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The Dear Leader, Great Helmsman and Supreme Symbol of the People, and Haringey Council democracy

I see that Momentum's Jon Lansman is discussing recent Haringey goings-on in the New Statesman  https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/02/labour-s-intervent....

I'm dimly aware of how the 'Leader and Cabinet' model in Haringey was the result of the Local Government Act - but it's only recently I've come to realise that there are no checks and balances worthy of the name at all.

Apparently a vote in Full Council (unless one of confidence, which ain't gonna happen) counts for zilch, Scrutiny is toothless and simply ignored, the cllrs in the Labour Group never debate anything, and the Cabinet just agrees with everything or they're sacked. The Opposition are completely irrelevant. Anything the Dear Leader decides goes. No checks and balances whatsoever. Why are we bothering to elect councillors at all? They could just turn up on day one of a new administration, elect the leader, and go home for four years.

And if someone can tell me how the secretive Cabinet Advisory Board is allowed to report to no one and is beyond any oversight or FOI requests, please do.

According to Lansman the lack of checks on council leaders' power is all Tony Blair's fault, and he views the motivation for the 2000 Act as a method of keeping local labour activists in check. He may well be right...

"The answer lies in the settlement Blair made with council leaders, not unlike that between a feudal king and his nobility. He created strong council chiefs who, with the co-operation of the party’s regional offices, were able to ensure troublesome critics could be barred from selection, leaving leaders free to run their towns and cities as they chose. In return, they would provide their overlord with a loyal ground force, who could be relied upon to operate the local party machine and deliver the outcomes No 10 desired.
Councillors sign contracts, enforced by the leader’s whip, covering campaign activity, community and party engagement, surgeries, meeting attendance and specific responsibilities. If they behave themselves, they will be readmitted to the panel of candidates before the next election and perhaps promoted. If not, the whip will give them an unsatisfactory report."

Time to return to the committee system of local government? I'm not sure London Boroughs are allowed to do that, but the new candidates could stick it in the coming manifestos if they like...

Tags: Haringey, Kober, democracy

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My recollection of the change from committees to Leader and Cabinet in Haringey is sketchy, but I recall that there was some opportunity given to us, the public, to make a choice. Luckily we have HarringayOnline to jog our memories. We were offered the choice between the system we now have, or a directly elected Mayor. Hugh from HoL has fairly recently raised the topic of changing the system, again, by means of a referendum. That would give us the choice between the current system, in which the Leader is clearly too powerful, or having a Mayor, whom people fear would be too powerful, or might possibly be populist, in the way that Donald Trump is. 

Apparently I had a view at the time . I was just as gloomy then about the possible outcomes as Mark is now, about what has actually transpired. And we are faced with a probable switch from a too-powerful Leader who believes that privatising public assets is the only answer, to a Momentum backed leader who may well believe that (re)nationalising private companies is the only way to go. And,no , they won't put the committee system in the manifesto, that way they'd actually have to win the arguments. 

See also Kober's cabinet, elect a haringey mayor,    

I'm disappointed, Adrian Essex that you seem to have accepted the idea that the only alternative to Haringey's Big Woman/Big Man system is something called a "Momentum-backed" Leader. Who must be someone committed to the ideological purity of nationalisation "as the only way to go"

As a Labour insider, I see this as a fairytale. A self-serving fiction constructed by the Dear Leader and her pals. Perhaps they think that saying it often enough and people will be scared there really is a bogeyman. (And if that doesn't seem to work, they are ready to make-up nonsense about bullying, sexism and anti-Semitism.)

So am I a useful idiot who will smile ruefully in May when we end up with another closed-minded autocrat?
I doubt it. For one thing, it would need councillors then elected to confine themselves entirely to asking: "Who?". The wrong question when the urgent questions will be: What? Why? How? and When?

In any case why would people look for another Dear Leader? Large numbers of people inside and outside the left-wing Haringey parties will be delighted to see the back of this dysfunctional regime. And fed up with hearing:
Claire is a strong Leader; the Leader is Claire.
– That is all ye know in Haringey, and all ye need to know.

But I suspect what really frightens  Kober & Co is not some narrow left bogeywoman/man. But that Haringey politics has suddenly widened. So she her pals can no longer rely on exploiting a political system with a narrow and shrinking effective membership. What the late Peter Mair called "Ruling The Void". The hollowing out of social democratic parties with shrinking memberships offering juicy opportunities for small organised and determined ideological groups.
Of course the Dear Leader and her chums wouldn't see themselves as ideologues; nor as entrists. And certainly not as the right-wing anti-political incompetent technocrats they turned out to be in Haringey.

How and why can it be different? For everyone except the Kobots, it is surely plain that a top-down I'm-the-Leader-do-as-I-tell-you model doesn't work. It wastes people's talents and shuts out the new thinking and understanding we desperately require.

But more important it ignores a central lesson of the anti-HDV campaign. Perhaps for the first time, people on the left of Haringey politics - members of parties or not - opened effective communication channels with one another. The sky didn't fall in. It wasn't too difficult to see that something important had changed when members of various tiny far-left parties were marching along with Rev Paul Nicolson, the Greens, some LibDems, and umpteen Labour Party members.

People with a wide spectrum of political views have been talking and thinking; listening and observing; reflecting and learning from events and from one another.

The Kobots are fond of the word "conversation". Which may give the impression that they too are listening and learning. But they use the word in a specialised sense - they'll you what they think and have decided. Then they give you three minutes to speak while they sit politely checking their emails.

I referred only to a probability . I am far from accepting that the only alternative to Haringey's Big Woman/Big Man system is something called a "Momentum-backed" Leader. There will be opposition parties standing at the local elections. If only they could talk to each other. Crouch End had a substantial non-Labour electorate 4 years ago. Labour might lose its grip.

Total Labour votes 4,136
Total non-Labour vote 7,899

Stranger things have happened.

The Opposition are completely irrelevant.

Mark no, this is incorrect.

I've come to realise just how important it is to have an Opposition, because they're not irrelevant. Possibly the best example of this, is the event that occurred just three days before your post. I'll set it out in detail because the mainstream media either haven't understood, or chosen not to set the sequence of events:

  1. The Opposition called for an Extraordinary Full Council meeting (about New Labour's wretched HDV policy) – the first one in the nine years since the Baby P scandal
  2. Our Motion should have been attractive to the Labour ‘Rebel’ Councillors – it even included a quote from David Lammy MP, about the relevance of Carillion to the need for a pause. Our Motion was so attractive for Labour Rebels, that up to 22 could have voted for it
  3. However, the Rebels appreciated that, if they did so, they would (a) risk suspension from the New-Labour dominated Labour Group and, for those who were re-standing, (b) risk being de-selected
  4. The Labour rebels wrote to the NEC (Labour's National Executive Committee), seeking political cover were they to vote for the Opposition Motion
  5. Not only did they get all the support they asked for, but much more than that: the NEC requested that Cllr. Kober pause the HDV and undergo mediation
  6. This attracted national publicity. Lobbyist Terrapin Communications’ Peter Bingle sent a series of frenzied Tweets decrying this external intervention and appealed for help. Support for the beleaguered Leader came from the MSM, including an editorial in the Evening Standard – by former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne
  7. Rather than attend the NEC "mediation" meeting, Cllr Kober resigned as a candidate in the forthcoming election, while continuing as Leader
  8. As she said herself, reluctantly she and HDV-champion Cllr Alan Strickland put forward an amendment to our Motion so as to delay the final, legally binding commitment with LendLease, to the next Administration
  9. The Labour ‘rebels’ could have voted to support our Motion to stop the high-risk, PFI-like, misconceived, HDV but instead, voted for the New Labour-sponsored Amendment; a Majority of Full Council (i.e. every Labour Member) then voted for the Amended (gutted) Motion
  10. Labour Councillors demonstrated that despite one or two internal disagreements, their need for unity trumps all.

All of this is unusual, as illustrated by how infrequently the LibDem Opposition has called for an Extraordinary meeting. I do agree with your larger point about governance at Haringey. The move to the strong Leader-Cabinet model was supposed to be checked and balanced by a strong Scrutiny function. However, this has proved to be feeble and ineffective.

The Chair of Scrutiny receives a Special Responsibility Allowance just below the level of Cabinet Members. The Opposition has repeatedly said this role should be occupied by a Member of the Opposition, as it is in better-governed Councils. With overweening might, this is always rejected by Labour.

Governance at Haringey is flawed and contributes powerfully to the record of chronic poor decision-making. That the HDV reached the point of a Judicial Review, a Leader-resignation and an Extraordinary Meeting, is evidence for this.


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