2018 02 – Labour and Local Government

John McDonnell MP on
“How Local Government can help deliver the national Labour agenda”

by Martin Dolphin

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, addressed a meeting at the Cypriot centre in Haringey, London, shortly before Christmas.   The title of the talk was ‘How Local Government can help deliver the national Labour agenda”.

Although it was a cold night some 200 people turned up.  McDonnell spoke for only 30 minutes.  He started with a discussion on the housing crisis and then moved on to other issues like health and education.  The meeting was then opened for questions and contributions from the floor.  The majority of contributions from the floor were about the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV).  The HDV would be a joint venture between Haringey council and an Australian company called Lendlease to build homes in Haringey.  The council and Lendlease would each have a 50% stake in the HDV.  Haringey would put assets into the HDV in the form of land and buildings.  Lendlease would in turn put into the HDV an amount of cash which would equal the value of the assets which Haringey had put in.  New homes would then be built on the land and existing homes would either be refurbished or torn down and rebuilt.  However these homes would now be owned by the HDV and not by Haringey council.

Many members of the Haringey Labour Party are opposed to the HDV.  As a result many existing councillors who supported the HDV were deselected as candidates for the council elections taking place in May 2018.  The right-wing press have been making much of this deselection process treating it as some form of anti-democratic activity.  It is therefore no accident that John McDonnell turned up in Haringey at this time.  He was effectively sending a message to the local Labour Party that the National Labour Party was very sympathetic to what had happened locally.  He also emphasised that the behaviour of Labour controlled local councils will have a significant effect on Labour results nationally in the next general election.

There is a protocol that the National Labour Party does not directly criticise local Labour councils.  So McDonnell had to tread a careful path.  He did not therefore directly criticise the HDV.  Rather he made a plea that local Labour councils do not tie the hands of a future labour government.  This is exactly what would happen if Haringey council did enter the HDV with Lendlease.  So effectively he was saying don’t go ahead with the HDV.  It was as clear a public shot across the bows of the current Haringey labour council as he could make while staying within the bounds of existing protocol.

McDonnell also recommended that Labour councillors look at how other councils are thinking outside the box to solve local problems.  He mentioned specifically the work of Matthew Brown in Preston City Council in Lancashire. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/14/poverty-was-entrenched-in-preston-so-we-became-more-self-sufficient);

The meeting was also addressed by Catherine West the Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.  She showed the same reserve as McDonnell in directly opposing the HDV, though she has, with David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, openly asked the council to pause the move to any legal arrangement with Lendlease and to carefully consider the criticisms of the HDV put forward by the Haringey Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel.

Since that meeting 3 supporters of Jeremy Corbyn were elected to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party.  This changed NEC, in an unusual move, voted unanimously on 23rd January to call on Haringey council, led by Labour’s Claire Kober, to reconsider the plans to go into partnership with developer Lendlease to build 6,400 new homes in the borough

It would be surprising if the current council continued to move ahead with the HDV.  However Claire Kober remains in an uncompromising mood and, according to the Huffington post, stated “Our plans are well-thought through, developed over the last two years in response to extensive community engagement and offer the only viable option for building new homes.  Sitting on our hands achieves nothing.”  After the May elections it seems the majority of Labour councillors will be opposed to the HDV and it will be dead in the water – as long as Kober does not sign it before May.