Chapter 3: The now-infamous fabrication of “spitting” and abuse allegations at the annual general meeting of the “City Party” on July 9 2016
This is the third 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
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 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 — to keep Jeremy Corbyn 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.
More to follow…..Next:
This is the third 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.