Claire Kober has claimed Momentum “intimidation” made her Haringey LBC councillors’ positions “intolerable” and accused the Labour activist group of destroying a decade of work to improve the calibre of the council’s members.
In an LGC interview, Cllr Kober, who announced last week she was standing down as Haringey leader, also said that if her local Labour leader counterparts had all been forced to take the “left turn” espoused by Jeremy Corbyn then their councils would be experiencing Northamptonshire CC-style financial meltdowns.
Cllr Kober announced her decision to stand down amid controversy over Haringey’s proposed regeneration joint venture with developer Lendlease to build more than 6,000 homes.
She told LGC that following the riots of 2011, she came to believe major physical regeneration was required to facilitate social justice, but existing regeneration projects were failing to deliver. Councillors backed her argument by endorsing the joint venture approach despite concerns about governance arrangements and a lack of transparency.
A year ago, those councillors then came under pressure over the plan. “There was nothing presented to members from an evidence-based perspective,” Cllr Kober says. “Momentum launched a campaign that said if you support this – which is privatisation and social cleansing – then we’ll deselect you as councillors.
“I think councillors were placed in an intolerable position. I don’t blame anyone who was intimidated or threatened and therefore shifts their position for doing so… The levels of intimidation and basic nastiness around politics at the moment is so much greater than anything I’ve experienced in the past.”
Cllr Kober said some councillors were “very reluctant to attend particular meetings because of the treatment they would get” and said her “experience is not hugely different to many councillors either in London or across the country”.
“We allowed a situation to emerge – at a local level, everywhere – and in having decided to step down I have a freedom to speak that perhaps others don’t feel,” she said.
Of the 28 members of her group who had not shifted their position on the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), Cllr Kober said 15 were deselected and five decided against standing again. The atmosphere as candidates were selected for this May’s election was “vile”, she said.
“Having spent 10 years working through how we at every election or by-election take the opportunity to increase the calibre of the group, both in the extent to which we’re representative of the community and how we bring on board people with a whole bunch of skills and experiences, this round of selections has dispensed with a lot of that,” said Cllr Kober.
She urged new councillors to take “decisions on the basis of the world as it is rather than the world as they might wish it to be”.
Cllr Kober said the Labour national executive committee’s “legally dubious” decision to seek intervention with Haringey’s leadership over the HDV was “the final straw” in forcing her to stand down.
“It was democratically unsound; it’s an affront not only to all of us in Labour local government but it’s unreasonable to say to our communities ‘we are working on the basis of you being our electorate and working in your best interests’ and then somehow taking command from the national executive of the party.”
She said the “outrage” felt by her fellow Labour leaders was shown when 70 of them wrote to the Sunday Times to criticise the NEC on her behalf.
Cllr Kober said that while austerity had meant Labour’s local leaders had been “pretty pragmatic … innovative, forging new partnerships and able to make really difficult, unpopular decisions”, the party’s failure to win a general election since 2005 meant many of its national leaders were not familiar with “the machinery of running things”.
With a reference to Northamptonshire CC’s financial crisis, she added: “You get a national party that defines its politics by the staking out of ideological positions. There’s an inevitability of that clash between the politics of pragmatism and the politics of ideology. If we’d all been ideologues in local government over the past eight years we’d all be in a position where our treasurers had issued section 114 notices.”