Haringey Leader Claire Kober’s Resignation Ought to Signal an End to Labour’s Frenzy of Council Estate Destruction, But 70 Labour Leaders Disagree


On the left: Claire Kober, the leader of Haringey Council, who announced her resignation on January 30, 2018 after profound grass-roots opposition to her plans to transfer all the council's social housing to a 50:50 development vehicle between the council and rapacious international property developers Lendlease. On the right: a poster by the Stop HDV campaign, which led a brilliant grass-roots campaign against the proposal.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.


There was great news on Tuesday, as Claire Kober, the Labour leader of Haringey Council, announced her resignation, explaining that she will not be standing in May’s elections. Kober — and her close associates, like Alan Strickland, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Housing — had imperiously decided to hand over all of Haringey’s social housing to the predatory international developer Lendlease, in what was laughingly described as a 50:50 partnership. Lendlease, however, has all the money, and what was intended to happen, via the £2bn deal for Haringey, was a large-scale version of what Southwark Council arranged for Lendlease at the Heygate Estate in Walworth: the destruction of council estates and their replacement with private developments for sale, or for rent at unaffordable prices.

At the Heygate, as I explained in an article last September, 1,034 homes, housing around 3,000 people, were demolished, most of which were socially rented, costing around 30% of market rents. 2,704 new homes are being built on the Heygate’s replacement, Elephant Park, but only 82 of those will be for social rent, with the rest laughably described as “affordable” in the biggest scam in the developers’ current lexicon. “Affordable” rents were set at 80% of market rents by Boris Johnson, in his miserable tenure as London’s Mayor, but that is actually unaffordable for the majority of hard-working Londoners.

As Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian explained when describing the Haringey proposal, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), in July, “Haringey plans to stuff family homes, school buildings, its biggest library and much more into a giant private fund worth £2bn. It’s the largest scheme of its kind — ‘unprecedented’, in the words of backbench councillors. Together with a property developer, it will tear down whole streets of publicly owned buildings and replace them with a shiny town centre and 6,400 homes.”

As I put it in an article following up on Chakrabortty’s Guardian article, he “described how he ‘grew up nearby,’ and can see that the area ‘needs investment,’ but pointed out that ‘this is something else entirely: it is privatisation, even if the council holds on to a 50% share and claims otherwise.’ … [W]hen he last wrote about the Haringey plans, back in January, he was explicitly told by the council at the time that the private entity in charge of the redevelopment ‘had no targets for building social housing.’”

In the last six months, opposition to the HDV has built steadily, until Kober herself was almost completely isolated. Local campaigners mounted a formidable grass-roots campaign, Stop HDV, which I was glad to support in a small way, both through my writing and through my band The Four Fathers playing a benefit gig in Tottenham. They raised the money for a judicial review, and, towards the end of the year, de-selected pro-HDV councillors — or watched as pro-HDV councillors de-selected themselves — turning a pro-HDV majority into a unworkable minority for May’s forthcoming elections.

In addition, the local Labour MPs opposed the plans, and Jeremy Corbyn used the Labour Party conference to say that there should be no estate demolitions without ballots — which Kober had no intention of doing, as that would show something other than contempt for her tenants and leaseholders. The final blow came last week, when Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) voted unanimously to call on Kober to stop the HDV.

As the Guardian described it, The NEC acted after 22 Labour councillors in the borough wrote to the party urging it to intervene, saying the HDV would be difficult and expensive to get out of once the contract was signed. It pointed out that of the the 28 sitting councillors who support the HDV, only six had been selected to stand as candidates in the May 2018 local elections. Of all selected Labour candidates, including sitting councillors, 12 support the HDV and 45 oppose it.”

One insider told the Huffington Post that the “decision to effectively order a local Labour council to change policy” was “unprecedented.”

As Aditya Chakrabortty noted in a series of tweets on Tuesday, “Even after all the opposition from Haringey MPs, Corbyn’s team, the unions and locals, AND the selections, Kober and Strickland were still determined to push the HDV through. It’s over. She’ll be painted a martyr at the hands of Momentum and Corbyn — but the reality is that she refused to compromise with her own councillors (including those on the scrutiny committee) and local opposition. Councillors who opposed her got bullied. Locals got ignored. The crucial votes on the HDV were restricted to Kober’s hand-picked cabinet. Fifteen hundred pages of crucial documents were published just a week before the thing was passed. It was an abuse of democracy.”

He added, “It’s a victory for ordinary residents and activists who organised a campaign on a fiver here, a tenner there, who crowdfunded and staged fundraising gigs. In my years of reporting on housing, this is easily the single biggest victory for housing campaigners. Anyone who wants a fairer London should take heart from this.”

So where now?

Unfortunately, despite the NEC’s intervention, the leaders of 70 Labour councils across London and throughout the country wrote to the NEC to complain about its message to Claire Kober, calling its actions “dangerous and alarming”, “uncomradely and disrespectful” and “an affront to the basic principles of democracy.”

Strong words, even though, as Skwarkbox established, the NEC’s position was neither dangerous nor alarming. Their motion simply stated:

The NEC welcomes the urgent intervention of Labour LGA representatives and the appropriate shadow cabinet members in an effort to resolve the matter amicably in consultation with all of the interested parties.

If however that approach proves to be unproductive before the next scheduled full council meeting then the NEC strongly advises that the process to agree the HDV with Lendlease is paused and that contractual arrangements are not signed prior to May’s local elections after which they should be reviewed.

Moreover, in a brief report in the Evening Standard, two quotes were included from Peter John of Southwark Council and Lib Peck of Lambeth Council, both formally entrenched in the social cleansing camp. Peter John called the motion ”a dangerous precedent”, while Lib Peck said it was “an affront to democracy for a central committee to interfere with the democratic decisions of elected Labour councillors.”

In both their cases, it is clear that they have no time for any suggestion by the NEC  —or anyone else, for that matter — that their housing “regeneration” plans might, like Claire Kober’s, be entirely inappropriate, involving the unnecessary destruction of estates, widespread social cleansing, and the creation of new properties that are completely unaffordable for local people.

What’s troubling, however, is how many other heads of Labour councils across London also signed the letter — 13 more, making 15 in total, as well as 55 others from across England. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the research undertaken by Architects for Social Housing, who have established that 195 council estates in London’s 21 Labour-run boroughs are facing or have faced demolition, social cleansing and “regeneration”, but this letter seems only to confirm that an alarming number of councils are telling the NEC to leave them alone, in no uncertain terms, because al of them are engaged in — or planning to get engaged in — the murky business of social cleansing their boroughs in the company of private developers who know nothing about — and care nothing about — any kind of social responsibility.

The London council leaders who signed the letter — and two Mayors, including the Mayor of Lewisham, where I live, and where I recently set up the ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ campaign—  are listed below:

Barking & Dagenham: Councillor Darren Rodwell, Leader of the Council
Brent: Councillor Muhammed Butt, Leader of the Council
Ealing: Councillor Julian Bell, Leader of the Council
Enfield: Councillor Doug Taylor, Leader of the Council
Greenwich: Councillor Denise Hyland, Leader of the Council
Hammersmith & Fulham: Councillor Steve Cowan, Leader of the Council
Harrow: Councillor Sachin Shah, Leader of the Council
Hounslow: Councillor Steve Curran, Leader of the Council
Lambeth: Councillor Lib Peck, Leader of the Council
Lewisham: Sir Steve Bullock, Executive Mayor
Merton: Councillor Stephen Alambritis, Leader of the Council
Redbridge: Councillor Jas Athwal, Leader of the Council
Southwark: Councillor Peter John, Leader of the Council
Tower Hamlets: Mayor John Biggs, Executive Mayor
Waltham Forest: Councillor Clare Coghill, Leader of the Council

The letter was also signed by Councillor Adam Hug, Leader of the Labour Group on Westminster Council.

Interestingly, five Labour leaders in London didn’t sign it:

Camden: Councillor Georgia Gould, Leader of the Council
Croydon: Councillor Tony Newman, Leader of the Council
Hackney: Philip Glanville, Executive Mayor
Islington: Councillor Richard Watts, Leader of the Council
Newham: Sir Robin Wales, Executive Mayor

Georgia Gould was listed in the signatories of the letter that was first published in the Sunday Times, but, as Skwarkbox reported, she said “she explicitly informed the letter’s creators that she did not want her name on it – yet it appeared in the Sunday Times and was only removed after her denial.”

Sqwarkbox added that the letter “was not ‘sent’ by the council leaders”; rather, an email sent in the name of Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle Council, “went round to council leaders all over the country on Friday and Saturday, pleading with them to add their names to his letter.”

There have, however, been no more reports of other leaders complaining, but Georgia Gould’s refusal to be included certainly makes sense, as she, and Philip Glanville in Hackney and Richard Watts in Islington, are all neighbours of Claire Kober’s, and have seen how damaging the Lendlease scandal has been. I leave it to residents to let me know if this is simple self-preservation, or if these three boroughs are taking a different approach to that favoured in Haringey, and pursued with enthusiasm in South park and Lambeth and elsewhere, and I’m also interested to hear from anyone with knowledge of the situation in Croydon. Robin Wales’ silence, however, I suspect is because of his poor track record, and his desire to get reelected in May, as anyone familiar with the powerful E15 campaign will know.

As for the Labour council leaders who signed the letter, I’d love to hear from residents and campaigners in those boroughs about what their “regeneration” issues are. I’d love to see a London-wide campaign established, and I also think it’s crucial that Labour councillors pursuing a policy of social cleansing need to be challenged in May’s election — by rival candidates, by being put on the spot and challenged to change their views, and, if necessary, by people refusing to vote for them.

The London Clearances took a step back on Tuesday when Claire Kober resigned, but across London an epidemic of social cleansing will still take place unless we the people rise up against it. Whether deluded or dishonest, those responsible for housing policy must not be allowed to fulfil their intentions, which, if they go ahead, will lead to tens of thousand of people — perhaps hundreds of thousands of people — being kicked out of their homes and pushed out of London in the next ten years.

So please, rise up and fight back!

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, about the significance of the resignation of Claire Kober as the leader of Haringey Council, after a profound and widespread backlash against her outrageous plans to commit all of the borough’s social housing to a partnership (the Haringey Development Vehicle, or HDV) with the rapacious international developer Lendlease. This would have led to the destruction of council estates and, almost certainly, social cleansing on an industrial scale, as new developments rise up which are completely unaffordable for local people (as is currently happening with Lendlease in Southwark). Well done to the grass-roots Stop HDV campaign, and to Labour’s NEC for its intervention last week, calling on the HDV to be halted. My article also contains a rather alarming coda – 70 Labour council leaders, including 15 from London, wrote to the NEC to complain about their intervention. Housing activists, please take note of these leaders, and let’s find a way to work together to stop social cleansing and estate destructions not only in our own neighbourhoods, but also across London and throughout the country.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    If you can make it, an emergency full council meeting has been called in Haringey on 7th February to debate a motion calling for the HDV to be halted. Campaigners are meeting at Ducketts Common from 5:30pm, marching to Wood Green Civic Centre at 6:15pm, and rallying and lobbying the council from 7:00pm. Be there if you can. And bring some things to hit to make some noise! https://www.facebook.com/events/193569801386170/

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Richard Matz wrote:

    Great article with some pointers as to what next!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Richard! Sadly, the blunt truth is that there’s a huge amount to be done across London, and throughout England. But really, we should send a resounding message next Wednesday that what has been achieved in Haringey can be repeated elsewhere. Time to get all the social cleansers on the run!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Aditya Chakrabortty’s commentary here – it was through his column in the Guardian in July that I first realised what was happening, so I owe him considerable thanks for that: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/01/haringey-council-claire-kober-momentum-residents

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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