Haringey Labour members submit ideas for nation’s first ‘Corbyn Council’

by Dave Hill

Following the many de-selections and despairing standing-downs, the candidates are now in place for Labour’s Momentum group in Haringey to form the country’s first Corbyn Council from 3 May. Some of them might complain about the term “Corbyn Council” being used – and, boy, are there some serial complainers in their ranks – but I’m taking my cue from one of the numerous documents containing suggestions for policies the borough’s next administration might adopt that are currently circulating among Haringey’s Labour members. Here’s an excerpt:

In May Haringey is set to be a “Corbyn Council” and will be under intense scrutiny, not just from the press, Tories and pro-austerity wing of the Labour Party, but from the working-class.

It is unlikely that many, if any, of the “grassroots” ideas championed will actually find their way into the manifesto to be put before Haringey’s voters: its contents have to be agreed by the existing Labour group, rather than the prospective members of the very different one almost certain to be formed four months from now, and the current leadership still enjoys the support of most of it. However, the many pages of proposals for “manifesto motions” and ideas for discussion submitted to ward branch meetings in recent days provide clues to policies the “Corbyn Council” might seek to pursue – and also some it might decide wiser to rule out.

The document referenced above, comprising ideas and motions submitted by different members, contains the most detail of those I’ve seen, the most knowledge of how things work and, in parts, the material perhaps most indicative of the interest being taken in Haringey Labour’s affairs at the party’s national level.

There’s plenty of fighting talk about rejecting this (NHS devolution) and opposing that (“the divisive Tory government”) and the hopeful assertion that: “If Labour councils linked up to resist cuts and mobilise a mass movement if could not only pressure the Tories to grant resources but could force a general election.” Here is a particularly vivid example of one of many things about Haringey Momentumites that transports you straight back to the 1980s, a period some of the more influential ones are old enough to remember.

There are also pretty mainstream aspirations, such as making it harder for fast food outlets and betting shops to open near schools and Haringey becoming a London Living Wage employer. However, Haringey tells me it has in fact been a London Living Wage employer since 2011 and wrote it into its procurement strategy in 2010, though this is not as widely recognised as it might be because, unlike other London boroughs, it has never registered the policy with the Living Wage Foundation.

Also, the 2014 Haringey Labour manifesto pledged to “work to reduce the number of fast food outlets and stop the proliferation of outlets close to schools”, and the borough has since including in its development management policies a provision to block plans for new takeaways if thought appropriate. An attempt to go further and include a 400 metre exclusion zone around schools in the borough’s local plan was rejected by the external planning inspectorate.

More striking is a motion urging realism about the borough’s finances and the national political picture. It proposes that Haringey’s plans for the next four years “must assume a Tory government will remain until after the 2022 local elections, with continuing austerity”. And although it says those plans should also “permit rapid change to implement policies of an incoming Labour government”, it warns against relying on that happening. And in what might be interpreted as an attempt to dampen activist talk of setting illegal budgets, the document offers this as part of a proposed motion:

Haringey Labour agrees with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell and Labour Party Rules that Labour Councils must implement legal budgets while campaigning against Tory austerity. We must be honest – this [austerity] will inevitably require further cuts to services. Communities must be democratically involved to find the least worst and most creative solutions.

And it continues:

Council tax, which funds only 35% of council expenditure, cannot possibly make up the funding shortfall and is a most regressive tax, disproportionately affecting lower paid, working class Haringey citizens already facing falling living standards. We reject a Council Tax referendum which would, to raise significant funds, propose an increase far above earnings growth.

The law requires local authorities wishing to raise council tax by more than the maximum level the government allows to hold and win a referendum in order to do so. There has been speculation that the “Corbyn Council” would seek to do exactly that.

Other parts of the document are more predictable, notably the suggestion of drawing on the borough’s financial reserves and borrowing powers to help balance the books. It wants estate regenerations to stop short of demolitions, favouring in-fill and refurbishment instead, and says “so-called ‘affordable rent’ should be opposed” for being too high (though I’m afraid Haringey, like housing associations and the Mayor, are stuck with it for the foreseeable future).

It speaks of closing down Haringey’s arms length housing management organisation Haringey Homes because “housing stock should be managed directly”, but another motion favours establishing an “arms length housing company to acquire and build social housing for rent”. Whilst denouncing the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – famously the rallying issue for the removal of sitting councillors – which would be a 50/50 joint venture company formed with commercial developer Lendlease, it finds acceptable in principle a putative joint venture in which the council has a 60% share. It also accepts that new social housing provided through such a private company would need to be subsidised by the construction of new properties for private sale – not so much a rejection of the HDV “privatisation” model as a variation on it. Well, what do you know?

A second motion-and-ideas document I’ve seen, submitted to a different branch, displays less awareness of budgetary pressures. It advocates raising Council Tax by the overall maximum of just under 6% permitted but no other specific ideas for raising more cash. At the same time, it wants closed children’s centres reopened and the decision to shut a nursing home reconsidered (the council voted to close it after Care Quality Commission had found that 16 out of 19 of its residents had not been bathed for at least three months, stating that it had already overspent in its attempts to put things right). There is much more of a Waiting For Jeremy tone to this list of submissions, with hopes for the introduction of private sector rent controls and an end to academy schools.

There are many more sheets and sheaves of ideas being put forward, one of which, I’m reliably informed, calls for a 40% pay cut for all council employees earning more than £60,000 a year. A third one I have seen includes the demand that no contracts should be entered into with private companies registered with overseas tax havens and that “core Council Tax” should go up by 16%. A fourth individual submission calls, loosely and somewhat tautologically, for: “Education being the subject of a major rethink – involving all the professionals, students and parents involved.”

A mixed bag, then, from the sophisticated and experienced to the less so, although high levels of energy and optimism provide a common element. The first one also supplies some familiar unity rhetoric. “Labour and Haringey will not be divided,” an motion on “overarching council policy” declares. We’ll see about that when the jostling to be the next council’s leader, already very apparent, intensifies still more. That’s a story for another day.

Updated at 15:00 on 12 January and again on 14 January to include more information on the Living Wage in Haringey and fast food outlets near schools.

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