It is another case of Corbynite militants overthrowing a moderate Labour politician. Or so I thought when I read this morning that Warren Morgan, leader of Brighton and Hove Council, has been driven out by the left of his party – he will step down as leader in May and not stand again as a councillor when his term expires in 2019. It has similarities to what happened to Claire Kober, former Labour leader of Haringey council, who recently resigned claiming ‘bullying’ by Jeremy Corbyn supporters.
But then I recalled the last time I read the names ‘Haringey’ and ‘Brighton and Hove’ in the same story. It was a few weeks ago in a story about the activities of private waste enforcement officers who have been deployed on the streets by local councils with a financial incentive to issue as many fines as they can. In Brighton, a woman who runs a micro-business making dog-collars by hand was visited by officers from a company called 3GS, who issued her with a £300 fine. Her crime? To have taken two cardboard boxes to a local recycling centre rather than contracting a commercial waste handler to take away the boxes for her. The same has happened to numerous other tiny businesses in the city, including a man who manufactures small quantities of vegan beard oil (yes, this is Brighton). The firm 3GS, appointed by Brighton and Hove Council to tackle fly-tipping – a job it offered to do in return for keeping a proportion of the fines it issues – has found it more profitable to target micro-businesses producing trivial amounts of waste than to tackle gangs who dump mattresses and other waste on the streets.
In Haringey, residents report a similar experience at the hands of a company called Kingdom Services. Elise Briggs received an £80 on-the-spot fine after an officer employed by Kingdom on behalf of the council claimed to have found a black bin bag full of her rubbish eight doors down from her street – a bag she had put in her wheelie bin and left out for collection on rubbish day. Like 3GS, Kingdom receives a cut of every fine issued and is thereby incentivised to issue as many fines as it can, and to pick on easy targets.
It is exactly this kind of practice which gives outsourcing of public services a bad name. And in both cases it had been perpetrated by Labour councils under so-called ‘moderate’ leadership. It is also practised, it has to be said, by some Conservative-led councils. I am no Corbynite and I have no ideological objection to public services being provided by private companies – on the contrary, sometimes it is the right option. But if I found myself on the receiving end of a fine for several hundred pounds for putting an item in the wrong recycling bin, issued by a band of privateers employed by my local council and incentivised to pick on soft targets, I know who I would regard as the real bullies. I would be cheering on the Corbynites – or anyone else – who sought to topple the regime which sent the bin Nazis out on to the streets. There is nothing ‘moderate’ about councils which do this.
On this issue, as on unaffordable housing and overcharging, badly-performing private train operators, the government seems unable to understand the appeal of Corbyn – it isn’t because we have suddenly become a nation of socialists, but because he is promising to sort out problems which neither the Conservatives nor New Labour ever bothered to do.