Council’s proposals for a public-private partnership with Lendlease to deliver the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) — a gentrification scheme that was set to socially cleanse large areas of working-class Haringey, hand in hand with a known blacklisting developer.
A concerted campaign by the local Momentum group, the wider local Labour left, and the anti-HDV campaign deselected key councillors. Others then resigned. The resulting selections put in place anti-HDV candidates, and shortly after their election in May 2018 the scheme was cancelled.
It was a victory for local democracy. But now local activists face a “Corbyn Council” that has failed to learn the lessons from its predecessor’s debacle. Its culture of secrecy maybe even surpasses the worst excesses of the old Council.
The first shot against local democracy was the election of the Council leader, Joe Ejiofor. As in all local Labour groups, the leader is elected by the other councillors in the group.
In Haringey, a positive was a local hustings meeting organised with the four candidates all in attendance. Around 200 people came to that meeting, and afterwards an indicative vote was taken. The overwhelming choice for leader was Zena Brabazon.
Nonetheless the councillors put Joe Ejiofor in place.
From the start Ejiofor insisted that the Council should not be viewed as the Momentum Council: “We have people from all wings of the party... It’s not a Momentum council. It might be on the left but it’s a Labour council.”
Ejiofor and one-time Deputy Leader Emine Ibrahim are both members of the National Coordinating Group of Momentum. That Group itself reports only scantily on its meetings. Its make-up includes four representatives of “Labour Public Office Holders”. 50% of those four are Haringey Councillors.
One of the biggest tests for the Council was always going to be its relationship to the local party. The previous administration of Claire Kober had been stand-offish and abrupt. Little information was shared between the Council and the local parties. Distrust had come to a head by the time of the HDV.
A movement in local government to oppose the cuts (or even some cuts) and to build a campaign against austerity is going to require “left” councillors to work alongside activists and the local labour parties. Councillors have to be open about decisions and involve the local parties in decision-making.
We had hopes for openness in Haringey. Before the council election the two local parties, Hornsey and Wood Green and Tottenham, held a conference where motions were put forward for discussion and voting on the basis they would be taken up in the manifesto.
Yet many of these motions were lost from the manifesto, even in spirit. Those lost included a pledge to campaign for the restoration of all funding cut from local government since 2010. Such a campaign could have been a driving force of the council, bringing the local parties, trade unions and community campaigns together.
Instead one of the first things that Haringey Council is now remembered for is Ward’s Corner.
After cancelling the HDV, the other major inheritance from the previous administration was the proposed development of Ward’s Corner in Seven Sisters, home of the Latin Village, the largest indoor Latin American market in the UK, used by Latin American migrants and residents across London.
The proposals for the Market will see it demolished and replaced with flats. None of these flats will be social housing or affordable. The new retail space is designed only to accommodate six units for shops other than big-branded chains.
The traders are not happy with the proposals to move the market, and are at risk of rising rents pricing them out of the area. There has been a long running campaign “Save the Latin Village” to fight against the Council’s plans and against the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) which, now granted by the High Court, allows Grainger, the developer, to buy up the remaining land.
Some councillors have been quite loud with the view that, given the pay-off to Lendlease necessary to end the HDV, the Council is not in a position to fight another developer.
Yet earlier in 2019 Ejiofor told the New Statesman: “We’re treating this [the Ward’s Corner development ] as a renewal. Nothing stays the same forever [but] nothing will change” for the traders.
There is mounting evidence of the traders being intimidated and harassed about their rent and about plans to move them. Transport for London [TfL], which owns the land the market is on, have been asked several times to carry out investigations over the conduct of the management company for the market.
Proposed rent raises are due in November. Many of the traders are worried this is a further attempt to push them out.
The Council could get out of this situation by deciding that there have been breaches of the “Section 106 agreement”, meant to lessen the negative effects of planning and redevelopment.
The intimidation and harassment of traders, and a failure to adhere to standards of equality and diversity, would be such a breach. The New Statesman reports that: “Some Haringey councillors appear to suspect the property developer has breached its Section 106 agreements, which could hand the council a painless route out of the deal.... The unpublished draft of a report by a panel of back-bench councillors...urges the council’s leadership to investigate ‘whether there was a breach of the section 106 agreement’.”
However the publicly available version of that report has expunged much of the harsher criticism of the Grainger and the deal itself, including the details of a “no-penalty termination”.
Accountability over this process is still woefully lacking. Local Labour members know there have been a series of fallings-out, changes of personnel in the cabinet, and reallocations and deletions of jobs, but none of this is done in a way which allows for scrutiny and for political differences to be understood.
Resignations from the cabinet are not treated as political issues, and attempts to discuss a different model of council, such as the use of a committee system, have been rebuffed.
Even the Labour Group observers, members of the local Constituency Labour Parties elected to attend the meetings of the council group, have found themselves unwelcome in meetings and shrouded in darkness. Members are still unaware why the portfolio for Insourcing was abolished following the resignation of the previous portfolio holder.
The level of participation from local members is severely limited, at least for a left-led council. And Haringey’s defining politics has yet to be markedly to the left of an average Labour Council.