Row as UK Labour NEC intervenes in English Labour council’s housing scheme

Most Labour council leaders in England and Wales have signed a joint letter fiercely
attacking the Momentum-controlled committee that runs their own party.

In the letter, published exclusively in the Sunday Times, leaders of over 70
councils, including Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and many London
boroughs, say the actions of Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) are
“dangerous and alarming”, “uncomradely and disrespectful” and “an affront to the
basic principles of democracy”.

Earlier this month, the NEC acquired a secure pro-Corbyn and Momentum majority
after three members of the hard-left group, including its leader, Jon Lansman, won
seats on the body.

Last week, the committee voted to tell Labour-controlled Haringey council in north
London to halt a controversial £2bn housing scheme fiercely opposed by
Momentum.

In their letter, the leaders say: “We wish to make it clear to the NEC that it has no
right or justification to interfere in or influence the legitimate actions of locally elected
representatives.”

The vote, on Tuesday, took place with “no advance notice given” and after a discussion “based on opinion and speculation rather than facts”, they say.

Calling it a “dangerous and alarming precedent”, they demand “categorical assurances” that it will not happen again and add: “Labour councillors around the country are deeply concerned that, in seeking to mitigate Tory austerity by proposing radical new solutions, we face calls for disciplinary action against us. Such calls are uncomradely, disrespectful, and wilfully ignore the difficult and challenging role we play in doing our best to protect the most vulnerable.”

The letter also praises Claire Kober, Labour’s moderate leader in Haringey, as “inspirational”.

Seventy-one of Labour’s 123 council leaders in England and Wales had signed the round-robin email by yesterday evening. Only two refused to sign.

Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle city council and of the Labour group at the Local Government Association, which organised the letter, said: “This statement is a strong and powerful assertion of our ability to determine policy at a local level without fear of recrimination.”

He added: “If the NEC [was to] intervene directly in the running of a Labour group, without any clear justification . . . it would have been seen by Labour local government as a declaration of war.”

Another Labour leader said: “The NEC’s behaviour was not just wrong, it was utterly politically stupid.”

Haringey is set to become the country’s first “Momentum” council in May’s elections after more than 17 moderate Labour councillors were deselected or retired under pressure from the group.

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