Haringey Labour Party in civil war

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Protesters in Wood Green, North London. Pic: alanstanton/Flickr

The “zombie Blairites” running this north London borough are in deep trouble. Their flagship policy, the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), is close to collapse. Under the slogans “Social housing not social cleansing” and “No permission for demolition” the vibrant local StopHDV campaign can smell victory.

The HDV is a proposed 50/50 partnership between Haringey Council and multinational property developer Lendlease. The council will transfer over £2 billion worth of housing, land and property to a new joint venture company. Against these assets, the company will borrow for a complete rebuilding of one the poorest parts of London, starting in north Tottenham.

Estates will be demolished and communities ripped apart with council promises of tenants’ “right to return” negated by the published business plans for the HDV. The council’s own Equality Impact Assessment acknowledges that black and minority ethnic local people will be disproportionately affected but its solution is for local people to “upskill” for the thousands of new hi-tech jobs which will supposedly flood into Tottenham. It’s nonsense. The HDV is now widely acknowledged as social cleansing on a grand scale.

The rise of the StopHDV campaign coincided with the Corbyn surge. In the immediate aftermath of the May 2015 general election the left and housing activists built a small March for Homes in north Tottenham, with next to no involvement from the Labour Party. The HDV plans were publicly announced in October 2015 and this acted as a focus for the emboldened Labour membership who rejected austerity and the neoliberal politics that the HDV represents. The first serious demonstration against the HDV was proposed at a 150-strong Haringey Momentum meeting. Labour Party members have been central to the campaign with, over time, increasing numbers of Labour councillors coming out against the HDV.

The StopHDV campaign has organised independently of Labour and involves activists from Labour and the wider left, including the Greens and the SWP, as well as, crucially, local tenants and housing campaigners. Tenants have organised on threatened estates.

A vibrant 1,000-strong evening demonstration marched on the town hall and was only narrowly prevented from storming the chamber. The council leaders were rattled. More protests and public meetings followed.

Both local Labour Parties and MPs, David Lammy and Catherine West, have come out publicly against the policy of their own council. The housing motion adopted at Labour’s national conference in September originated in Tottenham. Corbyn’s speech made a point of criticising social cleansing and called for ballots of tenants before any demolition.

Within 24 hours, Haringey Council’s Labour cabinet member with responsibility for the HDV dismissed the idea of a Yes/No ballot as too simplistic for such a complex scheme — presumably tenants are not to be trusted to have a say in determining their own future.

One strand of the campaign has been a legal challenge to the HDV through a judicial review on the grounds of lack of consultation with tenants, an inadequate equality impact assessment and the fact that such a major policy has never been discussed at a full council meeting (simply pushed through at the council cabinet). The judicial review was never going to be decisive, but it has stalled the council’s plans. The challenge itself testifies to the mass support for the campaign in that it raised over £25,000 through crowdfunding.

The mass nature of the campaign, the legal delays, and the pressure inside the Labour Party has now come to a crescendo. The Labour Party is choosing its candidates for next May’s local elections and the HDV has become the key litmus test for reselection.

At the time of writing ten sitting Labour councillors have been replaced by anti-HDV candidates from the left, including some who joined Labour only two years ago.

It is particularly fitting that the cabinet member for regeneration has thrown in the towel. When he was “triggered” by his ward to face a run-off vote he withdrew his candidature from the May elections and denounced non-representative ideological factionalisers.

The Blairites just don’t get it. It’s as if the rise of Corbyn was a mirage; as if Labour’s performance on 8 June and the Grenfell Tower fire never happened. Millions of working class people are rejecting neoliberal solutions, including over housing and social cleansing, but the Blairites, still in control of so many Labour councils, blithely carry on regardless, convinced of their own historical destiny.

Next May it is now likely that Haringey will have a Labour council opposed to the HDV. This will be a significant and historic victory. But the fight is far from over. The Blairites remain in control until May — will they attempt to sign the HDV contracts even though they have lost all political legitimacy? StopHDV is preparing resistance. And how will a left wing Labour council respond to austerity and cuts in government grants? The options will be stark: launch a fightback or submit. There is everything to play for.

Simon Hester
To keep up with the campaign see StopHDV.com