The resignation of a council leader would normally be no biggie. I mean, I’m guessing entirely here, but presumably that happens in towns or cities across Britain several times a year, for one reason or another.
These things usually merit a run of front pages in the local press, and perhaps a short mention or two nationally. They are then swiftly forgotten, as just another ego-driven municipal hissy fit over a bypass or an over-budget leisure centre. All of that makes the events surrounding Claire Kober’s departure in Haringey simply extraordinarily.
On a charitable construal, perhaps her course of action was forced upon her, following the incursion of Labour’s National Executive Committee onto her home turf. But now she’s gone, there’s little point in mincing words. Kober had lost the confidence of both the majority of local residents and the majority of local Labour activists and members, including both of Haringey’s not particularly leftist Labour MPs.
Her leadership was over anyway, and she knew it. Had she the party’s best interests at heart, she could have opted to go with dignity, a carriage clock, a lucrative consultancy job, and the promise of an eventual OBE. Instead, she took the calculated decision to maximise the damage her resignation would inflict on Corbyn, timing the announcement to catch the lunchtime bulletins, while simultaneously launching a pop at Momentum on the front page of the Evening Standard.
Her deed was even reinforced by a round robin letter from 70 other Labour council chiefs, which a cynic would see as evidence of collusion rather than an entirely unaffected outpouring of love and affection for a fallen colleague. Thanks a bunch, comrades. It must take brass nerve to accuse Momentum of ‘factionalism’ after pulling a stunt like that.
Meanwhile, the barrage continues, with broadsides from Kober in the Financial Times and New Statesman. Expect more to come, with accusations of bullying and sexism likely to provide the Tories with a gift that keeps on giving in the run-up to London’s election in May.
Sure, any substantiated accusations against named individuals on this score should be investigated, with suitable sanctions to follow if the complaints are upheld. But, entirely predictably, there have not been any.
What we do know is that one high-profile Haringey Blairite has a track record of harassing senior Labour staffers, to the point where she was asked to leave a conference hotel on account of aggressive behaviour. That, somehow, gets left out of most accounts of these matters.
It is perfectly true – as Kober and her defenders endlessly reiterate – that Haringey shares with the entirety of London a housing crisis that will require radicalism and imagination to challenge.
But handing over entire council estates to a property developer, with no guarantee of replacement social housing to the thousands displaced, and only a chimerical future offer of ‘affordable rent’ beyond the means of most of them, is at best a deeply flawed response. Not least, it would not have flown with the voters.
To accuse opponents of HDV of ideological motivation is beyond risible. As someone who was in the trenches during the last round of Labour local government wars, what I see before me is a photographic negative rerun of the early 1980s, this time with Blairite holdouts playing the role of the headbangers.
One might even venture that their doctrine has been pickled into rigid dogma, a code, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to real needs. It ends in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – scuttling round a borough handing out eviction notices to its own tenants.
But quite rightly for a Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn refrains from attacking Labour councillors in such disgraceful sectarian terms.
In Haringey, the Labour Party’s own internal processes have done the job they are designed to do, replacing council candidates with those who refuse to listen to the electorate with those that will.
Hopefully this will be enough to avert major local level Lib Dem gains in the process. Watch for the result from Seven Sisters ward in Haringey on May 3. With any luck, it will be a Labour gain.