Shanuk Mediwaka is an officer of Hornsey and Wood Green Conservative Association
Is there any local authority as inept as Haringey Council? I have had the misfortune of living under many thoroughly useless councils in my time – Bristol, Tower Hamlets, and Oxford among them. Yet after just two years in Haringey, I can safely attest that it is the worst of the bunch. No surprise, perhaps, for the borough that is home to Momentum and includes the largest Constituency Labour Party in the country (Hornsey and Wood Green).
A mere stroll around the neighbourhood is enough to remind Haringey residents of the incompetence of their council. Fly-tipped rubbish on the pavement is all too common and sits there for weeks, if not months, before the council sends anyone to pick it up. Waste sits in bins for up to a fortnight, emitting the most pungent odour during the recent heatwave. The council thus neglects its most basic responsibilities, and Haringey residents are denied the clean streets to which they are entitled. Happily, there is a straightforward solution, which those readers fortunate enough to live in Conservative-run local authorities will appreciate: weekly bin collections. These can be coupled with recycling reward schemes to effectively promote sustainability. Haringey residents clearly back the policy – when helping a fellow activist earlier in the summer with a petition calling for the introduction of the measure, almost every door I knocked on added another signature to the list. Yet Haringey Labour continues to just ignore its residents – the arrogance, I suppose, that comes with more than fifty years in power.
Those residents, meanwhile, are often doing amazing work that the council can and should emulate. To give just one example, during the local election campaign earlier this year, I met the brilliant coaching team at Haringey Rhinos Rugby Club in Woodside, an organisation which is doing extraordinary work to expand access to the sport. By charging vastly lower fees than other clubs, they ensure that local children get to play rugby, many for the first time. During my visit, I heard how the club also acts like a second family for its young members, even arranging career advice for university and apprenticeship applications. Yet rather than letting the club extend its low-cost sessions for local children over the summer holidays, the council chooses to hire the facilities out to private providers which charge fees beyond most families, prioritising the few over the many. A council committed to expanding opportunity would work with Haringey Rhinos to expand their offering in Woodside, and eventually to roll out their model for various sports across deprived parts of the borough. Haringey Labour should listen and learn from community organisations and discard their centralising tendencies.
This toxic “we know best” mentality has had particularly devastating consequences for those most vulnerable Haringey residents. Last year, an Ofsted report highlighted “significant areas of weakness” in Haringey’s special educational needs and disabilities (Send) services. The education watchdog noted several failings including “poor communication” with parents and children and “unacceptable” waiting times for autistic spectrum disorder assessments. I have the great privilege of being the governor of a local primary school and have heard first-hand how the heroic efforts of Send teachers are not matched by those of the council. As inspectors identified, the local authority needs to more effectively work with parents and carers to ensure vulnerable children are properly supported. Particular attention needs to be paid to reducing the timeframe for autism diagnoses, which can be longer than two years. Haringey Conservatives will be watching closely to ensure that this most important of issues is addressed as rapidly as possible.
We will also be keeping an eye on whether the council takes effective action against antisemitism, which continues to blight Haringey Labour. As documented by the Jewish Chronicle, in 2020, two Labour councillors were suspended from the group for sharing antisemitic posts and extreme anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. Noah Tucker shared social media posts which claimed that American police officers responsible for killing George Floyd had received training from Israeli law enforcement officers. Preston Tabois, meanwhile, reposted conspiracy theories about the Holocaust and subsequently claimed that such theories were useful as “an education tool to understand and relate to how governments are run (and) financed”.
Both, however, were readmitted after just six months – “little more than a slap on the wrist”, to quote former Labour minister, Ian Austin. The situation has hardly improved since then: in May of this year, Haringey Labour councillor, Ibrahim Ali, was suspended after the Jewish Chronicle revealed he had defended the description of Isis killer, Jihadi John, as a “beautiful young man” while working full-time for controversial campaigning group CAGE. The following month, councillor Joy Wallace was also suspended over a series of tweets which included claims that a rabbi was “paid and rewarded handsomely” for criticising Jeremy Corbyn. Ms Wallace also used Twitter to question Priti Patel’s Asian heritage. Zero tolerance of racism must mean just that: neither Mr Ali nor Ms Wallace should be readmitted to the Labour group on Haringey Council, which also needs to look again at its candidate selection process.
Readers will note that none of these proposed solutions can be described as complex. Any reasonably competent council would collect bins rather than allow waste to pile up, learn from brilliant community organisations, listen to the parents and carers of SEND children, and have a zero-tolerance attitude to antisemitism. Yet Haringey Labour is simply too tired and arrogant to care, and the borough is the poorer for it.