We have today formally withdrawn from the Haringey Labour council candidate selection process. We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to represent Crouch End for the last three and a half years. Though our journeys to become Labour councillors have been different, all three of us are united in the belief that local government can be a powerful force for advancing social justice and equality.
Since May 2014 we have spoken to thousands of Crouch Enders on the doorstep; organised numerous community meetings; responded to phone calls and emails at all times of the day; used social media to engage residents on difficult decisions; and dealt with casework ranging from the mundane (bin collections, potholes and faulty street lamps) to the profound (homeless families, individuals struggling from pernicious welfare reforms, and vulnerable adults in need of social care). In short, we’ve given it our all.
Candidate selections are a democratic process. We accept that. It is right that sitting councillors should have to win the support of local Labour Party members and we aren’t against having to explain our views at a hustings to gain their support. Sadly, we do not believe that our views will be heard with an open mind, nor our track-record assessed in a fair manner. The current climate of Haringey Labour politics feels factional and poisonous – anger, cynicism and distrust now shape too many debates within the local party.
There has also been a lot of misinformation spread about the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – a joint venture designed to increase the scale of house building in Haringey. Misleading reports about the proposals have been used to scare residents and undermine sitting councillors. Momentum have spent weeks targeting us and many of our colleagues while we have been prevented by party rules from speaking to party members about our reselection. It has also been concerning to read in recent days that individuals involved in the SWP (an abhorrent organisation with a history of covering up rape) have played a key role in the local anti-HDV campaign used to intimidate and deselect sitting councillors.
Of course there are legitimate issues to debate about the HDV. Whenever asked, all three of us have been open about the opportunities and risks involved, before explaining why, on balance, we are supportive of the joint-venture. The homelessness charity Shelter has said they believe Haringey’s approach could give the Council greater scope to develop, as well as refurbish, homes for the benefit of the community. Just this week Sadiq Khan noted that joint ventures like the HDV allow councils to “meet the needs of current residents and those desperate to be re-housed” and that they are “a good way to bring in revenue for councils to invest in their communities”. Yet, regrettably, nuance has been lost from the local debate about housing.
Like many Labour councils across the country, Haringey has seen its budget cut by a staggering 43% since 2010. Inevitably, this has meant we have had to take difficult decisions to address what can often appear to be intractable problems. In our experience, very few questions facing councillors can be reduced to black and white answers. When tough decisions arise, we have always believed that it is our job to address the problems head on. Yes, Tory (and Lib Dem) national policies have done huge damage to Haringey since 2010. But it is not good enough for councillors to abdicate responsibility for finding solutions. Nor do we think that it is acceptable for the Council to hold off from intervening in the hope that a future Labour Government will solve Haringey’s problems.
The Labour Party has changed dramatically since we were elected. Thousands of party members have recently joined (or returned) because the Labour Party is offering a clear, socialist alternative to a Tory establishment hell-bent on undermining public services. This is exciting and welcome. However, in our view this has helped to create a disconnect with Labour councillors who are in power locally, but hamstrung by Tory policies nationally. The circumstances we face often require compromise and pragmatism to deliver progress for the most vulnerable in the borough. Yet pragmatism has become a dirty word in Haringey Labour. Discussion of context and the need for compromise are too often dismissed out of hand by our internal opponents who refuse to engage with the world as it is. We need to recognise the limitations on Labour town halls when there are Tories in Downing Street.
Despite Tory and Lib Dem cuts hitting the Council hard in recent years, we are proud of the progress that has been made both in Crouch End and across Haringey since May 2014. After years when Hornsey Town Hall was closed to the public, it is now open and vibrant, with a viable long-term deal on the table to restore the Hall to its former glory. We have invested over £20,000 to support Crouch End community groups to flourish and almost £2m in roads, pavements and street lighting across the ward. All three of us have played important roles in delivering borough-wide policies that demonstrate Labour values: improving our schools; protecting and investing in our libraries; delivering 72% affordable housing in major schemes in recent years; exempting care leavers from council tax; improving the wages and working conditions of social care workers; supporting greater interfaith work; and leading the way on reducing carbon emissions.
We would like to thank Labour Party members who helped us turn Crouch End from a safe Lib Dem ward into a Labour ward in 2014. We’d also like to thank the brilliant individuals, independent businesses and community groups that make Crouch End so special. We look forward to working hard for you all between now and May 2018.
Haringey is a fantastic borough, filled with energy and creativity. In many ways, the challenges the Council will face in the next administration are likely to be even greater than the ones it has struggled with over the last seven years. So we wish the next intake of Haringey councillors well. The people of Haringey need you to succeed.
Jason Arthur, Natan Doron and Sarah Elliott