In one of the most shocking revelations during a week which has seen the Labour party lurch from one crisis to another – the operations of a whole district Labour party (DLP) were suspended late on Thursday evening by the National Executive Committee (NEC).
Brighton and Hove (B&H) DLP has been officially banned from holding any meetings for the foreseeable future, in a situation which is a microcosm of the chaos engulfing the Labour party nationwide.
The news was broken via the DLP’s secretary, Greg Hadfield, on Twitter:
— Greg Hadfield (@GregHadfield) July 14, 2016
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BREAKING: Results of election, voted by 600+ members of biggest party unit in UK, "annulled" by @UKLabour NEC (2/2).
— Greg Hadfield (@GregHadfield) July 14, 2016
However, the full background to this decision by the NEC is more complex than the tweets appear – and would indicate an organised campaign by factions within the Labour party to undermine the 6,000 member B&H DLP’s elected officials.
On Saturday 9 July the local party held its AGM and elections for the executive committee. Over 600 people took part, and a new block of officials were appointed on a pro-Corbyn platform with the support of the grassroots organisation Momentum. Hadfield, the new secretary, was installed with 65% of the vote and the new chair, Mark Sandell, with 62%. B&H DLP issued a full breakdown of the way the result had been reached, as the methods used were admittedly complex.
However, there has been tangible disharmony between the pro-Corbyn bloc of the DLP and those who appear to have been aligned with Progress for some time. As an email from councillor Warren Morgan (a Progress member) released by Hadfield shows, there has been a concerted effort to undermine the left of the organisation.
In one, Morgan describes the socialist bloc as trying to instigate:
a takeover [of the DLP] by a group of individuals from Momentum, TUSC [the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition], the Alliance for Workers Liberty [AWL] and other fringe left-wing groups, including people who have repeatedly run against Labour candidates […] This party has faced down Militant before. I’m asking you to help do that again
As Hadfield told The Canary, to imply that the B&H DLP is somehow being overrun by entryists is absurd. Hadfield himself has been a Labour member for over a decade, and has always stood on a socialist platform.
There have been numerous smears in the local press against the socialist element in B&H DLP. In a report in The Argus on 11 July, claims were made against the new DLP chair Sandell – citing that he was suspected of being a former member of the AWL. This suspicion was based on the fact he signed a petition launched by them. And nothing else.
On 12 July, Morgan went on record via the Brighton and Hove News website, saying that the new chair had previously belonged to “smaller, fringe left-wing organisations”, and that him and his bloc of councillors had been:
elected by residents, we make our own decisions and we will continue to work as we have done for the past 14 months, as a credible, responsible and mainstream political administration.
The undertones of Morgan’s statement are obvious – the implication being that the pro-Corbyn group who now run the DLP are not “credible, responsible”, nor a “mainstream political administration”.
But the most crucial element of his piece was in reference to the AGM on the 9 July. He said that:
I am sorry to hear that our local MP (Peter Kyle) was subject to abuse by some of those attending, and that a member of venue staff unconnected with the meeting was spat on. This is not behaviour we should tolerate in local politics or our city and I expect the new executive officers to identify and expel the individual concerned swiftly.
It is this alleged spitting incident which would appear to have been the catalyst for the suspension of the DLP.
Hadfield explained to me that the individual accused, who did not wish to be named, had been publicly accused by numerous members associated with the Progress bloc. This individual has denied the accusations, and has also gone to the police to report the false statements, and asked the venue at which the AGM was held for CCTV footage.
On Thursday at around 5.30pm, they also submitted a formal complaint to the Labour party about councillor Morgan, on the basis that he was “bringing the party into disrepute” by making uncorroborated accusations and statements.
Within hours, the former secretary of the DLP had been sent a notification from Labour’s NEC that the organisation had been suspended from operations. Hadfield only found out when a member of the press contacted him for comment.
This is the statement from the NEC in full:
There has so far been no evidence presented of the “spitting incident”, nor has there been any of the alleged abuse thrown at Peter Kyle MP.
However, Kyle is a prominent critic of Corbyn. He poured scorn on the Labour leader in May 2016, saying, after a speech from Corbyn, that:
I will unite around a winning vision for Britain. I won’t be bullied into uniting around a losing leader.
There is no hard evidence to suggest that this is an organised plot against a group of Labour party members who are overtly pro-Corbyn. But it certainly appears to indicate that somewhere within the Labour party hierarchy strings have been pulled to try and get the result of the B&H DLP elections overturned.
The situation in Brighton is not a one-off incident, either. The same thing has happened to Manchester Gorton CLP, with the same reasons cited as have been for B&H DLP.
Amid the suspending of all CLP meetings nationally, the perpetual moving of the goalposts surrounding who can vote in the leadership election, and the legal action being taken against Corbyn’s right to be on the ballot automatically – this is the icing on a very authoritarian cake.
In layman’s terms, the NEC are suspending whole branches of the party on the basis of a few, unverified claims of abuse (without giving the local organisations involved a chance to investigate themselves) and because they appear not to like the result of the way grassroots members are voting.
As Hadfield commented: “This is turning into a battle for the soul of the Labour party”.
If this is democracy at work in Labour, then its soul is one that may well need exorcising.
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