Charlie Elphicke is the Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal.
The May Council elections will be all about the Battle for London. And it won’t be a new battle. It is set to be a repeat of the battles of the past that were fought and won in the 1980s and 1990s. Make no mistake, the hard left must be defeated – because time and again it is the most vulnerable people who are the losers when the hard left gains control of councils. Nowhere more so than in housing where the hard left would deliver less investment in housing and build fewer homes.
As a councillor in the London Borough of Lambeth in the 1990s, I was part of a team turning round the mess left behind by the hard left. Red Ted Knight and the then Militant Tendency had wrecked the council’s finances and laid waste to the delivery of public services. The Council had a debt of over £1 billion. My surgeries were full of cases where people were being evicted from council housing because the council had failed to process their housing benefit claims. Things got so bad that at one point the chief judge at Lambeth County Court ordered all eviction cases to be halted until the mess was cleaned up. And a huge mess it was – piles of paperwork were randomly stuffed into filing cabinets, down the backs of radiators or simply chucked in the bin.
Council Tax was not collected while fraud and corruption were rife. For those council tenants lucky enough to have their housing benefit claims processed, there was no money to repair the damp ridden squalor many had to live in. The investment that should have been made was not made.
Which is of course exactly what the hard left now plan for the unfortunate residents of Haringey. Back in the 80s and 90s it was the militant tendency and the so called loony left. Now we have Momentum Militants. New bottles – yet very much the nastiest of old wine. The Momentum Militants go around Haringey claiming they believe in “homes for the many” not “investment opportunities for the few”. What does it mean in reality? It means an end to years of work to secure billions of pounds of housing investment – and that 6,400 new homes are now unlikely to be built.
Which is why the Battle for London must be framed as a battle between councillors who believe in social justice, seeking to put the least well off first. Against Momentum Militants who will always put their extreme politics ahead of the needs of the poorest. Starting with the more than ten thousand people who are on the Haringey housing waiting list or stuck in temporary accommodation. People who stand to lose the chance of a home thanks to the Militants who are staging a coup there and forcing out the moderate Labour Leader, Cllr Claire Kober.
The message must be clear. Labour’s Momentum Militants will never build the houses the people need – yet councillors committed to social justice who put the least well off first can and always will see vital projects like this through. Let’s not forget that along with the 6,400 new homes, 20,000 new jobs for residents would be created too. And new schools, a community centre, town centre regeneration, new public spaces, parks as well as a multi-million pound social fund for improving lives to boot. The hard left don’t want this better future. They want to take Londoners back to the past – back to the bad old days of failing public services, poorer housing, council tax hikes that ordinary folk can’t afford along with the kind of fraud, incompetence, and corruption that was rife in Lambeth and too many other London boroughs in the 80s and 90s.
What’s more, it’s not just London that is set to suffer. Last time the hard left were largely confined to the big cities. This time the infiltration of the National Labour Party by Momentum Militant activists threatens everyone – they would destabilise councils up and down the land, putting jobs, growth, investment, housing, local services and regeneration at risk everywhere.
It’s time to stop talking the language of defeat and how many councils might be lost to an increasingly hard left Labour Party – and time to remind people to vote for councillors that care about delivering social justice, more and better homes, as well as lower taxes starting with the least well off. It’s time to stop attacking our allies and our own side and to start mobilising people up and down the land to join the fight to hold off the hard left Labour Party in the key battlegrounds. The Battle for London in May will be a key test – not just of the Momentum Militants but of the Conservatives party’s values, vision, unity, and sense of purpose.