Thank you

I am delighted that Islington has given our Labour Council a massive vote of confidence at last Thursday’s Council elections.  Thank you to everyone who voted for us – it is much appreciated and we don’t take your support for granted.

These were the best results for the Labour Party in Islington since 1974, and the first ‘repeat landslide’ since the 1970’s. The full results are on the Islington Labour website here.

There is no complacency as a result of this election. We were re-elected on an ambitious manifesto to really make our borough a fairer place.

My top priorities over the next few years will be:

  • Building genuinely affordable homes for local residents
  • Improving the quality of service for the Council’s tenants and leaseholders
  • Ensuring that every young person gets the best possible start in life
  • Ensuring that economic growth in the borough is inclusive, with job opportunities for local residents
  • Ensuring the Council continues to have the confidence of residents and deliver high quality services, despite the on-going Tory cuts.

The people of Islington have elected 47 Labour community champions, and I’m proud of our team. I want to particularly thank Flora Williamson and Anjna Khurana who have been brilliant ward colleagues in Tollington ward.

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While There Is No Easy Fix To Knife Crime, There Is Hope

My colleague Cllr Joe Caluori and I have penned an article for the Huffington Post trying to distil our learning from Islington’s work with young people caught up in knife crime and other serious youth violence.  We believe that knee-jerk responses to recent tragedies will do more harm than good and a deeper understanding of the problem is required before we can hope to solve it.

You can read it here: While There Is No Easy Fix To Knife Crime, There Is Hope

 

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On Day One of a Labour Government

Labour councillors involved in the Local Government Association recently published the booklet ‘On Day One‘ setting out how we wanted to work with a newly elected Labour government to end austerity and deliver social justice.

As Labour’s lead in local government on children’s and young people services I contributed a chapter on what Labour councils were looking for from a radical Labour Government.  You can read the booklet, including my chapter, here:  On Day One.

My chapter calls for:

  • Bringing the school system back under local democratic oversight in order to raise standards, introduce high levels of transparency and make sure public money is spent wisely.
  • Significant investment in a new generation of Sure Start centres to ensure every family can be supported to thrive.
  • Enough money to ensure every area has safe children’s services, addressing the £2bn financial black-hole faced by children’s services by the end of the decade.

 

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#enoughisenough

A lot has been said recently about the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I believe everyone in the Labour Party needs to stand up on this issue, so I wanted to be clear about my own views.

I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for 25 years and I’ve been going to party meetings all of that time. I can honestly say that I’ve never personally witnessed anti-Semitic words or attitudes at a party event in the quarter of a century that I’ve been a member. However, there are enough examples of appalling racist and anti-Semitic social media comments by some members and supporters, along with people I know and trust telling me they’ve been victims of anti-Semitic attacks from within the party (although not in Islington), for me to be clear there is a problem here that Labour needs to confront.  To say anything else would be a denial of of a reality.

I very much welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to leading Jewish organisations on Monday (can be found here). I agree with his analysis of the problem and strongly support his promise to act decisively.

As Leader of Islington Council, and a councillor in Jeremy’s constituency for 12 years, I’ve seen first-hand how well he works with the local Jewish community, supports Jewish constituents and has fostered links with Jewish community groups. I have stood alongside Jeremy at the Council’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day events where he has condemned anti-Semitism and the Holocaust as a unique crime in history, and I have sat in solemn silence next to him when we have listened to the testimony of Holocaust survivors. In recent weeks, Jeremy has worked with us in support of the Jewish and Muslim communities in North London to challenge the insensitive approach the local coroner has taken to dealing with families following the death of loved ones.

Any accusation from elements of the media that Jeremy is an anti-Semite himself is, quite frankly, wrong.

What matters now is how the Labour Party responds to our internal problems.  I want to see the NEC, NCC and party staff rapidly implement Jeremy’s words and quickly and transparently conclude disciplinary action against those accused of anti-Semitism. Any member found to have made anti-Semitic comments or harassed Jewish comrades has no place in the Labour Party and should be expelled.  More training and education on modern anti-Semitism should be made available through our party. But more than this, everyone in a position of leadership in our party needs to be absolutely clear that prejudice and racism of all kinds must be confronted and must be willing to confront it in their communities and local parties.

Labour in Islington has a proud record of working with the local Jewish community, as well as other communities, in our wonderfully tolerant and diverse borough.  As a Council we have unanimously adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, supported and funded Jewish community groups, celebrated Jewish history in the borough and actively participated in Jewish community events from Passover Seders at the Town Hall to the fantastic Menorah lighting ceremony on Islington Green.  In our election manifesto, we pledge to work to restore the borough’s Jewish cemetery.  I am as proud of this as I am of the equally strenuous work we’ve put into fighting Islamophobia and hate crime in all its forms.

Labour is not the only political party with internal problems. Any Tory who failed to speak out against Zac Goldsmith’s racially-charged 2016 Mayoral campaign has no credibility in criticising other parties’ record on confronting prejudice.  The Conservative’s recent dog whistle leaflet in Havering shows how little they’ve faced up to their own failings.

But Labour should hold ourselves to a higher standard than we’d expect of the right. We rightly called out the Tories’ racism in 2016, and we should do the same now to those in our own party who spread prejudice.

These are dangerous times; anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and intolerance seem to be on rise. We need to stand up to this both externally as a community, but also internally within our own party.

Opposing racism has been a fundamental part of Labour’s DNA since our party was formed. I fully support Jeremy’s words:

“I will not tolerate any form of antisemitism that exists in or around our party and movement.  I am committed to eliminating antisemitism wherever it exists.”

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Islington Labour’s 2018 manifesto launch

On Sunday, 25 March I was proud to join Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry to launch Islington Labour’s manifesto for the 2018 local elections.

The Manifesto can be found in detail here.

At the launch I said:

Only eight years ago Lib Dems ran Islington Council. 10 years of wasted opportunities. Cuts, sell-offs and privatisations.

We won control of the Council back in 2010 with a very clear vision. In a borough that was rapidly becoming more unequal we wanted to make Islington a fairer place.

Over last eight years I’m proud of what we’ve achieved:

  • Biggest Council House building programme in 30 years. 2400 new socially rented homes built since 2010.
  • Massive improvement in school results, particularly for working class kids.
  • Introduced universal free school meals for all primary school kids
  • Introduced the Islington Bursary to replace EMA, so cruelly cut by the Tories
  • Brought services, and almost 2000 staff, back in-house
  • We were the first Council in the country to be accredited as a LLW employer, including for our home carers
  • Kept social care for people with moderate needs
  • Not only do we build the first new public owned power station in a century but we’ve now launched Angelic energy, a publicly owned energy supplier.
  • Helped over 4000 unemployed residents into work
  • Found apprenticeships for over 400 young people in 4 years and seen youth unemployment half
  • Helped 10,000 people to reduce their fuel bills, taking many out of fuel poverty altogether
  • Fined dodgy landlords records amounts and set-up an in-house private lettings agency
  • Vitally, we’ve stood up for an open, tolerant and diverse community: the Islington we all know and love where everyone is welcome and everyone can thrive.
  • And all the time we’ve ensured the Council is well run, efficient and listens to its residents. Public confidence in council services has never been higher.

We’ve done all this against a background of a Tory Government that has made record cuts to our funding, tried to privatise services and thrown people into poverty.

I’m very proud of our achievements. I’m also really clear that this isn’t about me, or the Council’s Executive, it’s about all of us: Team Islington Labour. MPs, councillors, members and unions working together to get things done.  We all share the vision about a fairer borough and we all contribute to making it happen: thank you.

After eight years it would be easy to rest on our laurels. To put our feet up and let complacency set in.

But not Islington Labour.

Manifesto we launch today is the longest we’ve ever written. Not because empty rhetoric but because it’s packed full of new ideas to carry on making our borough fairer.  The energy in our party in incredible and we’ve harnessed that to refresh our vision. That’s why we feel confident asking the people of our borough for another 4 years in office.

Our key priorities remain housing, jobs, community safety and the cost of living. They’re still our priorities because they’re still the people of Islington’s priorities.

Our manifesto is jam packed with new ideas:

  • Building at least 550 new council homes, prioritised for local people, as part of delivering 1,900 new genuinely affordable homes during the next 4 years.
  • A crack-down on rogue landlords, starting with a new landlord licensing scheme along Seven Sisters Road and Finsbury Park
  • Giving a say on new housing to people on our housing waiting list, not just the propertied few – the first scheme of it’s kind in the country and a clear statement of just whose side we’re on.
  • A new in-house homelessness outreach services
  • An ‘In-Work Progression’ programme will also help residents facing challenges from in-work poverty to gain new skills through lifelong learning – blazing a trail for the Jeremy’s National Education Service
  • The return of ‘night schools’, so people can learn at a time that suits them. 
  • New affordable workspace to create more jobs for local people, particularly making use of the wasted spaces and abandoned garages on our estates to build homes and create jobs
  • Accepting the recommendation of our Fair Futures Commission to guarantee 100 hours of work-related experience by 16
  • new careers advice in our schools, following the Tories’ cuts to Connexions
  • In yet another first we’ll address ‘holiday hunger’, where some children on FSM go hungry in school holidays, through genuinely affordable holiday clubs with decent food.
  • Tapping into the tremendous cultural opportunities and assets of the borough, the Council will aim for each child in an Islington school to have experienced 11 cultural experiences in the borough by the time they are in Year 11. Giving working class children the opportunities the middle class kids take for granted.
  • Working with our community and public services to reduce the lonliness that ruins so may lives
  • Committing to publish a far more transparent gender pay audit than we have to in law
  • Delivering 400 new electric car charging points over the next 4 years
  • closing some streets outside school to cars at drop-off and pick-up times to improve air quality breathed by our kids
  • Setting ourselves the bold ambition of making the borough energy self-sufficient within a generation, through an expansion of Bunhill Energy Centre-type power plants in the borough, as well as working towards the borough having net zero carbon emissions.
  • Removing the outdated gyratories that disfigure our borough and building new protected cycle routes from Old Street to Clerkenwell Road, along the Camden Road and Seven Sisters Corridor, along the Holloway Road corridor and Upper Street.
  • Installing 400 more bike storage facilities on streets and estates, over the next 4 years.
  • Banning HGVs on residential roads
  • Divest the Council’s pension fund from fossil fuel companies
  • Refuse to do business with any company the engages in modern slavery
  • And introducing a new charitable Fairer Islington Fund paid for a voluntary extra Council Tax band on the most valuable homes.

The list of new ideas goes on.

Keeping children’s centres, libraries, free school meals for all, pensioners council tax discount, weekly bin collections and keeping council tax under the London average.

That’s a radical vision for the future of our borough. It would be easy for austerity to have killed our ambition. It hasn’t. we’re more ambitious now than we’ve ever been before.

We’re also really clear about whose side we’re on. We’ve seen a small amount of noise recently from people campaigning against building genuinely affordable housing in the borough.  I’ll be honest with you that’s going to get louder. Because we’re on the side of people who need homes I’m unapologetic we need to build a lot more homes to end the housing crisis. It’s always easiest to listen to the loudest voices but it’s our job to listen to the voiceless. So I can’t stand here and promise you there won’t be more opposition to new house building. I can promise you that while we’ll always listen and be respectful to those who disagree, we’ll stick to the task of building the affordable homes Islington needs. The housing crisis ruins lives and a victory for Islington Labour in the election will give us a clear mandate to get on and build the homes the 10,000 households in the borough in severe housing need so desperately need.

At the heart of our manifesto is a long-term vision for the future. A radical Labour Council working with, we hope, a radical Labour government to fundamentally break down the unfairness that still so defines life in our borough. 

We want our borough to be a place where good quality social housing is available for those who need it. Where private rented housing is safe, secure and affordable. A borough where young people’s life chances aren’t determined by their background – where everyone can achieve their full potential. Where new world class jobs are open to people from all backgrounds, not just those with the connections and the confidence to get them. Where everyone can enjoy access to the world class culture on our doorstep. Where new technology is embraced by harnessed in the interests of ordinary people. Where our environment is clean and unpolluted. Where kids don’t live in poverty or get groomed into crime. Where public services and accountable and democratic. Where all older people have dignity in retirement and excellent care.

At heart we want a borough for the many, not the few. Islington is a special place and I think we can do it.

You’ll notice I’ve not mentioned other parties locally. We’re going to fight a wholly positive election campaign based on our record and our vision. I’d challenge the other parties in Islington to do the same, because at the moment I think we’re the only people running a positive campaign. Particularly disappointed by attack on the “Labour machine”. Make no mistake they mean you all.  Our party is made up of thousands of ordinary people across our borough. I think it’s fantastic that hundreds of Islington residents are volunteering their time to campaign for what they believe in. What you do makes all the difference.

While I feel really confident about this election nothing is in the bag. Not a single vote has been cast in this election yet. Take nothing for granted. Show no complacency.

The general election sent a shot across the bows of the establishment. To carry on the momentum to a Labour government, we need the council elections to do the same. We need to show them that a radical Labour party is also a popular one. We need to show that fighting austerity and building council houses works. We need to say loudly we want Jeremy and Emily running our country.

Are you up for it?

Do you want to make our borough a fairer place?

Do you want to send Theresa May a message?

Do you want to take a step towards Emily being our Foreign Secretary?

Do you want Islington to show our borough wants Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister?

Then get out there on the doorstep.

Together, let’s make it happen.

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No clarity yet for Islington’s EU citizens

In December, I, along with every other Labour Council Leader in London, wrote to the Prime Minister asking that she immediately guarantee the future rights of EU citizens living in our City.

EU Citizens are our friends and neighbours. They are critical to our economy and our public services in Islington and cross London depend on them.  It is imperative the Government stop playing politics with their lives and guarantee their full rights now.

This article on the Islington Labour website sets out why I’m so disappointing with the Government’s wishy-washy response: Government has dodged the question again on the rights of local people from the EU.

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Carillion and why ordinary people feel the system is rigged against them

Many Islington residents will have been shocked by the dramatic collapse of the massive private construction firm Carillion in recent weeks.

The first priority of the Government in responding to this crisis should be to help protect the more than 20,000 Carillion employees in the UK, who are understandably extremely concerned about the future of their jobs.

Many small firms in the supply chain will also be affected by the collapse of this speculative business, including local firm K&M McLoughlin Decorating. They must not lose out when the big banks are demanding payments from Carillion’s liquidators, as the impact on jobs will be even harsher if they are.

One way the Government could immediately support thousands of Carillion’s employees would be to bring crucial public sector contracts the company leads back under public sector control. This process of bringing contracts back ‘in-house’ would protect jobs now and right the wrong of years of speculative Government outsourcing.

Islington Council does not have any contracts with Carillion and has been at the forefront of moves to bring services and contracts back in-house and under local democratic accountability.

Since 2010, we have brought major services such as housing and waste collection back in-house, as well as others including housing repairs, education, CCTV, cleaning services, and caretakers. The trade union UNISON recognised the work Islington has done in this area, using the return of cleaning services to the council as a case study in a report on the benefit of in-housing services.

At a time when the Government is cutting the Council’s core funding by 70% in a decade, bringing services back in-house has also helped us to save money that can be used to protect frontline services. For example, our decision to bring waste collection services back in-house has helped us to save around £3 million a year, whilst not affecting the standard of service residents receive.

When the benefit to local people is clear, such as in the case of the many schools that were rebuilt in Islington under the Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, we will of course not turn down such investment. But this Government has failed to secure much public good from its deals with the private sector.

We think the council and public sector should be the default provider of services. This helps services to be better linked together to deliver results more quickly for local people. In Islington, we have shown that the ‘private good, public bad’ mantra, that has been the dogma of recent Governments, isn’t true.

If there is one lesson that is taken from the Carillion collapse, it’s that we should back the public sector to provide the services and building projects people rely on. I am proud that Islington has shown the success this approach brings and we will continue to argue for more councils to follow our lead.

But there is a wider point about how our economy currently works. Whatever happens with companies like Carillion, senior executives always seem to come up smelling of roses, whereas ordinary working people are left either without a job or worrying for their futures. We need an economy that isn’t rigged against working people, and instead helps make our society fairer for all. That’s Labour’s mission, and it’s time this tired Government let us get on with it.

 

A version of this post was originally published in the Islington Tribune.

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