Leaked evidence of a conspiracy against the Labour Party
Below is an article I have written for the June 2020 issue of the ever-excellent Labour Briefing.
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In the Labour Party — like in space — nobody can hear you scream. Or so it has felt for countless grassroots party members who have been expelled, suspended, investigated, libelled, or straightforwardly abused — and largely abandoned — since Jeremy Corbyn was elected party leader.
As one of the fortunate ones — twice suspended; twice unsuspended — my search for a root cause of what is rotten at the heart of the Labour Party machine goes further back than 2015. To the appointment of Iain McNicol as general secretary four years earlier.
Even that does not necessarily give sufficient perspective to understand fully the dysfunctional and distorted bureaucracy that is laid bare in the 851-page leaked report entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019”.
The truth socialists have to face in the light of the leaked disclosures is that our party, if it is to achieve its modest self-declared aims, must re-invent itself from bottom to top.
Electing a leader who genuinely shares those aims is not enough; campaigning for a party whose policies promise to fulfil those ambitions is not enough. The radical democratisation of the Labour Party is fundamental — a fundamental means to the end of a socialist transformation of society.
If we cannot be democratic — transparent and truthful — in how we behave as individuals and as a party, how can we even pretend to be democratic when we aspire to serve as a government or a council?
Therein lies the failure, in my view, of Corbyn and those closest to him. They fooled themselves into thinking they could play a new game, without changing the rules of the old one. Without, from the very start, being Herculean in their determination to clean out Augean-like stables that were overflowing with the detritus of the McNicol era.
Finally, we have one more chance for truth and reconciliation, provided we have the truth first.
The inquiry into the contents of the leaked report is a final opportunity. It is hard, however, to have much faith in an inquiry that seems as much concerned with how the report was leaked — by an inquiry team comprising three members of the House of Lords (under Martin Forde QC, as chair).
Especially when one of them is Lord Whitty, the general secretary under Neil Kinnock who presided over two waves of “witch-hunts” — particularly in my home city of Brighton and Hove — against socialists in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Inevitably, much focus has been on how the party machine worked against — by active intent as well as by passive indolence and incompetence — electoral success for a Corbyn-led Labour Party.
A lot of interesting words and phrases are repeatedly used by the participants highlighted in the report: “trots” (as in “hunting the trots”) gets 237 mentions; “Stasi” (as in the machine’s “new Stasi system”) is another favourite; and disparaging mental health issues (one official hopes a sufferer “dies in a fire”. Another responds: “I wouldn’t piss on him to put him out”).
Despite its length, however, the leaked report touches on only the tips of the icebergs that sought to freeze the actions of socialists at a local level.
Therefore, let me try to summarise my personal knowledge of just a few episodes during 14 years as a Labour Party activist in Brighton and Hove.
This article is based on a book-length account — more than 40,000 words — written after the leaked report triggered again all the awful memories and experiences that I and countless comrades — often women; often BAME or Jewish comrades; sometimes both — suffered in the naïve belief they were the isolated results of local actions by local individuals, a few very bad apples that had grown on a very rotten tree.
All five Labour Party officials involved in some or all of the episodes mentioned in this article are mentioned in the leaked report; all have since left employment by the party:
- 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 an infamous anti-Corbyn leaving speech in March 2017;
- Malcolm Powers was southeast regional director for 10 years until January 2016, when he was employed “leading on party development” at party headquarters;
- Harry Gregson was a 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 was an outspoken critic of Corbyn);
- Sam Matthews applied in February 2016 to be “Compliance Officer — Investigations”, shortly after a friendly coffee with Creighton. Despite reportedly 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 leaving in June 2018, he has been head of communications and strategy for the Heathrow Community Engagement Board;
- Katherine Buckingham was the Labour Party’s former part-time head of disputes, who preceded Matthews until her abrupt departure in December 2016; Buckingham led an inquiry into fake allegations at the Brighton and Hove “City Party” annual meeting, compiling a report that Buckingham explicitly stated did not even consider CCTV footage proving key allegations about “spitting” and “abuse” were untrue.
It is worth noting that two of them — Mike Creighton and Sam Matthews — both figured in last July’s infamous BBC Panorama programme entitled Is Labour Anti-Semitic?
There is room here only to catalogue the bare outline of just a few episodes from the McNicol years in what used to be the “City Party” (Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party), until 2017, after it was forced to split into three separate constituency parties: Hove CLP, Brighton Pavilion CLP, and Brighton Kemptown CLP.
- The “open selection” of 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 (all against party rules); complaints were swiftly rejected by Creighton and McNicol;
- 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 in October 2016). It was the first of five such prejudicial leaks to Nick Cohen, the Observer journalist known as Private Eye’s “Ratbiter”;
- The now-infamous fabrication of “spitting” and abuse allegations at the annual general meeting of the “City Party” on July 9 2016. This led to the suspension of the City Party and the annulment, within four days, of the elections that saw all 10 pro-Corbyn candidates win with up to 65% of the 600+ votes cast. The background to this is addressed briefly in the leaked report;
- 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. Some of these were victims of unlawful data breaches and leaks to the media, in contravention of party rules; some were summarily expelled; others have been suspended for more than a year without a hearing;
- The use of fake “anti-Semitism” smears against Becky Massey, as a weapon against Corbyn supporters in Brighton and Hove. This was a pivotal episode, during which a former Labour MP — helped by a Labour councillor — used false allegations of “anti-Semitism” to engineer the cancellation of the initial general meeting of Hove CLP required by the previously-mentioned Buckingham-led inquiry; the smears were timed and coordinated to precipitate the withdrawal of the booked venue, Ralli Hall Jewish Community Centre;
- The scandal of the Ben Gowlett Trust and a £100,000 donation hidden from members by some Labour councillors; the so-called trust (which never existed) managed funds resulting from a legacy to the Labour Party dating back to 1990; the money appeared for the first time in Hove CLP accounts only after I exposed its existence. No significant action was taken by McNicol or his officials;
- The multiple breaches by the Labour Party of the Data Protection Act — a widespread chronic problem — in relation to repeated Subject Access Requests (SARs). The deliberate refusal by McNicol and his officials to fulfil SARs within the 40 calendar days required by legislation made it near-impossible for suspended and/or expelled members to discover the reasons for disciplinary action;
- My second suspension by the Labour Party in October 2016 and the immediate lifting of my suspension at the end of a two-day hearing in February 2019, details of which I have been warned not to disclose;
- The undemocratic imposition, without a vote of members, of the Labour Party parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion in November 2019; as the only one of the three applicants from Brighton Pavilion, I was secretly excluded, apparently because I failed “due diligence”.
In the future, in the light of the leaked report, when grassroots members scream about unjust treatment by the party machine, let us hope that the rest of us will listen.