Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan are just two of the figures backing new proposals following the collapse of the Haringey Development Vehicle. But to really tackle the country's housing crisis, we'll have to buildby Owen Hatherley / February 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
It’s a general rule that when Conservatives are in power, Labour controls the councils of most cities and metropolitan boroughs. Sometimes, they’ve used these as places to test ideas that they would hope to be able to then apply in government—from as far back as the London County Council under Herbert Morrison in the 1930s, whose mass council housing programme and nationalised, integrated transport system provided an outline of the sort of things the 1945 government would do.
This pattern was ended with the “rate capping rebellion” of the 1980s, when both the Conservative government and the Labour Party leadership clamped down on local authorities who had decided to directly confront Thatcher by illegally refusing to spend within the fiscal strictures she had introduced. This came to a head at the conference in 1985, when Neil Kinnock used his speech to make a personalised and emotive attack on Liverpool City Council and its leaders. It won him a lot of press applause—though not, as hoped, the 1987 election.
In that, it contrasts with the recent fallout from the Labour NEC’s relatively polite censure of Haringey Council for the ‘Haringey Development Vehicle’, a plan to bundle up a huge chunk of a London Borough, including several council estates, shops and parks, into a joint venture with the Australian property developers LendLease.
But the pattern is similar. Recent actions at the top suggest that Labour wants a shift in local government, away from an era in which councils and developers (and, frequently, outsourcing companies like Carillion and Capita) were hand-in-glove, and where Labour councils worked—very consciously—more like development agencies than elected representatives holding businesses to account. Instead, they’ll be expected to work as a line of defence for places suffering under austerity, housing problems and poverty. This, then, is Corbyn’s “a Labour council!” moment—albeit done with relative tact.
Despite the press response, there is a surprising amount of unity around this shift, with a common message from Corbyn and John McDonnell, the far-from-Corbynite Shadow Housing Minister John Healey, and Mayors like London’s Sadiq Khan.
Just days after the NEC’s statement on Haringey, Khan made clear that on his watch, no council estate will be demolished or redeveloped without a ballot receiving the explicit consent…