Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Engaging with reality

Council tenants cannot ‘wait for Corbyn’ before their Labour council starts improving their housing stock, argues Haringey resident Adrian McMenamin

If the Jeremy Corbyn revolution has a ground zero, then I live there.

I am not in Islington North: that begins, quite literally, at the other end of the street, but in the southern end of Hornsey and Wood Green. It was here – in the then South Hornsey ward – that on 4 May 1974 a 24-year-old Corbyn began his long career as a full-time politician by getting elected to Haringey council.

And it is in Haringey that Corbyn’s disciples are today closer to real power than anywhere else in country.

Since Corbyn’s election as leader membership has rocketed – we had over 80 members at our recent ward councillor selection meeting – but diversity has not. Corbyn’s appeal seems to be very much to people like Corbyn and in a ward where 30 per cent of the residents are non-white, we are overflowing with older white members.

And conformity is not limited to ethnicity. We voted to select two candidates for two vacancies without even hearing them speak: their endorsement by Momentum was sufficient reason for the majority. And this is what Owen Jones calls ‘democracy’.

These two replaced two councillors who had worked phenomenally hard to oust the Liberal Democrats from the ward in 2014, but who were judged guilty of political crimes by the Momentum directorate.

Across the borough the story is similar. Any councillor who backed the council leadership, especially its plans to regenerate Tottenham in partnership with the private sector, has been targeted for deselection and most, if not all, have gone. Our members of parliament, Catherine West and David Lammy, have remained silent throughout the purge.

Assuming the voters do not revolt against Momentum’s coup the next Haringey council will be dominated by Labour councillors with no political experience. They will win office committed to nothing very much beyond hostility to working with the private sector and catch-all opposition to ‘austerity’.

In my ward we actually held off the Momentum tide for quite some time and twice defeated motions from the far left that the redevelopment plans be scrapped. At the time, earlier this year, the scheme’s opponents were clear about their alternative: simply build fewer homes. If we left people in their existing sub-standard housing we would not risk contamination by the profit seekers.

Perhaps realising going to the electorate on the platform of ‘vote Labour to do less’ would have a limited appeal, they now suggest various magic money tree ways in which they can build more without any private sector role, though ultimately the offer is ‘wait for Corbyn’.

But what if Corbyn never gets here, what happens then? And even if we think that the ‘great one’ will eventually walk across the threshold of No 10, these new councillors are going to be confronted, from the very start, not with choices about where to spend more money, but about what to save from cuts and where pressure can be applied to drive up efficiency.

And I do not think any of them are ready for that. They have taken power in the party locally by stating very clearly what they are against, but have no realistic or positive programme for what they will do when they move on to the next stage and actually start running the council.

My biggest fear is not of a reborn Petrograd Soviet on Wood Green High Road, but of a Labour council that refuses to be bold, resists all reform and delivers nothing for working people because it will never engage with reality.

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Adrian McMenamin is the former chief press and broadcasting officer for the Labour party. He tweets at @adrianmcmenamin

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Adrian McMenamin

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