Candidates backed by Momentum, the activist group formed to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, have won a clean sweep of elections to executive positions in the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency Labour Party (CLP), dislodging in the process veteran trade unionist Steve Hart from his position as chair.
The defeat of Hart, by National Union of Teachers staffer Celia Dignan, in a vote that took place last night is the most striking example of the Corbyn Left’s successful drive to strengthen its position in the Labour-controlled borough of Haringey, where the Momentum wing of the party was also victorious in a string of ward branch elections last week.
Hart’s defeat, by 122 votes to 38, was described as a “real loss to our party” by Haringey Council leader Claire Kober, who has been criticised by fellow local Labour members for her administration’s extensive redevelopment programme, which includes the demolition and rebuilding of some council-owned housing stock and the formation of a joint venture company with developer Lendlease, called the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV).
Opposition to the HDV was a declared principle of the Momentum-supported candidate slates for the branch elections. The campaign against it is supported by the community membership wing of Unite The Union, whose current leader Len McCluskey is a strong backer of Corbyn and for which Hart has been a long-serving senior official.
Hart’s defeat was also greeted with sorrow by Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley and by Hackney Labour councillor Patrick Moûle, who tweeted that “a party that defenestrates Steve Hart for some kind of perceived insufficient loyalty to a cause isn’t the party I thought I knew”. Hart had been a strong supporter of Ken Livingstone’s London mayoralties, but has lost influence under McCluskey.
Last night’s votes are unlikely to undermine the position of Hornsey and Wood Green MP Catherine West, a former leader of Islington Council who nominated Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, to run for the Labour leadership in 2015.
West and her fellow Haringey MP David Lammy, who represents the Tottenham constituency, published a joint letter to Kober in July, expressing concerns about the HDV. Kober’s councillor colleague Alan Strickland, Haringey’s cabinet member for housing, regeneration and planning, responded that housing policy proposals set out by Lammy, who was a minister during the premierships of Tony Blair, during his unsuccessful bid to become Labour’s London Mayor candidate for 2016 had endorsed the idea of joint ventures for delivering new homes.
The MPs’ very public distancing of themselves from policies pursued by fellow party members running the local authority and the prominent resistance to the HDV by Haringey Momentum indicates the tensions arising from the council’s approach to increasing housing supply and fostering economic growth in the borough, which several sitting councillors fear could result in their deselection as a candidates for next May’s borough election.
In an interview with On London in February, Kober said she was “very confident” that tenants whose existing homes would be demolished would be offered a replacement new one on the same site with the same rents and rights, and argued that the joint venture approach is the best and least financially risky way to “create the level of change that will impact on people’s lives in a positive way” as well as ensuring that the council, which will lose all central government grant funding from 2020, takes a share of the profits.
This article may be updated as further details of last night’s elections is received. Want to know more about the HDV? Shelter’s Kate Webb as written a clear and dispassionate explanation.