Iain McNicol: The criminal conspiracy against the Labour Party, its leadership, and its members
There is no way of avoiding the terrible truth, for which I apologise. This is going to be a very long article! Therefore, I have decided to publish it in nine instalments over the next few days (from Monday, May 4).
Much of it is based on a 40,000-word document — currently hidden behind a secret online URL — that I was required to compile at short notice (December 2018) in advance of my successful Labour Party hearing in February 2019, more than two years after I was suspended (for the second time, in October 2016). A comprehensive repository of evidence (emails, documents, tweets, Facebook posts etc) is also stored on Google Drive.
This article is related directly or indirectly to the shocking evidence contained in the recent leaked report entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019”. [Separately, I have put online some relevant extracts from the report.]
The final complete version will be sent to Martin Forde QC, the chair of the official Labour Party inquiry into the leaked report (even though, strangely but unsurprisingly, its terms of reference do not appear to allow for such democratic engagement).
Please let me know what you think via @GregHadfield; if you have any further information about the individuals or events mentioned, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is difficult to know where to begin. I have been a member of the Labour Party for nearly 14 years; I joined a few weeks after Tony Blair made it clear he was standing down as leader.
For the first five years or so, my political activity was straightforward: standing — unsuccessfully — as a candidate for Brighton and Hove City Council; volunteering as the campaign coordinator for Nancy Platts, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion from 2007 (until Gordon Brown decided not to call a general election!); serving as an executive committee member of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party (CLP) executive committee and as chair of Patcham Branch Labour Party.
Throughout, I had few illusions about what the Labour Party could or would achieve during my lifetime. So I was never disillusioned. Just disappointed.
I was particularly disappointed by the party’s response to the financial crisis and its aftermath.
More personally, I was disturbed by the party’s support for the bombing of Libya in the spring of 2011(whose ancient ruins I had visited barely 12 months earlier). I was, of course, heartened by the fact that Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Barry Gardiner, and my local Green MP Caroline Lucas, were among the 13 or so MPs who voted against such a terrible military adventure. I was, however, more than disappointed that my fellow CLP officers would not countenance an emergency motion opposing the bombing, because it was “not an emergency”.
In retrospect, 2011 is the best place for me to begin, because that was the year when — on July 19 — Iain McNicol was appointed Labour Party general secretary.
Over the last nine years, I have become increasingly convinced that McNicol — at the head of a dysfunctional and distorted bureaucracy, staffed by well-paid accomplices and often-incompetent apparatchiks — has been responsible for overseeing a criminal conspiracy against the Labour Party, its leadership, and its members.
Nowhere has the evidence for this — replicated up and down the country — been more compelling than in Brighton and Hove, where McNicol was already well-known to local party figures, the result of his time as southeast regional organiser for the Labour Party (from 1994 to 1997) and for the GMB Union (from 1998 to 2004, when he was promoted to be the union’s national political officer).
For this criminal conspiracy — in effect, and by intent, the deliberate subversion of one of the most significant political parties in the world — McNicol was rewarded with a peerage, just four months after his resignation on February 23 2018.
As a former Fleet Street journalist for a decade or more (more than half of my career in journalism), I am certain it is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime — and the least reported.
The leaked report entitled The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019 sheds a fascinating light on a series of anti-democratic interventions in Brighton and Hove by Labour Party employees (in partnership, as I will show, with a small, unaccountable clique of party officers and/or representatives — including several city councillors).
Specifically, this article, when published in full, will expose the local impact of a national strategy involving nine of the most anti-democratic figures in the Labour Party machine (in addition to McNicol), all but one of whom are mentioned — adversely, of course — in the leaked report:
- Mike Creighton ran the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit before becoming the party’s Director of Audit, Risk Management and Property. After 25 years as a paid employee, he retired — with a shameful leaving speech — on March 3 2017;
- Malcolm Powers, southeast regional director for 10 years until January 2016 (when he was employed at party headquarters, with a support role in the Democracy Review, which reported in September 2018!). Powers, after a failed attempt to set up his own consultancy, has since been studying for an MSc in Climate Change;
- Harry Gregson, southeast regional organiser who was temporarily promoted to acting regional director after Powers’s departure until a permanent appointment was made in May 2016. Since leaving his job as head of the Labour Party’s election campaign and support team for the 2017 general election, Gregson has been a consultant with Aequitas Consulting (whose founding director is a longtime, virulent critic of Jeremy Corbyn and the policies he epitomised as party leader);
- Sam Matthews, a former Oasis sales assistant who — shortly after a friendly coffee with Creighton — applied in February 2016 to be “Compliance Officer — Investigations”. Despite confessing he was a “mediocre” candidate who lacked “the skills on paper”, Matthews was appointed by Creighton, with a start date of June 27 2016. His first task was a (second) round of “trot-hunting” in advance of the forthcoming party leadership election; since 2018, he has been head of communications and strategy for the Heathrow Community Engagement Board;
- Ivor Caplin, a former Labour MP for Hove (1997–2005), who was a defence minister during the Iraq War. Although he has not held an office within the Labour Party locally for many years, he remains a close ally of Peter Kyle, the current Labour MP for Hove. Caplin — who has been a regular media informant spreading lies about (and breaching data privacy of) party colleagues, became chair of the Jewish Labour Movement in May 2018 until April 2019;
- Euan Philipps, one of the key figures in the self-styled Labour Against Anti-Semitism (LAAS) and the infamous online #GnasherJew network of hate; Philipps — a former communications manager at global energy company Engie, was chair of Tonbridge and Malling CLP (from July 2017 until I exposed his role with LAAS a few months later); six years after joining the party, he resigned his membership in April 2018. Philipps is now studying for an MA in Political Science;
- Warren Morgan, a leading member of Progress and Labour Group leader on Brighton and Hove City Council (May 2013 to February 2018 — during which time he was council leader from May 2015); he was personally responsible for disseminating the fake allegations of “spitting” and “abuse” at the City Party annual meeting. On the day I was unsuspended immediately after a two-day hearing in February 2019, Morgan quit the party, sat as an independent councillor, then as a member of the “The Independent Group”, joined ChangeUK, decided not to seek re-election as a councillor, stood unsuccessfully as an MEP, and — in December 2019 — was appointed chair of Gatwick Airport’s Noise Management Board Community Forum, shortly before almost all flights ceased at the airport because of the Covid-19 crisis;
- Katherine Buckingham, the Labour Party’s former head of disputes, who preceded Matthews until her abrupt departure in December 2016; Buckingham led the inquiry into Morgan’s fake allegations at the City Party annual meeting, compiling a still-unpublished report that was approved by the Labour Party’s Disputes Panel on October 18 2016 — a report that Buckingham explicitly stated did not even consider CCTV footage proving Morgan to be a liar;
- Julie Cattell, a former city councillor, merits a mention, albeit as only a tiny footnote — not only in the leaked report, but also in the dustbin of history. A bit-part player and amplifier on the toxic periphery of LAAS and the #GnasherJew network of hate, Cattell became one of the most obnoxiously-outspoken promoters in Brighton of the “anti-Semitism” crisis; she is among a small local cabal of footsoldiers — a self-victimising, self-righteous, virtue-signalling cast of “useful idiots” — within the “City Party” (formally Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party, from 2011 to 2017), which was subsequently forced — in October 2016 — to split back into the three CLPs: Hove, Brighton Pavilion, and Brighton Kemptown); as a Brighton Pavilion member, Cattell — who failed to be re-elected as a councillor in May 2019 — has been formally warned for repeatedly and specifically targeting [some of] her bile at Jewish colleagues in her branch party.
Disclosures in the leaked report help to put in context the activities of such a small group of individuals in a series of events, interventions, episodes, exchanges, suspensions, and expulsions that have had a profound and damaging impact on the lives of a large number of members in Brighton, Hove, and beyond.
Inevitably, this article concentrates on those of which I have first-hand experience. And, importantly, for which I have documentary proof.
I will present here — in discrete chapters — only a tiny fraction of the evidence I have collated over the last nine years.
Specifically, I will focus — in very brief terms — on just nine episodes from what could also be articulated in a single, continuous [even longer] narrative:
- The “open selection” of Dr Peter Kyle as Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Hove in June 2013 — from a “long list” of 16 men, from which a short list of three men was compiled. Kyle, a leading member of Progress, was quickly and repeatedly funded by the LibDem-supporting family of a multi-millionaire hedge-fund financier;
- My initial suspension by the Labour Party in September 2014 and the subsequent lifting of my suspension — without a hearing — in August 2015. The suspension — I learned later — followed a fabricated complaint by Powers, who was then tasked by McNicol to investigate his own complaint, a task he delegated to Gregson, his deputy. Despite this, it was decided Powers’s complaint did not merit further investigation. At the time, I was never shown details of Powers’s fabricated complaint, which — more than a year later — was leaked to Private Eye (Issue 1429, October 14 2016). It was the first of five such prejudicial leaks to Nick Cohen, the Observer journalist known as Private Eye’s “Ratbiter”, who never once sought my response. Given the fake outrage surrounding the leaked report about data privacy — and for future reference, when I will name the Labour Party figures I believe responsible for such leaks — I list here the four other Private Eye articles: Issue 1431, November 11 2016; Issue 1434, December 23 2016; Issue 1439, March 10 2017; Issue 1440, March 24 2017.
- The now-infamous fabrication of “spitting” and abuse allegations at the annual general meeting of the “City Party” on July 9 2016;
- The suspension and/or expulsion of at least 10 party colleagues during the purge of socialists and the “anti-Semitism” crisis that was manufactured from very soon after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, including Tony Greenstein, Mark Sandell, Daniel Harris, Jerry Gould, Riad el-Taher, Amanda Bishop, Alex Braithwaite, and Anne Mitchell;
- February 3 2017: The day Caplin and Cattell used fake “anti-Semitism” smears against Becky Massey, as a weapon against Corbyn supporters in Brighton and Hove;
- The scandal of the Ben Gowlett Trust — and the £100,000 donation hidden from members by Labour councillors — which I exposed and evidenced in April 2018;
- The multiple breaches by the Labour Party of the Data Protection Act — a chronic problem — in relation to repeated Subject Access Requests I made in 2017 and 2018;
- My second suspension by the Labour Party in October 2016 and the subsequent lifting of my suspension at the end of a two-day hearing in February 2019;
- The undemocratic imposition, without a vote of members of the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion in November 2019, including how I — as the only one of the three applicants from Brighton Pavilion — was secretly excluded because I apparently failed “due diligence”.
In almost all of the nine episodes outlined above, one or more of the eight previously-named individuals played a significant and/or crucial part.
It is impossible, in a one-dimensional linear account, to reflect fully the complexity of the networked relationships of the various individuals involved. It is notable, however, that this tragic period in the history of the Labour Party coincided with — and was facilitated by — the widespread use of online technologies, including social media such as Twitter and Facebook (and, more recently, WhatsApp.
What began as nothing more than the usual self-sustaining machinations of a dysfunctional, post-Blair bureaucracy (2011–2015) was transformed — not necessarily always self-consciously — into a pro-active conspiracy that turned on the mass of Labour Party members when our elected leader threatened their cosy, almost-incestuous power structure.
The leaked report has confirmed the conclusions I previously came to as a result of what I experienced and witnessed in Brighton and Hove over the last nine years:
- There is an urgent need for blame and recrimination (not fake “solidarity” and “unity”), with named individuals forced to take responsibility for their actions;
- The Labour Party and its new leader must be more apologetic — not less! To the countless members whose lives have been turned upside down and whose efforts have been thwarted as a result of the McNicol conspiracy;
- Truth and reconciliation is crucial, but truth must come first;
- Where appropriate, individuals who have been suspended or expelled should be invited to rejoin the Labour Party. Amnesty is not a word to describe this process, especially for the vast majority who have never been found guilty of having done anything wrong;
- Most importantly, the lasting solution — probably unachievable in current circumstances — is a fundamental, systemic, democratic revolution in how the Labour Party conducts itself. If we cannot govern ourselves in an open and democratic manner, how on earth can we expect the British people to trust us to govern openly and democratically? This is a lesson — whether through naivety or “niceness” — Jeremy Corbyn never learned; more worryingly, those around Corbyn (who could not be regarded as either naive or nice) thought they could play the same undemocratic game, not least by appearing to pander to the undemocratic forces that swirled around them.
Below, I summarise each of the nine episodes I have previously catalogued. I include and/or append links to the most relevant of the 230+ articles I have published on Medium since April 14 2016 (about a [now-expelled] party colleague — Tony Greenstein, the Jewish son of a rabbi — who was among the first falsely accused of anti-Semitism).
- The “open selection” of Peter Kyle, a leading member of Progress, as Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Hove in June 2013 — from a “long list” of 16 men and a short list of three men
From as early as the creation of the City Party in 2011, Simon Burgess, a respected leading local councillor, had been the clear favourite to become the next Labour Party parliamentary candidate — not least because he had substantial behind-the-scenes support from the GMB Union.
The first time I met Malcolm Powers was on December 10 2012 when — at 48 hours’ notice — branch officers had been invited to a meeting with him to discuss which of the three CLPs should be an all-women shortlist and which should be “open”, to both men and women. Of the dozen or so attendees, the two or three from Hove were unanimous: It was “someone else’s turn”, since Celia Barlow, the previous Labour MP for Hove (2005–2010), had been selected from an all-women list. I was alone in suggesting — unsuccessfully — that all three parliamentary candidates in the city should be all-women contests. (It should be noted that never, in the history of the Labour Party, has a woman been selected as a parliamentary candidate in Brighton and Hove except in an all-women list.)
The meeting ended with Powers saying such was the urgency of coming to a decision that he would not have time — with Christmas and New Year nearly upon him — to share his recommendation before submitting a report to the NEC meeting in early January 2013.
At — and after — a City Party meeting on January 19 2013, Julie Cattell, the new secretary who consistently failed to send out due notice of party meetings to all members, told several activists they were not allowed to begin discussing parliamentary selections (not even informally) until Powers gave approval.
In fact, it was not until February 14 2013 that the NEC decided — unsurprisingly — that Hove should be an “open” selection, with all-women lists in the two neighbouring constituencies of Brighton Pavilion and Brighton Kemptown.
The widespread suspicion that this was a bureaucratic “fix” to ensure Simon Burgess could stand in Hove was re-inforced when, within hours of the NEC decision — and before applications had been invited — Cllr Burgess used Twitter to confirm his candidacy, launched a website, and began publishing endorsements from several of his friends. All this was done in clear breach of Labour Party rules surrounding what can and cannot be done in such circumstances.
My concerns increased when selection committees were set up — their memberships were never disclosed — to discuss the selection timetables for two of the three constituencies (Hove and Brighton Kemptown; Brighton Pavilion was left for later because it was not regarded as “winnable” because of the popularity of Green MP Caroline Lucas).
It emerged that Powers had prescribed precisely the same timetables for the “open” selection in Hove as for the all-women process in Brighton Kemptown.
As a result, I asked if I could discuss with the City Party executive committee my concerns about why there was a risk that no women would apply for the Hove vacancy — where a man was already the runaway favourite and when an all-women process was being conducted simultaneously in every respect in nearby Brighton Kemptown. (When I telephoned the City Party chair on his landline at home, he lodged a complaint with Powers accusing me of breaching data protection rules.)
Meanwhile, I repeatedly tried to contact Powers to discuss my concerns, but he never responded — even though he visited Brighton several times in a week to supervise personally local decision-making about the two selections.
Finally, however, he telephoned me on Saturday, March 23 within minutes of the Hove selection committee meeting had ended, claiming disingenuously that he had not returned any of my calls (or emails!) because he had the wrong number for me. Even though my number was easily available on Membersnet. Regardless, it was too late, he said, the timetables had just been set.
At a subsequent briefing for branch officers on March 25 2013, I asked to make a statement; my request was refused and my concerns were ignored.
At 3.17pm on Thursday, March 28 — the day before Good Friday and the East weekend — I made the first of two complaints to McNicol about the Hove selection process (and the circumstances in which Cllr Burgess had circumvented party rules to launch his candidacy).
At 3.0pm on Tuesday — the first working day after Easter Monday — it appears my complaint had already been carefully considered. And rejected, by Creighton.
It is fair to say that by this time I was not popular with Powers, Cattell and others involved in the largely-secret selection process; particularly memorable was the Andy Taylor, the Hove procedures secretary (whom I have still never met or spoken to), accusing me — in a libellous comment on an online news article — of “being investigated for aggressive and intimidating behaviour towards female members”.
Many months later (through two successful Subject Access Requests), I discovered that several provably-false allegations — all of which I could have dealt with if I had been told of them at the time — began arriving at Labour Party headquarters. (This was the beginning of a pattern of behaviour that continues to this day.)
After 16 men applied and were longlisted, of which three men were shortlisted — against Labour Party rules — I made a second complaint to McNicol at 1.08pm on May 30, by email via Tracey Allen, McNicol’s executive assistant who receives many mentions in the leaked report. And who I have only recently learned is a former business partner of McNicol’s wife. (Allen, wife of disgraced Labour MP Phil Woolas, received an MBE in this year’s New Year honours list.)
At 2.06pm — 58 minutes later, on the same day — McNicol rejected my complaint:
The fix was complete. The way was clear: The candidate favoured by McNicol’s union — and, as it turned out, the Hove procedures secretary — had a clear run as one of three male candidates in one of the least “open” selections imaginable.
And then came the shock. After months of me highlighting — both within the party and publicly in the media — Cllr Burgess (to his surprise and mine) lost by a handful of the 100+ votes cast on Saturday, June 15 2013.
The surprise winner was Dr Peter Kyle. It is fair to say that he has never thanked me. And I have never forgiven myself.
After Peter Kyle’s surprise victory in to become the Labour Party candidate in Hove in June 2013, I decided I had done all I could to try to expose the undemocratic (and gender-discriminatory) nature of the process. And all I had achieved was help Kyle on the first step of a parliamentary career later characterised by his virulent and disloyal opposition to Jeremy Corbyn.
On July 1 2013, I became editorial director and co-owner of Brighton and Hove Independent, what was then a little-read, loss-making free weekly newspaper that comprised mainly raw press releases, “puff” articles for advertisers, and dominated by full-page advertisements.
As the first journalist to leave Fleet Street for the internet, in 1996, I had spent a lot of energy railing against “big media” and the destruction of journalism in the post-digital era. My criticisms seemed only confirmed during a year-long — and not wholly satisfactory — return to Fleet Street (Victoria, actually), as head of digital development at The Telegraph; in my previous incarnations as a journalist, I had worked on the Wakefield Express, Western Evening Herald, Western Morning News, Today, The Sunday Times, and Daily Mail.
Having lived in Brighton since 1986, I had seen the sad decline of The Argus in the negligent hands of Newsquest — despite witnessing daily the remarkable efforts of a succession of fine young (and underpaid) journalists.
I wanted to see if I could do any better. And the chance came when I got to know a remarkable young man in his early 20s — with a background in advertising sales — who had achieved weekly miracles in getting Brighton and Hove Independent onto the streets of Brighton and Hove.
I’d had more than my fill of local politics and was glad to be back doing what I loved the most: engaging with citizens to share information about the forces that governed or influenced the lives of them, their families, and their fellow citizens. I was also interested in data.
Within two years, Brighton and Hove Independent became the best-read newspaper in Brighton and Hove, with a circulation of more than 15,000. And it was profitable (helped by me and my business partner working up to 16 hours a day for six or seven days a week); we sold it to Johnston Press for a six-figure sum two years later, in July 2015.
So how did I come to be suspended, for the first time, by the Labour Party on Wednesday, September 17 2014?
It had all begun so well. Although I played no official part in any business of the Labour Party and no longer being a branch officer, I was determined to cover journalistically the goings-on within all the local political parties and, of course, the Green-controlled Brighton and Hove City Council. One of my later decisions was to invite Cllr Warren Morgan, leader of the opposition Labour Group, to write a weekly column, to supplement a similar column by the then council leader that existed before my involvement.
On March 21 2014, Frank le Duc — a friend and an excellent Fleet Street veteran who ran Brighton and Hove News, a local news website — wrote an article for us about internal machinations concerning the potential candidates to stand as Labour candidates for the city council elections in May 2015.
The article, the first of several, was about selections in one of the safest Labour strongholds — and most working-class wards — in the city: Moulsecoomb and Bevendean. Shockingly, the local branch Labour Party — which rarely met — had only 15 eligible members; to be chosen as one of the three council candidates meant you were guaranteed to win a seat on the council for four years.
As a result, the clique that ran the City Party was keen to influence the selection; their favoured candidate was Harris Fitch, a young man with little experience, but with longstanding family connections with what Mr Le Duc described as the Fitch “dynasty”. For which, the journalist was abused by Fitch and his friends as “a toerag”.
I can think of no other article than this to encapsulate the state of the local Labour Party, its right-wing clique of leaders, and their botched attempts — albeit laughably incompetent — to fix who could and could not be council candidates.
Please read it in full here (see left, for an extract): eight branch members present, supplemented by five members of the City Party executive committee (two of whom voted, to make up a quorum; others supervised), and then re-counts were needed because the 10 votes were miscounted. Twice!
Eventually, later, Fitch lost.
It is fair to say that my newspaper’s continuing coverage of these farcical events caused understandable embarrassment to — and significant anger among — a few members of the Labour Group of city councillors and senior officers within the City Party, including Malcolm Powers, the regional director (passim).
Things went from bad to worse, when the same clique engineered disciplinary action against Leigh Farrow, a Moulescoomb and Bevendean councillor (who had topped the branch selection in March. As a result, he was suspended and told — not for the first time — he could not stand for re-election.
Previously, he had won his appeal, while recovering from a double bypass heart operation in November 2013.
This time, the City Party clique were determined to get their man.
And when Cllr Farrow’s branch supported him, Powers suspended the Moulescoomb and Bevendean branch. Mr Le Duc and I wrote a joint article, on Brighton & Hove News website and in Brighton and Hove Independent, headlined: “An insult to democracy”.
This is the edition (left) that caused probably the most anger to Powers and other influential party figures; it included a double-page spread, with a brief profile of Powers (below left) — quoting former colleagues describe him as a ditherer: “Malcolm’s indecision is never final”.
On Tuesday, September 16 2014, Cllr Farrow attended his hearing in front of three-person panel — supervised by Powers — in the Brighthelm Centre in the centre of Brighton.
I had intended to get to the Brighthelm Centre early for the 7pm hearing, so I could photograph Cllr Farrow and his “silent friend” and his branch chair (a supporting witness) before the hearing began. Unfortunately, I was delayed — by a phone call from a Labour councillor who was a regular source of information to Brighton and Hove Independent.
Consequently, I decided to wait outside the public entrance to the community centre until the hearing ended. From my vantage point, I could see the two prosecution witnesses — both Labour councillors — waiting in the centre’s cafe to be summoned for questioning; I subsequently took a photograph of them, but the light was too poor for them to be printed in my newspaper.
As each witness was called, I tweeted a series of live tweets. This led, I was later told, to Powers to receive some texts to alert him I was outside.
As a result, he came rushing from the venue and bounded right up to me, shouting and swearing into my face, accusing me of being mentally ill and of needing some help.
I said nothing, gave him my Brighton and Hove Independent business card, and left. I thought little more about it that evening.
The next day Cllr Farrow was told he had lost his appeal. And I was told I was suspended.
I was told there were allegations I may have breached Labour Party rules. The letter from a compliance officer said: “These allegations relate to your behaviour towards other members and party officers that has been described as inappropriate and threatening. It is important that these allegations are investigated and the NEC will be asked to authorise a full report to be drawn up with recommendations for disciplinary action if appropriate.”
It added that McNicol had appointed Powers to arrange the conduct of the investigation.
It was only later — see below — that I learned that Powers was the only complainant and that he decided to delegate conduct of the the investigation. To his deputy, Harry Gregson (passim).
Undeterred, my newspaper went ahead with its planned coverage:
In terms of the allegations, nothing happened for many months — despite my repeated requests to the compliance officer who signed the suspension letter.
Then, on June 11 2015 — my 59th birthday and nearly nine months after my suspension — I received an email from Gregson, inviting me to an interview.
I was allowed to bring along a “silent friend”, but I was not allowed to know the name of the complainant(s) — nor the details of the allegations, nor the names or statements of any witnesses.
Nor was I allowed to know the names of the members of the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), which might be asked to consider the case. Although I was told I could email any comments or questions to the NCC secretary “who works Mondays and Wednesdays”.
Nor was I allowed, after the meeting, a copy of the official minutes.
The interview was an entertaining affair, during which I was asked only about the evening of September 16 2014 and the hearing at the Brighthelm Centre. After much obfuscation, Gregson confirmed the only complainant was his line-manager Powers. But refused to discuss if there might be a conflict of interest.
On August 15 2015, I received a letter telling me that it had been decided not to recommend the Labour Party NEC present charges against me to the NCC. But instead to issue a formal warning. Despite my refusal to accept “not guilty” as a verdict if it meant a warning — about what? — I never received a response.
Within a month (September 12 2015), Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. Within four months, Powers left his job as southeast regional director; Gregson — an interim replacement — failed to be appointed as his permanent successor.
It was only much later, however, that I found out — via a Subject Access Request — that Powers had emailed Mike Creighton (passim) at 10.06pm, in a message that included the mendacious accusation that I had told him to “F*** Off” [his asterisks].
And it was only in November 2018 — in advance of the NCC hearing about my second suspension — that I had sight of Powers’s statement, in which he falsely claimed I had “emerged” from behind a recycling bin outside the Brighthelm Centre (see left, for the bin in question).
What continues to puzzle me is how Private Eye — in Issue 1429, October 14 2016 — seems to have had knowledge of Powers’s statement, within weeks of it being submitted and with Nick “Ratbiter” Cohen fictionalising it further: “Hadfield followed [Powers] before confronting him by jumping out from behind a bin”.
Finally, I though, I know you will be wondering what happened in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.
On Saturday, October 25 2014, Daniel Yates was selected as the candidate to replace Cllr Leigh Farrow. Although the branch remained suspended, Powers gave permission for branch members to attend a selection meeting — although they were not allowed to know the names of potential candidates in advance.
It turned out there was only one candidate — Daniel Yates — who was considered by the two eligible members who attended the selection meeting (no quorum required this time!); one member abstained, while the other voted for Yates. Who was declared the victor: the only candidate, selected by the only voter!
Fitch did not stand, because he claimed he had a “politically restricted” post; he worked briefly for an organisation called The Democratic Society, before later applying unsuccessfully to work for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (the forerunner to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. You will hear more about him in following instalments.
Meanwhile, Yates — who was elected in May 2015 — was chosen on May 23 2018 to be leader of Brighton and Hove City Council after succeeding Warren Morgan (passim).
Within a month of my initial suspension being lifted, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party on September 12 2015, a fortnight before the Labour Party conference in Brighton.
As requirement of Brighton and Hove Independent newspaper being bought by Johnston Press earlier in the year, I was still editor and working from our base in the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel (free office space in return for advertising space).
I vividly remember smartly-suited young men — and a few women — gather in the bar of the Metropole, the main conference hotel, jeering and joking during Corbyn’s first conference speech as leader. In the main, they were party employees and/or volunteers who wanted to be employees (and/or MPs).
As the conference opened, Peter Kyle — in the first of endless such comments — “refused to rule out rebelling against Jeremy Corbyn” (see above, top left).
On the same day, I took part in a BBC Radio Five debate on Brighton Pier — hosted by John Pienaar, whom I had first met in Fleet Street in 1987 — in which Ivor Caplin (passim), Kyle’s close ally, parroted the same anti-Corbyn rhetoric.
It was about then that I began thinking of quitting my job at Brighton and Hove Independent, not least because some Labour Party figures had started complaining to the new owners about some of our coverage.
I will give two examples, the first of which involved Julie Cattell (passim), who — on April 20 2015 — as a candidate in the run-up to the following month’s city council elections, took part in an abusive “Twitter storm” against Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion. It related to Ms Lucas’s husband, Richard Savage — whom, by coincidence, I vaguely knew at university (although I had not seen or spoken to him in 35 years or so).
This social-media tactic of Cattell and Morgan (and a few in his closed local network) — which was novel at the time, before Twitter “pile-ons” became so common — presaged a pattern of mendacious abuse that was used by the same individuals time and time again over coming months and years.
In essence, it comprised: making unfounded and defamatory allegations online; attracting the attention of local media (if necessary); and then — having achieved the appropriate headlines — hope they never have to provide evidence of their allegations. If the target of the lies responds with facts and/or a denial, this is regarded only as proof the original allegations were true and members of the network tweet and retweet versions of the (often increasingly-untrue) charges.
In this case, according to Cattell and Morgan, Mr Savage had allegedly rushed out of his house and shouted abuse at Cattell, Morgan and other Labour Party activists canvassing in the road where he and his wife lived.
On the same day as my article appeared in Brighton and Hove Independent (see left), a report of the incident also appeared on the Brighton & Hove News website.
This report contained a quotation from tweets by Warren Morgan (passim): “Terrible behaviour — we shall be making a complaint and asking for an apology. One of our volunteers was quite shaken.
“Elections are stressful, but no-one should stand in the street and shout abuse at members of other parties.”
The truth turned out to be very different. Which probably explains why Morgan quickly wanted to draw a line under the incident (having gained maximum publicity for what was an almost-total fabrication).
Mr Savage, a mild-mannered secondary-school teacher, had happened to be walking down the road to his house — not rushing out of it — when he addressed the canvassers about the online abuse aimed at his wife by Cattell and several of her party colleagues. There was no volunteer who was “shaken”; there was no behaviour that could have been described as “terrible”. This account — convincingly given to me by Mr Savage — was, before publication, confirmed by a Labour volunteer (and supporter of Cattell) who witnessed the brief exchange, which was “over in a few seconds” and “ended with a handshake”.
Cattell and Morgan never quite forgave me.
After my initial suspension was lifted on August 15 2015, with Jeremy Corbyn as the shock favourite to win the Labour Party leadership, and with Morgan as leader of a new minority Labour administration on Brighton and Hove City Council (including Cattell as chair of the planning committee), I was certain that I was going to leave Brighton and Hove Independent.
The immediate catalyst was Morgan’s administration decision (see left) to champion a 67% increase in council tax for the 14,655 poorest households in Brighton and Hove (because a tightening of the Council Tax Reduction Scheme). With the 76% increase Morgan’s opposition Labour Group had supported the previous year, it meant the poorest families had to endure a 194% increase in two years — when Labour councillors refused to countenance increases of more than 1.9% for the rest of us.
Journalistically, I had done all I could to highlight this — and many other terrible decisions taken by Morgan, Cattell and others — without any reference to (or discussion with) party members.
Throughout my journalistic career, I had always avoided joining — or being active in — the Labour Party, to avoid accusations of bias and/or conflicts of interest. With Johnston Press as new owners and employers, I knew complaints from Labour Party figures would only continue and my position would be compromised.
It is from this period, I believe, that Morgan sent — or copied — an email (see left) to Labour Party headquarters, probably to Creighton (passim), making his position clear:
At about 6.30pm on Thursday, October 22 2015, I wrote my last words before I resigned — after another stressful 14-hour shift on deadline day — before walking straight to a council meeting at the nearby Brighton Centre. Looking back, I am proud of the words. And of the juxtaposition. Please study the contrast in approach to “Tory cuts”:
Within 48 hours, I was in the United States visiting my son and his family; I was relieved to put all the abuse from Morgan, Cattell and their gang behind. It was time to take stock and play my part in helping to set the Labour Party in a new direction under its new leader.
Meanwhile, McNicol and Labour MPs began preparing to overthrow Corbyn, in advance of the so-called “chicken coup” June 26 2016.
To begin at the beginning of this concerted — and HQ-coordinated — attempt to unseat our party’s elected leader, we need to take a breath and go back to a Tuesday evening on September 29 2015 and a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) meeting, introduced by LFI chair Joan Ryan, the former Labour MP for Enfield North.
Corbyn received a warm welcome from Ryan and a substantial LFI audience on that night in 2015, until a voice in the crowd — to boos from many others — strangely began shouting repeatedly: “Say the word Israel, Say the word Israel”.
Foster, the millionaire former agent of broadcaster Chris Evans, explained: “I don’t think for one moment that Jeremy is anti-Semitic. But my problem is that he has made no clarification.
“So my challenge to Jeremy Corbyn is that if you, Jeremy, believe in the state of Israel, say the word ‘Israel’, say that you recognise Israel, and that you believe in it.”
He added: “The Jewish Chronicle has done nothing but for five months ask of Jeremy Corbyn what is your view on Israel.”
This was the beginning of the “anti-Semitism” smears. Which, at the beginning, did not even mention anti-Semitism. Only Israel.
Early in April 2016, it was reported that Foster — who had given up to £400,000 to Labour from 2010 to 2015 — had decided that anti-Semitism was indeed so serious in the party that he would never give another pound in donation. The next we hear of him is paying for legal action to try — unsuccessfully — off the ballot paper for the 2016 leadership election.
Foster’s failure will have disappointed McNicol’s team, as the leaked report makes clear:
The transition to what became fabricated smears about “anti-Semitism” — in contrast with initial inane complaints about wanting Corbyn to say the word Israel — quickly put a newly-joined Labour Party member in Brighton and Hove in the headlines. Step forward, Tony Greenstein.
Full disclosure: He probably does not know this, but — while canvassing for Labour shortly after Tony Blair stood down — I first met Greenstein on a doorstep. It was an interesting conversation.
But it had nothing to do with him becoming an occasional columnist for Brighton and Hove Independent. That was just serendipity, via a recommendation of a mutual friend.
He wrote some impressive and informed columns — albeit trying to squeeze 2,000 words into space allocated for only 750! Only once did he write about the apartheid state of Israel:
When Greenstein — the Jewish son of a rabbi — became one of the very first Labour Party members suspended after being accused — in March 2016 — of being an anti-Semite, I was certain of one thing: It was not — and never has been — true.
As became the custom, the news was leaked by the Labour Party, this time via The Telegraph. Which subsequently had to issue an apology:
And a letter:
I am proud that — at a general meeting of the City Party at City College on Saturday, April 16 2016 — I successfully proposed an emergency motion — in support of Greenstein (albeit anonymised, in agreement with the then chair Lloyd Russell-Moyle, now Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown, who had been put under significant pressure by Gregson (passim) to not allow it for discussion.
I am even more proud of the my very first Medium blogpost (see left) on April 14 2016, headlined Anti-semitism? Or anti-Zionism? Labour must learn to know the difference.
Even then, I knew how the charge of anti-Semitism, which has since become a term of almost-casual abuse, was such a serious allegation — involving one of the vilest crimes against the Jewish community — that it should be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
[For the record, Greenstein was eventually granted a hearing nearly two years later and expelled in February 2018 — not for anti-Semitism — and not on any evidence that pre-dated his suspension.]
Now that we know the context — my own experience, within that of the much bigger forces at play nationally (and internationally) — let’s fast-forward to the summer of 2016, the “chicken coup” of late June, and the forthcoming annual meeting of the City Party (formally the Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party)on Saturday, July 9 2016.
The City Party had more than quadrupled to become the biggest party unit in the country, with 6,200 members, thanks to the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and the policies he espoused.
I have written so much about this brief period — broadly from June 28 2016, when Corbyn lost a vote of confidence within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), to the suspension of the City Party and the annulment of its election results on Thursday, July 14 2016 (and the immediate aftermath) — that I propose to make mainly a series of statements and assertions, with links to relevant articles and/or evidence.
So please bear with me, while remembering always — always! — this had nothing at all to do with the emergence of — and increasing focus on — a fabricated and sudden epidemic of “anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party:
- Alex Chalmers and Oxford University Labour Club (OULC), in February 2016;
- The subsequent report by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, which found there was not a culture of institutional antisemitism in OULC, in May 2016;
- The excellent report of the Shami Chakrabarti Report, which was published on June 30 2016, at a launch subverted by the former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who “stormed out in tears” — and was immediately supported in the media by Labour MPs Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips — during a question by black activist and journalist Marc Wadsworth (the video repays carefully watching). As a consequence, little attention was paid to the Chakrabarti report’s unequivocal and still-true opening sentence: “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism”. If McNicol and his employees had implemented the report’s recommendations (also ignored) — Pages 15 to 20 — the next four years would have been very different.
The context of the annual meeting of the City Party (the three-constituency Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party) had everything to do with political opposition by McNicol and the right-wing of the Labour Party to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. As did everything that followed over the next four years as Brighton and Hove became “the epicentre of the battle for the soul of the Labour Party” (a phrase I deliberately used at every opportunity in every subsequent media interview in the subsequent months!).
Local Momentum members and supporters published openly in advance the list of candidates they intended to support as the new leadership team for the City Party at its annual meeting at 4pm at City College on Saturday, July 9; the time was chosen to accommodate Morgan (passim) and Kyle, who were speaking in the at an all-day Progress conference meeting in London.
I took the opportunity to publish on July 2 what became one of my 10 most-read Medium articles: The billionaire Blairite funding Progress, the “party within a party” behind the plot to break Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.
At the same time, Brighton and Hove Momentum began organising a public “Defend Corbyn” rally, with a start time of 2pm at the Brighthelm Centre, a short walk from City College.
The old anti-Corbyn clique realised it had a fight on its hands. Kyle sent a long email to members on July 6. As usual, it was mainly about himself (67 mentions, if you want to count).
Most shockingly, Morgan sent a secret email — at 12.11am on July 1 — to his network of supporters, warning about a “takeover” of the City Party. I obtained and published a copy of the desperate-sounding email on the eve of the City Party meeting. Here is an extract:
Neither email, of course, raised the poisonous canard of widespread “anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party.
Clearly, however, there was a lot riding on the outcome of the elections of the local party’s new leadership team. (It was only later that I learned the outgoing treasurer — a Hove-based former Labour Party employee for 20 years who was standing to be secretary (against me) — had allegedly transferred City Party funds, on the morning of the annual meeting, into an account to which only Hove CLP officers had access; when the transfer was quickly discovered, it was just as quickly reversed after the intervention of Russell-Moyle, the outgoing City Party chair. Unfortunately, it has not been possible for me to obtain proof of this allegation.)
The “Defend Corbyn” rally, chaired by Jon Rogers, attracted people from across Sussex and beyond, including Kyle’s Corbyn-supporting brother. I was one of several speakers, along with the excellent Seema Chandwani, from London; she was accompanied by her then-boyfriend (now fiance) Michael Calderbank, who had worked for John McDonnell.
Exceeding all expectations, an estimated 600+ people attended (see above left), most of them Labour Party members, and a substantial members of the City Party (according to a show of hands). Word soon got back to Morgan and his network; they knew they were going to lose, before a single vote was cast. (Morgan later claimed — falsely and without any evidence — that they all “marched down” to City College, with ineligible members being allowed into the annual meeting.)
In truth, an amazing 609 people had their credentials checked, were formally registered, given a single ballot paper, and allowed to attend the annual meeting. Many happily queued for an hour or more (outside and inside — see left) as Russell-Moyle and the outgoing executive committee decided — for capacity reasons — to hold three successive sessions. As a result, all 20 candidates had the opportunity to give their two-minute speeches three times; it had been decided there was no time for questions. At the end of each session, votes were cast and deposited in a number of buckets held and by appointed party officers and volunteers near the exit from the City College’s main hall.
The use of buckets became something of a joke after Caplin (passim) repeatedly — on television and to print journalists (not always anonymously) — used it to buttress his lies about why the results should be annulled. As indeed they were four days later.
A comprehensive collection of photographs and a few videos illustrate accurately reflect the good-humoured, calm, and comradely atmosphere throughout what became a two-hour marathon for candidates and the outgoing officers. In the queue inside the City College atrium (before I was asked to hurry through the queue to the main hall), I recall being just behind Kyle, who was smilingly chatting with those around him.
Because of the number of votes, it was decided by Russell-Moyle and the outgoing executive committee that votes should be counted only for the five main post that evening (see left) — in the presence of candidates, their representatives, and/or scrutineers.
The others were counted on Monday, July 11.
I could not wait for the results, because a friend of my wife and me was visiting from Scotland and we had tickets for the evening performance, at the Theatre Royal Brighton, of the Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie (based on August Strinberg’s 1888 class-struggle Miss Julie). In this version, the setting was an English country house in July 1945, on the night of the Labour Party’s general election victory over Winston Churchill’s Tories.
I confess I did not find it particularly gripping, so I visited the toilets to check my mobile phone for any text about the election results; thus I learned that I — like all the other Momentum-supported candidates — had secured an overwhelming majority, with 65% of votes cast.
As the curtain fell, a stream of celebratory texts buzzed on my phone. As the messages became a flood, I went outside the theatre into New Road to read them.
And then I got the phone call, it was from Nancy Platts, a local party colleague and a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s staff.
Not having seen her for months, it was kind of her to call to congratulate. Except she didn’t.
Platts called with an immediate question, almost a command. The gist was: “What we can say about the spitting? We need to know what happened.”
I could barely speak. I didn’t know what she was on about and told her so; I said the meeting had been a model of mass party-member democracy, calm and polite, even joyful.
Platts explained a little, but I interrupted her and told her to telephone Russell-Moyle, the outgoing chair and returning officer for the elections. I was too upset to speak. When I got home, I called Russell-Moyle and shared my anger and told him what I knew. It had been a long day. I went to bed.
It was to be the last good night’s sleep I was to have for several months.
Early on Sunday, a quick review of Twitter and Facebook told me what I needed to know.
In brief, Morgan had tweeted a series of tweets — I’m still unsure when, on the Saturday, the first was posted; certainly before any results were announced and probably even before the meeting formally began — claiming Kyle and his paid organiser [Jack Spooner] were abused and “venue staff were spat on”:
He hoped the new City Party executive — of which I was now secretary — would investigate “and expel the member responsible”:
Morgan was soon “saddened” that some people on Twitter were questioning whether this happened and suggesting it was “fabricated for political ends”:
By late Sunday afternoon, I had seen that the alleged “spitter” had made himself known to Morgan and demanded an apology. I had never heard of the young man and it turned out he had been attending his first City Party meeting. Via Twitter, I managed to persuade him to call me and we discussed in some detail what had happened.
I suggested he write down — while it was fresh in his mind — everything that he experienced and witnessed the previous day.
Every piece of evidence I have gathered in the next few days (and since) confirmed the veracity of Matt Tully’s account
Please read it.
Separately, Morgan had been quick to issue a press release.
As the new secretary — and as it became clear the alleged incidents were going to make national news (The Times (by far the worst); The Guardian (mediocre), The Mirror and BBC (routine) — and, interestingly, The Morning Star) — I began trying to get in touch with Gregson (passim), not least because I needed to inform formally him of the names and details of the new City Party officers, especially the treasurer (for governance reasons).
For four days, I was unsuccessful. The Labour Party’s acting regional director was illusive — until Wednesday, July 13, when he emailed:
Gregson never did get back in touch. At least not until the City Party was suspended (see left), the election results annulled, and the old leadership team re-instated. The letter, dated Thursday, July 14, was signed by Katherine Buckingham, head of disputes and discipline (passim) — who is mentioned 59 times in the leaked report.
Even though I told I was no longer secretary — after four days! — and not a member of the new executive, I still tried to meet Morgan’s requirement for an investigation.
I knew Tully had made a formal complaint about Morgan (passim) to McNicol (passim). Despite sending multiple emails to McNicol, he never received even an acknowledgement; similarly, he never received an acknowledgement or an apology from Morgan.
With the announcement of an NEC-ordered inquiry, led by Buckingham (passim), I redoubled my efforts.
With more than 600 witnesses, somebody must surely have seen something at City College. Because of the publicity, I was able to collate 78 witness statements (27,222 words) and send them to the Buckingham inquiry.
Shortly afterwards, in early August, I also sent my own response to Buckingham.
By the time I was invited to give evidence in person to Buckingham and Louise Magee, the new southeast regional director — at the Brighthelm Centre at 3.45pm on Monday, September 5 2016 — I had already retrieved the City College CCTV footage that Morgan had hoped would prove his allegations. Buckingham did not seem interested.
It did not. Far from it. It proved Tully’s account. I offered it to her in an email; it took her less than two hours to respond:
So I published it, on September 14 2016.
Within a week — as the Buckingham inquiry continued — the media onslaught stepped up a gear and the first in a series of at least 10 expulsions and suspensions began.
McNicol and his employees were determined to show that telling truth to power and winning elections had consequences — even when Jeremy Corbyn was leader. Meanwhile, in five years, Kyle has never once publicly said anything about if/how he was abused — allegedly — on that fateful day in July 2016.
Even after my experiences of the previous three years and more, I never had a full understanding of how profound the bureaucratic corruption was at the heart of the McNicol machine — until the leaked Labour Party report in April 2020.
The report has, however, exposed only the tip of the iceberg that sank Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the dreams of socialists within the party. It only hints at the secret machinations of a network of party employees and on-the-ground right-wing Progress-supporting diehards — none of whom get a mention in leaked WhatApp messages, texts, and emails.
Morgan (passim) is an interesting example, and not because he was ever anything more than a small-city player in a stagnant political pond. Like Kyle, he does not figure, because he was always two degrees away from the McNicol conspirators; even Caplin is mentioned only because of a brief role as chair of the Jewish Labour Movement.
That is not to say Morgan, Kyle, and Caplin could not inflict significant damage.
Before addressing the first of many expulsions — for “entryism” — permit me an amusing aside about how Morgan (who you will recall had warned in 2016 in his secret email about entryists taking over the City Party) once let slip information that hinted it was he who was, in fact, the infiltrator, an entryist from the SDP after its collapse in the early 1990s. (You will recall that Lord Sainsbury, a founder of the SDP and by far its biggest donor, went on to fund Progress, which helped Morgan and Kyle — through its magazine, website, and conferences — to gain more prominence than they deserved.
Morgan has even paid tribute to a university friend whom he preceded as students’ union president at Hull University (see left). He wrote: “I joined the Labour Party in 1993, having been persuaded by a friend at university, Tom Watson, that the party had changed from the days of Militant and offered hope for the future.”
For a long time, it has been rumoured that Morgan was, in fact, an SDP member or supporter until Labour introduced “one member, one vote” (OMOV). Which is ironic, given that it was OMOV — originally championed by Morgan in the City Party in 2011 — that led to his ultimate fall into obscurity.
But I must not get ahead of myself.
After their defeat, the anti-Corbyn diehards went on the offensive, not only by disseminating and repeating the lies about “spitting” and “abuse”, but also by buttressing them with other lies about non-members being allowed into the City Party meeting on July 9 2016 and of “stuffing” multiple votes into buckets (a particular obsession of Caplin, of course).
So busy was Morgan spreading lies on the day after the meeting that he deliberately ignored the terrible truth behind an incident the previous evening at the Grand Central public house in Brighton, when Seema Chandwani — the secretary of Tottenham Constituency Labour Party who had spoken at the “Defend Corbyn” rally — was repeatedly told to “Fuck off back to London” by Harris Fitch (he of the farcical, failed “fix” of the Moulsecoomb and Bevendean selection) and an unknown accomplice.
I do not intend to go into the full awful details, about which I wrote at length on September 3 2016: Revealed: The anti-Corbyn “moderate” in Brighton and Hove who stands accused of the hate-crime against Seema Chandwani.
I do, however want to draw attention to the fact that Morgan and his cronies trumpeted their lies, while ignoring requests for comment from a Morning Star journalist about an incident that happened — almost literally — under their noses.
Many of the anti-Corbyn diehards had gone to celebrate their defeat, confident already that the City Party would be suspended and the elections annulled. Of which, more later.
One witness — who knew the culprits personally — was quick to tell me he would not answer any questions about any Labour Party officer or inquiry (although he said he would give a statement to Sussex Police, if asked. He wasn’t asked).
The Morning Star article, the catalyst for my investigation, was published online on Sunday, July 10, and then in print on Monday, July 11. Repeatedly, over those days, Morgan and others showed little or no interest in the Labour Party members involved in the events in the Grand Central.
Far from it, as one of several exchanges involving Morgan-supporting Labour councillors confirms:
Within a few days, Morgan and his gang returned to the “Twitterstorm” tactic that had served him and his gang well previously, including the fake incident involving him and Cattell (passim) and the partner of Green MP Caroline Lucas on April 2015: make unfounded and defamatory allegations online; attract the attention of the media (if necessary); and then — having achieved the appropriate headlines — hope they never have to provide evidence of their allegations. If the target of the lies responds with facts and/or a denial, this is regarded only as proof the original allegations were true and members of the network tweet and retweet versions of the (often increasingly-untrue) charges.
As a result of repeated contact with Gregson (passim) — and other McNicol employees (even as the City Party meeting on July 9 2016 was continuing) — Morgan’s network, especially Ivor “Buckets” Caplin (passim) knew they had already achieved their goal: to ensure the election results were annulled.
Now they turned to targeting individuals who had been elected to get them expelled, or at least suspended. In the hope they could win back lost ground when elections were held again after the Buckingham inquiry reported its findings.
The first target was Mark Sandell, who had been elected chair, and who had already been featured in The Argus, the local newspaper.
After much online research, the author argued — inaccurately, for reasons too tedious to go into — Sandell had been “a member” of the “proscribed”: Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, until September 2015 when it “formally wound up as a political party in an attempt to get around its longstanding proscription”.
By coincidence, Caroline Penn — from Hove actually, but a councillor for a Brighton ward — sent an email at 1.34pm on July 21 2016 to: Gregson (passim); Lord Bassam of Brighton; Margaret Lynch, a Labour Party compliance manager, and to the email address “email@example.com”.
Less than four hours later — at 5.16pm on July 21 2016 — Penn, a flatmate with her “best friend” Harris Fitch (of Grand Central infamy, see above) also submitted to Gregson (passim) a libellous email about me, including allegations I could easily and quickly have disproved. If I had been alerted to them.
By October 19 2016, Sandell had been summarily expelled (causing fresh outrage among party members). But only after an appallingly-dishonest edition — commonly known as a hatchet job — of Dispatches, the Channel Four documentary strand, on Monday, September 19.
On the same night, there was a more balanced but strangely-titled BBC Panorama documentary, with which I had been given the opportunity to participate in.
I subsequently published my reaction to both programmes.
Earlier, though, Sandell had given his response to Films of Record, the independent production company behind the Dispatches edition, entitled The Battle for the Labour Party. But executive producer Neil Grant — a Labour Party activist in London with a record of strident opposition to Ken Livingstone — was not interested in complaints that Sandell was selectively quoted after being secretly filmed — at a public meeting, in a public building! — with footage using the old prejudicial trick of shaky handheld footage, with blurred-out monochrome imagery. All to add a patina of [fabricated] skulduggery.
Soon after the broadcast, I took particular delight in “doorstepping” Grant at his office in Westminster, to give him a taste of his own medicine. He did not like it.
Grant was angry — even apoplectic — that I didn’t ask permission before taking this “snatched” photograph of him at the Films of Record office. So much so he chased me to the lift.
He clearly had momentarily lost his sense of irony. And humour.
Next it was my turn to be dealt with: I was told I had been suspended on October 26 2016, just over a week after the conclusions became known locally of the still-unpublished report by Buckingham (passim).
After learning of my suspension from two journalists from two separate media outlets — based on information from Caplin (passim) — I wrote a Medium article as soon as I eventually received, nearly 24 hours later, formal notice from John Stolliday (the Labour Party’s director of governance and legal, one of McNicol’s key henchmen who is mentioned 537 times in the leaked report; none of them flattering).
For a long time, I was puzzled why was I suspended on that particular day (October 25 2016) of all days. It was only when I pieced together heavily-redacted emails provided — after much unlawful delay by the Labour Party — that I understood what had happened.
Obviously, the suspension was clearly related to the false allegations (“spitting”, “buckets” etc) about the City Party meeting on July 9 2016, at which I was elected secretary.
Two emails (see left) provide the answer and the proof. At 11.46am on October 25 2016, an email was sent from Labour Party HQ to a City Party officer who had been left in position by the shocking decision to overturn the AGM elections (presumably the then-secretary John Warmington).
It listed the members of the steering committee imposed by McNicol to split the City Party into three constituency Constituency Labour Parties. As the most-recently-elected secretary, I am clearly — and correctly — named in the initial email as a designated member.
This caused much consternation among those who had spread the lies (“spitting”, “buckets” etc), especially Morgan (passim), who refused ever to be in the same room as me.
Within 68 minutes of the initial email about the steering committee membership, an internal email was sent between two senior figures at Labour Party HQ (presumably, one of the usual suspects: McNicol, Matthews, Creighton — all passim).
Interestingly (and unusually), it also says the author — Matthews (passim), I presume — will inform the [anonymous] complainants in advance. This explains how news of my suspension was given to news media — locally and nationally — before I knew anything about it.
It was another two years and four months before I was fortunate enough to be afforded a hearing, at the end of which I was immediately re-instated. On the same day Morgan (passim) quit the Labour Party.
By November 11 2016, Private Eye (1431, November 11 2016) — ie Nick “Ratbiter” Cohen — was certain (see left) why I’d been suspended: “…. treatment of Warren Morgan, the leader of the Labour group on Brighton council, and local party organiser Jack Spooner”.
There will be more about Spooner later.
Two years later, when I had an opportunity of a hearing, there was inevitably some mention of my “treatment” of Morgan, but no mention at all of Spooner. Strange.
It is clear I had repeatedly and publicly said Morgan had been reckless, even careless, with the truth about “spitting”. Ultimately, I had to conclude he was a liar.
Jack Spooner, Morgan’s paid organiser and close friend of Fitch, had played a key role in identifying the “spitter” at the July 9 meeting — even though he had been told he could not attend the annual meeting except in a personal — not official — capacity.
Over the next 48 hours, a two-page confabulation was secretly fabricated — in Kyle’s office in Church Road, Hove — by Spooner and several other anti-Corbyn activists and sent to Gregson (passim):
The document — from which I have redacted the most libellous allegations — continued:
I have already dealt with: the suspension (and ultimate expulsion, not for anti-Semitism) of Tony Greenstein; the expulsion of Mark Sandell; and my own suspension (which ultimately focused not on my “treatment” of Morgan, but on evidence almost entirely collated after my suspension — including, most vilely, a fake allegation of anti-Semitism).
Many others were quickly suspended and or expelled, increasingly after bogus allegations of anti-Semitism. But none was more tragic than that of Riad el-Taher, an Iraq-born Corbyn supporter who was the only BAME member elected in 2017 to the executive committee of the newly-constituted Hove Constituency Labour Party.
The anti-Corbyn offensive — engineered by Caplin (passim), in collusion with Nick “Ratbiter” Cohen of Private Eye — targeted Riad, a friend of Tam Dalyell and Robin Cook, for his attempts to save Iraqi lives (resulting, controversially, in a “spent” conviction and prison sentence), only to be portrayed as “an old ally of Saddam Hussein”.
This was all engineered by Caplin, a defence minister during the Iraq War.
Riad emailed his rebuttal — in vain — to Matthews (passim). Please read it.
Also, please also buy his remarkable memoir, published posthumously: O Daughter of Babylon: Journey of an Iraqi Patriot and What Chilcot Didn’t Say.
Most importantly, remember Riad. Who died of cancer on November 9 2018, without McNicol, Matthews and their cronies ever giving him the chance to clear his name.
This is a devastating instalment in this series of disclosures about the McNicol conspiracy. I did not realise how devastating, until I renewed my researches — thanks to the leaked report — into exactly what was going on at the heart of the McNicol conspiracy and on the battleground of Brighton and Hove in January and February 2017.
You will recall that the expulsions and suspensions had begun in Brighton and Hove: Mark Sandell (October 19 2016) and me (October 26 2016), respectively.
Moreover, after the Buckingham/NEC report, the City Party had to be split — as ordained by the Labour Party NEC Disputes Panel on October 18 2016 — into its three Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs): Hove, Brighton Pavilion, and Brighton Kemptown.
A timetable — and detailed arrangements for the initial general meetings (IGMs) of the three CLPs (with delegate-based meetings rather than all-member meetings) — were fixed by a steering committee (from which I had been excluded, by my suspension). The steering committee met three times: November 15 2016; November 29 2016, and February 3 2017.
It is, however the evening of Friday, February 3 2017 on which I wish to concentrate. Because this was the day — with the connivance of McNicol and his employees — Caplin (passim) and Cattell (passim), aided by others in their networks (mainly but not exclusively in Hove), used fake allegations of “anti-Semitism” for their own anti-democratic, anti-socialist, anti-Corbyn ends.
It was 6.29pm and I was first to arrive at the Caxton Arms public house in Brighton for an informal chat with a few pro-Corbyn colleagues. The others were all members of the NEC-imposed steering committee, which was about to have its final meeting that evening at 7.30pm; Brighton Pavilion CLP and Brighton Kemptown CLP were to have their initial general meetings (IGMs) the following day; Hove CLP was scheduled to follow a day later, on Sunday, February 5.
We were optimistic and anxious, in equal measure. And then, as the others were about to arrive, I saw the tweet. It came like a bolt from the blue; its author was Caplin, instantaneously disseminating a libellous new article from the so-called charity Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA).
For the first time since the “spitting” lies at and after the July 9 2016 City Party meeting, the “anti-Semitism” smears — increasingly prevalent in the national media had hit home.
Because the Hove CLP initial general meeting (IGM ) — scheduled for Sunday, February 5 — was due to be held in Ralli Hall in Hove, two days later. And right-wingers like Caplin and Kyle knew pro-Corbyn candidates were on track to win, on Saturday, February 4, to win at the IGMs in Brighton Pavilion and Brighton Kemptown.
I had been to Ralli Hall twice before, initially for an early City Party meeting in January 2012.
More recently — after the City Party annual meeting — I had attended a meeting organised on July 26 2016 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, with guest speaker Peter Kyle and chaired by Fiona Sharpe, of whom more later.
The meeting — whose secret venue was disclosed to registrants only hours before it started — was organised by Amy Wagner, who has since been appointed special adviser to former Labour MP Lord Mann, the government adviser on antisemitism appointed by Theresa May in July 2019.
National headlines had begun to be increasingly dominated by a few — and ultimately spurious — high-profile allegations (fuelled by Mann’s ranting televised confrontation with Ken Livingstone on April 28 2016 and by the walkout of a “tearful” Ruth Smeeth, the now-former Labour MP at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report on June 30 2016).
Therefore, as the secretary-designate of the City Party, I attended to express the solidarity of local Labour Party members with the Jewish community in our city. I sat in the front row, opposite Sgt Peter Allan, Sussex Police’s hate-crime officer, a panellist to whom I gave — at the end of the meeting — a copy of my report of the recent abuse of Seema Chandwani in the Grand Central public house.
The whole of the meeting was filmed by Simon Cobbs, founder of Sussex Friends of Israel, who came to sit next to me shortly before the 7.30pm meeting started. Cobbs — a foul-mouthed opponent of pro-Palestine activists — frequently films such events.
I made only a brief contribution, as the final speaker — and only after Kyle kindly drew Sharpe’s attention to my upraised hand, which she had repeatedly ignored.
I made a few, brief — not particularly noteworthy — remarks. Quoting its first sentence, I welcomed the fact that the recently-published Chakrabarti Report had found the Labour Party was not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism. I said how I had marched against racists on the streets, not only in Brighton and Hove, but also — as a member of the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s and 1980s — in Leeds, Birmingham, and Southall.
I received a modest round of applause from some of the 80 or so people in the room. And one brief boo. I had a quick word with Sgt Allan, shook Kyle’s hand, and had a friendly chat with a couple who thanked me on the way out.
It was only much later — on August 1 2017, after a Subject Access Report to the Labour Party — that I discovered someone had made a totally-fabricated allegation about my behaviour at the meeting (see left). Not for the first time — nor the last — libellous attacks on my character and behaviour arrived on the desks of Labour Party officers. In almost every detail, they were palpably and proveably untrue.
Let us now return to Friday, February 3 2017 and the CAA article about Becky Massey, a pro-Corbyn (and pro-Palestinian) Labour Party member, who had recently — at a well-attended (and acrimonious) meeting on S
Saturday, January 14 2017 — been elected interim chair of Brunswick, Adelaide, and Central Hove Branch Labour Party.
Present at the meeting were some of the branch’s most virulent anti-Corbyn activists: Kyle, Caplin, and Penn. None was pleased by Massey’s victory.
But it was only when I quickly tweeted my congratulations that I unwittingly gave Massey’s enemies the information they need to launch their bogus allegations; I tagged my message with her Twitter handle, which was the trigger for a massive trawl of her social media. As the CAA article makes clear (below left). [From this episode, I also became the target for their relentless and vicious abuse — of which more later.]
Caplin and his cronies got to work. They quickly scented blood, but timed their attack for maximum advantage. Following his usual modus operandi, Caplin did not associate himself directly with the initial smears; he organised their publication — less than 48 hours before Hove CLP’s crucial initial general meeting — via the CAA website and Twitter account.
Only then did he tweet the article, with a message (left) alerting local media (The Argus, BBC Sussex, and Latest TV) as well as the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).
Several of Caplin’s cronies — including Cattell and another Labour Party councillor at the time — immediately piled-on in what was clearly a coordinated effort. Cattell even drew the CAA article to the attention of a now-suspended Twitter account in the name of “Supersminter”, one of many anonymous accounts that are part of what became the #GnasherJew network of hate.
By midnight, Massey had received several threats of violence — one involving a knife; the other a gun — from unknown online trolls. Details were given to Sussex Police.
She quickly composed a public statement: “I am not a racist. I do campaign for justice for the Palestinian people and oppose continuing violations of international law by the state of Israel. This is legitimate activity and not anti-Semitic.
“As a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn I have been targeted in a horrible way by people whose aim is to derail the democratic process in Hove constituency Labour Party.”
But within hours, early the next day, it was mission accomplished: Ralli Hall cancelled the Labour Party booking for the Hove CLP meeting (at which Massey was due to stand as treasurer as one of a list of Momentum-supported candidates). The Argus even managed to get sight of the letter cancelling the booking and quoted Caplin (by name, unusually), who demanded disciplinary action.
Arrangements had also been made to alert the management team at what is now formally known as Ralli Hall Jewish Community Centre.
It may even be the case that Ralli Hall and/or one of its directors had advance notice of the CAA article and the subsequent tweets. Your guess is as good as mine, I’m sure.
[Regardless, the tactic of ensuring venues cancelled bookings was to be used again locally two years later — by Kyle — when Chris Williamson, the then Labour MP, was due to speak at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton in July 2019 (and then in September 2019).]
On February 7 2017, Massey made a formal complaint to Gregson (passim) about Caplin’s libellous comments and took the precaution also of complaining directly to McNicol’s team at Labour Party headquarters. No action was ever taken.
Instead, on February 8, Massey was sent a formal warning by Matthews (passim), which is published here for the first time:
The Ralli Hall cancellation had bought time for the Caplin-Kyle cabal to attempt a rearguard action against the pro-Corbyn majority in Hove CLP; after branch delegates to Brighton Pavilion and Brighton Kemptown voted overwhelmingly to elect a “clean sweep” of pro-Corbyn leadership teams at their crucial general meetings (on Saturday, February 4), the Hove CLP meeting was postponed until Wednesday, March 1 — when pro-Corbyn supporters completed a hat-trick of clean sweeps, including Massey as treasurer (and Riad el-Taher, who — as we have seen previously — became Caplin’s next victim).
So why was Massey not immediately suspended or expelled? Caplin and Cattell must have been furious.
It was not until the leaked report that the answer became clear: On the very same day that Caplin launched his libellous smears via Twitter and the CAA, Matthews signalled a different approach to how complaints were to be dealt with:
Extract from Page 528 of the 851-page leaked report
Regardless, on March 9 — eight days after the pro-Corbyn victories in Hove — Matthews wrote to Riad el-Taher to tell him he had been summarily expelled (without any right of appeal) after Caplin and his cronies had engineered another vile article in Private Eye by Nick “Ratbiter” Cohen.
Strangely, the article appeared in the issue dated March 10.
Whether Matthews had been given advance notice of the article, your guess is as good as mine, I’m sure.
The City Party — with its all-member general meetings — was created in 2011, with particular support not only from Morgan (passim), but also from several prominent Hove-based activists.
I would not wish to exaggerate the point, but it struck me at the time how the experiences and approaches of those in Hove CLP differed from those of us in the two Brighton CLPs: in Brighton Pavilion (where I had lived since 1987) and in Brighton Kemptown. This is not surprising, since Brighton and Hove were two separate towns, which came together in a unitary authority on April 1 1997.
The first Brighton and Hove Borough Council elections had taken place on May 9 1996. Brighton and Hove was, however, not granted city status by the Queen until 2000 as part of the Millennium celebrations. Consequently, the first Brighton and Hove City Council elections — with new boundaries for 21 wards and 54 councillors — were on May 1 2003. Since when “all-out” elections have been held every four years: 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019
For more than a decade before I moved to Brighton in 1987, left Fleet Street in 1996, and then joined the Labour Party in 2006, Brighton (not Hove) had been a battleground between socialists (especially Militant) and the Labour Party machine (especially Kinnock).
I will not pretend to knowledge I don’t have, beyond referring to — but not necessarily endorsing — Militant, by Michael Crick (1984) and The Witchfinder General — A Politicial Odyssey, by [Baroness] Joyce Gould (2016). Both books (below) cover some of the events — “with-hunts” — that occurred in Brighton and Hove in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Most amusing is the passage in Gould’s memoir (pages 233 and 234), where in 1987 she declared six councillors ineligible to stand again as council candidates and imposed their replacements; her inquiry recommended several suspensions and two expulsions. She recalled (below right) that her last act was to separate the single Brighton Labour Party into two separate CLPs.
Separately, I want to give an honourable mention to an historic 35-page pamplet, published in September 1993, three years after Brighton Labour Party was shut down by the Labour Party NEC; a year later 26 party members were suspended pending investigation; the last expulsion hearing was in May 1993.
I wish I could publish the whole pamphlet, only a few copies of which survive; you will note that contributors include not only Tony Greenstein (mentioned previously), but also Rod Fitch, the Militant-supporting parliamentary candidate who stood in Brighton Kemptown in 1983 — part of the Fitch “dynasty” and whose brother, Reg, was grandfather of Harris Fitch (the culprit responsible for the appalling “Fuck off” abuse of Seema Chandwani in the Grand Central public house).
For now, though, I ask you only to read the preface:
Reading all the above — and remembering how the City Party was suspended, members expelled and suspended, and then disaggregated into separate CLPs — you will recall Karl Marx’s apothegm in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.
Referring to Hegel’s remark that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. Famously, Marx said Hegel forgot to add “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.
When the same pattern of events occurs thrice, what on earth can we do except despair?
Why is this historic diversion relevant?
Because it puts into context — albeit only partly — the wider context of the the events in Brighton and Hove from 2016 to the present day. After all, in the past, the party machine was clearly doing the bidding of its leader; in recent years, it was secretly conspiring against its leader.
Importantly, from 1985 to 1994, the general secretary was Larry Whitty, now Lord Whitty — and a member of the recently-appointed three-person inquiry team (actually, three members of the House of Lords chaired by Martin Forde QC) investigating the leaked report.
Will this inquiry take account of this article? Your guess is as good as mine, I’m sure.
As I indicated, this instalment is part history, part journalism.
I append below an article I researched and wrote between February and April 2018 (during my second suspension) during an investigation I made into Benjamin Frederick Dennis Gowlett, a member of Brighton Pavilion CLP who died in 1990 — during the period of Militant ascendancy in what had been Brighton Labour Party, until it was disaggregated into Brighton Pavilion and Brighton Kemptown.
Let me explain, in a few brief paragraphs: The lengthy article below proved in forensic detail how Gowlett left his estate — about £100,000 — to Portslade Branch Labour Party in Hove CLP. One of his two executors was “schoolteacher” Les Hamilton, subsequently and currently a member of Brighton and Hove City Council (and a former mayor of Hove — like his father, also called Leslie — and member of the now-defunct Portslade Council).
Until I wrote the article two years ago, few people had heard about the so-called “Ben Gowlett Trust”; and even fewer knew there was no such trust, even though it declared to the Electoral Commission donations of up to £59,230, most of it to the Hove CLP, the Labour Party centrally, and to the City Party.
There is even evidence that the “trustees” were concerned that they should control funds, because it would otherwise be possible for “a very small group to ‘Hi jack’ (sic) these funds” (left).
Throughout, until I exposed the truth, the ultimate proceeds of the Ben Gowlett legacy were held in a secret account, one of whose signatories was Councillor Les Hamilton, perhaps the longest-surviving Labour activists in Hove — and friend/supporter of former Portslade council Caplin (passim).
Hamilton never declared his “position of general control or management” of the [non-existent] “Ben Gowlett Trust”. There were even claims that Gowlett had been opposed to Militant supporters in Brighton in the 1980s and that was why he deliberately left his estate to Portslade Branch Labour Party in neighbouring Hove.
Since my disclosures, however, in April 2018 — and after the remaining funds (some £61,000 or more) had been put in control of four officers of Portslade Branch Labour Party (of which he was treasurer) — he amended his entry on the Brighton and Hove City Council’s register of interests.
By adding — unnecessarily — his (representative not controlling) role as “Treasurer of Portslade Branch Labour Party”.
Thereafter, Portslade BLP’s remarkable treasure chest of more than £60,000 appeared — for the first time (left) — in the accounts (to December 31 2017) of the newly-reconstituted Hove CLP.
Please note: Never in the creation, duration, or disaggregation of the City Party was the truth about the “Ben Gowlett Trust” addressed, nor were the true accounts of Portslade Branch Labour Party disclosed. Even though two out of the three steering committee meetings discussed CLP finances “excluding funds in branch accounts”.
These discussions included a decision — never implemented — to undertake an independent audit. Here are some extracts from agenda and minutes:
As a result, following the dissolution of the City Party, the £60,000+ remaining from the Ben Gowlett legacy is now held exclusively under the control — and benefit of — members in Hove CLP (after much internal wrangling and obfuscation by Hamilton). No mention has since been made of the never-existent “Ben Gowlett Trust”.
And how has the Gowlett legacy been spent since my article appeared — while ordinary members across the city receive repeated appeals for donations?
At the 2019 general election, when Kyle — who rarely mentioned the Labour Party on his posters, placards or leaflets — received a £5,000 donation that his campaign did not need. From Portslade Branch Labour Party (left). [Portslade branch also gave £250 to each of the 20 Labour candidates standing — in Hove only — for election to Brighton and Hove City Council.]
And why did Kyle’s general election campaign not need the £5,000 proceeds from the Gowlett legacy?
Because of a £20,000 donation (top left) from his multi-millionaire, hedge-fund financier friend Simon Ruddick, formerly a Liberal Democrat donor. Which meant Kyle’s campaign made a surplus of more than £27,000 (including a £500 from Lord Mandelson). Ruddick’s wife, Sue — also a former Liberal Democrat donor — had been similarly generous in the 2015 general election, as I disclosed in an analysis of party funding when editor of Brighton and Hove Independent:
None of the disclosures above should be regarded as evidence of anyone seeking personal financial gain. Nor is there any such suggestion.
But why was the Gowlett legacy not accounted for in Hove CLP accounts until after I conducted my investigation? Why was it not declared in the discussions about the creation — and ultimate disaggregation — of the City Party. And why, when McNicol and his employees — specifically Andrew Whyte, the Labour Party’s then head of governance (formerly of the Electoral Commission and now the party’s deputy treasurer) — were alerted to it, did the party not take any action (especially in relation to inaccurate submissions to the Electoral Commission)?
I have my own opinions and answers. But, in this context, I hope I have shown that factional machinations and bureaucratic dysfunctionality are nothing new in the Labour Party, neither nationally nor locally.
Many of those involved over best part of 30 years or more — and their networks of friends and relatives — remain involved.
For example, I recall the first time I met Kyle was when he coincidentally joined a meeting I was having — in the Grand Brighton Hotel in 2007 — with Sue John, a former deputy leader of Brighton and Hove City Council and a former chair of Hove CLP.
John and I were discussing the production of the Labour Party manifesto for the 2007 Brighton and Hove City Council elections, the cost of which my company was covering with a contribution £1,805 — some of the thousands of pounds I have contributed to the supposedly hard-pressed local party, albeit in total ignorance of the secret funds in the secret account.
Unbeknown to me at the time, John — a former South Portslade councillor and, coincidentally, a former office manager for Caplin, when he was Labour MP for Hove — was also a “trustee” of the “Ben Gowlett Trust that never was. If I had known, I would have kept my money to myself.
Meanwhile, Cllr Les Hamilton remains a member of Brighton and Hove City Council — although he has ceased, since my article, to be the deputy leader responsible for finance.
Interestingly, Hamilton has never answered any of the 10 questions I posed to him at the time (see below); instead, he left it to Morgan to provide a series of dismissive and insulting responses.
And this was even before I made a complaint about Morgan and Hamilton to the council’s Audit and Standards Committee.
The lesson? If your CLP or branch is short of a pound or two, ask Portslade Branch Labour Party for a donation.
Finally, below is the article I wrote — exactly as I wrote it — on April 8 2018:
It is difficult to recall exactly when I heard for the first time the name of Ben Gowlett.
In one sense, he has always been there. Ever since I became active in the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove in 2006.
In those days, a small number of individuals who were party decision-makers — operating often in private, frequently out of sight, and largely unaccountable to members — used to refer to a mysterious donor who had left “property” to the party. It was never clear who this person was, when the bequest occurred, or what precisely was the nature of the property that had been bequeathed.
On the rare occasions when the subject came up, the bequest seemed always to be associated with Hove Constituency Labour Party. But nobody seemed certain.
For most of us in Brighton in those days, Hove was a foreign country. They did things differently there. In more ways than one, to most members, Hove Constituency Labour Party was a closed book.
This article seeks finally to open that book and reveal how a cash windfall of more than £100,000 has been kept hidden from the mass of party members for up to 27 years.
It also provides evidence how a small group of senior party figures — including Labour councillors and officers, past and present — deliberately kept control of the funds to prevent them being “hijacked” by grassroots members exercising their democratic rights “through perfectly legitimate means”. (One senior Labour councillor, unaware of the details, told me last month that he had heard only unsubstantiated rumours that the trustees wanted “to keep the money out of the hands of the Militant Tendency”, which was in the ascendancy at the time, especially in the two Brighton constituencies.) It is fair to say that key individuals mentioned in this article are anti-Corbyn diehards.
The disclosures — which are now under scrutiny by Labour officials both locally and nationally — include transactions involving two residential properties in Brighton Pavilion. They also relate to a shadowy trust, referred to publicly as “Ben Gowlett Trustees”. Even though Mr Gowlett’s will makes no reference to the creation of a trust — whether charitable or not — and no “Ben Gowlett Trust” is registered with the Charity Commission.
In addition, this article provides documentary proof that the money — whether in a trust or not — has never appeared in Labour Party accounts submitted to the Electoral Commission.
Moreover, the money was never considered when party assets were assessed in the run-up to Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party (the City Party) being formed in 2011. Nor, crucially, was taken into consideration — or even mentioned — when the City Party was split back into three CLPs in 2016.
My interest in Labour Party finances in our city began in 2007, shortly after I stood as a council candidate in St Peter’s North Laine and had subsequently become de facto campaign coordinator for Nancy Platts, who had recently been selected parliamentary candidate ready to take on Caroline Lucas in what turned out to be the election that never was!
Nancy and I tried to sit down with John Warmington, then the notoriously-secretive treasurer of Brighton Pavilion CLP, and understand the finances as they might affect a parliamentary campaign.
As so often with Mr Warmington — and, to be fair, his successors in what became the City Party (Peter van Vliet and Edward Crask) — it was a frustrating experience.
It was impossible to discover even the names of what seemed like myriad bank accounts, what money they held, who controlled access to them, and to what purposes they could be used, or had been used. They all seemed connected, yet disconnected. It was baffling — as, I believe, it was intended to be.
I know many party members who joined in the last two years will find it surprising — even shocking — that, in the bad old days, only the most cursory overview of party finances was made available to members.
And then only occasionally, never routinely. Never in detail. The books stayed firmly closed.
It is important to stress here that nothing in this article should be construed as suggesting that anyone mentioned sought personal gain.
What will become clear, however, is that a few individuals exercised power and control. And they used subterfuge and secrecy to help them maintain an undemocratic hold on the party and its finances.
In truth, it is possible that I did not come across the name of Ben Gowlett until I became editor and co-owner of Brighton & Hove Independent, the free weekly newspaper, in the summer of 2013.
As a journalist, I was fascinated by data. Especially “open” data relating to cities like Brighton and Hove.
Increasingly, more data was becoming freely available on line: donations to political parties and party accounts, via the Electoral Commission; property data, via the Land Registry and websites such as OurProperty; and probate data relating to wills and bequests, via the Court Service; the electoral roll, via services such as www.192.com; and details about council tax and individual properties, via the Valuation Office.
The disclosures in this article were brought to light — and can be independently confirmed — by reference to the above online sources. All relevant data can be downloaded, via the links appended in Appendix 1 (to come). As you will see, for the minority of readers who might be interested, I have deliberately chosen to explain in detail where the data can be found; I have also chosen to adopt more of a forensic rather than a strictly journalistic approach.
A flood of donations into the City Party piqued my interest in 2014 — not least because the approach of Mr van Vliet, the then City Party treasurer, made Mr Warmington appear a model of transparency; I seem to recall he made only one formal statement of accounts to an all-member meeting in the whole 12 months of his tenure.
It is worth noting that in 2014 the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove — in all its *entities — received £96,768.49 in donations (“cash” and “non-cash”).
Since Electoral Commission online records began, the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove — in all its *entities — has received £434,875.32.
The annual totals are: 2001 — £4,395; 2002 — £6,093; 2003 — £3,020; 2004 — £8,520; 2005 — £7,270; 2006 — £2,000; 2007 — £27,944.14 (Full disclosure: Including £1,805 from a now-dissolved company in which I was a shareholder); 2008 — £18,711; 2009 — £26,244.11; 2010 — £28,599.50; 2011 — £20,300; 2012 — £10,640; 2013 — £27,563.17; 2014 — £96,768.49; 2015 — £101,843.49; 2016 — £15,963.42; 2017 — £29,000.
*Entities comprise: Brighton and Hove Local Government Committee (£42,145); Brighton Kemptown CLP (£46,511.75); Brighton Pavilion CLP (£33,645); City of Brighton and Hove Labour Party (£237,364.11); Hove CLP (£30,975); Peter Kyle MP (£41,677.09); and Ms Nancy Platts (£2,737.37).
These are large sums, especially in the two years (2013–2015) during which I was editor and co-owner of the most-read newspaper in Brighton and Hove.
I am proud of the articles we published highlighting how all the political parties locally were funded. But, in one regard, I failed. Miserably. And I kick myself for it now.
Why? What did I miss? And what I have now discovered?
That’s where Ben Gowlett comes in.
- £5,480 to Hove CLP on March 3 2010
- £2,250 to Hove CLP on March 30 2011
- £5,000 to City of Brighton and Hove Labour Party on April 20 2012
- £11,500 to City of Brighton and Hove Labour Party on January 1 2015
- £10,000 to City of Brighton and Hove Labour Party on December 9 2015
In addition, “Ben Gowlett Trustees” had apparently given £15,000 to “Luton Unitary Local Campaign Forum” on May 10 2011
I assume — but have yet to receive confirmation from the Electoral Commission — that this is a mistake in the commission’s records; I believe it was donated to City of Brighton and Hove Labour Party. I may be wrong.
Finally, “Ben Gowlett Trustees” gave £10,000 to the Labour Party centrally (“Central Party”) on November 5 2012.
In sum, a total of £59,230 was donated between 2010 and 2015 to various Labour Party entities — apparently by “trustees” in the name of Mr Gowlett.
Try as I might, I could not find any formal records of Ben Gowlett Trustees, nor even of Mr Gowlett. My excuse for my failure is that I assumed that he was some post-war benefactor whose bequest had disappeared in the mists of time. (One outcome of this article will, I hope, be some public recognition of his life and his generosity!)
Then, in February, I discovered his will. And that’s where this story really starts.
Benjamin Frederick Dennis Gowlett, of 73 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton BN1 4JL died on June 19 1990.
He left an estate valued at no more than £115,000 gross, and no more than £100,000 net (equivalent to more than £230,000 today). Other records indicate he was born on December 3 1907; therefore, he was 82 when he died.
The executors of his will — which was probated on July 13 1990 — were Leslie Arthur Hamilton — “a schoolmaster” — of 6 Nursery Close, Mile Oak, Portslade, Brighton, and David Jeremy Harbord Stockman, a partner in what was then Wynne Baxter Godfree solicitors, of 1 Warwick Road, Seaford, East Sussex.
73 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton BN1 4JJ
Witnesses to the will were Tom Bowers, a commercial artist, and his wife Jo-Ann Bowers, who still live nearby in Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton BN1 4JJ.
They recall signing the will — dated March 2 1990, less than three months before Mr Gowlett’s death — but have no knowledge or memory of its contents, beyond the fact that he left his home to the Labour Party.
Cutting through the legal language, the will is relatively straightforward: Mr Gowlett appointed Mr Hamilton and Mr Stockman — as his “trustees” — to sell his home, but only after the basement was converted, with planning consent, into a self-contained flat. Any fees or other costs should be paid for out of the estate.
It is clear from the will that Mr Gowlett wanted Frederick William Matthews — described in the will as “a friend” — to have the chance of a 25-year lease on the basement flat at a rent of £525 a year.
Subject to this, Mr Gowlett wanted to give the net proceeds of the sale of his home — “and all parts of my estate for the time being unsold” — to Portslade Branch of Hove Constituency Labour Party. (It may be worth noting Mr Gowlett lived in St Peter’s North Laine ward, in Brighton Pavilion constituency, at a time when Brighton and Hove had separate councils.)
What happened next is unclear. Neighbours thought Mr Matthews — born on August 6 1926, some 18 years younger than Mr Gowlett — was a nephew; others who claim knowledge of the two men remember them as partners.
A basement flat was listed in the Valuations Office council tax register from 1993
In the Valuation Office’s first register of council tax bands (in 1993), it appears a self-contained basement flat was newly-created at 73 Rose Hill Terrace.
Mr Matthews, however, ceases to be on the (print-only) electoral roll in Rose Hill Terrace in 1993, when he then appears as the sole occupant of a more accessible ground-floor flat, about 10 minutes’ walk away: Flat 1, Karenza Court, 69–71 Springfield Road, Brighton BN1 6DF.
It is safe to assume that 73 Rose Hill Terrace was sold by whoever formally owned it in 1993. Although records for so long ago are not easily accessed, it appears likely that it was either Portslade Branch Labour Party and/or individuals associated with it or with Mr Gowlett’s executors.
With price-paid Land Registry data available online only from 1995, It is worth noting that a neighbouring house in Rose Hill Terrace was sold in 1996 for £63,500 — suggesting Mr Gowlett’s estate included assets other than the house he and Mr Matthews had lived in together.
Flat 1 (bottom left), Karenza Court, 69–71 Springfield Road, Brighton BN1 6DF
By comparison, a neighbouring flat to the one Mr Matthews moved into in Karenza Court sold in 1995 for just £19,500 — suggesting that if any of the proceeds of Mr Gowlett’s £100,000 estate were used to buy a new home for Mr Matthews, it was only a fraction of the money raised by the sale of 73 Rose Hill Terrace.
As mentioned earlier, quarter of a century on, it is not easy to access the Land Registry documents showing who owned Flat 1 while Mr Matthews was living there.
Listed in Companies House records, however, are shareholders of Karenza Court Management Company (Brighton) Limited (Company Number: 01968331), a company incorporated on December 4 1985 to manage the block of flats on behalf of the residents.
For Flat 1, four individuals owned the shareholding during the period in which Mr Matthews was the occupant: LA Hamilton; SS John; DK Turner; and SL Collier.
These four individuals — at the time, among the best-known senior figures in Portslade and in Hove CLP (along with Ivor Caplin, who became a borough councillor in 1991) — remained shareholders of the management company until March 23 2006, when the flat was sold for £111,000, just under a year after the death of Mr Matthews (at the age of 78, on April 30 2005).
In his will — dated February 21 2000 — Mr Matthews left his estate to his brother, Thomas Henry Matthews, who lived in Islington, north London. In Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency.
Interestingly, Mr Matthews’s estate was valued at a gross value of of no more than £263,000, but a net value of no more than £30,000. This often indicates that a significant mortgage and/or personal loan had to be repaid out of the estate.
It was, however, to be another five years after Mr Matthews’s death that “Ben Gowlett Trustees” made its first donation, according to Electoral Commission declarations: £5,480, to Hove CLP on March 3 2010.
Perhaps now is the time to give a little information about the four Hove CLP members in Portslade — all of them local councillors in their time — who were listed as shareholders of Karenza Court Management Company (Brighton) Limited:
- Councillor Leslie Hamilton: A former mayor of Hove — like his father, also called Leslie — and member of the now-defunct Portslade Council. In the latest register of interests for members of Brighton & Hove City Council, Cllr Hamilton does not mention any trust named after Ben Gowlett; the only bodies of which he says he is in “a position of control or management” are as vice-chair of Mile Oak Football Club and chair of Catherine Martin Trust (which provides financial assistance to children and young adults who are continuing in full-time education);
- Sue John: A former councillor for South Portslade, a former deputy leader of Brighton & Hove City Council, and a former chair of Hove CLP, she lost her council seat in 2007. The former office manager for Ivor Caplin, when he was Labour MP for Hove, was a friend and mentor of Peter Kyle before he became the Labour MP for Hove. Former colleagues say she is no longer a member of the Labour Party;
- Don Turner: Initially a member East Sussex County Council, Mr Turner became a representative for Hove and Portslade in 1985; he became a city councillor for North Portslade in 1997, before standing down in 2007; he was twice the Labour Party parliamentary candidate in Hove in 1987 and 1992. Mr Turner died in March 2014;
- Steve Collier: A councillor for South Portslade from 1991, Mr Collier resigned from the Labour Party in September 2002 after numerous rebellions against the Labour Group line in important council votes — and after he had not been selected to stand again for Labour. He said: “In principle and practice I could not endorse or support the out-of-touch line the council’s administration was taking.” Mr Collier sat as independent councillor until the council elections in May 2003, when the number of South Portslade councillors reduced from three to two; he came fourth, with Labour’s two candidates — Sue John and Leslie Hamilton — being elected. Inexplicably, he remained a shareholder in Karenza Court Management Company (Brighton) Limited for another three years.
Councillor Leslie Hamilton
For self-evident reasons, the main focus of my investigations has been Cllr Hamilton, who remains lead member for finance on Brighton & Hove City Council and is one of the closest lieutenants of Labour leader Councillor Warren Morgan.
Councillor Alan Robins
Cllr Hamilton was one of Mr Gowlett’s executors and is now one of only two Labour members with direct access to the account holding what remains of Mr Gowlett’s donation; the other is Councillor Alan Robins, Cllr Hamilton’s fellow South Portslade councillor. Cllr Robins makes no mention of any trust named after Ben Gowlett in the latest register of interests for members of Brighton & Hove City Council.
Since I began my investigations, Cllr Hamilton has reportedly accepted — under questioning by Labour colleagues — that there is, in fact, no formal Ben Gowlett Trust. Which appears to contradict declarations made to the Electoral Commission, to which “Ben Gowlett Trustees” have claimed it to be a “permissible donor exempt trust”.
Officers in Portslade Branch Labour Party — where Cllr Hamilton is currently treasurer and which had fewer than 50 members when the City Party was created in 2011 — say the preferred description now is the Ben Gowlett “legacy”.
Under pressure, Cllr Hamilton has also claimed about £61,000 remains from the legacy.
From the days of photocopying and faxing — before the era of spreadsheets and websites — many documents have inevitably disappeared. One, however, has emerged. It is as interesting as it is tantalising.
The one-page document, dated February 3 1998, appears to be the minutes of a meeting of “trustees” attended by Ms John and the late Cllr Turner.
It clearly implies some relationship between “theTrust funds” and Portslade Branch Labour Party — although it notes that “trustees” have the final say over the use of any funds. The relationship is perhaps not a transparently straightforward or direct one.
A key paragraph states: “The rational (sic) behind this recommendation is that the Trustees believe that as things stand, it would be possible for a very small group to ‘Hi jack’ (sic) these funds through perfectly legitimate means.”
The document also notes the resignation of Cllr Hamilton as a trustee — “accepted by Portslade Branch Labour Party” — but adds: “The trustees agreed that it is important that Les Hamilton be a Trustee as he probably knows the wishes of Ben Gowlett better than any of us.”
It is time to turn to how various Labour Party “accounting units” have accounted for the Ben Gowlett legacy.
Hove CLP appears never to have submitted any accounts to the Electoral Commission since its foundation in 2001, presumably because its annual income or expenditure never exceeded the statutory threshold of £25,000.
I have no information about annual accounts shared with Hove CLP members for 2011 or for previous years, but one of the most respected Hove CLP treasurers of pre-City-Party years has insisted he never had any knowledge of the Ben Gowlett legacy.
In contrast, however, Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party (the City Party) submitted four sets of annual accounts to the Electoral Commission — for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 — until its disaggregation into three CLPs early last year. In addition, it published abbreviated accounts for 2012.
The crucial question is: How did the City Party account for the Ben Gowlett legacy?
The answer is: It didn’t.
Edward Crask — a prominent Hove CLP member who likes to tell anyone and everyone that he was a Labour Party organiser for 20 years — was the treasurer responsible for the 2016 accounts, submitted on April 28 2017. The “total current assets” for the whole of the City Party is given as only £64,206; net assets are given as £60,531, less than the £61,000 that Cllr Hamilton now says remains of the Ben Gowlett legacy.
Edward Crask reported “branch balances” of only £20,421 at the end of 2015
For the 2015 accounts, Mr Crask followed a slightly different approach and listed “branch balances” separately, giving a figure of £20,421. Clearly, these branch balances did not include £60,000+ for Portslade Branch Labour Party.
For the 2014 accounts, Mr Crask’s predecessor as City Party treasurer — Peter van Vliet — put “branch balances” at £28,599
For the 2013 accounts, Mr van Vliet reported that “branch balances” were only £18,276.
Bank and cash accounts totalled £37,511 in the first City Party accounts in 2012
The abbreviated accounts for 2012, the first for the new City Party — which did not have to be submitted to the Electoral Commission, Mr Warmington reported bank and cash accounts to total £37,511 (and compared it with a figure of £34,456 for 2011).
No independent audit was commissioned or conducted
It is worth noting that when the NEC-imposed steering committee held its inaugural meeting on November 15 2016, members — including Mr Crask — agreed to an independent audit by an accountancy firm of Labour Party accounts in Brighton and Hove; Simon Burgess, a prominent Hove CLP member, highlighted the possible cost. No independent audit was ever commissioned or conducted.
So what do we know now, several months after I began my investigation?
Significantly, general committee members of Hove CLP were, on Thursday, March 29, given a draft set of accounts for 2017, the first full set since the demise of the City Party.
They were drafted after Cllr Hamilton became aware of my close interest.
And surprise, surprise!
The 2017 draft accounts for Hove CLP report “branch assets” as £70,137.05 — almost all of them now associated with Portslade Branch Labour Party
The branch assets — in Hove alone! — are now put at £70,137.05, for 2017; interestingly — and retrospectively and/or inaccurately — the figure for 2016 is put at £68,309.56.
In addition, in the notes to the draft accounts, there is a “Portslade BG” line showing expenditure of £665.20; if this refers to “Portslade Ben Gowlett”, it confirms what Cllr Hamilton has told branch colleagues about the “trust” making small gifts/grants — for example, to some (unspecified) branches or groups. Strangely, “Portslade BG” does not report any income — for example, from interest payments.
Given all of the above, the draft accounts have not yet been approved. Indeed members were told last week they are “sub judice”, because the subject of the Ben Gowlett legacy is the subject of a referral to the Labour Party’s legal department.
Ivor Caplin — a former Portslade councillor and close friend of Peter Kyle, the Hove MP — was quick to assure members everything was above board. He avowed that both he and Mr Kyle had received funds from the trust (For the record, none of the donations registered to the Electoral Commission by the “trust” refer to Mr Caplin or to Mr Kyle; nor do Mr Kyle’s entries in the MPs’ Register of Financial Interests make any mention of the “trust” ).
More than two weeks ago, on Tuesday, March 23, I asked Cllr Hamilton 10 questions about what I had discovered; in case it helped, I copied the questions to Cllr Morgan’s political assistant.
I have not yet received a response. If, following publication, I receive a response, I will publish it here.
These are the questions I asked:
- When was the “Ben Gowlett Trust” created and who have served as trustees over which periods? What evidence can you provide that it is a “Permissible Donor Exempt Trust” under Section 162 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000?
- How much money resulted from Ben Gowlett’s will and what has happened to it?
- How has this money been accounted for and to whom: Portslade Branch Labour Party, Hove Constituency Labour Party, Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party, and/or any other Labour Party unit?
- How much money remains as a result of Mr Gowlett’s will and who currently has authorised access to it?
- Which individuals — in addition to yourself — have decided how proceeds from Mr Gowlett’s estate have been disbursed, including the seven donations totalling £59,230 detailed (all since March 3 2010) in Electoral Commission records?
- Are you willing to provide to Hove CLP and the Brighton and Hove Local Campaign Forum with a full set of bank statements and trustees’ minutes to substantiate answers to the previous questions above? If not, why not?
- When was 73 Rose Hill Terrace sold following Mr Gowlett’s death and how much was it sold for?
- When was Flat 1, Karenza Court, 69–71 Springfield Road, Brighton BN1 6DF, bought — by whom, and for how much?
- When was Flat 1, Karenza Court, 69–71 Springfield Road, Brighton BN1 6DF, sold — by whom, and for how much?
- What arrangements have been made relating to potential Capital Gains Tax liability?
In last week’s draft accounts, Jane Gateley, the Hove CLP treasurer, notes under “Legacy issues”, the following: “Hove and Portslade CLP, along with Kemptown CLP and Pavilion CLP, will need to work with the Labour Party Regional Office to complete any outstanding legacy issues and balance transfers from central accounting units during 2018.”
Many members will regard that as an understatement.
An index of links to the evidence and data I used to validate the blogpost above:
- A downloadable spreadsheet of Electoral Commission data showing the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove — in all its *entities — has received £434,875.32 in donations since commission records began in 2001. *Entities comprise: Brighton and Hove Local Government Committee (£42,145); Brighton Kemptown CLP (£46,511.75); Brighton Pavilion CLP (£33,645); City of Brighton and Hove Labour Party (£237,364.11); Hove CLP (£30,975); Peter Kyle MP (£41,677.09); and Ms Nancy Platts (£2,737.37);
- A downloadable spreadsheet of Electoral Commission data summarising the £59,320 that was donated by “Ben Gowlett Trustees” or, in one instance, “Gowlett Trust”;
- A downloadable copy of the will of Benjamin Frederick Dennis Gowlett, who died on June 19 1990;
- A downloadable photograph of the 73 Rose Hill Terrace, the house in which Mr Gowlett lived immediately before his death;
- A downloadable photograph of the ground-floor flat in Karenza Court, Springfield Road, to which Mr Gowlett’s friend — Frederick William Matthews — moved afer 73 Rose Hill Terrace was sold in 1993;
- Companies House data relating to Karenza Court Management Company (Brighton) Limited (Company Number: 01968331), a company incorporated on December 4 1985 to manage the block of flats on behalf of the residents;
- A downloadable copy of the will of Mr Matthews, who died on April 30 2005, with a downloadable copy of the Probate Registry grant;
- The entry for Councillor Leslie Hamilton in the Brighton & Hove City Council Register of Interests;
- The entry for Councillor Alan Robins in the Brighton & Hove City Council Register of Interests;
- The minutes of [Ben Gowlett] “trustees” dated February 3 1998;
- Four sets of annual accounts submitted by the City Party to the Electoral Commission — for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 — until its disaggregation into three CLPs early last year. Along with the abbreviated accounts for 2012.
- Minutes of the inaugural meeting of the NEC-imposed steering committee on November 15 2016;
- A downloadable spreadsheet of draft accounts for Hove CLP for 2017, presented to Hove CLP general committee delegates on March 29, 2018;
- The 10 questions I asked of Cllr Hamilton on Tuesday, March 23 — to which there has so far (April 9) been no response.
I have been asked a few times about my use of the word “criminal” relating to the McNicol conspiracy against the Labour Party, its leadership, and its members. It is a good question.
My immediate response is concede that “unlawful” may be a better, more accurate word: criminal relates to an unlawful act that is specifically prohibited by legislation; unlawful relates to an act that is not specifically authorised by legislation (and that is not necessarily in violation of a specific law — for example, a civil offence).
It is a moot point whether or not various breaches of data protection legislation are unlawful and/or criminal; regardless, given what I have written in previous instalments and what is disclosed in the leaked report, it is ironic that some former Labour Party staff named in the report are complaining their privacy has been breached by the leak.
Separately, there is evidence that some acts in the leaked report may have involved crimes akin to hacking and unlawful data-matching.
There is also the issue of an alleged breach of contract between the members of the Labour Party — as an unincorporated association — and the people employed to manage it within the law and in accordance with the Labour Party Rule Book. This is a complicated legal point that came to the fore in relation to challenges concerning the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn.
Finally, given the evidence in the leaked report of channelling funds to “favoured” candidates, there may even be the issue of the McNicol and his fellow employees regarding legislation about elections, such as the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended).
All of the above is beyond my area of expertise — although I am very interested in learning more from learned friends.
Therefore, in this chapter, I propose to address only the chronic and widespread failure of the Labour Party to comply with the Subject Access Request (SAR) requirements initially under Section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA); the most recent legislation is the Data Protection Act 2018 (the United Kingdom’s implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
A statutory requirement is that an SAR should be fulfilled within 40 calendar days.
Mishandling of SARs is the most common complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). In 2018–19, nearly four in 10 (38%) of more than 41,600 data-protection-related complaints lodged with the ICO concerned individuals’ rights to access their personal data held by organisations.
In recent years, the Labour Party has been one of the worst high-profile offenders.
A Freedom of Information request was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on February 13 2018, by a campaigner who supported Labour Party members who had been unjustly suspended or expelled for political reasons.
It contains a total of 44 complaints: one in 2015–2016; 22 in 2016–2017; 21 in 2017–[March 13] 2018.
I was particularly interested in the 32 complaints relating specifically to Subject Access Requests that had not been fulfilled within the 40-calendar-day deadline.
- 18 complaints led to the ICO requiring action from the Labour Party’s data-controller (one in January-March 13 2018; 12 in 2017; and five in 2016);
- three led to the ICO raising concern with the data-controller;
- four led to the ICO giving compliance advice to the data-controller;
- four required a response from the data-controller;
- two required no action or did not relate to the Data Protection Act
I wrote about this data in an article on August 9 2018, 237 days after I had submitted my third SAR. Which is still unfulfilled at the time of writing, nearly 30 months later.
Let me go back, however, to my first SAR.
It was 6.20pm on Friday, August 12 2016 — just over a month after the “spitting” lies that led to the suspension of the City Party — when I made by first SAR to McNicol, in the hope of discovering evidence that might help inform the Buckingham-led inquiry into the suspension.
I received an apology from Creighton (passim) on September 22 and then a substantive response on Saturday, October 11 — a mere 17 days after the statutory deadline (above left).
On the one hand, I was delighted to have received the response; on the other hand, I was appalled by what I discovered. At 3.20pm on October 11, I tweeted: “Got “subject access” data from @UKLabour Creighton. Suddenly, I feel I’m in a surveillance state rather than a political party”:
The contents were shocking. From April 3 2013 — and the controversy over Kyle’s “open” selection — redacted emails showed individuals making several complaints — untrue; mostly libellous — to Labour Party officials. Not a single complaint had been made known to me, to allow me to rebut and refute.
Crucially, the complaints reached a crescendo shortly after the City Party annual meeting on July 9 2016, at which I and other pro-Corbyn candidates were elected with up to 65% of the 600-plus votes cast.
A fortnight after I received the first SAR bundle, I was suspended by the Labour Party.
The next SAR I was involved with was that submitted by Riad el-Taher, on March 25 2017, shortly after he was unjustly expelled — as outlined in Chapter 4. Apart from an immediate auto-reply from McNicol, Riad never received a response before his death from cancer on November 9 2018.
Having been suspended (for the second time), I submitted my second SAR on April 6 2017 — to Sam Matthews (passim) and to the “Legal Queries” email address.
Progress was not speedy: 60 days after my request — on June 6 2017 — I asked when I could expect a response. The following day, I received an apology (left). And a promise to provide a substantive response by June 14 2017.
Only July 16 2017, I made a formal complaint to the ICO.
After more chasing up of McNicol, Matthew (passim), “Legal Queries”, and the ICO, I received and apology on Thursday, August 3, from Andrew [Whyte], [director of the [Governance and Legal Unit], saying the necessary documentation had been posted on Monday, July 31; I received it on Friday, August 4.
It contained more of the same sort of material as the previous response, except more of it (117 double-sided pages): in particular, it disclosed complaints that — during my suspension — some anti-Corbyn members felt my influence was too great (for example, in relation to the selection of delegates to the three newly-reinstated CLPs).
Most interestingly, however, it disclosed (redacted) emails that proved I had been suspended in October 2016 just 64 minutes after local anti-Corbyn activists had been told I was to be a member of the steering committee set up following the Buckingham-led inquiry (left; see Chapter 4).
All because Morgan (passim) refused to be in the same room as me!
Notably, some emails between Labour Party officers and Labour members of Brighton & Hove City Council and/or their paid organiser — which had been leaked in full to me over the last 18 months — were not included at all.
Most worryingly, the unsigned cover letter (left) said: “Some information has been withheld, because it relates to advice given under legal professional privilege.”
It was not long before I got a formal response from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to my complaint about the Labour Party’s failure to fulfil my SAR within 40 calendar days.
Philip Marsh, the ICO’s Lead Case Officer, wrote: “Our assessment decision remains unchanged in that it is likely Labour breached the DPA in its failure to respond within the prescribed period.”
By December 8 2017, I had still not heard anything about the allegations behind my suspension more than a year earlier; nor had I heard when I might be given the opportunity of a hearing. So I made a third SAR.
It was to no avail — as I had expected. And as I disclosed in an article on July 30 2018, some 228 days after my request.
In this article, I explained my pessimism had been well-founded. Not least because repeated email reminders to Jordan Hall, the Labour Party’s Data Protection Officer, had met only with the laughably-worded auto-reponse: “Thank you for your email. We aim to respond to all queries within 10 working days. Please note that it is not always possible and there may be instance where further time is required. If your query is urgent, please call 02077831498 otherwise we will respond in due course. Alternatively, please contact your Regional office.”
Telephone calls to Hall were never returned. I later learned he had been off work — never to return or even to be replaced, as far as I know — because of long-term sickness. Hall does not merit a mention in the leaked report.
Please allow a brief diversion, to the references in the leaked report to SARs and how they were [mis]handled — as the result of incompetence fuelled by conspiracy.
According to Emilie Oldknow, Executive Director (Governance,
Membership and Party Services) in the leaked report, the Labour Party was used to dealing with about 30 SARs a year; by December 14 2016, the number had risen to 297.
Because people like me had been refused information by Matthews (passim) about why they had been suspended:
Separately, however, it is clear there was — quite from when is not clear — a “ Labour’s ‘Subject Access Request’ tool” that made it easy (presumably) to generate the raw [unredacted] material to satisfy SARs:
Nevertheless, on July 23 2018, I had some good news! But not from the Labour Party.
Yet again, the ICO had promised “a record will be kept on file and may help inform any future action we consider appropriate in regard to Labour’s handling of personal data”.
Finally, in a letter dated July 23 2018 (left), the Labour Party had been told to respond to my SAR “within the next 14 days” (ie Monday, August 6 2018).
Without the Labour Party having complied in time, I wrote another article on August 25 2018.
More than seven months — 253 days, to be precise — after I submitted a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the Labour Party, I revealed the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had disclosed it has “concerns about Labour’s handling of SARs generally” and was “considering what further action may be necessary in order to improve Labour’s practices”. Read the full text of the letter from Phillip Marsh, the lead case officer.
In the letter dated August 23, in response to my complaint that the Labour Party had (still) not responded to my SAR — submitted on December 8 2017! — within the 40-calendar-day deadline required by the Data Protection Act 1998, Marsh, the ICO’s lead case officer, wrote:
“At this stage, I am unable to advise whether we will decide to take regulatory action in regard to your specific SAR; however I will update you should this be the case.
“In the meantime, I can advise that the Data Protection Act 1998 affords you with the right to enforce your right of access through the courts. Section 7(9) states that where a court determines a data controller has failed to comply with a subject access request, it can compel it to do so. You may therefore wish to seek independent legal advice in this regard. The ICO is unable to assist with taking such matters to court.”
On Saturday, August 25 2018, I was interviewed by The Sunday Times with a view to an article in that weekend’s newspaper. This is what I said:
“I’m a longstanding member of the Labour Party, who was suspended on October 26 2016 — after a still-unspecified allegation from a still-unnamed complainant, without a chance of a hearing to rebut and refute any charge.
“Like many hundreds and possibly thousands of party members, I made a Subject Access Request (SAR) to the Labour Party (on December 8 2017) to get some clues about why I was suspended. It should have responded to my request within 40 days. But I have had no communication whatsoever.
“I am pleased the Information Commissioner’s Officer (ICO) is now investigating the party’s flagrant and chronic abuse of the Data Protection Act 1998. If this fails to provide a satisfactory result, I will take the commissioner’s advice and take legal action.”
Below is what The Sunday Times published.
Despite confirmation from the ICO that the Labour Party had again breached the Data Protection Act and publicity in The Sunday Times, I never did get a substantive response to my third SAR — not before I was finally told (on November 30 2018) that I would get a hearing into the allegations that had resulted in my suspension more than two years earlier.
I guess that’s why I was never told what data the Labour Party held about me. Because the evidence would — maybe still will — prove that I was suspended as a result of the McNicol conspiracy. And for no other reason.
Chapter 8 (to come)
With the last of nine instalments covering nearly nine years since the creation — and then the enforced dissolution — of the City Party in Brighton and Hove, it is time to come full circle.
I began with the prelude to the surprise selection of Kyle as the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Hove in June 2013 (against Labour Party rules, from an “open” long list of 16 men and a short list of three men).
I end here with the bizarre process resulting in the “selection” — more accurately, the imposition — of the Labour Party parliamentary candidate in Brighton Pavilion in November 2019.
First, though, I want to go back to what was the historic general election of 2017, when Jeremy Corbyn became so close to being our country’s first socialist prime minister.
The lie of the land in 2017 in Brighton and Hove was clear: Kyle in Hove was automatically the candidate and was certain to win (with the implosion of the Liberal Democrats in 2015, an ineffective Green campaign, and the collapse of the Conservatives in a constituency that was strongly anti-Brexit); Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion was also certain to win again, “even if she strangled a dog on live television,” joked one local activist; Brighton Kemptown, however, was definitely in play, following the Nancy Platts failure by just 690 votes to unseat the Conservative MP in 2015.
On Sunday, April 30 2017, with Platts having recently quit as trade union liaison manager in Jeremy Corbyn’s team, a three-person panel appointed by McNicol and his employees, met to decide whom to impose as the official party candidate.
Clear favourite was Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the former chair of the then-defunct City Party, a prominent member (for East Brighton) on Brighton and Hove City Council, and a friend of Platts (who had decided not to stand, following her painfully-narrow defeat in Brighton Kemptown in 2015 and a similarly disappointing result in Brighton Pavilion in 2010). Russell-Moyle was seen as broadly sympathetic to Corbyn and therefore had the support of Brighton and Hove Momentum.
Then the mid-morning telephone call came that fateful Sunday in April. The caller — someone intimately involved with the process — alerted me to the fact that the result was being fixed by two of the three anti-Corbyn members of the panel. Indeed, almost simultaneously, a well-informed article on the Brighton & Hove News website jumped the gun, in an article under the headline “Labour to spring surprise candidate on Brighton Kemptown”. I still do not know if it was a pro-Corbyn or an anti-Corbyn source; I suspect the former, in an attempt to overturn a draft decision arrived at in an informal “pre-meeting”.
The article stated: “A selection panel meeting is expected to pick charity chief executive Michelle Thew, who became chief executive of Cruelty Free International, formerly the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, in 2006.”
Furthermore, it reported — a little bizarrely, given its irrelevance — the selection-cum-imposition committee had chosen from an all-women short list, adding: “The news was a surprise to local activists with three members of Brighton and Hove City Council — Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Dan Yates and Tom Bewick — among the frontrunners.”
Within hours, the anti-Corbyn manoeuvring had been turned around and Russell-Moyle was, later the same day, named as the candidate; happily, he was subsequently replaced by Platts as a city councillor in the safe seat of East Brighton (who even more happily became leader of the Labour-controlled council less than two years later).
There was some consolation for Thew, the chief executive of Cruelty Free International (formerly the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection).
Within 24 hours, Thew — who turned out to be a little-known member of Hove CLP — was imposed as the candidate for Brighton Pavilion (the constituency where I live).
Amusingly, despite being still suspended, I was approached by my CLP’s officers to help with the press launch of Thew’s campaign — prompting yet another complaint to McNicol’s cronies (left).
The complainant need not have bothered. For Thew — on the day of the planned launch (Thursday, May 4 2017) — decided to withdraw “for personal reasons”.
Instead, on Wednesday, May 10 2017, Solomon Curtis was unveiled as the new candidate (making it a hat-trick of male Labour candidates in the city, for the first time since 2001).
Even though I had indeed helped with the press coverage, I was refused entry to the actual event at the Brighthelm Centre — and was then photographed by a furious Cattell (passim) when I later returned to pick up my wife.
On June 8 2017, Curtis inevitably lost; Kyle — who mentioned Corbyn only to rubbish his leadership — won; so did Russell-Moyle, thanks in part to huge numbers of pro-Corbyn volunteers travelling from Hove, Brighton Pavilion, and beyond.
So what was going on in the chaotic, bureaucratic, anti-democratic — but ultimately doomed — attempt to fix Brighton Kemptown for Thew, the unknown member from Hove (who, as it turned out, was — through her anti-vivisection work — a friend of Lucas)?
To any of the small number of people who knew what had gone on, the answer was obvious: Kyle’s friends in the McNicol machine wanted a no-hope outsider to stand in Brighton Kemptown so that it became a can’t-win seat — and so that resources could be funnelled into Hove.
Not only was this strategy quickly thwarted — by union intervention (specifically Unite and GMB Union) — but also some of us persuaded the Green Party candidate to stand down and make way for an ardent pro-European such as Russell-Moyle. Result on June 8: an astonishing Labour majority of 9.868!
On Tuesday, June 6, there had been a huge get-out-the-vote rally with Barry Gardiner in the Synergy Centre, Brighton. I — like other suspended members who had been canvassing hard that very evening in Brighton Kemptown — were refused entry by Amy Fode, the then Labour Party Regional Director, even though many non-members were admitted.
Fast forward to 2019 and — with Kyle and Russell-Moyle having a clear run again (“open selections having been ruled out and “trigger” ballots brushed aside because of the “snap” election that had been foreseen for months) — only Brighton Pavilion was in play.
Naturally, all CLP members were determined there should be no repeat of the farce of 2017.
The easiest way to explain yet another undemocratic imposition is first to outline the timetable as it affected the Labour Party in seats it was unlikely to win in the “Brexit” general election on December 12 2019:
- Wednesday, September 4: An email lands at 6.40pm from Jennie Formby, McNicol’s replacement as general secretary, inviting applications. It gave would-be applicants less than 48 hours to meet a deadline of 5pm on Friday, September 6;
- Monday, September 9: Without explanation — but understandably — a new deadline had been extended to 10am; I submitted my application at 8.24am and received an immediate confirmation of receipt;
- Tuesday, October 8: After three weeks since all selections had been paused, the NEC Officers’ Group met to approve emergency procedures. Which, in the case of Brighton Pavilion, meant that the longlisting, shortlisting, and selection of a candidate resided almost entirely with the CLP and its members. Subsequently, CLP officers claimed they repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — sought permission to begin the selection process;
- Friday, October 18: A generic email was sent to would-be candidates — in cluding me — from the “Labour Party Selections Team”. It stated: “The Party has received a very large number of applications and we are progressing selections as quickly as possible to prepare for a possible early election. Regional offices will be in touch in due course when longlists and shortlists are decided for the remaining vacancies. We are not able to provide feedback on individual applications.”
- Tuesday, October 29: MPs vote for a general election on December 12; almost immediately — and with no formal notification to those who had applied more than seven weeks earlier to be the candidate in Brighton Pavilion — Labour’s NEC Officers’ Group decided to change the emergency procedures. With little publicity, it ordained that those seats that had not yet selected a Labour candidate and were not represented by a Labour MP would now have their candidate picked by panels composed of representatives from the NEC, the party’s regional board, and the CLP.
The decisive date, as I learned later, was Friday, November 1, when two members of Brighton Pavilion CLP — the requirement reportedly was “a woman and a BAME member” — were summoned to Labour Party headquarters, where they joined two members of the Southeast Regional Board.
The four were asked if the had read the applicants’ CVs; the Brighton Pavilion members said they had not even been given copies. Officials handed out two CVs to read: that of Adam Imanpour, a young member of Hove CLP, whom I had encouraged to apply, and that of another applicant (also, by coincidence, called Adam, from elsewhere in Sussex).
A quick discussion followed and the choice was made: Adam from Sussex. It was only then that officials disclosed that a third candidate had applied, but he had “failed due diligence”. That candidate was the only one who lived in the constituency. That candidate, as I found out later, was me.
With election excitement mounting, I emailed the Labour Party Selections Team at 9.15pm on Monday, November 4, to ask how my application was proceeding; I received a brief auto-reply that thanked me for my email and added: “We are not currently accepting applications.”
Even in my total ignorance, I was beginning to think I may not have been successful!
Unbeknown to me, of course, the next day a telephone call was made to “Adam from Sussex”, giving him the good news that he had been chosen as our candidate. He seemed taken aback, as he disclosed he had already accepted another constituency; I’m still not sure which one.
What was to be done? I still knew nothing, until 9.51am when an anti-Corbyn troll on Twitter was confident. “It won’t be you,” she tweeted. At 12.25pm, @BuxtonFletcher1 tweeted again (left): “Come and celebrate @greghadfield not getting selected, with a host of Labour members who all love Jeremy Corbyn so much they for @CarolineLucas”.
If true, I could only assume that someone with close contact with Labour Party officials had leaked the news. My suspicions were confirmed the next day when at 5.01pm on Thursday, November 7, Luke Stanger — a vile Hove-based anti-Corbyn troll who had been suspended for alleged racism and bullying of women — named the successful candidate as Adam Imanpour.
Which was strange, because Imanpour had not yet seen an email confirming his selection, sent by Labour Party officials at 3.20pm; strangely, both he and I got generic emails telling us we both had been unsuccessful and wishing us luck in any future applications. Separately, however, Imanpour did not know for certain he was the official candidate until 5.05pm when he received a congratulatory telephone call from Jon Rogers, chair of Brighton Pavilion CLP.
At 5.18pm, @BuxtonFletcher tweeted (left): “I’ve just been told who the Labour candidate is for @PavilionLabour and I’ll [n]ever stop laughing. Still, at least it’s not @GregHadfield.”
On Saturday, November 9, I was delighted to join 60 or so members of Brighton Pavilion CLP to give Adam Imanpour the warmest of welcomes (below left).
On the way to the meeting at Friends Meeting House, I bought a copy of the Daily Mail — which had a double-page spread headlined “Corbyn’s Dirty Dozen”, a typically-vicious hatchet job on 12 Labour Party parliamentary candidates. I was reminded of one of the questions — 1.e — I had to answer on the Labour Party “declaration form” form:
If grassroots members in Brighton Pavilion had been given the chance to vote for me, they may have ended up with a candidate the Daily Mail — my old employer — could never support.
To try to find out what went on at Labour Party headquarters, I could perhaps submit a Subject Access Request. But, on past experience, I doubt it would be fulfilled.
After nearly nine years of travail — swimming in a sea of McNicol-inspired machinations, toxic abuse, secrecy, McCarthyite suspensions, and Kafka-esque trials — thank goodness I was spared. By being (secretly) declared persona non grata — we used to call it blacklisting when done by employers — with no explanation and no right of appeal.
And thus another campaign began. With members agreeing this must never happen again.
Certainly not until the next time.
When it does, though, you can count me out.
This is the final part of an article that is related directly or indirectly to the shocking evidence contained in the recent leaked report entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019”. [Separately, I have put online some relevant extracts from the report.]
The complete version will be sent to Martin Forde QC, the chair of the official Labour Party inquiry into the leaked report (even though, strangely but unsurprisingly, its terms of reference do not appear to allow for such democratic engagement).
Please let me know what you think via @GregHadfield; if you have any further information about the individuals or events mentioned, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.