Dave Hill: Haringey Labour is a snake pit of fanatics and feuds – it’s time its poison was purged

Dave Hill: Haringey Labour is a snake pit of fanatics and feuds – it’s time its poison was purged

Late yesterday afternoon I went to see the movie Tenet, my first visit to a cinema since lockdown. I emerged from its two-and-a-half hours of “high concept” hokum baffled, a bit bored and wondering what the point was, then switched my phone back on to find it vibrating with the latest plot twists in an even more contorted vortex of alternative reality – the internal dynamics of Haringey Council’s Labour Group.

On Thursday, Labour List reported that “colleagues” of Councillor Pat Berryman had filed a complaint against him. Yesterday evening it emerged that Berryman has been suspended by his party. Friends of Berryman claim the complaint is vexatious and was timed with the intention of preventing Berryman challenging council leader Joseph Ejiofor at a Labour Group meeting that was scheduled to take place on Monday – except that, I am told, that too has been suspended, along with two other Haringey Labour councillors.

I’ve yet to confirm much detail about this flurry of activity and, I confess, the sane part of me rebels against trying. One thing I know for sure from three years of reporting the Momentum-led takeover of Haringey Council and the  endless feuding and faction-fighting that has ensued is that exploring the cross-cutting rabbit holes so many of the protagonists inhabit risks wasting too much of my life trying to shed a little light on that warren of paranoia, self-delusion, point-scoring, disinformation and ideological tunnel visions. Another thing I know for sure is that this snake pit of a story has reached a stage where Labour’s national leadership must surely step in in a big way.

There are ample grounds for a full investigation of exactly how the political stewardship of a borough whose residents include some of the poorest people in Britain fell into the hands of such a fractious bunch. The beginning of the story is, of course, the disastrous elevation of Jeremy Corbyn, a former Haringey councillor, to the leadership of the Labour Party in 2015. His victory was enabled by droves of the sorts of people who wrecked the Labour Party’s national electoral hopes in the 1980s joining up, some of them veterans of that era.

In Haringey, their impact was large. Momentum activists and others successfully organised the removal of sitting councillors they didn’t like and their replacement by others more to their taste in time for the May 2018 borough elections. The mobilising issue was, you might recall, the previous administration’s plan to form a joint venture company with regeneration specialists Lendlease in order to redevelop a portfolio of council property and land, including housing estates. There were reasonable arguments against this Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), but their force was trivial compared to populist cries against so-called “social cleansing”, egged on by Big Media journalists who should have known better.

The formation of what one local activist termed the nation’s first “Corbyn Council” – the working-class would be watching and hoping, apparently – was followed by a string of departures from Ejiofor’s cabinet: two were sacked on New Year’s Eve 2018, only for one of them to return and be sacked again; Berryman resigned. Ishmael Osamor, the son of Edmonton MP Kate Osamor, whom Ejiofor had given a role in cabinet affairs, stepped down and then resigned as a councillor following his conviction for drug offences.

Many questions remain unanswered about the Ishmael Osamor affair, including the circumstances surrounding his approval as a potential Labour council candidate in the first place. Indeed, the entire candidate selection process for the 2018 elections, which resulted in the departure of the then council leader Claire Kober and most of the more able members of the Labour Group, merits a full investigation.

The conduct of Haringey’s local campaign forum, the body responsible for organising the candidate selection programme, should come under scrutiny: Corbyn ultra-loyalist Claudia Webbe, a councillor in Islington and now, magically, the MP for Leicester East, who was brought in to conduct interviews, could be of great assistance there. Documents of interest would include pro forma declarations of hatred for the HDV and adoration of “Jeremy” which enabled any passing pinhead with a party card to stand a chance of being picking to fight a safe Labour ward – in some cases, they’ve gone on to represent them – while others who were actually up to the job were driven out.

By all accounts, the outcome of any Haringey Labour Group leadership contest that eventually takes place – effectively also a contest to be council leader – is uncertain. It is equally unclear if the ousting of Ejiofor would result in a better or much different kind of Labour administration. Ejiofor is a member of Momentum, as are some loyal lieutenants. Significant figures ranged against him are not. Yet they too lined up against Kober and have been known to express the same sorts of objections to what she had hoped to bring about – bold measures to generate more and better housing, stronger economic growth and the rejuvenation of some of Haringey’s physical environment.

It would be wrong to rubbish everything the “Corbyn Council” has done. There have been examples of sensible flexibility over social housing delivery and any suicidal urge to try to somehow block the redevelopment of the Seven Sisters “Latin Village”, a ridiculous Protest Left cause célèbre, has been resisted. Haringey has also been fortunate in having some highly-regarded senior officers.

But there’s a deeper backdrop here in the form of the local Labour membership culture, which still festers with fanatics even though Corbyn has gone. For example, some in the “grassroots” are still immersed in rearguard actions against Labour’s eventual adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Haringey Labour councillor Preston Tabois, who is on the list of Labour candidates for the London Assembly, was suspended last month over an antisemitism allegation. There is much that is, to put it kindly, unhealthy about Labour in Haringey. Keir Starmer, take action please.

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Categories: Comment

2 Comments

  1. Wrong on one ground: the split was implicit as far back as the Borough Elections of 1978. That returned a Labour Council in Haringey, but a Labour group divided between two clear factions. The Corbyn faction was naturally down by one vote (though a couple of bods would tout from one side to the other).

    The crucial moment came in the Labour Group elections of 1979. By that point the Works budget was in severe trouble, and needed virements from other budget heads. The chair of Works had been Jeremy Corbyn, who was simultaneously an officer of NUPE.

    The Labour Group, on the barest of majorities, de-throned Councillor Corbyn and installed George Meehan. Meehan, a decent guy originally from (I think) the County Donegal, was impeccably working-class (again, I think, a brickie) and honest as the day was long.

    For the rest of that council term, that was how the split went. Things went from bad to worse as school-roll numbers fell, and it became essential to cut places. One factor was parental preferences: single-sex for girls, but co-ed for boys, and for schools in the west of the Borough at the expense of those in the east. School closures and mergers were inevitable. The teacher unions, naturally, went ape, and were supported by … guess who? The Chair of Education, the flamboyant Nikki Harrison, pushed ahead. It wasn’t a perfect settlement — the Somerset boys’ school in Tottenham could not survive; the Alexandra Part School would later be re-opened.

    The 1982 Borough Election strengthened the ex-Corbyn faction, with the delight of there being a ‘wimmins-only’ bench established in the Council Chamber.

  2. Nic Green says:

    This sterile confrontation between two factions in Haringey’s Labour group masks the underlying problem which is neither group is competent to deliver the quality of service people need. From Social Services neglect to lamentable housing policies voters have been offered failure. This party has been in power for generations with little to show for it – it must now be time for a change – voters deserve better.

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