Claire Kober quits: but the real story of Labour is elsewhere

If you want to understand Labour in 2018, you shouldn’t start with Haringey.

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What are the political repercussions of Claire Kober’s resignation as leader of Haringey Council? Locally, it means that the council’s controversial public-private partnership, the Haringey development vehicle (HDV), will almost certainly be scrapped as a result. Kober has opted not to push ahead with the scheme, leaving its fate in the hands of the new administration that will be elected in May. Labour have won every election to Haringey Council since 1968, and anti-HDV candidates now make up a majority of Labour candidates in May 2018. (Kober herself was re-selected by a landslide in her ward of Seven Sisters, but as she has now opted not to stand again, the candidate who eventually replaces her may also be anti-HDV.)

Nationally, that Labour’s ruling national executive committee opted to involve itself in the affairs of a local authority will form part of the Conservative campaign in the coming local elections across the United Kingdom, though I am personally not sure if this will be particularly effective: the 2018 local elections largely fall in big cities that are rich with voters who quite like Jeremy Corbyn, so “vote Labour and get Corbyn running your local school” is unlikely to be particularly deadly to Labour hopes in this set of local elections at least.  (I also think it has too many moving parts: most people don’t know or care what Momentum or the Labour party NEC are, and any campaign that relies on having to explain it to them is going to struggle.)

Given the extreme likelihood that Haringey will continue to be a solid Labour council, it will mean that a “Corbynite” council will now be on the doorstep of the national media, which means that even though the story of the HDV is over, I suspect that we will continue to see the word “Haringey” in the national news.

What does it tell us about the state of affairs within Labour? Not that much, to be honest. Regardless of whatever the merits of the HDV may or may not have been, what has happened in Haringey has happened because of the strong opposition the scheme aroused in the local party, including the two MPs, Hornsey and Wood Green’s Catherine West and Tottenham’s David Lammy.

Yes, intellectually, it is a sign that the collapse of Carillion is not only fuelling a sense among Corbynites that they are on the right side of the argument as far as public-private partnerships are concerned: they are joined by some Corbynsceptics, which is one of a number of reasons why the NEC vote to “mediate” in the dispute was unanimous.  However, a bigger factor was simply the recognition that barring a political earthquake, a Labour administration will still be in power in Haringey after 2018, but one that is centrally opposed to the housing policy of the current administration, hence, in the minds of NEC members, the need for mediation between the incoming and outgoing administrations.

A far more accurate guide to the state of Labour politics around the country can be found in the neighbouring Labour-run boroughs: Islington, Waltham Forest, Enfield and Hackney. There, the pattern is of largely unchanged local authority candidate lists and local parties that are not the centre of a media or political storm. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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