Speaking at last week’s MIPIM UK property fair, Nickie Aiken, the Conservative leader of Westminster City Council, said that the political makeup of London could see a significant shift to the left following next May’s local elections. She said that there is a "move to oust" many local Labour politicians, including council leaders. The development industry, she said, "has got to wake up about what they could be dealing with this time next year".
Responding, former planning minister Bob Neill, the Tory MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, said in a tweet that Aiken’s comments were a "timely and accurate warning". "Momentum have the knives out for pragmatists and moderates," he claimed.
The warnings follow recent press reports of a plot by supporters of Corbyn to oust Claire Kober, the Labour leader of the London Borough of Haringey. According to the reports, Kober has angered Corbyn supporters by bringing forward plans for a regeneration joint venture, known as the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). The Evening Standard reported earlier this month that a "left-wing push" to remove Kober gathered momentum when Corbyn said in his conference speech that too many council regeneration schemes amount to "forced gentrification and social cleansing".
But how much substance does Aiken’s warning actually have? There is no doubt that, following the June general election, Corbyn’s position as Labour leader is secure and his supporters emboldened. However, the evidence suggests that next May’s elections may not produce a significant shift to the left of the kind predicted by Aiken. Corbyn’s grassroots supporters - distrustful of regeneration and hostile to developers - may find themselves trapped in an awkward coexistence with more pragmatic, moderate councillors.
So far, candidates backed by Momentum have won election to a string of key positions in Labour Party branches in the flashpoint of Haringey. But it is not yet clear whether this will translate into concrete moves to deselect or weaken sitting councillors in the borough.
Elsewhere, however, the evidence does not suggest that there will be an influx of Corbynite councillors into Labour-run town halls across the capital next May. According to Dave Hill’s On London blog, most existing councillors in Hackney will defend their seats, in Southwark the bulk of sitting councillors have come through re-selection, while Brent has completed its re-selections "without turbulence". Last month, Labour Party members in Lewisham selected Damien Egan, the council’s cabinet member for housing to be their party’s candidate in next year’s mayoral election, seeing off a challenge from fellow councillor Paul Bell, who had the backing of Momentum.
So next May’s election may not result in a marked change in the complexion of Labour-led boroughs. However, the impact of the Corbyn surge may still be felt by those involved in regeneration and development in the capital. With the make-up of Labour’s membership now far to the left of the party’s councillors, moderate councillors may feel the need to demonstrate to the party’s grassroots that their approach is delivering the "homes for the many not speculative investments for a few" pledged in Corbyn’s party conference speech.
There’s already evidence of this happening in Haringey, where the local council last week put out press releases promising residents of council estates earmarked for regeneration - including those to be redeveloped by the HDV - a "guaranteed right of return" and highlighting figures showing almost three quarters of new homes built on major developments in the borough are affordable.
Whether this will be enough to placate the party’s membership remains to be seen. What seems more certain is that tensions between the party’s moderate councillors and its grassroots members to the left of these will play out in regeneration proposals across the capital far beyond next May’s local elections.
Jamie Carpenter, deputy editor, Planning // email@example.com