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Town Hall leader: Why I didn’t join critics of party’s ruling body

‘Voters don’t elect us to worry about internal politics in neighbouring Haringey’

02 February, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Islington Council leader Richard Watts

TOWN Hall leader Richard Watts refused to back a letter signed by council leaders attacking Labour’s governing body for its involvement in a Haringey housing development.

The party’s National Exec­­­utive Committee (NEC) took the unprecedented decision of asking the leadership in Haringey to pause a £2bn land deal after a request from rebel councillors to intervene.

Supporters of council leader Claire Kober had asked all Labour leaders to back her and to criticise the NEC in the letter published by the Sunday Times.

The row reached boiling point two days later when Cllr Kober resigned, saying she had been “disappointed and disillusioned” by the campaign against her. She had seen several supportive councillors deselected ahead of May’s council elections, many blaming a “Momentum plot”.

Asked why he had not joined the public display of support, Cllr Watts said he had a policy of “never publicly commenting” on internal party matters.

Claire Kober: Quit

In a statement to the Tribune, Cllr Watts said: “As leader of Islington Council I am 100 per cent focused on getting more genuinely affordable housing, safer streets and jobs for local people in our borough.

“It’s not for me to comment on the internal politics of neighbouring boroughs. It’s not what Islington residents elect us to worry about.”

The row in the neighbouring borough has grown so fractious, however, it has been impossible to ignore and has revealed divisions within the Labour Party.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership say his call for ballots of residents caught up in development deals for public land should have been acted on in Haringey.

The proposed joint venture – known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) – between the council and private developer Lendlease would see the creation of thousands of new homes, but critics see it as a surrender of public land for the benefit of big finance, without guarantees that displaced tenants would be re-housed in the same area.

Hornsey and Wood Green Labour MP Catherine West, former leader of Islington Council, also opposed the development, alongside fellow MP David Lammy.

Claudia Webbe: on NEC

In the wake of Cllr Kober’s resignation, the HDV now looks likely to be dumped by the next administration, almost certainly run by councillors more enthusiastic about Mr Corbyn, the Islington North MP who has won two leadership contests.

Islington cabinet councillor Claudia Webbe, who sits on the NEC, said: “The reality [with HDV] is the concept of handing over public assets to the private sector. Labour has already made clear that public assets need to be kept in public hands. That’s the policy of the Labour Party.

“Therefore, it is not surprising that local people in Haringey, who largely vote Labour, are opposed to the HDV.”

She said the left-leaning group Momentum were not “agents of change” in Haringey, adding: “It is something to do with local people, local Labour members, local councillors who have polarised in relation to the HDV decision.

“Large amounts of local people from all political persuasions opposed the HDV.”

On whether she discussed the Sunday Times letter with Cllr Watts prior to publication, Cllr Webbe said: “Richard runs Islington Council. He’s not involved in the national running of the party.

“If I want to speak about the national running of the party I will speak to the leader [Jeremy Corbyn].”

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould also refused to sign the letter.


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