The Kafkaesque tactics that define the Starmer-Evans project

Below is an article I have written for the September 2020 issue of the ever-excellent Labour Briefing.

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Josef K was arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his alleged crime revealed neither to him nor to those who knew him. He was told to await instructions from a shadowy committee about which he knew little or nothing.

The Trial is one of Starmer’s favourite books

Many critics see Franz Kafka’s The Trial as a warning about autonomous, inhuman bureaucracies that rob us of our human rights.

According to a profile in The Guardian, the novel is one of Sir Keir Starmer’s favourites. He says he knows the story backwards.

For Labour Party members, however, the worry is that he — and David Evans, his hand-picked general secretary — regard the book more as an instruction manual than as a cautionary fiction.

In the last issue of Labour Briefing, I argued the radical democratisation of the Labour Party was a fundamental means to the end-goal of a socialist transformation of society.

In contrast, Sir Keir has emphasised only that Labour is now “under new management”, while Mr Evans has pledged to “professionalise” the party bureaucracy.

The phraseology is frightful enough. But the reality will be even more terrible, if recent events in my home city of Brighton and Hove are — as I believe — typical of what is going on across the country:

· We are already witnessing a growing number of suspension and/or expulsion of Labour activists, including councillors (even when they mean losing control of councils);

· Anti-democratic individuals who quit the party when Jeremy Corbyn was leader are being encouraged to return;

· Diehards who stayed in the party to sabotage it during the Corbyn years are secretly working in concert to target long-serving members in carefully-coordinated campaigns of defamation;

· Supporters of Starmer — including Labour councillors and former councillors — are responsible for much of the abuse, both online and in print;

· A particularly worrying development centres, as so often, on bogus allegations of “anti-Semitism” — including some “double jeopardy” cases that have already been dismissed at previous hearings;

· High-level breaches of confidentiality immediately result in prejudicial leaks of allegations and the supposed evidence to support them. Ironically, letters of suspension sent by The Governance and Legal Unit state emphatically: “The Labour Party’s investigation process operates confidentially.”;

· Finally, suspended members seeking to discover more about the allegations against them run into the brick wall of bureaucracy. The Labour Party’s data-protection team routinely fails even to respond Subject Access Requests (SARs), let alone fulfil such requests within the statutory deadline of one calendar month.

A crucial point is that examples of all seven tactics listed above have occurred with increasing frequency because of — not in spite of — the so-called professionalism of the new management.

In large part, this is because anti-Corbyn elements — paid and unpaid, whether nationally, regionally, or locally — have been emboldened by the new men at the top.

Starmer supporters are rightly confident that Evans is getting to grips with a job that was beyond even Tony Blair, if only because the necessary technological tools and devices had not been invented or were only in their infancy: the internet, the web, smartphones, Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and, of course, Zoom. And, most important of all, the ability to process “big data”.

Such tools and processes can be used either to develop or to destroy grassroots democracy within a mass-membership organisation. It is inevitable the Starmer-Evans project — already going full tilt behind the scenes — will be irredeemably destructive.

That is the only conclusion to be drawn from what has happened in Brighton and Hove since June 29, the day Evans took control at Labour Party headquarters.

Regular readers will recall the shameful behaviour of Warren Morgan who — while Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council — repeatedly lied about “spitting” and “abuse” at the City Party’s annual meeting four years ago. As a result, anti-Corbyn diehards, including party officials named in the #LabourLeaks report, conspired to overturn the election of a new leadership team that supported Corbyn and the socialist policies his leadership epitomised.

It was no coincidence that Morgan, who finally showed his true colours by leaving Labour last year, chose to disclose — on Evans’s first day in office — he was trying to rejoin the party. After his application was blocked by elected officers — and by Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown — Morgan asked his coterie of Labour allies to provide character references in support of an appeal.

It is not difficult to see why the appeal has been unsuccessful, so far: Morgan quit the party within hours of a still-unresolved complaint against him being formally accepted by Labour Party officers (albeit nearly three years after the complaint was initially made to — and repeatedly ignored by — former general secretary Iain McNicol); he stood against Labour as a Change UK candidate in the 2019 European Union elections; and, while still a ward councillor, supported a fellow “independent” candidate standing against Labour candidates in Brighton and Hove City Council elections.

It was as if the arrival of Evans had fired the starting gun for a coordinated attack on prominent pro-Corbyn activists, with a particular focus on members (all women) of the minority Labour administration on the city council. In each instance, ludicrous allegations of anti-Semitism were cited.

In less than a fortnight, Cllr Anne Pissaridou was suspended; Cllr Kate Knight left the party after being told she was under investigation; and Cllr Nikkie Brennan resigned after allegations relating to her support for a protest against the deeply-flawed IHRA “working definition” of anti-Semitism in October 2018, more than six months before she was elected.

Unfortunately, there is not space to go into each of the cases. All I will say here is that I have known all three highly-respected councillors personally for several years and I am certain the charges are provably without foundation.

What was notable was the manner and speed with which the allegations — with the so-called evidence of tweets and posts — were fed to the same servile reporter responsible for an amateur local news website.

At about the same time, three others — all of them women and all of them pro-Palestinian activists — were summarily forced out of the Labour Party without a hearing.

Becky Massey was expelled for a single retweet

Becky Massey, for example, was expelled for a single retweet (see image left) of an article by Chris Williamson, the former Labour MP for Derby North. It was claimed she “demonstrated public support for a candidate who was standing against an official labour (sic) candidate”.

In case facts matter, the retweet was dated November 8 2019, six days before the names of general election candidates were even declared. More importantly, Ms Massey campaigned almost every day of the election campaign for Labour in Brighton Kemptown, as confirmed by Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the successful candidate.

Truth, of course, does not matter, to the Starmer-Evans project. Nor, as it turns out, does Labour being in power.

As a result of the libellous allegations against three of its councillors, Nancy Platts — the leader of the minority Labour administration, who had done nothing publicly to defend her colleagues — had to concede control to the Green Party.

Cue a tsunami of loud recriminations from a small but influential number of pro-Starmer members who tried to blame Jeremy Corbyn!

It is worth noting that, in similar circumstances at about the same time, Labour lost overall control of Crawley Borough Council after two councillors quit. One was “under investigation” simply for blocking on Twitter the self-styled “Labour Against Anti-Semitism” troll account.

David Evans’s successor as managing director of The Campaign Company was his wife, Aline Evans (nee Delawa); Cllr Peter Lamb has been an employee for nearly two years

Interestingly, Cllr Peter Lamb, the Labour Group leader in Crawley, is an employee of a private company of which Evans was managing director and co-founder** (with Jonathan Upton, a former Brighton resident and “head of corporate development” for Labour under Tony Blair).

Further emboldened, Starmer supporters moved on to target more Brighton and Hove councillors known to have been loyal to Corbyn as leader. At least one was the subject of complaints not only to the city council’s legal department, but also to his employer.

The enemies within remain the most vicious, safe in the knowledge they act with impunity and immunity from party disciplinary procedures.

Significantly, though, Cllr Daniel Yates — a former Labour Group leader who had briefly succeeded Morgan — faces numerous allegations of breaching Brighton and Hove City Council’s code of conduct after publicly describing party colleagues as “detritus”.

Meanwhile, more than 20 party members in Brighton and Hove (including me) are named on a shocking “Labour AntiSemitism Outbreak Map” that appears to identify our homes and/or workplaces. More than half of the names have been added since Starmer became leader. Tweets from a former Labour councillor in Brighton are among several local sources listed on the map.

More concerning has been a party member — suspended for nearly two years for alleged racism — whose threatening behaviour, especially but not exclusively towards women, has resulted in nothing more than a verbal warning by police.

Despite multiple complaints, the Labour Party has done nothing.

Perhaps the best hope for socialists is that the Starmer-Evans project will ultimately founder on the rocks of ignorance and incompetence, which regularly sink bureaucracies as chronically dysfunctional as the Labour Party machine.

For many of us, though, it may be too late.

Three weeks after Evans took control, I too was suspended — for the third time. A charge of “anti-Semitism” replicated almost verbatim one that had been dismissed as groundless at my National Constitutional Committee hearing in February last year.

News of my suspension was leaked within hours, resulting in a number of highly-inaccurate and prejudicial articles.

My crime? To express the belief that the state of Israel is a racist endeavour. And always has been.

A trial is the best I can hope for. It could take months, or even years.

Meanwhile, I have been told to await instructions from a shadowy committee about which I know little or nothing.

Sir Keir Starmer and David Evans (inset) emphasise “under new management” and “professionalism”

** David Evans ceased being managing director days before he started work as general secretary; he remains a director. His replacement as managing director is his wife, Aline Delawa (nee Evans).

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.