By Matt White
I’m very happy to be standing alongside Wirral councillor Jo Bird to represent Labour Councillors on the NEC. Backed by the Socialist Councillors network, Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, the Labour Representation Committee, Don’t Leave Organise, Jewish Voice for Labour and others, we’re standing on a platform of ensuring socialist principles are at the heart of everything Labour does in local government.
I’d never been actively involved in politics before 2015, but when Jeremy Corbyn was unexpectedly elected as leader it seemed like the first genuine chance in my life that the Labour Party would stand for the genuine change we desperately need: to overturn the global system of exploitative capitalism that’s stifling the lives of the vast majority of people on this planet and destroying the very conditions for life, just to put a bit more cash into the pockets of those who already own the vast majority of the world’s resources.
So, in September 2015 I joined the Labour Party and immediately threw myself into the movement alongside hundreds of other new and existing members in Haringey, inspired by the prospect of an internationalist, anti-racist, class-based socialist Labour Party. I was lucky to live in Tottenham, where people on the left were already in key CLP positions, and in particular with the amazing Seema Chandwani as secretary. Unlike in many other places, new members who’d joined in the hope of a new kind of politics were not frozen out, but were actively encouraged to participate, to come to meetings and to take up roles in their branches and the CLP.
The struggle in Haringey was focussed on mobilising against the gentrifying policies being pursued by a Labour council that was ideologically committed to outsourcing and privatisation, to turning Haringey into a “commissioning council”, one where elected councillors and council officers don’t provide services but just commission and manage contracts, meaning that public money is siphoned off in profits, ending up in the pockets of shareholders rather than being reinvested in local services. And in the runup to the 2018 local elections, this struggle crystallised around the campaign against the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), a plan to transfer ownership of most of the council’s housing stock and commercial property into the hands of a private company which would be 50% owned by multinational developer Lendlease and 50% by the council.
The anti-HDV campaign fed into the selection process, and I and a number of my comrades on the local left were selected as candidates. Our successes in the selection process meant that Haringey Labour’s manifesto for the local elections was based on a set of policies drawn up by and with local party members, hundreds of whom got together to propose motions to their local branches and attend a day-long conference. This resulted in a manifesto containing pledges to build council houses at council rents, reinstate 100% council tax relief for our poorest residents, pay care workers the London Living Wage, provide free school meals for all primary school children and put fairness at the heart of everything we do.
In May 2018, I and many of my comrades were elected as councillors and a new administration took power, led by Joe Ejiofor, and began to put the manifesto into practice. Over the last two years, we’ve begun a council house building programme, raised care workers’ wages to the London Living Wage, begun to insource those services that had been outsourced to the private sector over the years and extended council tax relief. It hasn’t been easy, and we’ve faced opposition even from among our Labour councillor colleagues. We still have work to do, not least to fulfil our pledge to provide free school meals to all primary school children, but Joe has included socialists in his cabinet and built a team that’s fully committed to a policy programme that ultimately came from the local membership.
Personally, as chair of the Pensions Committee for the first two years of the Ejiofor administration, I pushed forward decarbonisation of our investment portfolio and began discussions with other North London authorities over investing pension fund assets in genuinely affordable housing and community wealth building. Now in the cabinet and with responsibility for planning, and strategic transport, I’m determined to ensure our commitment to providing housing at rents our least prosperous residents can actually afford lies at the heart of our new local plan, including our preference for council rents and secure tenancies. I’m also committed to tackling the pollution and road deaths that disproportionately affect the least well-off people in Haringey by implementing infrastructure changes that enable everyone, not just the fit and the brave, to cycle and walk and improve the spaces we live in, particularly in the east of the borough, where incomes and car ownership are lower but pollution and road injuries and deaths are higher.
I’m standing for the NEC Labour Councillors section to show that when Labour is in power and stays true to the democratic socialist principles that our membership cards refer to, we can deliver genuine change that benefits those we represent: those who under the capitalist system don’t own the means of production, distribution and exchange, but can only sell their labour at the rate the so-called job market dictates, if they can even find paying work at all.
After the hope of 2015 and 2017, the 2019 general election defeat has caused disappointment among the left. However, although Labour is in opposition nationally, in local authorities up and down the country we’re in power and have the opportunity to show what can be achieved if we put our socialist principles into practice.
In Haringey, we’ve begun building council homes for the first time in decades, reversed a relentless drive to outsource services and hollow out the local public sector, raised the pay of those who provide some of our most vital services and halted the wholesale transfer of public land and assets to the private sector.
I’m standing, therefore, to show that where Labour is in power, putting socialist ideas into practice is possible and will benefit our communities, particularly those who are in the greatest need. If elected, I will bring that narrative to Labour’s governing body.
I’m not promising to increase the power of councillors on Labour’s governing body. Rather, I want to increase the power of the membership in councils and promote socialist values, through the Socialist Councillors network, among the Labour local government community.
I hope this campaign can help raise awareness that Labour councils, and not only in Haringey, are putting socialism into practice. I hope it can encourage more socialists to get involved in their local Labour parties, to stand for selection and election, to get elected as Labour councillors and to become part of Labour administrations around the country, using their power to put socialism into practice.
And by building socialism locally and showcasing its success, we can lay the foundations for the future election of a socialist Labour government.
Please speak to any councillors you know and ask them to vote for Jo and Matt when their ballot papers arrive, and if you are a councillor please vote for us to be your voice for socialism on the NEC.