The deselections of moderate Labour councillors in Haringey have made headlines this week. These have been organised by Momentum. They are actively seeking control of Haringey Council. Given the circumstances, I have decided not to seek re-election.
I was immensely proud to be elected as a Labour councillor in Haringey in May 2014. Labour, at the time, was a pro-European, internationalist and socially liberal party of the centre-left. I had been inspired by the successes of Labour councils, up and down the country, in their pursuit of social justice objectives. These had been in hugely difficult circumstances.
During the last couple of years, however, the culture and values of the Party have been changed profoundly. It has been divested of its shared sense of purpose. Momentum has spearheaded a hostile takeover by the far left. The world view they promote is inconsistent with the Labour values that united the Party before September 2015. There was an early intimation of this in the winter of 2015. In November, Paris was attacked by jihadist terrorists. The misnamed ‘Stop the War’ Coalition issued a statement claiming the French had ‘reaped the whirlwind’ of Western countries’ foreign policy. I expected nothing better from a motley crew of Trotskyists with their apologism for anti-Western jihadism. However, I did expect the Leader of the Labour Party to express solidarity with the French people. This would have been consistent with traditional Labour internationalism. Instead, he seemed more concerned with demonstrating solidarity with the Stop the War Coalition by attending their Christmas fundraiser. I was beyond disgusted.
Sadly, this mentality has since become more commonplace in the Party. In July 2017, Haringey Council voted to recognise the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The Labour Party of Clement Attlee, Barbara Castle and Michael Foot supported the creation of the state of Israel. As the Full Council discussed the motion, which had cross-party support, local Momentum activists created a disturbance in the public gallery. This had been planned beforehand. They heckled, abused and threatened the councillors in the chamber. My Jewish colleagues, especially, found this distressing. I felt huge discomfort at knowing we share a party with people who hold such pernicious views.
As a councillor, I have learnt that local authorities have to plan for the future. This might be up to fifty years ahead. Similarly to other London boroughs, Haringey is afflicted by a housing crisis. A complicating factor is the projected population growth. London may have a million more residents in the next decade. This necessitates the building of more housing of all types of tenure. The extent of government cuts since 2010 cannot be underestimated. Local councils do not have the funds to build housing on the scale required. To address this problem, Haringey Council has devised the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). This is a partnership between the Council and a private developer to build more housing and regenerate the existing social housing stock.
There is an element of risk involved in a development partnership. Nevertheless, the alternative approach of inaction is not an option for a responsible council. Haringey Momentum, however, has channeled the 2016 Leave campaign in orchestrating a campaign of misinformation. There is a separate anti-HDV campaign which is supposedly independent of Momentum. However, the delineation between them is unclear. Their online and print materials are often identical. They make regular use of dubious terms such as ‘social cleansing’. More worryingly, they claim that the Council can simply build more social housing if the HDV is scrapped. This is reminiscent of the claim that there would be an extra £350 million a week of NHS funding were Britain to leave the European Union. Similarly to the Leave campaign, they have been able to fashion simple, clear messages. Any complexity or nuance is blithely ignored.
The social media strategy of the anti-HDV campaign seems to have been inspired by Militant. Their Twitter feeds seem to be maintained by the sort of people who, before social media, would have written anonymous poison pen letters. Individual Labour councillors have been singled out and subjected to online hate campaigns. The level of personalised vituperation seems detached from the issue of housing. It is evocative of the tactics of bullying and intimidation associated with Militant in the 1980s. The sectarianism is palpable.
Haringey Momentum has used the HDV as its Trojan horse to take over the local party. Given their tactics to date, I can only imagine that a local authority they controlled would be like Liverpool Council during Derek Hatton’s heyday. Their promise to build more social housing might end up looking like the proverbial lie on the side of the bus. That is not an administration I would wish to be associated with. Instead, I plan to concentrate my political energies campaigning against a hard Brexit. That is enough grotesque chaos to be getting on with.