Haringey Council Budget Speech

On 24 February 2020, I delivered the following speech in support of the Haringey Council budget for 2020/21 at the full council meeting:

Madam Mayor, on behalf of my constituents in Noel Park, I am pleased to support this budget delivering on this administration’s priorities such as fighting housing injustice, building a fairer economy, ensuring that every child and young person in the borough has a bright future and tackling the climate emergency.

Having grown up in council housing including a number of years in temporary accommodation, I am particularly pleased that this administration has made good progress towards delivering 1000 council homes at council rent. We have secured more than £60m funding from the Mayor of London to support this housing programme.

This borough has not seen this level of council house building programme for some 40 years. So, I am extremely proud that we are taking steps to address the housing crisis locally – a crisis that has been created by successive governments that have not invested in council house building but prioritised privatisation as part of a neoliberal orthodoxy.

We are also buying new homes to let to those in need of temporary accommodation which will improve the standard for tenants and save the Council money. I must say that this investment comes against the backdrop of 10 years of austerity where the local government has suffered the most. In Tory austerity Britain today, the taxpayer is footing the bill for £369million worth of refurbishment to just one place of residence – the Buckingham Palace. But, there is apparently no money to provide a decent home to hundreds of thousands of people in temporary accommodation and on council housing waiting list.

The magic money tree only exists for the rich and the privileged few.

In this budget, my constituents will be particularly pleased to see that we are allocating £4million to ensure that staff providing care services to adults through our partner organisations are paid at least the London Living Wage. My colleague, Cllr James will elaborate further on this.

Finally, the proposal that will make a significant difference to the lives to children in Noel Park and the borough as a whole is our investment of more than £6million in the School Streets programme to reduce pollution around our schools.

There are 63 primary schools in the borough. A school street is a timed school closure at around school opening and closing times directly outside of a school. This closure will massively reduce traffic on these roads, stop dangerous congestion outside of schools and improve air quality.

I recently joined the Parent Community Advisory Board at Noel Park Primary School and the poor air quality around the school from motor vehicles is a key concern. Unicef UK has recently produced a paper with Queen Mary University called ‘The Toxic School Run’. They have found that children are disproportionately exposed to higher doses of pollution during the school run. This invisible danger could be stunting their lung growth, increasing their risk of asthma and potentially damaging their brain growth.

I welcome the funding in this Budget to develop the School Streets programme.

I recommend that you support this budget.

Thank you.

February 2020 Ward Report

Turnpike Lane Joint Strategy Group

I chaired the Turnpike Lane Joint Strategy Group on Monday 13 January at 6pm at Shine Café. The meeting was very well attended with residents, businesses, police officers and other local stakeholders. Thanks to officers who have worked very hard over the past 18 months, we announced a series of projects to improve Turnpike Lane tackling crime and grime and transforming it into a ‘destination of choice’. In total, we have announced investments of around £1.5million.

There was very positive feedback from businesses that Turnpike Lane was finally getting attention after years of neglect and decline. Businesses reported that they continued to have problems in relation to parking. I have arranged a meeting for businesses on 11 February 2020 to raise those concerns with officers from the Council’s parking department.

The next meeting of the Turnpike Lane Joint Strategy Group will be on Monday 30 March at 6pm where we will report on progress on projects that are in the pipeline.

Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony

On 26 January 2020, I attended a very moving Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony in Haringey’s Civic Centre marking the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust. There were powerful stories by Sir Erich Reich who had arrived in the UK on the Kindertransport and Anita Peleg who talked about the life and work of her mother, Naomi Blake, a sculptress an an Auschwitz survivor. The ceremony ended with a multi-faith prayer from representatives of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths.

The Mayor of Haringey, Cllr Sheila Peacock coordinated the whole event and will now spearhead preparations for a fitting way to celebrate the Victory in Europe (VE) day in May.

Regeneration in Wood Green

On Tuesday 28 January, I attended a meeting with Council’s regeneration officers who presented a range of projects that are being formulated to improve our priorities around people, place and the economy in Noel Park. Some of the most pertinent initiatives are follows:

(i)              Successful first round bid to the GLA’s Good Growth Fund to improve air quality and establish a youth hub where Matalan is: will provide more information in coming months.

(ii)             Noel Park Children’s Centre is now available for hire in the evenings and weekends for local organisations.

(iii)            A series of drop-in events have concluded to consult on the Wood Green and Turnpike Lane Design Manual to form a project bidding list for public realm improvements.

(iv)           A planning application was submitted in December 2019 for the re-design of the existing Café Roj in Ducketts Common providing an improved café which will operate over longer hours throughout the year.

Alex House

I reported last month that Haringey had refused a planning application by the Ability Group to convert Alex House on Station Road into ‘shoebox’ size poor quality housing. The developer has now submitted a revised application to create 171 residential units under reference HGY/2020/0225. You have until 20 February 2020 to comment on the planning application at the following website:

http://www.planningservices.haringey.gov.uk/portal/servlets/ApplicationSearchServlet?PKID=387917

Proposed new developments in Noel Park

I attended a meeting on 29 January 2020 with the Council’s housing development team. The following sites have been identified for potential developments of council houses:

(i)              Barbara Hucklesbury Close: existing bungalows to be demolished and six family houses to be built

(ii)             71 Bury Road (garages): a large family house to be built on the site of these garages that are not used and have become derelict

(iii)            West Indian Cultural Centre: proposals are at a very preliminary stage to look at a development including the West Indian Cultural Centre and the neighbouring Jessica Buttons factory.

I will provide more information in the coming months when there is any progress on these proposed developments.

Engagement with residents’ groups

I have had and continue to have significant engagement with several residents’ groups helping them to address issues in their neighbourhood. Some of these examples are listed below:

(i)              Wallis Mews residents: I have met them on site twice in the last two months and raised a number of pieces of casework to address issues of anti-social behaviour, flytipping and motorbikes using the Mews as a short cut.

(ii)             Page High Residents’ Association: I met with Dr Adrian Chapman outside Page High and raised issues of lack of cleanliness outside Matalan, removal of the ‘Artizan’ sign from the building and CCTV. While I have been advised that no enforcement action can be taken against Matalan at this stage, I have asked officers to consider cleaning the outside and charging it back to Matalan.

(iii)            Alexandra Road: I have raised a substantial amount of casework in the recent past to address issues around flytipping and antisocial behaviour on Alexandra Road.

Residents’ groups may want to attend the next Ward Panel Meeting with Noel Park’s Safer Neighbourhood Team on Thursday 20 February 2020 at 7pm at the Green Rooms, Station Road, N22. Please email Noelpark.SNT@met.police.uk if you are intending to attend the meeting.

Bikehangars

I am pleased to inform you that following a bid to Transport for London, Haringey council have been successful in securing funding to install 300 additional secure cycle parking spaces (50 Bikehangars) to residents. There is now a consultation with residents until 19 February 2020. We plan to install the Bikehangars in March/April 2020.

The following locations have been earmarked in Noel Park to have a bikehangar: (i) Farrant Ave, flank wall of 37 Darwin Rd, (ii) Outside 84 Hewitt Avenue and (iii) Ravenstone Road, flank wall of 39 Alexandra Road.

If you have any comments or suggestions on the proposal, please email at Frontline.consultation@haringey.gov.uk. Please put ‘Bikehangar’ and your road name in the title line of the email.

Noel Park Primary School Parent and Community Advisory Board

I was invited by the school to join its Parent and Community Advisory Board and attended its meeting on Wednesday 29 January 2020. The school is looking to improve its links with the community and working to produce a magazine that will inform the wider community of the school’s successes and its offering.

 

January 2020 Councillor Report

Cllr Khaled Moyeed

Dear Noel Park Members
Happy new year! In this report, I have summed all the different types of work that I have been doing recently as your Councillor. I am happy to meet or speak on the phone if you would like more details on specific aspects of my work. Below are all the different bodies of which I am a member in my capacity as a Councillor:
(i) Chair of Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel
(ii) Co-chair of Turnpike Lane Strategy Group
(iii) Member of Alexandra Park and Palace Advisory Committee
(iv) Member of Free School Meals Working Group
(v) Trustee of Wood Green Urban District Charity
During the general election campaign, I canvassed in many marginal seats outside London such as Milton Keynes North and South, Harlow, Stevenage and Hastings and Rye as well as locally for Catherine West. I also published a number of articles on LabourList and Labour Hub which reached thousands of readers across the country. You will find my articles on my blog (www.khaledmoyeed.blog).
i. Turnpike Lane Joint Strategy Working Group
Cllr Sarah James (Harringay) and I co-chair the Turnpike Lane Joint Strategy Working Group (TPLJSWG), made up of Harringay and Noel Park Ward Councillors, traders, residents, the Police, Council Officers and local interest groups, which was set up to tackle some of the issues facing the area and agree on a plan to improve Turnpike Lane.
TPLJSWG has been meeting regularly for the past 18 months and I am pleased to inform you that we are in a position to start agreeing on projects and schemes that local traders, residents and visitors to the area have been asking for.

I would like to invite you to attend the next TPLJSG meeting to be held on Monday 13 January, 6.00pm – 7:30pm, at Shine Café, 89-91 Turnpike Lane, N8 0DY. For further information please contact Maureen Juliana-Harvey at: Maureen.JulianaHarvey@haringey.gov.uk

Below is a progress report of the various steps that we are taking on Turnpike Lane.

1. Festive lights: Festive lights have been installed and were switched on on Friday 6th December. It has been received well with traders, residents and visitors.

2. Bespoke business support: Thirty five businesses have participated in the scheme and been surveyed. Our aim was to identify 15 struggling businesses to offer intensive in-house and bespoke support. Those needing support tend to be managed by staff rather than owners. The staff have been reluctant to fully engage. We were hoping to collate detailed information about the businesses including types of tenure to ascertain whether they will be willing to participate in shop frontage improvement. We were also hoping to encourage them to invest, albeit a small amount, in their businesses and in developing an online presence and improve their marketing. We have not given up and will try to contact owners.

3. Redundant Estate Agents Boards: Officers from the Council’s Enforcement Team have agreed to launch an operation to take down expired and old estate agents boards. An operation has been set for 8th January 2020.

4. HMOs on TPL: The Housing Improvement Team and the WG Regeneration Team have applied to Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – MHCLG, to deliver a project named ‘TPL -Accommodation Above the Shops’. The project is aimed at HMOs and will seek to work with tenants to ensure the properties comply with Council’s regulations and are safe and suitable for habitation. Elements of this projects includes: Establishing relationships with tenants and property owner; tackling waste management and ASB and establishing a line of communication for future engagements.
The project will be offering translations services and support. The scheme will also benefit from having two housing advisors funded through Migration Impact Funding as part of the Council’s wider connected community’s project. These officers will work alongside Housing Improvement Officers to ensure tenants have access to support mechanism, signposting to other services within the Connected Communities programme and to advise tenants of their rights. We have applied for £93,000.

5. Waste Consolidation Scheme: The Council’s Waste Improvement Team’, supported by Wood Green BID, have submitted a funding bid to London Waste Recycling Board to introduce a waste consolidation scheme in the area. Currently eleven different waste collection companies operate in the area. This project aims to reduce this number and use a local storage (compactor) to store the waste and remove them at a later stage.
An electric vehicle will be used for collection to reduce air pollution. When implemented the scheme will result in lower waste disposal costs for businesses. This is a two-stage bidding process. Our bid was successful at the first stage. The outcome of the second stage will be announced late January 2020.

6. Neighbourhood CIL Funding: Our application for Neighbour CIL money has been recommended for approval by the S106 / CIL team and a report will be going to February Cabinet meeting. The report has been signed off by Cllr Hearne and Dan Hawthorn. We have applied for £600,000.

7. GLA’s Good Growth Fund: The Council’s application to GLA’s Good Growth Fund has been successful at stage one and we will be preparing detailed application for the final stage. We have requested £600,000 to match fund the Neighbourhood CIL money to invest on TPL.

8. Place making and design service for TPL: All the documents and paperwork have been cleared by LBH Strategic Procurement and ready to go out to tender for a team of place making consultants to develop detailed and workable vision and design to implement the TPL improvement plan. On the advice of our Strategic Procurement team we will wait until 6th January to go live.

ii. Update on Alexandra Road drug den

There was an address in Alexandra Road which was used as a crack house. This property was closed by the police by means of a Closure Order. The police recently made a further application for a three-month extension meaning no persons will enter the property for a period of six months. The council has also served legal papers in regards to the property. There has been no further nuisance from the property which has been secured by the council.

Officers from the council have monitored Alexandra Road, The Avenue, Malvern Road and The Mews in Turnpike Lane since the Closure Order was obtained, but no persons have been witnessed misusing drugs or loitering with the intention to deal drugs. If residents have information to the contrary they should contact the police advising the date, time, a brief description of the offender. This will enable the police to deploy resources at appropriate times and give the police powers to Stop and Search if individuals match the description given by residents. Residents should report this issue to the police either on 101 or on the Met Police website at https://www.met.police.uk/

iii. Alexandra House conversion

Many residents got in touch with me regarding the proposed conversion of Alex House on Station Road into shoebox size residential units by a billionaire property developer. Alex House is in Woodside ward. This story was featured in the Guardian with the title, “The billionaire and the 219 tiny flats: a new low for rabbit-hutch Britain?” (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/nov/23/the-billionaire-and-the-219-tiny-flats-a-new-low-for-rabbit-hutch-britain)

The good news is that Haringey Council has refused planning permission for Alexandra House to be converted into shoe-box size residential units. I will continue to oppose this proposed conversion if the developer appeals the decision.

iv. Free school meals in Haringey’s primary schools

This was one of the key pledges of our manifesto. We had set aside £50,000 in our 2019/20 budget to carry out a pilot project. I spoke of my delight that we were making progress on this manifesto pledge during the full council meeting to set the budget in 2019.
I have now joined a free school meals working group led by Cllr Zena Brabazon, cabinet member for children and families. The first meeting is on Monday 6 January at 6pm. I will report back to you after the meeting.

v. High Road West Scrutiny Review

As part of my work as the chair of Housing and Regeneration Scrutiny Panel, I will be chairing a review of the regeneration scheme known as ‘High Road West’ with Lendlease as the developer. The scheme affects the Love Lane estate which has 297 apartments (majority are temporary accommodation tenants) and the Peacock Industrial Estate. The estimated value of the overall scheme is around £1billion. Please let me know if you are interested in the scrutiny review. I will keep you updated of progress especially if you want to attend any of the public evidence gathering sessions. Otherwise, I will not be reporting on this piece of work going forward as it does not concern Noel Park per se.

vi. Thoughts on Labour’s election defeat and election of new leader and deputy

Since I became a member in 2010, we have lost four general elections in a row. Last month’s electoral defeat was the most difficult for me, because the country needed a radical Labour government more than ever before to reverse austerity and invest in our economy. Labour needs to be united under its new leadership, because divided parties do not win elections. We will need to focus on winning the electorate rather than have endless internal factional struggles. Our manifesto for the next general election will need to be credible. Voters did not believe that our manifesto this time was deliverable which is why they rejected it.

I will wait to see who the candidates are for leader and deputy leader before declaring who I will support. I want the new leader to keep Labour left and retain many of our policies such as renationalisation, abolishing tuition fees, building council houses and the green industrial revolution. Moving to the centre or centre-right like ‘New Labour’ pursuing Thatcherite policies is not going to be the answer. I would like the leader and deputy to work as a team and avoid the dynamics that we saw between Corbyn and Watson.

vii. My Surgery Details

Residents can see me at the following times:
(1) Second Saturday of each month at Wood Green Library from 10.30 to 11.30: no need for appointment
(2) Fourth Saturday of each month: roving surgery from 10.30 to 11.30 by prior appointment.

Our Brexit policy cost us dear in this election, but we live to fight another day

Labour Image

As the exit poll was announced on Thursday 12 December 2019, it was clear that Labour was facing its worst electoral defeat since the 1930s. I expressed my initial thoughts in an article on LabourList as the result was coming in:

In the 2017 general election, Labour achieved the biggest increase in vote share of any political party since 1945. As I am writing this, according to the exit poll Labour is on course to win only 191 seats in this election. This would be the worst result, in terms of number of seats won, since the 1930s. It is a devastating blow to the Labour movement.

The difference between 2017 and 2019 is the change in Labour’s Brexit policy. In 2017, Labour said in its manifesto that it respected the outcome of the EU referendum. This remained the Labour policy for a long time and it was doing well in the polls while the Tories were tearing themselves apart over Brexit. In September 2018, Labour had opened up a four-point lead over the Tories, according to a Survation poll.

The Tory crisis over Brexit continued to deepen. In December 2018, Theresa May’s government was the first government in history to be held in contempt of parliament over its failure to publish the full Brexit legal advice. In January 2019, May had suffered the worst parliamentary defeat in history over her Brexit deal. It did not look like things could get any worse for the Conservatives.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn resisted calls to adopt the so-called ‘people’s vote’ as a Labour party policy. There were growing calls to change Labour’s policy on Brexit as the street marches for a people’s vote got bigger and bigger. Petitions calling for a people’s vote attracted millions of signatures. Labour finished third behind the Liberal Democrats in the EU parliamentary election in May 2019. The Labour Party caved into the internal pressure and adopted a second Brexit referendum as a policy at its conference in September 2019.

This gifted the Tories the perfect opportunity to mount a comeback by creating a narrative of Labour betrayal over Brexit. Labour’s position in the polls began to suffer. And Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings exploited this to go after Labour leave voters in northern heartlands. This was an expensive gamble and it seems to be paying off. Labour is losing seats in its ‘red wall’ seats that it had won for decades. Blyth Valley, for example, has never had a Tory MP until now.

Working class towns including former mining constituencies are turning blue. Traditional Labour voters who have never voted Conservative have voted for Boris Johnson to ‘get Brexit done’. It is a message which resonated with voters in those constituencies. On the doorstep, I spoke to many working class Labour voters who were not happy with Labour’s Brexit position. They felt that Labour had deserted them. Labour had adopted a Brexit policy that was overwhelmingly pursued by metropolitan elites with whom they could not relate.

Brexit is Boris Johnson’s Falklands war moment. Despite being consistently behind in the polls, Margaret Thatcher turned around her fortunes in the 1983 general election on the back of the British victory in the Falklands War. After the loss of the Tory majority in the 2017 election and the open civil war in the Conservative Party over Brexit, Boris Johnson was able to turn around the Tory fortunes by exploiting Brexit and going after Labour Leave voters.

Labour’s change in its Brexit policy from 2017 was the main reason why it has lost this election. If Labour had gone full Remain and joined the so-called ‘Remain alliance’, it may have lost even more seats. We just have to look at the Liberal Democrats’ failures in this election as evidence of that. Those who were instrumental in changing Labour’s Brexit policy from 2017 have to shoulder much of the responsibility for our devastating defeat.

It is important that we do not implode as a movement in a blame game that may now ensue. We still have to perform an important role in opposition holding the Tories to account. Boris Johnson’s mantra of ‘get Brexit done’ is itself a big lie – because it will take many years to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU. Brexit will not be done by January 31st and there remains a real risk of a cliff edge, no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020. Labour will have to hold Johnson’s feet to fire over Brexit and the light-touch promises that he has made to invest in our public services.

We must not retreat from our policy positions in all other areas. We need to continue to make the arguments that we made to protect our NHS, invest in our public services and bring about a green industrial revolution. We are a mass movement of people brimming with passion to bring about a real change away from austerity, privatisation and tax cuts for the wealthy. Thousands of Labour members went out braving the cold, having millions of doorstep conversations about Labour policies for the many. We will need to harness that energy and ensure that a Labour government is elected in post-Brexit Britain.

Don’t give up hope – this election is not in the bag for Boris Johnson

Labour Image

The YouGov MRP model was received with much fanfare when it was released on November 27th, some two weeks before the general election. It showed that Boris Johnson was on course to secure a 68-seat majority. The polls are giving the Tories on average a steady 10-point lead over Labour in the last few days going into the election. We have been here before. On the eve of the 2017 general election, a ComRes poll predicted a 74-seat Tory majority, giving the party a 10-point lead over Labour. We all know what happened next.

The 2017 general election campaign kicked off with much talk about how big the Tory landslide was going to be and that Labour was facing a historic wipe-out. Theresa May was apparently more popular than Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in their heyday. The right-wing press ran away with headlines such as “Labour facing election wipeout as polls suggest Tory majority of up to 150” (Daily Telegraph, 25 April 2017). After the polls were proven so spectacularly wrong, Channel 4’s Jon Snow famously declared, “I know nothing. We the media, the pundits, the experts, know nothing.”

Polls were not just wrong in 2017; they were wrong about the 2016 EU referendum and the 2015 general election. Why polls have been so consistently wrong in recent years is what academics and psephologists are busy studying. If we have learnt anything at all from all these polls is that you do not win elections on the back of favourable poll ratings. This may sound obvious, but you would not think so looking at some of the mainstream press. The Daily Telegraph ran a comment piece saying that this election was already in the bag for Boris Johnson. The Sun has been chronicling the fall of Labour’s ‘red wall’ to get Brexit over the line. In a case of déjà vu, we are seeing hysterical headlines that proved so costly for Theresa May and might well be for Boris Johnson too.

Labour should be confident approaching December 12th for a number of reasons. The polls are underestimating the record number of young people who have registered to vote. There is evidence of the repeat of the so called ‘youthquake’ of 2017, because a lot more young people have registered to vote this time. Tories have turned this into a Brexit election in which young voters will want to have their say on the biggest issue of our time that affects their future. Those who have turned 18 since the 2016 EU referendum will have an added impetus. They did not get a say in 2016, but will certainly express their view at the ballot box this time.

The ‘youthquake’ is particularly evident in Boris Johnson’s seat, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which is home to Brunel University. The Labour candidate, Ali Milani, was a former president of the Students Union at Brunel University. The university and a number of youth organisations have been active in the constituency mobilising young people. They may make history by making Boris Johnson the first sitting Prime Minister to lose their seat for about 100 years.

Tactical voting is another factor that could deny Boris Johnson a majority. A number of tactical voting websites have propped up. Although their advice is not consistent, what seems to be clear is that voters are a lot more clued up about voting tactically. I have spoken to people on the doorstep who are intending to vote tactically to oust their local Tory MP. In Stevenage, for example, I knocked on the door of a couple who were Lib Dem members, but were supporting their Labour candidate as it is a Tory-Labour marginal. Tory grandees such as John Major and Michael Heseltine have made important interventions in this election urging voters to reject Boris Johnson’s hard-right Brexiteer candidates in favour of alternative candidates. This is unprecedented. Even during Theresa May’s awful 2017 election campaign, a former Conservative Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister did not call on voters to reject Tory candidates.

Labour’s ground campaign is another reason for which there is much to be hopeful about. Labour members have come out in their thousands braving the inclement weather to have doorstep conversations with voters. Neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems could match the enormity or the passion of Labour’s campaign on the ground. Instead, Tories have fought this election with lies, disinformation and fake news from changing the CCHQ Twitter handle to ‘FactCheckUK’ to registering a website to masquerade as ‘Labour’s manifesto’.

Labour members have had millions of doorstep conversations up and down the country about issues that matter to people such as ending austerity, protecting our NHS, abolishing tuition fees, a green industrial revolution and giving voters the final say on Brexit. Opinion polls will not be able to sufficiently reflect the effect of Labour’s ground game.

There is also a difference between how Labour members fought the 2017 campaign and how we are fighting this campaign. Labour’s chances were written off even before the election campaign kicked off in 2017. It is true that grassroots members campaigned mainly in marginal Labour held seats to ensure that we did not lose them. We wanted to shore up our base – it was a ‘defensive’ campaign. In contrast, this is an ‘offensive’ campaign and Labour members have gone out to campaign in marginal seats we are hopeful that we can win them from the Tories. Momentum is also running a much more sophisticated ground operation than 2017. Our resources are being distributed much more evenly to prevent members from piling into particular seats.

Finally, Labour have fought this campaign by putting forward a range of ideas to transform every part of our economy and society. Labour have launched specific manifestos for investments in the arts, to help disabled people and deal with the climate crisis, for example. Ideas have been put forward to transform our country in the same way that the 1945 Labour government transformed the country in the aftermath of the Second World War. In contrast, the Tories have barely included anything resembling a vision for our country in their manifesto. Boris Jonson has gone around repeating his mantra, “Get Brexit Done”, reminiscent of Theresa May’s meaningless “strong and stable” claim.

Britain is at a crossroads, with an election that will define our standing in the world. Boris Johnson and his acolytes in the mainstream media may act like he has already won this election, but Labour has done everything right in this election campaign to deny him a majority. Labour members should go out with the confidence that we can bring about a real change with a transformative government that will work for the many, not just the privileged few.

(First published on LabourList on 10 December 2019)

Court Defeat: The Wheels Come Off Swinson’s Presidential-Style Campaign

Swinson bus

Tony Blair has in the past been criticised for introducing a presidential style of government where the focus is disproportionately on personalities rather than policies. David Cameron also carried on the ‘presidential’ style of leadership. However, neither man propelled themselves as the front and centre of their election campaigns in the same way that Jo Swinson seems to have made the Lib Dems’ election campaign all about her. There is a massive mug-shot of Swinson on the side of the Lib Dems’ battle bus accompanied by the words ‘Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats’. Does she now own the Lib Dems? Her legal challenge to feature in the ITV leaders’ debate has been rebuffed by the High Court in a sign that her weird presidential style of campaigning may be running out of steam.

As the election campaign got underway, voters across the country were treated to an A4-size Lib Dem pamphlet emblazoned with a picture of Swinson on the cover with the wording, “JO SWINSON: Britain’s next Prime Minister”. This led BBC’s Andrew Neill to ask Swinson, “When did you indulge in fantasy politics?” on his eponymous political show on 30 October 2019. Swinson is suffering from delusions of grandeur, because she leads the party which came fourth in the last general election with only 12 MPs. There was no opinion poll that suggested that the Lib Dems might gain over 300 seats next month. At least in 1981, the Liberal-SDP Alliance was polling as high as 50% prompting the then Liberal leader, David Steel to announce to his party faithful, “Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government!”. The rest is history as they say, but support for Jo Swinson’s Lib Dems has actually been plummeting since she unleashed her presidential style election campaign.

There are many reasons why Swinson’s election campaign is falling apart with the latest setback delivered by the High Court. It is undoubtedly a mistake to make this election campaign all about her rather than policies. Even as a personality, Swinson is not a compelling figure in British politics. She was a junior minister in the Tory-led coalition in which she consistently voted for austerity measures such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and trebled university tuition fees. She voted in line with the Tory whip more than some Tories. She lost her East Dunbartonshire seat to the SNP in the 2015 general election. There are signs that she might lose her seat again to the SNP next month.

Swinson has tried to portray herself as a better candidate for Prime Minister than either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn without any previous track record to back it up. Her strategy seems to be to repeat it as many times as possible hoping that it will cut through to voters. That may have had the opposite effect with the Lib Dems losing ground in opinion polls.

Swinson’s policy of cancelling Brexit by revoking Article 50 has been widely criticised including by Caroline Lucas whose Green Party is in the so-called ‘Remain Alliance’ with the Lib Dems. Remain voters overwhelmingly view Swinson’s position as anti-democratic. It is being seen as a gimmick to hoover up disenfranchised pro-Remain Tory voters. However, latest opinion polls show that Remain voters are not responding to Swinson’s ‘cancel Brexit’ mantra.

Another feature of Swinson’s election campaign which has come under criticism and mocked on social media is the rather imaginative use of bar charts in Lib Dems’ election material. In my own constituency, Tottenham, the Lib Dem leaflet had a bar chart showing the Lib Dem vote was higher than Labour’s according to the EU election. This is misleading, because the Lib Dems finished a distant third in the last general election. They have no chance of winning in Tottenham and they have never won in Tottenham. The Norwich South Labour MP, Clive Lewis tweeted a picture of a Lib Dem leaflet from his constituency showing that Lib Dem were first, Greens second and Labour third based on the EU election result. The reality is that Lib Dems finished a distant third in the 2017 general election. This prompted Clive Lewis to tweet the following to Swinson, “@joswinson how about some straight-up honesty re your party’s bar charts? Pls don’t take the electorate for mugs. You do all of politics a disservice with this distant approximation of a vague half-truth.”

On social media, activists have taken to mocking Lib Dems’ fake bar charts. I have seen a meme with two bar charts on the map of North Korea depicting that Kim Jung Un was out of the race and that only Lib Dems could win there. Clive Lewis has tweeted a picture of an astronaut on the moon with a Lib Dem garden stake that says, “Liberal Democrats winning here”. With these fake bar charts, Swinson’s campaign has lost all credibility.

The High Court defeat exposes that there was no legal basis in Swinson’s challenge to feature in ITV leaders’ debate. A massive billboard foisted on a van outside the High Court showed yet another mug-shot of Swinson with the words, “Debate her”. The British public might be put off by such overzealous personal branding in an election campaign that is not electing a president. There are still some weeks to go before the general election. If the Lib Dems want to salvage this election, they will be better off ditching Swinson’s presidential style election campaign. Instead, they should focus on announcing policies that will help the ordinary people of this country who are suffering from nine years of crippling austerity. They might want to apologise first for their part in inflicting austerity.

First published in http://www.labourhub.org.uk on 19 November 2019.

Campaigning for Labour in marginals will be the key to our success in this election

Campaign Harlow

I live in a safe Labour seat, which David Lammy won comfortably with a majority of over 34,000 votes in 2017. This means that I can afford to go away and campaign in marginal seats that Labour are hoping to gain or defend. There are around 100 marginal seats that Labour can gain from various opposition parties. There are also around 60 marginal seats that we need to defend.

On Saturday 9 November, my comrades and I from Tottenham Labour Party travelled to Milton Keynes to campaign in two seats: Milton Keynes North and Milton Keynes South. Both are marginal seats where Labour are just fewer than 2000 votes away from the Tories. We spent the morning speaking to residents in Milton Keynes North urging voters to back Labour’s Charlynne Pullen, a local candidate who was one of the first babies to have been born at Milton Keynes Hospital. The incumbent Tory MP stood down and the Tories have selected a new candidate who describes himself on his Twitter profile as a “drinker of beer” (perhaps modelling himself on Farage!). The Labour candidate fought the 2017 election and is more well-known than the new Tory candidate.

In a marginal seat like Milton Keynes North, we are fighting for every single vote. Every doorstep conversation we have is a potential new Labour voter. While there was a little hint of apathy, I had a positive response overall. An elderly gentleman showed me some anti-Labour propaganda that he had been reading in the Daily Mail that day. I managed to steer the conversation to how the Tories had failed the UK with nine years of austerity and that Labour gave us hope with investments in the NHS, free personal care for the elderly, giving back free TV licence to the over 75s and keeping the winter fuel allowance. These are some of the things that mattered to him. I left feeling that he would give Labour a chance.

I also knocked on the door of an actual ‘Workington man’ who was now living in Milton Keynes. He fit the stereotype of over-45, white man from a rugby town who had voted Brexit. The right-wing tabloids are hoping that the Tories will somehow win over enough ‘Workington man’ type voters in Labour strongholds to win an outright majority. The gentleman I was talking to was a swing voter. He was keen to engage with me about the NHS. He said that one would be lucky these days to get an appointment with their GP given years of under-investment under the Tories. He admitted that Labour is more trustworthy on the NHS. Again, he was another voter who said that he would consider voting Labour.

After lunch, we made our way to Milton Keynes South where the Labour candidate, Helen O’Neill came within 1,725 votes of taking the seat from the Tories in 2017. She is the deputy leader of the Milton Keynes Council. Although it was raining and cold, our spirits had not dampened. We knocked on doors and had those important conversations about Labour’s real change message.

I produced a video of our trip to the Milton Keynes marginals to inspire other Labour members to campaign in marginal seats across the country. At the 2017 general election, Labour successfully defended or won every single marginal seat in which my colleagues and I from Tottenham Labour Party campaigned. Labour members across the country should visit http://www.mycampaignmap.com where they can put in their postcode and it will tell them the nearest marginal in which to go and campaign.

Winning marginal seats like in Milton Keynes or defending marginal seats like Kensington where the excellent Emma Dent Coad is defending a majority of 20 will be the key to our success in this election. It makes sense to organise with a number of other comrades from your area. Carpooling is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Send out a message on Facebook, your local activists’ WhatsApp groups or Twitter and organise your trip to a marginal seat. Labour has an energised army of ordinary members to take on the constant barrage of negative publicity in the right wing media. Having a doorstep conversation will be far more effective than the negative ‘fake news’ campaign that the Tories are orchestrating.

Liberal Democrats should stand aside in Labour-Tory marginals

LibDem - Tory image

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Canterbury, Tim Walker, stood down this week and pledged his support for Labour incumbent Rosie Duffield, who is defending a majority of 187. Walker is now facing possible disciplinary action from his own party, and Jo Swinson has installed another candidate to replace him. On the following day, the Lib Dem candidate in High Peak, Guy Kiddey (now also removed as a candidate), expressed solidarity with Walker and urged voters to follow the advice of tactical voting site Remain United. Labour’s Ruth George is defending a majority of 2,322 in High Peak. The Lib Dems finished a distant third in both constituencies at the last general election.

The actions of both Walker and Kiddey during an election campaign are unprecedented, but entirely commendable. Other Lib Dem candidates across the country in Labour-Tory marginals should also stand down. The Brexit Party has stepped aside in all Tory-held seats. If the Liberal Democrats do not stand down their candidates in Labour-Tory marginals, we risk electing a hard-right Conservative government in alliance with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Our NHS will be at risk, and the Lib Dems would be enabling a hard Tory Brexit.

The time has come for the Lib Dems to put national interests first. Jo Swinson’s talk of being a candidate for Prime Minister and suing ITV to be included in the televised debate is not cutting through to voters. Lib Dem polling has remained static and in some cases, they have gone down. It is Labour that is on an upward trend: a recent Survation poll shows Labour only six points behind the Tories with another month to go before the election. Labour has not even unveiled its manifesto yet, and that is what helped Labour close the gap in the 2017 election. Labour has a radical and transformative programme, which will once again prove to be a vote-winner.

Like the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems are not contesting a number of seats, as part of the so-called ‘Remain alliance’ with the Greens and Plaid Cymru. It has emerged that candidates in ten of the 13 Labour-held seats targeted by the Remain Alliance have a strongly pro-Remain Labour candidate. This is surely a tactical mistake. The Lib Dems and their allies risk splitting the vote and allowing the Tory candidates in some of these seats to win. Take Penistone and Stocksbridge, for example, where the Greens did not contest and the Lib Dems came a distant fourth with 2,042 and the Labour candidate won with a majority of 1,322 in 2017. The Remain Alliance is targeting this seat, and there is a risk that this decision will allow the Tory candidate to win.

At the last general election, the Lib Dems came a distant fourth, winning only 12 seats across the country. There are some signs that they will improve on this performance at the upcoming election – but there are no major signs that they will make significant gains. They keep referring to their relative success at the European elections in May, when they finished second behind the Brexit Party. If we follow their logic, the Brexit Party would be in pole position to win this election. That is clearly not the case.

The Lib Dem position to revoke Brexit without a confirmatory referendum is not popular and will harm their chances at this election. With this policy, Swinson has effectively become the Nigel Farage of Remain. Even Caroline Lucas, whose Green Party forms part of the so-called ‘Remain alliance’, strongly criticised the Lib Dems for adopting such an overtly anti-democratic position. It is not sustainable in a democracy to cancel what 17.4 million voted for without asking them again, even if the Lib Dems could win an outright majority. The Conservatives achieved 13.6 million votes with a 42.4% vote share at the last general election – still fewer than 17.4 million.

It is more than likely that the Lib Dems will once again finish fourth behind the two main parties and the SNP. They can, however, play a critical role in this election, because they hold the balance of power in a number of Labour-Tory marginals. In Kensington, for example, Labour candidate Emma Dent Coad is defending a wafer thin majority of 20. The Lib Dem candidate, Sam Gyimah, should stand down and throw his weight behind the Labour incumbent to ensure that the Tories do not win there. Similarly, in the Cities of London and Westminster, the Tory majority is only 3,148. The Lib Dems came third with 4,270. They should withdraw their candidate, Chuka Umunna, and focus on ensuring that the Labour candidate wins. The more Labour candidates we have across the country, the chances of a confirmatory Brexit referendum increase and the risks of a hard-right Tory government decrease. It is a no-brainer. It is time for the Lib Dems to act in the national interest.

Also published in http://www.labourlist.org on 14 November 2019.

Narendra Makanji held the door open for BAME politicians like me

fb_img_15553621287662422513792181072482.jpgfb_img_15553621169088491411816449840380.jpgNarendra’s pioneering work in the Black Sections is well documented. He continued to encourage and inspire BAME politicos until the very end.

In 2017, Narendra wrote a glowing endorsement to support my candidacy when I was seeking nomination to stand in Noel Park, which he had represented for 24 years. He gave me plenty of excellent advice and canvassed members ensuring that I was successful in securing nomination.

Throughout the election campaign in 2018, as these photos testify, he was always there to lend me a hand. He came to the campaign photo launch and gave me a hand in putting up garden stakes. He spent an entire afternoon with me taking me to another ex Noel Park Councillor, Martin Appadoo’s house where we put up about 10 garden stakes. It was strategically placed opposite a polling station and we had to drape it in Labour colours to send a subliminal message to voters as they were going into the polling station, Narendra explained.

Today, I am proud to represent Noel Park which was Narendra’s home and where he had served as a very popular local Councillor. Many a resident spoke to me with fondness about Narendra’s hard work. If I could achieve only half of what he had one, I would be extremely proud.

Remembering comrade Narendra Makanji

Narendra’s house was like a little museum. He had photos hanging on the wall depicting all the great struggles and campaigns of which he had been a part from anti-apartheid movement to anti racism activism.

He always had a lot of time for political novices like me. I took these photos during a visit to his house. His house was the de facto committee room at every recent election. I will miss all the long chats I had with him and the great advice he used to give me.

During the 2018 local election campaign, I went to put up a Labour garden stake outside Narendra’s house. From the archives in his house, he gave me two big posters of Stephen Lawrence and Rahimullah Aramesh who were both brutally murdered by racists. I helped to auction them off at the Haringey Stand Up to Racism fundraising dinner.

I will certainly miss going to Narendra’s house to see what hostoric documents lie in his treasure trove. I hope we can archive the documents in his house for future generations to see. The struggles against racism in which Narendra played a key part in the 70s, 80s and 90s are again relevant today. And we must carry on that fight.