THE LABOUR Party Blairites entrenched in many local authorities and carrying out social cleansing by demolishing council estates and replacing them with privately owned luxury developments suffered a serious setback last week when Clare Kober, leader of Haringey council, was forced to resign.
This followed a defeat for her plans to sell off council estates, the civic centre and libraries in a massive £2 billion deal with the private company Lendlease. It would have been the biggest deal of its kind ever undertaken by a local authority in Britain and it was economically risky.
The existing council tenants were told they would be rehoused in the new accommodation that was to be built – but on a shared-ownership basis that few would be able to afford. And those who scrutinised the details found plenty of loopholes for former tenants and leaseholders to be excluded from returning
Local tenants had campaigned against the sell-off since it was first proposed, as did left-Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors. It was the sort of deal that gave Labour a bad name.
Kober and her colleagues called their plan Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). But Cllr Stuart McNamara (Labour) warned a scrutiny meeting just over a year ago: “If a venture like this failed the council would not have the financial reserves to bail itself out. It would also without doubt bankrupt the council and where will that leave tenants?”
And Cllr Zena Brabazon (Labour) said: “Most of us don’t have a deep understanding, but we’ve got the point that public land will turn into private land.
Kober and her associates enjoyed corporate hospitality worth £770 from companies bidding to get the £2 billion contract. This included a dinner at the exclusive MIPIM property conference in Cannes, France.
The Labour Party withdrew its support for HDV recently after the Blairites lost their majority on the party’s National Executive Committee and after some pressure Kober agreed to stand down prior to the coming local elections in May.
The right-wing media are predictably championing Kober as a victim of left-wing Momentum bullies and sexists.
But Aditya Chakrabortty, a Guardian columnist who is a long-term resident of Haringey ironically says: “I’ve just been reading about the most terrifying place. For weeks, this ‘toxic’ neighbourhood with its ‘poisonous’ atmosphere has been all over the front pages and columns. It’s a land of revolutionary politics, of ‘ruthless attacks’ and ‘purges’. Hordes of Trotskyists reportedly roam its high streets – like wildebeest, if they only swapped the majesty of the Serengeti for suburban pound shops. It sounds, frankly, dreadful” to finally refute this picture, saying: “It’s just the locals taking back control.”
He added: “Something bigger is going on here than a little poetic licence over one local authority – something that makes it important for anyone, anywhere who wants a different politics from the dross we’ve been served up by New Labour and Tories alike. Between them, the right-wing press and the Labour right are targeting Haringey in a proxy war against Corbyn.
“It makes an ideal spot: it’s where he was councillor for almost a decade before going into parliament, and it’s just a few minutes from his home.”
Hopefully this trend will continue and other Labour local authorities with plans in the pipeline to demolish council estates and replace them with luxury developments for the wealthy will also be halted.
London Borough of Lambeth comes to mind. On Monday, Lambeth Council’s cabinet gathered to vote through Homes for Lambeth, the private company it has set up to demolish six estates – Knights Walk, South Lambeth, Fenwick, Westbury, Central Hill and Cressingham Gardens – and build and manage private homes on the cleared sites.
Even the location of the meeting ought to have served as a warning that the council can’t be trusted with construction projects.
This was the first day of full operation in Brixton Town Hall after an 18-month closure for a refit that was supposed to have cost £50million but is likely to end up coming in at an eye-watering £150million, or perhaps even more.
Reports last year concerning one of Lambeth’s earlier gentrification projects suggested that every new flat built on what used to be the Aylesbury Estate had been snapped up by wealthy foreign investors.