Democratic socialism in one borough
Great praise for Hackney's Labour Council in today's Times:
"Hackney now symbolises everything that new Labour was supposed to be all about. The revival began in 1996, when the party expelled a number of rebel councillors, mainly on the old Left, who were partly to blame for the borough's previous poor running. Things then stalled for a while, as Hackney was run by a coalition that included many of the expelled councillors before year zero in 2002.
That was when the Government bailed out the borough with a £25million grant to keep services going, while Labour, led by a forward-looking Mayor, Jules Pipe, was elected with a clear majority.
The turnaround has been textbook. The Audit Commission labelled Hackney the “most improving” local authority in 2004 after council tax collection rates were stepped up dramatically, housing and social services improved and fraud - once endemic - was stamped upon. The commission followed this with a similarly glowing report last year - and council tax has just been frozen for the third year running. Crime figures are also tumbling.
Hackney now bursts with confidence. The long-awaited extension of the East London Line next year will see it appear on the Tube map for the first time. Trendy bars, shops and restaurants proliferate. Dalston, previously one of the “edgier” neighbourhoods, was this week even compared with the Lower East Side in mid-1990s Manhattan in a newspaper article.
It is pro-business, too.
... all in all, Hackney could be a poster child for new Labour... Hackney has shown that it is possible to improve public services while helping business to thrive, holding down taxes and providing genuine value for money."
I'd like to think that my seven years as Chief Whip, which ended when I stepped down last week, may have helped create the stable political environment that made this transformation possible.