Time for Corbyn to speak out
What does the right do when it loses an election? It voids the result! Tony Greenstein reports on the suspension of the largest local Labour unit
Brighton and Hove District Labour Party consists of three constituencies, all of which meet as one body. It is the largest single unit in the entire Labour Party, with 6,000 members, a figure which has tripled over the last year. Its annual general meeting had been called for Saturday July 9 at 4pm. It was a bright and sunny day and Momentum had called a rally for 2pm in the local Brighthelm Community Centre.
Brighthelm has a big hall which can accommodate about 300-350 people. We expected 100-200. Instead not only was the hall packed, but the cafe area behind it was standing room only - and then a couple of hundred were outside trying to get in. At least 800 people had come to what is the largest public meeting I can remember in Brighton.
It was not as if there were any headline speakers. We had not been able to get a leftwing MP, but still people turned up in droves - incensed at the antics of the Parliamentary Labour Party in trying to mount a coup against Jeremy Corbyn.
At about 3.30 most of those in attendance made their way to City College, where the AGM was booked to take place. Because of the incompetence of the outgoing executive a hall that would take a maximum of only about 200 people had been booked. The result was that the hustings had to be repeated three times in order that 600 people could vote. Nonetheless, despite a certain degree of chaos, everyone queued in an orderly fashion and voted without incident.
When the votes were counted, the candidates backed by Momentum had won all five officer positions and by the following Monday, Momentum candidates had won three of the five ordinary executive places, using a single transferable vote system. In other words, eight out of the 10 places were won by the left.
Mark Sandell, formerly president of West Sussex National Union of Teachers, was elected chair, beating Mark Jackson by 376 votes (62%) to 224. Claire Wadey of the Labour Representation Committee, a previous member of the executive, was the new treasurer, beating the previous secretary - the universally acknowledged incompetent, John Warmington - by 374 votes to 226. Greg Hadfield, who had previously edited the Brighton and Hove Independent newspaper, defeated Edward Crask by 393 votes to 213 to become secretary. Anne Pissaridou saw off the unpopular Nicky Easton, the previous vice-chair for campaigns, by 391-204. Easton had distinguished herself by opposing a resolution which supported the doctors’ strike and which urged members to join the picket lines. Christine Robinson was elected unopposed as vice-chair for membership.1
Of course, this was unacceptable to the right wing, in the form of local Progress MP Peter Kyle and Progress council leader Warren Morgan. When Kyle won Hove from the Conservatives at the 2015 general election, it was said that the most rightwing candidate had been elected. Kyle is a supporter of private company involvement in the NHS and opposes rail nationalisation.
Almost immediately we began to hear false allegations of incidents which had allegedly occurred at the meeting. If the right were to be believed, the AGM was a maelstrom of shouting, intimidation and violence. Warren Morgan went into overdrive to manufacture out of thin air allegations of malpractice and intimidation. On twitter he invented an allegation of a spitting incident, even though there had been no complaint and, it seems, no victim. The security guard who was allegedly spat at, when asked later about the incident replied, “What incident?” The college has since confirmed that there has been no complaint, other than by the person who is alleged to have spat.
Warren Morgan also claimed that Peter Kyle MP was subject to abuse, which is the exact opposite of what happened. It was his supporters who engaged in abuse. Kyle was perhaps miffed that people saw him as a traitor to Corbyn and did not want to speak to him, but failure to engage someone in conversation does not constitute abuse.
In fact the only real incident that occurred was after the vote, when two Progress thugs, in full view of at least two Labour councillors, including the very rightwing Julie Cattell, approached London Momentum speaker Seema Chandwani and a friend, Michael Calderbank, in a pub, where they were eating, and allegedly told them to “get the fuck out of Brighton”. In fact so incompetent were they that they approached another black person first, but the witch-hunters at Labour Party HQ have ignored this example of possible racial abuse, despite it having been reported in a national newspaper2 - because, of course, it had been carried out by the right.
The names of the two individuals are known. One of them is renowned for being an ardent Zionist. This incident, however, was not the subject of Warren Morgan’s complaint.
The only formal complaint I know of made to Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, is against Warren Morgan - for making the false allegation of spitting. It is clear beyond doubt that the ‘spitting incident’ never occurred.3 The complaint was made an hour before notice was received by Greg Hadfield, the new secretary, of the suspension of the district party. As is normal now, news of the suspension was leaked to the press before party officers were officially informed and that is how Greg first learnt of it.
Apart from being the elected secretary of Brighton and Hove Labour Party, Greg Hadfield is a former Fleet Street journalist and a capable investigative reporter. Whereas the Labour Party witch-hunters have promised an ‘investigation’ which has not and will not materialise, Greg has been assiduous in seeking out information.
He has numerous testimonies from different individuals who attended the AGM, reporting that the proceedings were orderly and friendly and that no-one was intimidated. The right’s false allegations are a blatant example of gerrymandering - on a par with banning 130,000 new Labour members from voting in the election for leader.
National Labour Party officers, led by McNicol, are willing to subvert the most basic norms of democracy in order to help the right stay in power. He tried but failed last week to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper. In a fascinating letter from solicitors Howe and Co4 McNicol was accused of having gone to “great lengths to conceal your intentions from the leader and the shadow chancellor of the exchequer” when calling an NEC meeting, in an attempt to try and ensure that trade union delegates were not able to attend.
We have a situation in the Labour Party nationally where ordinary meetings are banned, 130,000 members have been prevented from voting in the leadership election, a £25 surcharge has been imposed on supporters who want to vote and now they are suspending local parties. There are believed to be two others also suspended, including Manchester Gorton.
And the national officers of the Labour Party were not content with merely cancelling a properly called and run AGM - it reinstated the old executive, despite the fact that its members were democratically voted out by a large majority. This is the ‘democracy’ that New Labour is trying to impose nationally. Yet another reason why Jeremy Corbyn should drop his Trappist silence.
There is also a witch-hunt in the offing against at least two of the new elected officers. Allegations are being made against the new chairperson, Mark Sandell, and against Phil Clarke. Sandell is being targeted on the basis of having signed an Alliance for Workers’ Liberty petition in 2011 (I suspect we can thank MI5 for this one!) and it is alleged that he is an AWL member. Phil Clarke, who is general secretary of Brighton and Hove Trades Council and an NUT executive member, has been quite open about the fact that he has previously stood for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in local elections. The local executive debated this and approved his membership when he first applied to join the Labour Party, but he is now being attacked on this account. Whereas New Labour is quite prepared to welcome into the fold ex-Tory and Ukip candidates, socialists who have in the past stood against Labour are condemned for an eternity.
The witch-hunt has been led in Brighton by the local rag, the BrightonArgus, which has given prominence to the most outlandish of claims by the Labour right. In one article it quoted an “anonymous former member [who] said he quit the party in recent months, disillusioned with the direction it was heading”. Unsurprisingly it failed to question any of the thousands who had joined the party recently.5 The Argus cited a tweet from Warren Morgan, as though the council leader was simply restating uncontested facts. The tweet read: “I am sorry to hear that our local MP was subject to abuse by some of those attending, and that a member of venue staff unconnected with the meeting was spat on.”6
It will be a test of Jeremy Corbyn’s mettle as to whether he is prepared to speak out against this witch-hunt. Corbyn’s appeasement of the Labour right is now in tatters. If he remains silent he will simply be aiding those who are doing their best to remove him. The fixing of elections that do not go the right’s way is being carried out by Labour’s civil service. Its permanent staff owe their loyalty not to the leader of the Party, but to Progress and the right. Unless Corbyn and the left are willing to engage in some bloodletting and remove McNicol, John Stolliday of the compliance unit and some of the other bureaucrats, then his expected re-election in the autumn will be a pyrrhic victory.
And Momentum under Jon Lansman has remained silent throughout the witch-hunt. Only when Jackie Walker, its vice-chair, was suspended did it raise its voice. It needs to take its gloves off and vigorously oppose the witch-hunt which began with anti-Zionists and supporters of the Palestinians, and is now spreading to the wider left in the party. The contempt of the right for basic party democracy is visible for all to see. On the basis of spurious and untested allegations, properly conducted election results are overturned on the say-so of one individual. The compliance unit and the national executive majority is willing to do the right’s bidding. It is up to the left to exert maximum pressure - not least on some of those on the Grassroots Alliance NEC slate - to ensure that democracy in the Labour Party is defended.
2. Morning Star July 11 2016.
3. See, for instance, Brighton and Hove Independent July 18 2016 (http://brightonandhoveindependent.co.uk/brighton-hove-labour-spitting); and Brighton and Hove News July 18 2016 (www.brightonandhovenews.org/2016/07/18/brighton-labour-member-accused-of-spitting-at-party-meeting-makes-formal-complaint/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter).
5. The Argus July 17 2016.
6. The Argus July 15 2016.