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.
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 controversial ‘ten 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?
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