Thursday, 1 February 2018

Labour Councils and Party Discipline

Some good political news for a change. Council Leader Claire Kober of Haringey has announced her decision to step down as leader and councillor this coming May to take on "new challenges". This, of course, has nothing to do with the rebellion of her own local party and trade unions, the opposition of the local Labour MPs and the unanimous NEC decision to issue advice and offer mediation between her and her opponents within the party. For her career has come to a juddering halt as the new mood sweeps the party, and the kind of housing stock regeneration she championed increasingly falls out of favour.

But things are never that simple. As we look upon the aftermath, Labour people can be found offering a defence of the outgoing councillor on two grounds: of the policy itself and the autonomy of party groups in the council chamber. After all, the Refounding Labour document championed by St Ed underlined the role Labour groups have in the formation of local policy.

Of the Haringey Development Vehicle itself, there's no need for me to recap the detailed critiques that can be found elsewhere. Though hopping into bed with a developer with Lendlease's record should have set the alarm bells ringing, engaging in a scheme amounting to social cleansing in the name of tackling a housing shortage is par the doublethink characteristic of Blairist policy making. Other Labour councils have managed to demonstrate, not least those nearby to Haringey, how it is possible to renew social housing stock without cutting the number of homes available - which is what the HDV would have done.

I am more interested in the NEC intervention itself. It unanimously voted to request Haringey council think again about the HDV, and offered to mediate between her and the local party, considering the widening gulf Claire was responsible for cranking open in pursuit of this self-evidently anti-working class project. Nevertheless, the move ruffled the right feathers and we've seen disingenuous moaning about sexism, bullying, and complaints the NEC overstepped the mark. Sarah Hayward's defence is typical of this, treating the running of Haringey and the NEC's intervention as matters of process rather than politics. Small wonder - the HDV was politically unsustainable from a Labourist position. Nevertheless, if you want to talk process you have to be consistent. For instance, if it is impermissible for the NEC to intervene in Haringey then it was out of order when it went after Militant on Merseyside, and when Blair came for Dave Church and his administration in Walsall in 1995. If those are different cases, then you're going to have to start talking politics.

Another egregious aspect of Sarah's process argument is her warmed over adaptation of constitutional cretinism, which is never a principle but always a handy rhetorical crutch when there are no political arguments left. She argues Haringey's Labour Council are responsible to the good electors of the borough, no one else. What she is implying here is being Labour is merely a convenient label to aid one's election, because after then representatives should behave as they please. Well, no. Political parties are voluntary organisations that afford members a number of obligations, one of which is not to act in such a way as to bring the party into disrepute. The NEC reserves the right, and it's there in the rule book, to take action against any party member or party unit it decides is behaving in this manner. And in this case they were entirely right to. When the Labour Party made a stunning electoral advance in defiance of expectations as an anti-austerity party, and its continued health demands it stays the course, any unit of the party that has gone beyond passing on cuts made to local government to actively cultivate dodgy privatisation/social cleansing schemes like Haringey need to be called to account. Their strategy was fundamentally at odds with what the party is trying to achieve, and was a hostage to electoral fortune: "how can Jeremy Corbyn call for more social housing when Labour Haringey is reducing the provision?" would go the Tory attack line. If Claire Kober and friends don't like the obligation they have as Labour representatives, they can either step down from their position, as she has done, or resign from the party and carry on - though we all know how that can turn out.

Naturally, Labour groups elsewhere are getting quite nervous the NEC could come for them next. And by coming for them, I mean making a gentle suggestion - there were no such niceties for the dissident groups of Liverpool and Walsall when the right were in charge. Take the idiocy currently taking place in Sheffield, for example, where the council are determined to fell roadside trees on the basis of entirely spurious arguments. No doubt councillors loyal to the line will feel a bit sweaty after this week's events. Should the council be allowed to carry on with impunity, while heaving council monies into the gaping maw of a contractor and making the community it represents a less attractive place to live? No, of course not.

To reiterate, what Haringey reminds us is no one is bigger than the party. Labour is not just a label nor a flag of convenience, but once again a party that is drawing together the interests of the people who make our society tick with those at its sharpest end against the designs of an increasingly divided and unhinged oligarchy. Those are its politics, and it has every right to expect its representatives to act in ways consistent with this approach.


Boffy said...

Its odd how the principle that the Party nationally should not interfere in the running of local Councils didn't seem to apply when it was Kinnock's right-wing leadership attacking Labour Councils in Liverpool, Lambeth and elsewhere for actually opposing Tory cuts!

After Blair became leader, Labour Group leaders were inundated everyday with e-mails, telling them what they should be doing an saying. It was, in fact, one of the good things that Blair introduced, because a professional workers party should be disciplined from the centre, and able to co-ordinate its actins accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading this and have learned great deal. My main concern regarding democracy stems from the recent coverage by BBC London news regarding events in Haringey. The anti-left, anti-momentum twist is truly shocking. I am not a member of any political party anymore, having resigned from Labour over Blair and Iraq. But I urgently ask the Labour Party to start asking serious questions about BBC bias.

Speedy said...

Yeah, this HDV was a stupid idea and should not have stood, however, you are being disingenuous to claim this was behind her resignation: the council has been targeted and taken over by Momentum who used it is a cause celebre, unseating councillors who had nothing to do with the project. But you know that.

This is just part of the usual generational cycle of leftwing pols: the ideologically-driven incompetence of the 80s was corrected by the managerialism of the 90s and 00s. This managerialism is now being replaced by another bunch of clueless ideologues. Cue hurt feelings and Pryhicc triumphalism. Meanwhile, the capitalists make hay.

Mark Livingston said...

What gets me about these Zombie Blairites is their sense of entitlement. "If we can't be on top, we'll trash the place."

Boffy said...

Watching Haringey Council Leader on TV her evidence of "bullying" was LP members singing "We'll be Watching You".

In the 1980's, I had a similar experience. On one committee that had several right-wing Councillors, I remember one day listening in amazement how one of them blatantly disregarded Labour Party policy in her comments and vote. I was so amazed that I wrote down what she had said. She immediately turned to her other right-wing colleague, and said astonishedly, "He's writing down what I'm saying."

Too bloody right I was. Holding politicians to account for what they say and do, is not "bullying", any more than flippant comments by John McDonell, in respect of Esther McVey, can be considered by anyone with a brain as a call for violence (any more than anyone with a brain took Kenny Everett literally at his word, when in the 80's he stood up at a Tory Party event and shouted "Let's bomb Russia!".

Holding politicians to account is not bullying its basic democracy. That people who came into politics as a career, and expect others to get them elected, and then allow the politicians to simply have a cushy job for life without their actions being scrutinised by those that got them elected, shows just how entitled these career politicians have seen themselves.

Yes, we should say to all elected politicians "We''l be watching you."

jim mclean said...

I'm watching it all fall apart as women withdraw their support from Labour, to use the Stalker's Song against a woman is pure malice, if the Tory right manage to grab power in their party - well the future is shite. Corbyn is just lucked it in the middle af an antiestablishment populist surge and he still cannot overtake May in the polls. Every major announcemement from Labour are basically bribes to the middle class commuter voters, Free Uni, of no use to the WC as can be seen in Scotland, just lowers the standard of middle class entrants.