Momentum – A Personal View

Around 200 people attended this week’s launch of Haringey Momentum. They were mostly male, mostly white, but quite an age range, from students to pensioners and all inbetween. Listening to the contributions from the floor, I got a sense that one or two present were looking for an 80s style fight, but it felt that most were genuinely people who had been engaged by Jeremy’s victory, in a good way, and were concerned only with getting rid of the Tories.

The speakers were all keen to stress that Momentum was not planning to be divisive. In his opening comments, Haringey UNISON Secretary Gerard McGrath said “I know some of you won’t be happy to hear this, but we have to work with all sections within Labour”. Also Jon Lansman, the man credited with forming Momentum, was quick to dismiss any talk of deselection – answering a young guy who railed against those MPs who dared to disagree with Corbyn, Lansman said “deselection would always be a matter for the local party”. Which I realise is a little open-ended, but the whole thrust of the discussion suggested the top table genuinely don’t want to get embroiled in the kind of internal party politics that kept Labour out of power for so long in the 80s.

 

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Two of the guest speakers, Martha Osamor (new MP Kate’s mum) and Cllr Emine Ibrahim, gave moving speeches about how in the 80s Cllr Corbyn had helped make Haringey a safe borough for ethnic minorities. Sam Tarry, political officer for the Transport Salaried Staff Association, spoke passionately about engaging people in exciting campaigns, while Lansman, once Tony Benn’s fixer, seemed almost circumspect considering the excitement generated around his new organisation.

I was reminded a little of Ed Miliband in the early days of his leadership – the hope and passion around his victory suddenly replaced by a more sombre mood, an understanding that every word spoken was now being analysed for meaning, nuance or lines of attack from those within the party still annoyed that their own candidate had been defeated.

This feeling was to some extent mirrored in the meeting, which began with a passion and raw energy that gradually wilted as the night wore on. The chair asked for questions after each speaker but for ages he didn’t get any, just people getting up explaining how bad things were in their specific worlds (Junior Doctors, TU Health & Safety Awareness Teaching, Student Cuts etc) followed by a desperate call for everyone in the room to join them at their demos/ solidarity marches. Eventually, about three quarters of the way in, one man said, “this is all very well, but what do we do now?” He also asked rather pointedly “what’s the plan, are we all going to go on all these demos and marches?” Another man said: “I haven’t disagreed with a word of what’s been said tonight, but what happens next?”

This is both a strength and a weakness of Momentum. At one point someone asked Jon for a specific answer to a policy question to which he responded “I genuinely don’t know, that’s partly why we’re here now.” Which is great: come 2020 we’ll be needing to completely rebuild the welfare state, the NHS, local government and other areas being dismantled by the Tories, we can’t possibly know at this point what all the solutions are, and this suggests the leadership are open to new ideas.

However, there was no sense of how this opening up is to take place. It’s already happening up and down the country, in Hornsey & Wood Green for instance the CLP has taken the lead and is launching great initiatives across the borough, ward by ward. So why Momentum? Sure enough, when the question was asked “What is Momentum for?”, there wasn’t a satisfactory answer.

It feels to me like an attempt by those at the top to plug in directly to the membership and bypass the machinery of the party, at least until they can win back control. That would be an awful misreading of the situation, feeding in to the myth perpetuated by the leadership election that Labour is a party of two distinct wings, rather than a broad spectrum running from far left to centre right. If Momentum isn’t even looking to win over the sizeable constituency on the left who didn’t vote for Jeremy, how can they hope to build the kind of consensus that the SNP have managed across Scotland?

(Of course this is a two way journey, and those on the right of the party, especially those still involved in undermining the leadership, need to ask themselves how they would prefer to be seen by the membership – as an enemy with a grudge, or a critical friend prepared to meet their party opponents somewhere along the spectrum?)

For me the low point of the evening came when a man prefaced his speech (again, not a question) “I’m not really interested in Labour, I’m a Trade Union man, Labour said they would eradicate poverty and look what happened.”

I could have reminded him it was the Unions who tried to block the Race Relations Act, fearing that black workers would take white mens’ jobs – it took Harold Wilson’s Labour Party to force that act through. I could have pointed him in the direction of survey after survey of child poverty, showing a decrease from 1997 to 2010 and a rise again since. But what really bothered me was the proud way he said he was not really interested in Labour, like we are the real enemy. I thought, why are you here then? Momentum seems to understand it was Labour’s internal battles that kept Thatcher in power for so long, but they need to make sure everyone else gets that message.

Stephen Bush wrote a very good piece about Momentum in the NS, but he only half answers the headline question – should Labour MPs be scared of Momentum? My answer is, they don’t need to be, but they’ve got just under a year to develop a strategy for working with Momentum, rather than sniping from the sidelines. It is something new, it’s not yet a super confident Militant-style movement already holding the levers of power, and until that happens its leaders will be receptive to anyone from outside the Corbyn core who reaches out to them.

No one needs to pretend they agree on everything, but now that the Tories have effectively decided to give up on the state, surely we can all unite to make people aware that Labour is the only major party prepared to be the custodians of our public services.

ANSWERS TO THE £86,000 QUESTION

Since 2010 when the LibDem coalition came to power, Haringey has had to slash its budget to the extent that by 2017 it will have gone down by 50% in real terms.

There’s probably never a good time for a cash-strapped council to announce they’re spending £86,000 on rebranding the borough – and sure enough when Haringey unveiled the new logo there was plenty of anger and derision.

The ‘Evening Standard’, not previously known for its anxiety about Haringey’s hardships, suddenly reminded us that the latest round of £70million worth of cuts could be to services ‘for vulnerable people.’

They then quoted a local resident from Tottenham Hale – funnily enough exactly the same local resident who spoke to the Ham and High – who said the logo ‘looks like it was made by a child with a marker pen.’

I don’t wish to go into the aesthetics of the design, but I would like to look at the arguments in more detail. Like all councils, Haringey is desperate to attract work and business to the area, and to me the new logo says more about ‘attracting shiny new things and people to the borough’ than it does ‘all your dog poo cleaning and social service drop-in needs from one handy council’.

 So here, and in no particular order, are the answers to the questions everyone’s been asking: Thanks Councillor Joe Goldberg for your responses.

  1. Why spend anything on this now?

JG: There is never a good time to spend money on these things, and we were extremely conscious that this is taxpayers money being spent at a time of imposed austerity. But we felt the time was right to invest money on promoting the borough, signaling change both to residents and businesses from inside and outside the borough.

Having said that we wanted to keep costs to a minimum which is why not everything is being changed at once – but instead changed over as and when things are due to be changed – with the exception of key signage on buildings (which is included in the cost). In terms of spend it is also not additional money but comes from the annual communications budget which has declined year on year with the cuts.

Finally we are heading to a model where Councils are going to be pretty much entirely self-funded – with no or very little support from central government. In that world it becomes even more important to attract investment from individuals, businesses and developers if we are to be able to generate tax revenues to fund public services. We think a fresh image will assist with this.

  1. Yes, but £86,000?

JG: As I said we wanted to keep costs to the minimum. A quick google search shows that this is the sort of sums you spend when you go through such an exercise. One council spent as much as half a million – the BBC a taxpayer funded body spent £2m in today’s money.

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When Councils say they have re-branded at “no cost to the taxpayer” this is ever so slightly lily-livered. This for the most part means the cost was covered internally. We were clear we wanted to be disruptive – to signal change – we have certainly done that. To do that we wanted to get someone external to look in from the outside – though ironically the designer turned out to be one of our residents.

Half this investment was for the core identity and strategy. That is to say that the brand is not just a logo, it is about the ideas behind it. A large part of this was identifying how you move from a Council brand to a Borough brand and defining what the borough is about. The rest was for implementation costs – signage and the like and the video. Would it be too cheeky at this stage to ask you to embed the video here? (Ed: yes afraid so I’m a complete technophobe. But here’s the link – https://youtu.be/LssVe6rOlzo . )

I think it’s a nice story about Haringey – told through the eyes of its residents, and businesses.

  1. Why change it at all?

JG: We wanted to signal change. When you say Haringey, too often people think you are just talking about a Council – some sort of far off behemoth. This concerns me and it concerns the Cabinet. I think FDR put it well when he said “we must never forget the government is ourselves.” In short if it is the ‘Council’ it is the ‘Council’ of the place – Haringey – and we should be more worried about reflecting this than the authority we hold.

The old logo is based on a coat of arms – which always hold meanings of authority, ruler-ship and royalty. When you add to that most people didn’t even understand that the design was originally intended to evoke the radio and television transmission that used to take place from Ally Pally, but instead saw ‘lightning bolts’, ‘hazard warning signs’ and a ‘death star’, the case for change becomes quite strong.

Aside from our strong legacy with the BBC, which as I say was not understood, what of any of this would any borough want to retain in its identity? We needed something positive, fresh, modern and forward facing and something that became about the place.

That is why at a very basic level the word Council has gone and we have gone less corporate in look and feel.

  1. What are you hoping to gain from this?

JG: We also want to speak to people outside of the borough. We wanted something confident and that stood out from other London Boroughs.

We wanted people to know where Haringey is. People outside of the borough and the country often don’t. This would be like people not knowing Brooklyn is in NYC. So we wanted to put London in the identity to make the connection.

We want to increase staff focus on its residents, and we want people to re-appraise what Haringey was about.

  1. How do you respond to the ‘marker pen’ jibes?

JG: Honestly I can only shrug my shoulders. We could have done something safe, something iterative – say rounded the corners of the lightning bolts – made them softer or something – something that ultimately would have drawn less attention – but for me that really would have been a waste of public money.

Secondly the response we have had – both positive and negative – confirms we got something right. As much as people don’t ‘want to get drawn into aesthetics’ or ‘complain about vanity exercises’ – they do actually give a sh*t. People here care about Haringey – they have as we say ‘attitude.’

Ultimately rebrands of this nature always draw this sort of fire – London 2012, Pepsi going blue, Mars going more feminine, Hershey’s (which was accused of being like an emojii poo), and even AirBnB. Over time they blend into our culture.

I try to avoid getting all designy on people but for those that say it’s “just a font” – it isn’t. You can’t download it on the internet and type it out. It’s designed. I challenged the designers on why no icon – they came back and said because the name itself should be iconic. Hard to argue with that.

The next question was how. We wanted to be distinct from our London sister boroughs and move away from heraldry, swooshes, handwriting fonts, and trees and leaves, from blues and greens. The agency landed on Red – as they felt this was the colour of London – London buses, City of London street signs, Red phone boxes.

And then on style the agency went out into the borough to speak to its residents. Wherever they went they found a positive pride in the borough, and a sense that we were misunderstood and the creative, eclectic spirit wasn’t appreciated. We wanted an identity that gave voice to that creative spirit. We sum this up as “an attitude, not just a place.” And evoking that attitude is what has led us to this new identity.

When people say it looks like a 12 year old has done it – I smile. Not just because this is a common criticism of brands but because I think essentially it must also mean it looks like we are young, fresh, and the future – and this is certainly pretty close to what we were going for.

Regardless of all those reasons given for the change above, one thing it definitely does is break with the perceived image of local councils in general and Haringey in particular. Whatever the reasons, in my opinion in the aftermath of five years of incessant bullying from our local MP against every cut enforced by her government, if any council needs rebranding it’s Haringey.

Women And The Labour Party – New Leader, Same Issues

With ‘Suffragette’ packing cinemas across the country now is a good time for Labour to be examining its attitude to women in the party. Last night, New Statesman Deputy editor Helen Lewis and Noel Park Councillor Peray Ahmet joined Guardian columnist Linda Grant to discuss the way forward.

It was great to see so many new and returning members, many of them women who had left the party over the Iraq war, or the pointless in-fighting of the 80s. There was a wide-ranging discussion that took in the problems facing the new leadership (Corbyn is, Lewis pointed out, essentially sympathetic to feminism but may find that issue pushed down his priority list), the difficulties facing women in the less well-off parts of the borough (and how they differ from those at the wealthier end), how hard it is for women to get on in the Labour Party (not a criticism of the Party, more the problem women have of finding the time to get involved voluntarily).

The biggest issue was childcare – which, as Linda Grant pointed out on Facebook today, has been the case for so long now. Helen Lewis suggested the way forward might be to ‘de-feminise’ the topic, so we follow the Scandinavian model, in which a certain number of days off granted for childcare have to be shared between partners.

Earlier in the week a sold-out crowd at the Art House listened to Catherine West and the feminist writer Natasha Walter discuss with Linda how the movie ‘Suffragette’ resonates today – let’s hope we can keep the momentum going, and make sure this is not a subject that falls away from Labour’s new agenda.

If you want to get involved contact the local Women’s Forum: http://www.hornseywoodgreenlabour.org.uk/women_s_forum