My letter in response to the NEC’s mediation offer
I have now received, via the Chair of the Haringey Labour Group, an email sent by Iain McNichol on behalf of the NEC, which sets out the emergency motion passed at last Tuesday’s meeting. I have subsequently also received your invitation to participate in an initial ‘mediation’ session.
I am deeply disappointed that no attempt was made by the NEC members who wanted to raise the issue of Haringey’s housing policies to contact me before, during or immediately after last week’s meeting. As well as being discourteous to me, it is rather perverse to have a lengthy discussion about something without trying to gain possession of the facts. It is unbecoming of the national executive of a government in waiting to discuss a policy based simply on the account of those opposed to it.
Most NEC members know little about my borough or how our capital’s housing crisis manifests itself in Haringey. I suspect many don’t know about the 3,000 families in temporary accommodation – among the highest of any London borough – whose lives are characterised by insecurity; or the 9000 families on the housing waiting list whose prospects of a social tenancy are being diminished as Right to Buy sales increase and housing associations convert vacant properties to Affordable Rent; or the growing number of children being referred to social services purely as a result of their families’ inadequate housing situations. Ideological dogma will do nothing to improve their lives; only a determination to find practical solutions – in partnership with other sectors – offers them any realistic prospect of a better, more secure future.
For me the responsibility of political office is to work to improve people’s lives even when that means finding solutions that aren’t always an ideologically comfortable fit. Political issues are rarely binary; solutions are not simply good or bad. Political leadership is about setting a vision and working to deliver on it using whatever tools are available. That is how we deliver improved outcomes for the communities that seek to gain most from Labour in government, be that local or national.
The principle of autonomous local government is a cornerstone of our democracy and one I had hoped that the national executive of my party would share. Sadly this appears not to be the case. Directing a Labour Group in this way is not only legally dubious but also democratically unsound.
It was clear four years ago – when the current Haringey Labour Group set out its manifesto – as it is now, that small-scale solutions were simply not going to produce enough new homes for people. The extent of the housing crisis means ambitious solutions are needed. That’s why, following extensive and careful discussion of all possible options, councillors chose in 2015 to pursue setting up a joint venture to match private sector expertise and capital with public sector assets such as land. The Haringey Development Vehicle is the product of that work, and I am very proud that we have procured a well-established, high quality private sector partner.
However, we are still awaiting a judgement from the High Court in response to last October’s judicial review of the HDV. Given the proximity that there now is to the Council’s purdah period – and the current context of febrile politics in which the reality and facts about the housing crisis and possible solutions such as the HDV are able to command less attention than the misinformation put about – I do not intend to take a final decision on the set up of the HDV in the last weeks of the current council administration.
I hope that a new council leadership, faced with the urgent need to put in place ambitious and large-scale solutions to the housing crisis, will come to the HDV decision making with an open mind and a determination to do the right thing for the many overcrowded, poorly-housed or homeless households in Haringey.
Whilst I have a huge amount of respect for you Andrew – and would of course be happy to meet with you – it would be a disservice to my colleagues in Labour Local Government to agree to proceed with the mediation instigated by the NEC.
Cllr Claire Kober
Leader – London Borough of Haringey