I was a candidate for Labour’s NEC. Here’s why I was suspended just days before ballots went out.

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Graham Durham

The chilling official letter sent to many anti-racist socialists in the Labour Party declares that “in view of the urgency to protect the Party’s reputation, the General Secretary has decided to use powers delegated to her to impose this suspension forthwith”. An immediate ban on attending Party meetings or standing for positions follows. Worse, most of the letters refer to charges of “demonstrating hostility or prejudice based on race, religion or belief” and “antisemitic actions, stereotypes and sentiments”.

Along with five other socialist candidates for the National Executive Committee (NEC) with sufficient Constituency Labour Party (CLP) nominations, I received such a letter. Mine arrived on 19 February 2020, two working days before ballots were released to Party members. Two other candidates received their letters on the eve of the poll. Only one candidate, Jo Bird, had sufficient time for Party comrades to organise a campaign and was reinstated after the NEC overruled Jennie Formby.

My letter received on the 19 February bore the date 6 February 2020. This seems too coincidental for I had declared as an NEC candidate on 30 January 2020, late in the process. And on 6 February, five working days later (I had already received 13 CLP nominations which is well above the threshold to be on the ballot), it appears Formby decided to suspend me. Was the threat of having socialist anti-racists who appeared to have popular support among Party members too great for our Party to tolerate?

Let me return to that question in a moment for first I need to establish what my beliefs and record are.

Decades of anti-racist socialism

I have been a Labour Party member for 49 years, served as an unpaid Labour councillor for eight years resisting Margaret Thatcher, and been a Labour branch secretary in three different cities. My trade union record stretches from attending the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) pickets of 1972 through to current representation of UNITE members most weeks with periods as a shop steward in many different workplaces.

I began fighting racism and fascism on the streets of Manningham in Bradford, Corby, and Leeds in the 1970s when the National Front could mobilise thousands. I travelled overnight several times to support Jayaben Desai and the Grunwick strike. I have campaigned for justice for Stephen Lawrence and against excessive police force against Black people, particularly the shooting of Mark Duggan. Most recently, I attended and spoke at a local rally near my home alongside rabbis when antisemitic daubing was smeared on local bus stops. I have visited both Israel and Palestine, twice meeting elected Israeli Jewish politicians as well as Palestinians. I have also visited Auschwitz and Jewish remembrance events in Berlin and Jerusalem.

In short, like many many Labour Party members, I have spent my life opposing racism and antisemitism.

My suspension

Returning to my suspension, of course, like many other socialists who have received such letters I am appalled at allegations which I entirely refute. On 18 February, the Labour Party leaked details of my suspension to Labour List before I had been informed. Labour List linked my suspension to a piece in the Jewish Chronicle. This report is grossly inaccurate and I can produce dozens of witnesses who attended the London rally on 9 January who will refute the accuracy of the report.

In short, I spoke in favour of the candidacies of Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon (not against Rebecca, as the JC reported) but I asked the meeting to endorse two areas where Rebecca might strengthen her campaign. The first was in relation to open selection (subsequently endorsed by Rebecca) and the second into the controversialten points‘ of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD), particularly those requiring the outsourcing of Party disciplinary processes and a ban on the Party meeting ‘other’ Jewish groups. Richard, deputy leader candidate, has taken this position.

In speaking, I stated that we should not be bullied by an apparently Tory-supporting Chief Rabbi and risked cuddling up to one Jewish body, the BoD, to the exclusion of others. These are political comments reflecting an opinion widely shared in the Labour Party membership, as evidenced on 9 January by the loud applause at the meeting. They are not in any way antisemitic or racist, but there is an assumption underlying the charge that any criticism of the BoD is, by definition, antisemitic (in which case, many Jewish friends of mine will be surprised) and that the Chief Rabbi, who has frequently adopted political positions hostile to progressive politics and the Labour Party in particular, is beyond political criticism.

A warning to the Labour left?

The administrative suspension letter warns those accused not to share charges with third parties or social media “or you may be subject to disciplinary action for breach of the Party rules”. Apart from the already Labour-publicised rally speech on 9 January, I – like other administrative suspendees – am prevented from commenting on the charges against me.

However, it is common practice of the Party to search social media posts of those accused and attach these to the charge sheet asking for comment. One comrade received 35 pages of such posts. Mine was more modest. Common to these allegations against us are any posts expressing support or comradeship to those, like Chris Williamson or Ken Livingstone, recently forced to resign from the Labour Party. I plead guilty as charged in advance to having known Ken, a neighbour for 40 years, and admiring his anti-racist work at the Greater London Council and as Mayor of London. Ken was also my constituency Labour MP. It seems that saying so may now be a disciplinary offence, according to the General Secretary. I leave readers to establish if they feel there are any historical parallels.

Meanwhile, Party members have been denied the right to vote for four socialist candidates in the NEC election, despite many CLPs nominating them, which of course raises serious questions about the reason for the suspensions. Is this a warning to any socialist and anti-racist who dares to stand in any Labour Party election?

Featured image via Rwendland/Wikimedia Commons

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  • Show Comments
    1. I was allowed to join the Labour Party after a special discussion, having been in the IS/SWP for 20 years. That was 30 years ago; most of the time since I’ve been a Labour Party member. In 1970 I was involved in the ‘Stop the 1979 Tour’, being part of the pitch invasions at Twickenham against South African apartheid. I put up Themba Sibanda, a Soweto student, when he was on a speaking tour.
      We organised Hull Rock Against Racism *gigs* with local bands at a community centre I was Chair of, and I was elected Anti-Fascist Convenor for Hull Trades Council in the late 70s, early 80s. Roland Gift [Fine Young Cannibals] still uses the RAR *star* as his avatar ~ being both in a local band and one of our fly-posting and painting out racist slogans team!
      50 years on I’m suspended for various weasely-worded anti-semitism and racist charges. ALL related to Israel and Palestine.
      Meanwhile, 5 months on, I await my SAR reply.
      What did Groucho Marx say?

    2. This is frightening. The betrayal of members by the leadership of the party at the behest of unelected activists who are free to display gross anti-Palestinian bigotry is apparently to continue until we become a Zionist pressure group rather than a bastion of human rights.
      And meanwhile, why is Jeremy still silent? He stopped supporting Palestine publicly once he was elected leader. What is there now for him to lose? How many more erstwhile colleagues and supporters will be disowned? And as for Jennie, some of us-,many, probably- gave her support when Watson was attacking her. Now we are left out to dry.
      But worse than that; the Palestinian nation, fighting for survival, has also been betrayed. That is something I shall not forgive.
      Cowards have flinched and traitors continue to sneer. I maintain that the twelve year-old Palestinian children I met in Hebron, Silwan and elsewhere facing down deranged settlers and callow IDF soldiers have more guts than the leadership of the party.

    3. Ah the greedie ones in the labour party are vanquishing all those who are true labour under the guise of whot ever they can contock up shamefully they are the ones who are this greed it seems still rule those who should cross the floor

    4. I was expelled for retweeting a tweet by Chris Williamson. Labour claimed I was encouraging others to vote for Chris, the tweet had nothing to do with the general election. It was about Chris’s legal battle. This article now makes why I was expelled that much clearer. The Labour party that now exists is not the Labour party I was proud to be a member of. It is no longer about Socialism but about appeasing the Israel lobby and the centrist/right wing members and MPs. It will lose more members than ever before without Jeremy Corbyn at the helm

    5. Jeremy Corbyn should start another Party, looking the way these antiracists have been treated by lies, and decietful smears. Who runs this NEC Candidate selection process? For whoever it has a deep influence upon the Party. Corbyn never had a chance really.
      Where’s the journalism in exposing these people who had Corbyn defeated??
      Not a word spoken at all.
      This fake antisemitic issue has gained strength in the Labour Party, after I was thinking it was over. This political campaign weaponizing religion, and its wisdom is so effective even Putin admires its success.
      Its winning.
      The choices of the labour Party are now severly restricted on any socially progressive moves to bring a peace in the world.
      Looks like the militarization of civil society is here to stay.
      Chlorinated chicken isn’t realy too bad, and American butter tastes so nice anyway. Why not just go with the Pentagon’s Political Policies, and make life simple. Aren’t you tired of just being English, and complaining all the time? Just give in, and you’ll feel better.
      I heard that on a broadcast from Radio Free England narrated by Lord Ha Ha.

    6. I think the same forces which fund the Tories (and both parties in the US) are funding Labour and Starmer. They do not want opposition to neo-liberalism or Israeli atrocities. They want what they have achieved in America, a one-party state with all the appearance of an opposition; they want the appearance of an opposition because unlike Hitler, whose policies their own are fast becoming like, they are not honest enough to say they won’t tolerate an opposition.

    7. Thank you Graham Durham, and Jan Booker. And Jackie Walker, Mark Wadsworth, Chris Williamson, … a full list would be long. These cases are clear when we have access to the full story – ‘both sides’. They all feature blatant corruption of rules and due process. This is a witch hunt, a McArthyist purge, a reign of terror.

      I don’t blame those who believe the hysteria through ignorance. But those who manufacture this witch hunt are just corrupt thugs. Careerists and hacks eyes light up with their shiny hatchet. Truth, decency and justice are just casualties in their war on the left. Anti-leftism is their only common principle, which justifies any tactic. This witch hunt exposes the truth of the mainstream, the establishment agenda – anti-leftism is the core principle which pays.

      Corbyn’s collegiate approach to the right wing of the Labour Party may have helped open up a new movement, more effectively than recent left projects. But the tactic of compromise should not extend the hand to dishonesty and corruption, that just digs a hole to bury us. I hope our grass roots will be made robust by these lessons. We have to keep going.

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