Haringey Councillors including Claire Kober were wined and dined 13 times by HDV-linked property lobbyists
Credit: flickr/alanstanton

The scandal surrounding the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – a scheme to privatise £2 billion worth of council housing, and hand it over to a joint venture with a private developer who will demolish entire estates and replace them with luxury apartments –  is becoming one of the key battlegrounds over the future of the Labour Party.

Attempts by Haringey’s Labour Council to force through the HDV without any meaningful consultation with local residents were met with massive resistance. But with discussion and demonstrations falling on death ears, local activists took the logical next step and – defying the lukewarm advice of national Momentum – went on to trigger reselection contests in the local Labour Party, democratically replacing a number of local councillors.

This led to the resignation of the Haringey Council leader, Claire Kober, who has since taken to the Tory press to defame “the left” (in reality local residents) with accusations of “bullying and intimidation”, as well as taking oblique potshots at Jeremy Corbyn in a New Statesmen article titled “If Labour undermines pragmatic leaders like me, it is our communities that lose out”. (It is worth noting that Kober herself was not deselected as the Labour candidate – although reports from Labour Party members suggest that her selection was mired in corruption.)

There has since been a spectacular outpouring of support for the “plight” of Haringey Council, and Kober in particular, from the Parliamentary Labour Party. Sixty eight Labour council leaders also wrote to the press to give support for the Haringey Council, describing Kober as “inspirational”.

But for those not following the ongoing power struggle inside the Labour Party, many will be left scratching their heads about why senior members of a party, which the media would have us believe is led by a Marxist revolutionary, are rallying around an individual who attempted to hand the vast bulk of Haringey’s municipal assets – everything from libraries to school building to council homes – into private hands.

And they would be right to be confused. Kober and her supporters are cynically using accusations of sexism, bullying and intimidation in the Labour Party – things that should be utterly condemned – as a way of distracting from the real issue. If this were not the case, then you would imagine that Kober would complain to Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee – something she has not yet done – before bearing all for Rupert Murdoch’s Times.  Indeed, going to the latter suggests, first of all, a political motive.

In truth, the issue is much simpler. Haringey Council’s controversial support for the HDV points to a split that exists in the Labour Party, between, on the one hand, the Blairite MPs and councillors, whose principal commitments are to the rule of capital and big business; and on the other, Corbyn, Labour’s membership, and increasingly, the public.

And now with news that senior Haringey councillors have been wined and dined by senior executives from top property PR firm Terrapin Communications, the HDV increasingly points to a culture of corruption and corporate cronyism which is, sadly, commonplace amongst right wing Labour representatives.

Corporate cronyism

The Haringey Development Vehicle is the biggest planned suburban redevelopment project in history. It threatens 4,468 homes (around 3,500 of them on council estates), including sites like Broadwater Farm, Stella House and Northumberland Park Estate.

The contracts for this mammoth project, worth a total of £2Bn, were handed to Lendlease – one of Australia’s biggest construction and property groups – despite reports that they were only the third highest value bidder. The PR firm responsible for ensuring that Lendlease secured these contracts is called Terrapin Communications.

The Director of Terrapin is Peter Bingle, a former employee of Lendlease who now spends much of his time schmoozing with local councillors in efforts to secure contracts for the latter. And boy is he good at his job.

Council records show that Haringey cabinet members had lunches or dinners with Terrapin Communications on 13 occasions between July 2, 2014 and October 25, 2016.

When local councillors should have been consulting with residents about huge changes in their community, they were instead enjoying hospitality worth up to £770 courtesy of Terrapin.

This includes the council leader, Kober, who met with the firm no less than six times!

Even more worryingly, the chief whip for Haringey Council, Adam Jogee, was actually an employee of Terrapin Communications. Jogee, who worked as a “consultant” for Terrapin, was affectionately known by Bingle as his “baby terrapin”.

Nor was Jogee isolated in his former position at Terrapin. Mark Walker, who recently held positions on Tom Watson’s deputy leadership campaign and Sadiq Khan’s London mayoral campaign, also works at Terrapin as a “consultant.” (Walker is also a supporter of Progress, the Blairite faction of the Labour Party).

In an attempt to avoid accusations of wrongdoing, Haringey Council appointed an ‘independent’ legal advisor to oversee the deal. But as has been pointed out in an exposé by Vice:

Pinsent Masons were paid £499,999 by the council to be the legal adjudicator for the bid – the most “economically advantageous bid”, according to the council. But far from being independent, Pinsent Masons have acted as legal representatives for Lendlease since 2005. Completing the circle, Pinsent Masons were also one of Terrapin Communications’ first ever clients.

So much for ‘independence’ then.

The fact that Haringey Council would even consider Lendlease as the most “economically advantageous bid” definitely points to incompetence, and almost certainly flat-out cronyism – especially when you consider that the Australian Business Review states: Lendlease has a long “history of routinely overcharging customers and ignoring minority hiring mandates.”

Moreover, the handing of the contracts to Lendlease was done against the advice of the trade union movement, who urged the council not to “get into bed” with a company known for blacklisting. As a 2017 article from Unite the Union states:

Lendlease, and its predecessor company Bovis, were involved in the notorious Consulting Association blacklisting scandal which resulted in 3,213 construction workers having their lives ruined. In 2013 Unite issued High Court proceedings against the companies involved in the blacklisting scandal and Lendlease was eventually forced to settle.

That Labour representatives would willingly get into bed with corporations known for attacking trade unionists is hardly a cause for celebration.

Fight for an alternative

The tide is turning in British politics. Capitalism is in crisis, so now is not the time to be handing over vast quantities of public property into private ownership.

As evidenced by the decline in right wing pro-neoliberal social democracy across the world, the Blairites’ policies are provably unpopular.

But the battle against the HDV in Haringey should not be seen in isolation. Up and down the country, Labour councils, at the behest of the Tories, are dutifully carrying our unprecedented cuts to our public services, costing lives.

This needs to stop. Labour councils should follow the advice of the Labour Representation Committee, of which John McDonnell is the current President:

The LRC calls on councils to exhaust all available avenues under the law, including extensive drawing-down of reserves and use of prudential borrowing powers, to forestall the latest round of cuts while an effective mass campaign of resistance is built.

To date not a single Labour-run Council has followed the LRC’s simple and sensible advice – a source of inaction that has had an enervating effect on the British labour movement. But this was not wholly unexpected – as the LRC statement observes:

Some Labour councillors appear to need reminding that they are political representatives and not just competent and compassionate administrators.  If Labour fails to respond to the challenge of building a mass campaign of resistance to Tory-driven austerity at a local level, the whole question of our credibility as an ‘anti-austerity’ party will be undermined.  We will look like the kind of party who makes promises in opposition but fails to deliver on them in power.  Worse, if we fail to build a mass campaign against these Tory cuts, we will have failed to create the political basis in public opinion for throwing out this government and getting a radical Corbyn-led Labour government elected.

Haringey activists are, therefore, entirely correct in their fight for more representative council candidates. And their ongoing success needs to be picked up and replicated across the country as a whole.

Get Involved

Join the demonstration to Stop HDV on Wednesday

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