Chapter 2: My initial suspension by the Labour Party in September 2014 and the subsequent lifting of my suspension — without a hearing — in August 2015
This is the second chapter of what was always intended to be a single article. A compendium of all nine chapters — written and published since May 4 2019 — can be found together via this link to the single article (which will be regularly revised in the days and weeks after May 14 2020): Iain McNicol: The criminal conspiracy against the Labour Party, its leadership, and its members
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).
More to follow…..Next:
This is the second chapter 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 final complete article 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.