Haringey: Labour, Corbynism and the complicated politics of identity, heritage and race

Haringey: Labour, Corbynism and the complicated politics of identity, heritage and race

The politics of race and representation can take many forms. Recent manifestations of them in Haringey have shed light on the unending internal strife of the Labour Party in that borough, famously home to the nation’s first and only “Corbyn Council”.

In September, following some arcane and contested timetabling issues, Haringey Council’s restive majority Labour group held its annual general meeting. It had been anticipated that group and council leader Joseph Ejiofor, a senior member of Momentum, would face a credible leadership challenge, one he might well have lost.

As it turned out, such a challenge did not transpire due to Ejiofor’s possible nemesis Pat Berryman, who resigned from Ejiofor’s cabinet in March 2019, being suspended from the party shortly before the AGM took place. This action was taken in response to a complaint by an ally of Ejiofor about alleged Islamophobia – an occurrence supporters of Berryman regard as something other than a coincidence.

Also in advance of the AGM a statement was issued in personal capacities by 19 members of the executive committee of Tottenham Constituency Labour Party, which remains for now a Corbyn-backing, Haringey Hard Left stronghold, albeit Tottenham MP David Lammy is a senior member of Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet. The statement expressed its signatories’ “opposition to changing the council leadership”, praised the administration’s achievements so far, and added:

“We note that at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has focussed attention on the need to address profound racial inequalities and discrimination in our society, Joe Ejiofor is the only black council Leader in London and thus serves as an important role model.”

The signatories included CLP chair Nick Rogers, Councillor Noah Tucker, who was recently suspended from Labour over alleged antisemitic Facebook posts, and Jessica Tabois, who is secretary of the Tottenham Green ward party branch. The signatories did not include Tottenham CLP secretary Ibrahim Ali, who was Lammy’s agent at last year’s general election.

How Jessica Tabois defines her ethnicity is not known to On London, but as far as opponents of her and her Haringey Labour comrades are concerned she is white and Ibrahim Ali is black.

Tottenham CLP is due to hold its own elections on 2 December, with key executive positions to be contested. These include the post of secretary. Ali is seeking re-election, but may face a challenge from Tabois, who has been nominated to run for the post by her own branch and at least one other.

Local opinion about the Tottenham CLP elections appears to be strong and divided. Critics of Ejiofor and his Tottenham CLP supporters regard the ambition of Tabois to unseat Ali to be inconsistent with her view, as expressed in the Tottenham CLP executive members’ statement, that Ejiofor should not face a Labour group leadership challenge due to his importance as a black role model.

Jessica Tabois is married to a black man, Preston Tabois, who is a Labour councillor for Tottenham Green ward. Three days ago, Jessica Tabois drew attention to a plaque unveiled in Tottenham to honour the legacy of three black businessmen, Len Dyke, Dudley Dryden and Tony Wade, who set up a their company on West Green Road in the 1960s. On Twitter, she wrote:

“Really proud to see the heritage of our family being honoured with a Black Plaque in Tottenham.”

Preston Tabois has echoed this characterisation by his wife of Dyke, Dryden and Wade’s legacy as being part of Tabois family “heritage”. The debate continues.

Meanwhile, there’s been a public disagreement between another Haringey Labour councillor, Adam Jogee, who represents the Hornsey ward, and Celia Dignan, who chairs Haringey’s other CLP, Hornsey & Wood Green.

Responding to the outcome of elections to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), Jogee wrote on Twitter that he was “very disappointed members failed to elect a Black man” to the party’s ruling body.

Dignan, who is very much of the Continuity Corbyn tendency, drew attention to the success of West Midlands Momentumite Mish Rahman in winning an NEC place. Was this “not to be celebrated then?” she inquired of Jogee.

In the ensuing thread, Jogee, pointing out that he has lately become the “first Muslim Mayor of Haringey”, said that of course he celebrated the election of Rahman to the NEC, making him the first Muslim man to achieve this.

However, Rahman is Asian. This means, as the Twitter thread shows, that he does not meet Jogee’s definition of “Black”. And Jogee upbraided Dignan for her intervention: “Look, if a Black member raises concerns about diversity, it is a really BAD look for a CLP Chair to say: ‘oh, we have one here’. Point is, no Black man has ever been elected – I have a right and responsibility to call that out.”

Footnote: In February, Preston Tabois was selected as a Labour candidate for the London Assembly, taking fourth place on the party’s list of Londonwide candidates, which gives him an outside chance of getting elected. However, he was suspended from the party in August following a complaint relating to the sharing of antisemitic material from a UKIP member on Facebook.

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