Starmer and the vilification of Becky Massey

The January 2021 issue of Labour Briefing

Below is an article I have written for the January 2021 issue of the ever-excellent Labour Briefing. Please subscribe to — and support — a remarkable must-read publication.

With Brexit done and Covid vaccines on the way, the current Labour Party leadership can get on with what it does best: stifling democracy, suffocating socialism, and suspending activists.

Even in these uncertain times, members can count on Sir Keir Starmer to continue apace with an aggressive remodelling of the party, its policies, and its processes.

To the surprise of none of us, the lightweight report of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) provided the perfect pretext. Not just to withdraw the whip from Jeremy Corbyn, but also to trigger renewed action against left-wing activists.

Significantly, Sir Keir’s offensive is now also deliberately targeting Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) and engineering the suspension of elected officers who dare to defend the twin freedoms of thought and speech.

Moreover, CLPs refusing to toe the line will — like mine in Brighton Pavilion — be cut off from digital tools and data that allow them to communicate directly with members or to campaign effectively on behalf of communities.

In other CLPs, Starmerite officers delight in the facility that Zoom offers to literally silence unwelcome opinions.

Clearly, control of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is no longer sufficient by itself to satisfy the McCarthyite ambitions of Starmer and his anti-democratic allies.

Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, the Forde Inquiry has disclosed that the findings of its investigation into the #LabourLeaks report will be delayed yet again. Originally scheduled for mid-July (then mid-September, then October, then the end of 2020), the findings will apparently be made public “early” this year.

It is, however, already too late. Tens of thousands of Labour members have already left the party — the result of resignations, lapsed memberships, and expulsions.

At the same time, there has been a resurgence of the near-fetishisation of one-to-one canvassing, whether on the doorstep or on the telephone. Ask not what your party can do for you, ask what you can do for your party.

Angela Rayner has even promised that if you make 1,500 telephone calls, you will be invited to take part in a Zoom meeting with her! Alternatively, you may wish to pay £288 a year to join Labour’s new “2024 Club” (or £960, to be sure of a signed copy of a speech by a shadow cabinet member).

Even when the Covid pandemic is over — possibly in time for an in-person party conference in Brighton in September — it is difficult to imagine a Labour Party in which CLPs or branches have any meaningful role, apart from whatever is authorised from above: on-message campaigning (for hand-picked candidates), targeted canvassing, solicitations to donors, and endless grassroots fundraising.

In the year ahead, Starmerism may well define itself more by party discipline than by party policy. If that means a much smaller and even more centralised party — which exists online and virtually rather than in the real world — then so be it.

Data-driven campaigns on social media, supplementing broadcast and print media, can make up the shortfall in footsoldiers at election times.

What will this mean for ordinary members who expect more of their party?

Let me quickly tell you about the vilification of Becky Massey, a pro-Corbyn, pro-Palestine socialist in my home city of Brighton and Hove.

New evidence has shown how the the Leader of the Opposition’s office (LOTO) collaborated with the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) to expel Massey, who — as a Hove CLP officer — had been a target for anti-Corbyn diehards for more than four years.

Emails obtained under data-protection laws — including 10 on a single day — prove that Sir Keir and his aides acted within a week of Massey’s name appearing on a secret 11-name “hit list” passed to them by the BoD. And within hours of the Labour leader’s first meeting with the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

Despite investigating countless previous complaints, party officials had failed to find any evidence to substantiate oft-alleged “anti-Semitism”. That had not, however, stopped them twice warning Massey — while drawing on the same threadbare evidence of just three tweets she had posted: one in September 2015; one in April 2016; and one in June 2016.

By mid-May 2020, the witch-hunters were getting desperate for new evidence. So they settled on a single tweet (see left), posted before the 2019 general election, praising Chris Williamson (the MP for Derby North who had been unlawfully suspended by Labour).

Ludicrously, Massey was expelled for “a clear endorsement” of an “independent candidate standing against Labour”.

More ludicrously, party records subsequently showed she was expelled for “anti-Semitism”.

It is difficult to think of a more clear-cut example of the scale of “anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party being dramatically overstated. And for political reasons by opponents inside and outside the party.

But telling the truth in today’s Labour Party is a disciplinary offence. As Jeremy Corbyn, CLP officers, and countless innocent members like Becky Massey know to their cost.

Pro-Corbyn. Elected secretary of Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party; votes annulled by NEC; suspended Oct 2016; re-instated Feb 2019. Ex-Fleet Street.