Haringey 2018: Labour ‘moderates’ could hold balance in ‘Corbyn Council’ leadership contest

by Dave Hill

The successful campaign by Haringey Momentum and its sundry non-Labour allies to de-select Labour councillors who didn’t oppose the council’s planned housebuilding joint venture with regeneration giant Lendlease – the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – ensured that the borough’s next Labour-run administration, almost certain to be elected tomorrow, will be of a different political character from the outgoing one. But quite how different and of precisely what character is not yet clear.

There seems no obvious frontrunner to succeed Claire Kober as leader, with at least four people lately spoken of in Labour circles as being interested in seeking the job: Peray Ahmet, who turned against the HDV and resigned as a cabinet member; the long-serving Zena BrabazonJoseph Ejiofor, the council’s current deputy leader and a Momentum member; and Kirsten Hearn, once a member of the now defunct Metropolitan Police Authority.

The Evening Standard has reported that what appears to be a sort of advisory shortlist will be drawn up by Haringey’s Momentum-dominated local campaign forum at the weekend, a move denounced as “politburo politics” by Richard Angell of the Progress group. The London Labour Party, though, has made it plain that the next leader will be elected by councillors at the forthcoming AGM in the usual way, with any of them eligible to put their names forward.

I cannot say who will eventually stand, but if there is to be any kind of leadership contest, the participants will, of course, seek to maximise their support within the Labour group. What will the make-up of that group be? How will it translate in terms of support for leadership candidates and the shaping of council policy? That part of the picture too is blurred.

The anti-HDV campaign calculated that no more than 12 of the 57 Labour candidates selected were in favour of the HDV. Of those, only seven are standing in safe Labour wards while the other five are standing in two marginal ones – Muswell Hill and Highgate, where there is strong competition from Liberal Democrats. However, both of those wards, especially Muswell Hill, look vulnerable to Labour, and the anti-Momentum version of the party in Haringey is already making plans for what influence its potential block of up to 12 councillors could have. I’m told that a “list of demands” is already being prepared as the price of their support in the leadership battle to come. Depending on which candidates are in the field and how the rest of the Labour group lines up behind them, the “moderates” could be in strong a position to affect the outcome.

Moreover, the anti-HDV Labour candidates are by no means a uniform bunch. They include recent party joiners from sundry entities of the Outer Left, veterans of the old Labour left, a few naïfs and oddballs, people who opposed the HDV in part out of dislike of Kober or through sheer self-preservation, and others whose misgivings about it are matched by their dismay at the culling of capable colleagues over the issue. At least some of the latter are not entirely on board with Jeremy Corbyn or with Momentum itself. What part might they play in the choice of leader and the council’s future approach?

Meanwhile, Haringey residents in those marginal wards can be forgiven for not know which version of the Labour Party in Haringey their local candidates represent or what would be the best way to cast their votes if they are alarmed by the notion of the nation’s first “Corbyn Council” running their borough’s affairs unrestrained.

Well, in Muswell Hill, where the Lib Dems currently hold two seats and Labour one, one the three Labour candidates, Peter Chalk, gives every indication of being the Full Jeremy. Presumably, therefore, his fellow candidates Frank Hobson and Emma Whysall are regarded by Momentumites as not One Of Us and, as such, would attract the unsatisfactory shorthand “moderates” (all the shorthand in this realm is simplistic). In Highgate, where all three seats are presently Lib Dem-held, all three of Labour’s runners there – Jean Brown, Mark Streather and self-described “centrist dad” Gareth Morgan – were designated pro-HDV by the anti-HDV campaign.

Then there are the Lib Dems to consider. The HDV is effectively dead, but the Lib Dems, like the Corbynites, were against it. What do they offer instead? Sakina Chenot is a Lib Dem candidate for Fortis Green ward, where her party took two of three seats last time and all three Labour candidates were selected from the Momemtum-backed, anti-HDV slate. She told On London contributor Valentina Cipriani her party’s rejection of the HDV was not based on an ideological objection to private sector involvement with the council but a belief that the deal was too risky. Chenot also said Lib Dems are “cautiously optimistic” about their chances in Haringey. “The national issues are affecting Labour lately – our stance on Brexit for example is having an impact for us, and the internal rows are impacting Labour,” she claimed. She also said that voters recognise the need for an effective council opposition.

Further south in Crouch End ward, where the Lib Dems won one of the nine seats they secured in 2014 only for the winner to defect to Labour, party leader Vince Cable has been out knocking on doors with the ground troops. Labour’s candidates there are a former Green Party council candidate, a youthful member of Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign team, and Morning Star columnist Charley Allan.

One Labour source, much dismayed by recent events, says this Crouch End combo isn’t doing the party any favours on the doorstep, but also that the Lib Dem effort in general isn’t really taking off. The same source confirms stories from elsewhere that many experienced Labour people are so thoroughly fed up that they aren’t doing much organising or campaigning, meaning the Labour effort isn’t what it might be. However, its presence is still bigger than that of their chief rivals, the source said.

Broad electoral trends in Haringey indicate that Labour will command the council even more after Thursday than during the last four years, perhaps to the extent of winning every single seat. In terms of what that means for the administration’s politics, the probabability is that the larger Labour’s majority, the larger the presence of “moderates” in the Labour Group will and the relatively larger its influence might be.

But the extent of that influence will also depend on how the rest of the Labour group, which will probably outnumber them by around three to one, behaves. Will they be broadly unified or will they split, split and split again, in keeping with enduring left tradition? The future of the “Corbyn Council” may still far from formed.

Photograph and research assistance by Valentina Cipriani.

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Lewis and Dave are available for hire as a double act analysing Thursday’s results and what they might mean for local government policy in the capital. Email: davehillonlondon@gmail.com.

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