Independence Day

There have been many voices, from all sides, calling for an independent complaints and disciplinary procedure for the Labour Party. Superficially this seems an attractive proposal, but it is not straightforward to design or to implement.

And, of course, it doesn’t escort the elephant in the room back to its wildlife reserve.

That means probably the biggest problem is still left unaddressed – alterations to the systems and procedures may be necessary, but that will deal with the symptoms alone.

Labour can have the most efficient and effective procedures for dealing with individual antisemites, yet, whilst the system may be removing antisemites one at a time, the Party is holding open the double doors at the front with a big welcome sign. The Labour Party can introduce an independent system to deal with cases, but the Labour Party cannot abrogate its own duty to police its own borders. That takes political will, political leadership.

Should Labour’s Complaints Procedures be Independent?

My view is that we are a political party. We will get all sorts of complaints. We should deal with them. But I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

Despite the efforts of the staff over the last few years, the complaints procedure has become thoroughly discredited. It is open to political interference – from my point of view hardly surprising in a political party; there is no easy or robust way of dealing with people who clearly do not share Labour values; and conflicting messages from the Leader’s Office (LOTO); the National Executive Committee (NEC); individual members of the NEC; and individual politicians mean our values are muddied and the procedures for upholding them weakened.

It is likely that Labour will be forced to support some form of independent procedure, although there is a rear-guard action from LOTO, most notably at yesterday’s meeting of the Shadow Cabinet, to simply give more powers to the NEC. This, unsurprisingly given the current level of competence in Corbyn’s office, is wrong-headed and will probably lead to more civil action by those challenging disciplinary decisions. As Thomas Quinn of the London School of Economics and Political Science explains (Organisational Reform in The British Labour Party Since 1983. pub 2014.):

The National Constitutional Committee (NCC) was formed after Kinnock’s battle with the ultra-left Militant Tendency in the mid-1980s, sitting for the first time in February 1987. The need for it arose after a legal ruling that the NEC had violated natural justice by acting as prosecutor, judge and jury against party members who were accused of belonging to Militant and who thus faced expulsion from the party.

The NCC was intended to take over the judicial function while the NEC would retain its role as ‘prosecutor’. Despite its title, however, the NCC did not have control over the interpretation of Labour’s constitution, which remained with the NEC. Instead, it would play a narrow role in disciplinary matters, though even then this would relate mainly to individuals.

The NEC retained control over disciplining affiliates and CLPs, which was considered essential for the purpose of party management. 

Thomas Quinn

So, if we are to proceed with an independent system for dealing with complaints, how could that be imagined?

Let’s start from where we are, rather than where some people think we are. The current procedures have grown like Topsy. Custom and practice has added to the complexity. We give an extraordinary amount of time to compiling and prosecuting a single disciplinary case.

Antisemitism has the focus currently, but effectively all disciplinary cases have a political aspect. Bringing the Party into disrepute, unless it’s in respect of a simple criminal activity, is likely to be a decision based on politics. This is actually codified, given that the rulebook refers to “in the opinion of the NEC”.

But if you strip away all that complexity, it’s more straightforward.

  • A Constituency Labour Party (CLP) can prosecute a case for a breach of rule to the NCC. (It can’t, however, determine that a member should be expelled by simple resolution. The recent Hilary Armstrong case was poorly reported in this regard. Any such resolution by the CLP to expel Armstrong would have been ultra vires.)
  • The General Secretary can prosecute a case to the NCC.
  • The NEC can prosecute a case to the NCC.
  • The General Secretary (usually) or the NEC can determine whether there has been a breach of a limited number of rules which require auto-exclusion.
  • Importantly, but rarely if ever used, where there is no dispute about bringing the Party into disrepute, a member could be excluded by the NEC without reference to the NCC.
  • There is no role for the Leader nor for the General Secretary, save for those shown above, but one would expect both to be kept informed of significant or sensitive disciplinary cases.

How is the Current System Working?

It is believed by many Party members, Labour politicians and stakeholders,  and commentators that the system is broken in a number of areas:

  • In respect of antisemitism, it is argued there is a deliberate attempt to present a different definition than is presented by the IHRA definition adopted by the Party.
  • There is factional interference in the disciplinary process at all points within the process.
  • The NCC is no longer an independent judge and jury. The factionalism surrounding the recent elections to the NCC demonstrates this beyond doubt.
  • There is deliberate interference by the Leader’s office in the disciplinary process.

In addition, there are two other areas which don’t help.

  • There is no satisfactory mechanism for reviewing a person’s membership when new information comes to light after their eight-week probationary period.
  • The NCC can’t take into account offences committed prior to membership.

Can we make it better?

We can make it different. There is a danger that, unless proper consideration is given to proposals, we can also make it worse. Rushing to a half-cocked solution may seem like we’re getting somewhere, but we’ll have to do it all again in the months to come.

In the first serious attempt to look for a solution, Tom Watson et al have proposed the following:

The NEC therefore resolves to bring forward rule changes to this year’s conference that:

– automatically excludes a member from the party where there is irrefutable evidence of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia.

– establishes an independent process to deal with disciplinary matters involving all forms of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia. This is also to include the process for overseeing auto exclusion of members and any subsequent member appeals. We will invite the Bar Council, or another appropriate body, to appoint a person wholly independent from the Labour Party to devise the detail of this scheme, consult with Jewish and other communities and report back to the NEC.

Proposal submitted to the Labour Party NEC

This is clearly a good starting point. It at least identifies the problem and sets out a partial route map to an independent process. However, it is problematic in a number of areas, these being the critical ones:

  • There is scarcely time to bring forward fully formed rule changes if there is going to be independent oversight of drawing up the proposals. There should be transparent scrutiny of the proposals and stakeholders consulted. And staff and lawyers with a knowledge of the rule book should have the responsibility for drafting the actual text which may have to stand up in court.
  • I’m afraid that simply Inviting the Bar Council or other body to do it for us may be subject to some ridicule after the Chakrabarti experience.
  • A particularly difficult part of the proposal above is that it separates out some of the disrepute charges to an Independent Body, but not all of them. In my view, it has to be all (or nothing, but as I said earlier that ship has sailed). There seems to be no valid reason for not including all the protected characteristics, which is presumably the starting point. However, there is no mention of age, disability, marital status or pregnancy. Even the Labour Party rules are more comprehensive:
    The NEC and NCC shall take account of any codes of conduct currently in force and shall regard any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment or identity; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation as conduct prejudicial to the Party:
  • It also introduces the concept of appeals against auto-exclusions.
    No. Just no. Auto-exclusions are for a clear breach of the rule in question: You’re a member of another Party; you signed the nomination papers of a Tory candidate; you are deliberately not paying the correct membership subscription and so on. If there is a dispute, there is recourse to courts. If there is an error – the wrong person identified for exclusion, or some other factual error – then administrative corrections can be made as they have in the past (and as they should be in the Alastair Campbell case).

But what the Watson resolution does helpfully do is to bring front and centre some of the problems. What could be considered by an independent process? And what should still be determined by the General Secretary or the NEC? Is there any role for the NCC? If we end up with an independent process for sexual harassment cases, would this be the same route or different? And so on.

In my view, these are the key assumptions which could make an independent process work.

  • All allegations of bringing the Party into disrepute are dealt with by the independent process.
  • All allegations of breaching auto-exclusion are dealt with, as currently, by the General Secretary (delegated always to the Governance and Legal Unit – GLU).
  • All allegations of other breaches of rule are dealt with by the General Secretary, as currently (delegated always to the GLU). Where such a breach is investigated, and a prima facie case established, GLU may determine a punishment within its competence or refer to the NEC for consideration. Where the NEC believes the punishment available to GLU is insufficient, the case is referred to the NCC for determination.
  • Where a member is alleged to have breached rules, which would require both internal and external routes, then the external independent route would take precedence.
  • If a CLP wishes to bring a charge of disrepute against one of its members, it will be processed through the independent route.
  • All other disputes – selections, meetings, general uncomradely behaviour, etc. – would be dealt with the usual, current, internal routes.

This could be simply stated as any complaints which are outward-facing are dealt with by the independent external body; those which are inward-facing are dealt with through existing procedures.

The key decision points for the external Independent Body would then be something like this:

  • All complaints, including complaints by CLPs, must come in to the Labour Party.
  • Complaints will be sorted into Internal and External by GLU. The external body will be notified of all internal cases to ensure none are incorrectly allocated.
  • The General Secretary will notify appropriate stakeholders of significant or sensitive cases (internal and external). The Independent Body will be copied in to any such notifications for the cases it is handling.
  • The Independent Body will normally commission GLU to undertake any investigations that may be required, including by regional staff or others. The Independent Body will determine the timescales for investigations and case determination. Care would have to be taken that the Independent Body doesn’t become prosecutor as well as judge, but where required it should have the some of the role of an examining magistrate in ensuring that obvious evidence on either side of the argument is not overlooked.
  • A standardized system will be established by the Independent Body so that monitoring of caseload and decisions can be constantly and consistently reviewed to the level of detail for the needs of the different stakeholders.

Even if we are able to flesh out the enormous amount of detail to make this process a possibility, there is are still more big questions to be answered. Among which:

  • Who appoints the Independent Body? (The NEC – but how do you stop factionalism in the selection process?)
  • How much money is going to be invested in the Independent Body? Presumably at least in part by reducing the GLU budget and staffing which no doubt will go down like a bucket of cold sick with staff who are already under pressure.

Where Next?

As a starting point, I think the Watson proposal, now that it apparently has the support of the Equalities Committee, should be amended to say something like this.

The NEC therefore resolves to bring forward rule changes to this year’s conference that:

– clarifies the ability of the NEC under Chapter 2, Clause I.9 to auto-exclude members for an undisputed breach of Chapter 2, Clause I.8;

– clarifies the procedures for all auto-exclusions;

– establishes an independent process to deal with all disciplinary matters under Chapter 2, Clause I.8 including all forms of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia; and

– introduces a sunset clause to allow consequential alterations to the rules between conferences as a result of detailed proposals to be introduced.

It further resolves to establish an implementation working group to consider detailed procedures. This working group:

– will have an Independent Chair appointed by the NEC;

– the Chair will appoint other members of the working group, in consultation with the General Secretary;

– will consult with Labour stakeholders, the Jewish community and other communities; and

– report detailed proposals to the NEC for adoption.

Suggested amendment to the proposal to the NEC

That would give more overarching terms of reference and, critically, the time needed to do it right. We’ve got this wrong for too long. We should take a little longer to put it right.


 

Extracts from the rulebook 2019

For those interested in the current disciplinary process and powers of the NEC, these are some extracts from the rules. You can download a full copy of the rulebook from the Labour Party.

Powers of the NEC

Chapter 1, Clause VIII.3

to uphold and enforce the constitution, rules and standing orders of the Party and to take any action it deems necessary for such purpose, including disaffiliation, disbanding, suspending or otherwise disciplining any affiliated organisation or Party unit; in furtherance of such duties it shall have the power to suspend or take other administrative action against individual members of the Party subject to the provisions of the disciplinary rules set out in Chapter 6 of these rules.

Powers of the NCC

Chapter 1, Clause IX.2

A. to determine by hearing or otherwise such disciplinary matters as are presented to it by CLPs in accordance with the provisions contained in the disciplinary rules (Chapter 6).

B. to determine by hearing or otherwise such disciplinary matters as are presented to it by the officers of the Party on the instructions of the NEC

Chapter 1, Clause IX.4

The NCC or any panel thereof in hearing and determining charges against an individual shall follow such procedure as it considers appropriate to ensure that the charges are determined without undue delay and in a manner that is fair to both the individual and the Party…

Membership Rules

Chapter 2, Clause I.8

No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the Party. The NEC and NCC shall take account of any codes of conduct currently in force and shall regard any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment or identity; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation as conduct prejudicial to the Party:

these shall include but not be limited to incidents involving racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia or otherwise racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions, sexual harassment, bullying or any form of intimidation towards another person on the basis of a protected characteristic as determined by the NEC, wherever it occurs, as conduct prejudicial to the Party. The disclosure of confidential information relating to the Party or to any other member, unless the disclosure is duly authorised or made pursuant to a legal obligation, shall also be considered conduct prejudicial to the Party.

Chapter 2, Clause I.9

Any dispute as to whether a member is in breach of the provisions of sub-clause 8 shall be determined by the NCC.

I am Spartacus

On 20 May 2019 I released short statement on Twitter:

I won’t support ‘a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the Party’ nor will I support ‘any candidate against an official Labour candidate’ but I’ve returned my EU election PV and for the first time in 46 years I’ve not voted Labour.

20 May 2019, shortly before EU polling day

I chose that formulation of words with care. I knew many thousands of Labour members would be considering lending their votes to another Party in protest at Labour’s continued ambiguity on Brexit. I wanted to make it clear that voting was a private matter, and that by itself could not be in contravention of the Labour Party rules. Blindingly obvious really. To constrain a person’s vote by offering or refusing some benefit, in this case membership of the Labour Party, is a breach of the Representation of the People Act and subsequent legislation. (Although someone did suggest to me that “membership of the Party isn’t a benefit, it’s just bloody hard work.”)

Apart from the legal wrangle over whether or not demanding a vote in return for membership of a political organisation is or is not illegal, there are there practical problems of evidence and enforcement. Of course, you could introduce some sort of loyalty pledge – I promise to vote Labour at every election in which I am an eligible voter – in which case vote swapping, tactical voting or whatever all go underground. Only exposed when the Labour vote falls below the number of Labour members in an area. Frighteningly, this may soon no longer be a joke.

The only thing one can say with any certainty is whether a person voted at all. Although votes may be inspected by order of the High Court (in exceptional circumstances, usually when investigating electoral fraud) to identify which way an individual voted, the vote itself is, to all intents and purposes, secret. But whether or not each individual cast a vote is open to public inspection and all political parties access this data on a regular basis to inform their election campaign planning. It would be a simple matter to check whether any or all members of a political party had voted. And it could be argued that failing to vote gave support to other parties or candidates.

Now we are at the nub of the issue.

On Tuesday 28 May, Alistair Campbell received an email telling him he had been auto-excluded from the Labour Party for saying (after the polls closed) that he had voted Liberal Democrat in the European Elections.

The accompanying statement form the Labour Party read as follows:

Support for another political party or candidate is incompatible with party membership.

As the sky started to fall in on the Labour Party, the Labour Party Press Team, directed by Seumas Milne, took to the social media airwaves to issue a panicked clarification:

To be absolutely clear, the way Labour Party members vote is a private matter. But publicly declaring or encouraging support for another candidate or party is against the rules and is incompatible with Party membership.

3:06 PM – 28 May 2019

And at that point any residual case the Labour Party had for justifying the auto-exclusion of Alistair Campbell collapsed. If the way a person voted does not, cannot, be in breach of party rules then we come simply to the more normal use of the words in the rule book.

The relevant section of the current rule book says:

A member of the Party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the Party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member.

Rule 2.1.4.B – Labour Party Rulebook

Given that the Labour Party has itself now ruled out voting against Labour as a reason for expulsion how has Campbell breached the rule above? And the simple and obvious answer is that he hasn’t. It is not possible to support another candidate (the essential allegation) after the polls have closed.

Let’s briefly contrast this with the case of Andrew Fisher, now a senior political advisor to the Leader of the Opposition. In November 2015 he was suspended following complaints that he had called for support for another candidate. Referencing an article written by Emily Benn, the Labour candidate for Croydon South, Fisher said:

If you live in Croydon South, vote with dignity, vote Class War.

Andrew Fisher

The Leader’s office ensured (without intervening, you understand, because apparently they never do) that Fisher’s offence was considered under the more subjective rule about ‘bringing the Party into disrepute’. This allowed the disciplinary process to be concluded with no case to answer save a smack on the wrist rather than the inevitable expulsion that would have followed otherwise. Mates’ rates in the rule book.

So why has Labour allowed itself to get into this position? One thing is certain. This was not a decision taken by an officer of the Governance and Legal Unit on Bank Holiday Monday. This wasn’t a decision about an unknown party member who had stood against an official Labour candidate at some local election. This was about a prominent member of the Labour Party with a significant public profile. This would have been a decision taken at the highest possible level.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that it is either vindictive retribution presumably orchestrated by, or with the full knowledge of, Seumas Milne. Or a deliberate distraction from the earlier announcement on the same day by the EHRC of a statutory investigation into allegations of institutional antisemitism within Labour. Or both. Whatever the reason, the decision has proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Many heavyweights from the Labour Party have condemned the action. Charles Clarke, Harriet Harman and Lord Falconer QC to name but three.

Lord Falconer QC, former Lord Chancellor, who knows something about how the courts interpret the words before them, said:

The rules do not make expulsion mandatory. Support for another political organisation envisages something more than voting for them and only going public after the polls have closed and making clear it was a one off. If voting was enough the rule would have said so.

Lord Falconer QC

And these are not the usual suspects, plotting to undermine Corbyn but senior figures from past and present whose voice should be listened to with some care. There is a long queue of people from across the Labour family who share their concerns.

Even more worrying is the immediate rise of the #ExpelMeToo and #IamSpartacus hashtags as hundreds, maybe thousands by now, of Party members declared that they too had lent their vote to another party. Excluding Campbell may lead some people, many people, to question whether their vote lent to another party will ever be cast for Labour again.

Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party has now also echoed the views of many others, and made clear that Labour has made a grave error. He said it is “spiteful” to expel people from the Labour Party and called for an “amnesty” for members who did not support the party at the European elections.

It is very clear that many thousands of Labour Party members voted for other parties last week. They were disappointed with the position on Brexit that a small number of people on the NEC inserted into our manifesto. They were sending the NEC a message that our position lacked clarity and they were right.

It is spiteful to resort to expulsions when the NEC should be listening to members.

The politics of intolerance holds no future for the Labour Party. A broad church party requires pluralism and tolerance to survive.

There should be an amnesty for members who voted a different way last week. We should be listening to members rather than punishing them.”

Tom Watson MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The Labour Party should admit to a mistake and reinstate Alistair Campbell without delay. The prospect of this ending in the High Court is another example of any chance of Corbyn’s Labour winning the 2022 General Election being frittered away by sheer bloody-minded incompetence by some who populate the Leader’s Office.

#IamSpartacus

This message of contempt to the Jewish community must be reversed

Labour Leader’s come and go. All are criticised by senior members of their party at one time or another – one a pacifist, another a war-monger. This one too right wing, that one too left wing. One former leader was even expelled for refusing to leave the the 1918 coalition.

But never did I expect to hear that a senior Labour MP would tell a Leader of the Labour Party to his face, in public, “you are an anti-Semitic racist.” When the news broke whilst I was at a dinner party (sorry Owen Jones) with friends and comrades last evening it was a jaw-dropping moment. The predictable, vile, backlash against Margaret Hodge took just a few minutes to gather momentum, but no-one seemed to be asking the main questions. How the fuck did we let this happen? How could it come to this?

On the 12 December 2016 Jeremy Corbyn told the Labour Party Equalities Committee that Labour would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism. Of course, this was a matter for the Committee rather than the Leader, but the necessary pre-meetings had been held, and phone calls made, to ensure that the definition would indeed be adopted. As it was – together with the complete list of examples presented by the IHRA to “serve as illustrations” of anti-Semitic behaviour. This was welcomed by the Jewish Labour Movement, co-opted to the Equalities Committee and in attendance for the first time, who believed that this meeting and successive actions might be seen as a turning point in dealing with anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, especially with the Leader’s acceptance of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Unfortunately those successive actions have culminated with the Labour Party dismissing some of those worked examples and substituting in their place a new code of conduct which, in the words of the Labour Party, “contextualises and adds to the working examples to produce a practical guidelines that a political party can apply in disciplinary cases.” If only that were true.

When Baroness Jan Royall and I, under the direction of Labour’s NEC, spent some time in 2016 meeting with representatives of Jewish and other communities to hear their views of the the growing allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour some of the questions we always asked were in an effort to discover a universal definition of anti-Semitism. Unsurprisingly there were many suggestions – depending on the community in question – but what was universal was that anti-Semitism must be defined by those who suffer it. This should be non-controversial, as it is with other people who have faced discrimination, persecution or worse because of their gender, or race or other protected characteristic. The production of the IHRA definition and examples in May 2016 brought some consensus to the debate and the IHRA definition has been adopted by many countries and international organisations, including the United States Senate and State Department, and the European Parliament (remember them) as well as the UK Government and many local authorities across the UK. And, until yesterday, the Labour Party.

So why is this important? The Labour Party is a separate organisation. Surely it is right and proper for it to ‘contextualise its working guidelines’.

It’s important for two reasons. Firstly for the signals it sends, and secondly for for the legal implications of any future disciplinary hearings dealing with anti-Semitism, particularly should they be played out in court as has been threatened by some. As far as the signals are concerned you only have to to take a cursory glance at the reaction from the Jewish communities across the country. When the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Labour’s anti-Semitism definition sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community” you have to take notice. Unless, of course, you still believe that this is all a conspiracy to destabilise the Labour Party. Or that you are one of those who have been a ‘member of the the Labour Party for 40 years and never seen any anti-Semitism’.

The second reason why this change to the definition by the Labour Party is important is because of how this will be interpreted. The specific examples which have been omitted from Labour’s re-working of the IHRA definition are:

  • Accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country
  • Claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour
  • Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations
  • Comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis

Any quasi-judicial committee of the Labour Party (or judicial hearing for that matter) would be entitled to take a ‘purposive approach’ to determining what is meant by the words of the code of conduct. By excluding these words it is clear that the purpose of the code is to declare these examples as not anti-Semitic. It is no coincidence that these anti-Semitic tropes are some of the more common examples one can see in every day use – including by Labour Party members (unless you are one of those who have been a ‘member of… etc’). I am sure that the the new General Counsel of the Labour Party, almost immediately promoted to Executive Director so he must be good, would have advised the NEC of this.

The Labour Party has now adopted a position which specifically accepts that the four examples listed above are NOT anti-Semitic. That is the only conclusion of this irrational, incompetent misstep by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. In the eyes of some the Labour Party has made itself by one ill-judged action officially institutionally anti-Semitic. Which is why Margaret Hodge railed at the Leader. And which brings me back to my original question. How the fuck did we let this happen?

The Labour Party says that the four points are covered elsewhere in the new code (they’re not) but if that is the case why change the IHRA paper instead of adding to it? Or why agree the IHRA paper in the first place? And true to form, the NEC have decided to add insult to injury by retrospectively seeking further consultation with the Jewish community (good luck with that).

We have been in and out of the last chance saloon on this issue so many times a revolving door is clearly needed, but even now, even now, the NEC could do the right thing. It could meet with members of the Jewish communities – if they are willing – and then hold its hands up to this mistake and just put it right. It won’t rebuild trust overnight. But is might be the first step on a long road which would be welcome.

As NEC member, Ann Black, said in her latest public report: “I think the party would be in a better place if we kept our commitment to the full IHRA paper, including illustrative examples as agreed by the NEC’s equalities committee in December 2016 at Jeremy Corbyn’s request.”

Quite.


IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism

Labour Party Code of Conduct

Fix the problem, not the process

Today 40 MPs and Peers escorted their colleague Ruth Smeeth MP to give evidence at a disciplinary hearing of a member of the Labour Party, Marc Wadsworth, accused of antisemitic behaviour. A protest in support of Wadsworth had been arranged at the (not so secret) venue.

Whilst, no doubt, their support would be welcome at any time, how has it come to this?

As one of the MPs present, Wes Streeting, said, “I was proud to see so many Labour MPs and peers from across the party – including shadow ministers – accompanying Ruth this morning in a show of friendship and solidarity. But no victim of abuse should ever have to walk through a protest against them to give evidence to a hearing. It is an appalling state of affairs.” Particularly poignant following on the day after the much-heralded meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and members of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD).

If accounts are correct, Labour’s response to the meeting was to spend the time available talking about process rather than action. That was wholly wrong and a completely wasted opportunity, but no surprise.

When Seumas Milne, the Leader’s Spinner and now de facto General Secretary of the Labour Party, came to see me two years ago it was to ask advice about how the Labour Party might best deal with the allegations of antisemitism that were already beginning to dominate the news agenda.

I gave some advice about how to deal with antisemitism, but that wasn’t what was required. It was the symptoms he wanted treating, not the cause. And it’s still the symptoms, the bad publicity, that most concern him today. The only thing which concerns him.

And it’s so obvious that we seem only to care about symptoms that when I went to see comedian Bill Bailey at the weekend, his attack on Labour (balancing his attacks on May for Windrush and Cable for irrelevance) were entirely about this current ‘Whack-a-Mole’ approach to dealing with the issue. A racist pops up here, and when s/he is dealt with another pops up there. An endless cycle of cause and effect where the effect is actually contributing to the next effect, and no-one is tackling the cause.

But why does this matter? Surely the Labour Party has to have the right process for dealing with complaints and investigations. Of course. And any process can benefit from being improved.

But any process, whatever ‘improvements’ are made, will falter at the hurdle of getting approval from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition (LOTO) for any action being proposed. It took three conference calls with Seumas Milne and others over several tortuous hours (and John Mann chasing Ken around with a TV crew) to get agreement that Ken Livingstone should be suspended for the allegations of antisemitism made against him.

More recently LOTO are trying to row back on the adoption of the definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which was adopted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) in December 2016. Although it was adopted partly to avoid being outflanked by the Tories, this internationally accepted definition was a welcome addition to the fight against antisemitism in the Labour Party. Together with the examples of antisemitic actions and language, which were also accepted, this provided a clear (or, at least, clearer) framework within which those charged with investigating allegations could operate.

But I now am told by members of the NEC that LOTO are recently trying to say that the examples of antisemitic behaviour weren’t accepted and should not be used. Yes they were, and yes they should. For those who are interested in such things, I’ve include the definition and the examples at the end of this piece. Maybe LOTO would like to say which of the examples concern them and why. It would be even more instructive if they were to say which of their friends are likely to fall foul of these examples.

There has been much said in recent days, not least at Jeremy Corbyn’s meeting with the JLC and BoD, about process. Jennie Formby has been told dealing with allegations of antisemitism is her top priority. But all the words emanating from LOTO and from the General Secretary’s Office are about process and implied criticism of the staff for not dealing with issues quickly enough – it is always the staff.

But the truth of the matter lies in quite another direction.

When the cancer of Militant Tendency was removed from the Labour Party, months and months were not wasted on process. A battalion of lawyers was not put in place. No General Counsel had to be hired before action could be taken.

Instead, and to borrow an unfortunate phrase used highly inappropriately elsewhere, a hostile environment was created, making it clear if you were a member of Militant you were not welcome as a member of the Labour Party. Speech after speech by the Leadership of the Party, a handful of high profile expulsions, including those of two MPs, and action by local constituency parties supported by the NEC gave no hiding place. Members of Militant Tendency left the Labour Party to gather under the banner of Militant Labour to begin the long march to obscurity.

Of course, antisemites are not a political party. They are not an entryist organisation which can be dealt with en-bloc. But they should face the same hostile environment.

Instead Labour has become a safe haven for the weird and the whacky, and, worse, for the racist bullies who believe it is OK to level the vilest abuse at those who seek to speak out against this current cancer at the heart of Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn believes that he doesn’t have the power to tackle these issues. He believes what Seumas tells him, that he can only ask the General Secretary to look at improving the process – tweak the rules, hire a lawyer, blame the staff.

But I have news for you Jeremy. You are Leader of the Labour Party. What you say will, 99 times out of a hundred, go.

You may not be able to stop Chris Williamson MP physically sharing a platform with a member of the Labour Party suspended for antisemitism, but you can make it abundantly clear that you expect, and would support, charges of bringing the Party into disrepute to follow.

You may not be able to stop people using the hashtag #JC4PM alongside their antisemitic vitriol. But you could have a member of staff responding to each and every one saying it is not acceptable and nor is their membership of the Labour Party. And cheaper than a barrel of lawyers.

If you expect LOTO to have an eye on which disciplinary cases should be treated more or less seriously – and currently you do – then you should also be prepared to speak up and make it clear that you expect individuals who express the views that Ken Livingstone did to be expelled from the Labour Party. The National Constitutional Committee which hears these cases is not blind justice. They are aware of ‘mood music’ emanating from the Leader’s Office. That is why Ken wasn’t expelled at the first attempt.

And yes, have a look at the process too. It should be possible within a fair process to get people like Livingstone out of the Party without months and months of case preparation. If people want their day in court, then let it be at the Strand rather than Victoria Street.

Jeremy, there are still a few outliers, like Williamson, who believe antisemitism is a plot (probably dreamed up by the Jews) to attack your Leadership. You at least recognise that it is not. It is a real issue. It has real consequences. And it must be really dealt with. Not the symptoms. Not by Whack-a-Mole. But by tackling the causes by straight talking and honest-to-goodness action. Today.

And just to make it clear action today is possible here is a draft to-do list:
1. Make it clear that elected representatives must not share platforms with people facing charges of antisemitism.
2. Challenge individuals using social media to conflate JC4PM with antisemitism or gaslighting about smears.
3. Make it clear what action you, as Leader, expect to follow when named individuals engage in antisemitic behaviour.
4. Be quicker to welcome Marc Wadsworth’s expulsion from the Labour Party (or condemn the fact he has not been) than you were to recognise the retirement of Arsène Wenger.

If we seek the trust of the people to govern, they are more likely to trust our actions than merely oft-repeated words.

 

FOR INFORMATION

IHRA Working definition of antisemitism

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Examples of antisemitism under this definition

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
• Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
• Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
• Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

Straight talking? Honestly? That's politics.

Straight talking? Honestly? That’s politics.

When Chair of the NEC Andy Kerr (union puppet rather than puppet master) rose to shout at Labour’s National Policy Forum that they had no right to elect a new Chair of the NPF at their meeting in Leeds it was another shameful act in the lengthening list of abuse of power by those who now wield it.

This should have been a simple thing to resolve. The National Policy Forum had a vacancy for Chair since Ann Cryer had announced her intention to stand down. The NPF Officers had agreed the timetable for the election which was due to take place today, Saturday.

However, NEC Officers were gathered to an unscheduled meeting two hours before the vote was due to take place and the vote was stopped on the spurious reason that seven days notice of the ballot was required. This is an entirely made up version of the rules. Having spent some considerable time in the High Court defending Labour’s rule book against all comers, I have a reasonably clear idea how to interpret the written word of Labour’s sometimes impenetrable  and arcane rules (my offer to re-write in plain English remains on the table). Seven days notice of this election has never been required, and was not required today (although four days notice was given of this emergency item of business).

The NEC Officers’ reasoning was that “the Representatives [attending the NPF] are entitled to receive copies of relevant documents at least seven days before the Forum takes place.” However, there is nothing in the rules of the NPF which requires that a casual vacancy must be advertised seven days in advance of the meeting. Nor do any of the general rules or procedure of the Labour Party require that seven days notice is given to fill such a vacancy.

The election could and should have taken place today. Late registrations were allowed to ensure the highest possible attendance, and members of the NPF tell me it was indeed one of the highest turnouts in recent times. Candidates were in the field, the election was scheduled and sufficient notice had been given. But there was a major problem – Ann Black was likely to win. And Momentum and the Leader’s Office couldn’t allow that to happen. So it was stopped. In a traditionally robust way.

Despite the obvious desire of the majority of those in attendance to hold the election as advertised, the NPF and its officers were bullied out of it. No election was held. Not because the rules were broken. Or because the procedures hadn’t been correctly followed. But because the faction in charge of the Labour Party was probably going to lose.

I have no problem with Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum running the Labour Party. They won the votes to give them the right so to do. But when they start making up the rules to allow them to keep control, serious questions need to be asked.

And just as worrying is that a source at the behind-closed-doors event in Leeds told the Press Association: “This morning symbolised the old-school male union bullying that is determined to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s people in control no matter how bad it looks to the outside world.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger said she was “ashamed” to witness the “disgraceful treatment” of acting NPF chairwoman Katrina Murray at the event.

If Corbyn wants to hold to his slogan of ‘straight talking, honest politics’ then he needs to do some straight talking to some of his own team. Otherwise his quest for Number 10 will be derailed by internal factionalism. If not of his own making, of his own consent.

 

Not in accord with the rules

In 1995 the Labour Party changed its rules to end the direct sponsorship of a Member of Parliament by a trade union in the wake of the financial scandals surrounding the Conservative Party and the work of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Unions are able to direct financial support to individual constituency parties, but the perception (albeit wrong) of control of a single MP by a union paymaster was removed. The negotiations to effect this change were led not by the centre of the Party, but by John Prescott, the Party’s Deputy Leader, and Bill Morris General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (now Unite the Union).

And since then there has been no doubt that Labour Party candidates are candidates of the Labour Party – or in 38 cases currently, of the Labour and Cooperative Party with which the Labour Party has a national agreement.
Until now.

But Momentum have now introduced an accord, a contract, which anyone who seeks the backing of Momentum must sign. Notwithstanding the Labour Party’s rules, the Labour Party’s selection procedures, the candidate contracts which the Labour Party itself has established, Momentum (in true Leninist democratic centralist style) has effectively said, that’s all very well, but we are the vanguard of this particular Corbynite revolution and you will dance to our tune above all else.

So why should anyone care about that? Surely if people don’t like the offer, they simply refuse to sign. If any other local organisation said, “support us or we won’t support you” they would be given very short shrift by any candidate. Well there are two obvious reasons from the point of view of the individuals being asked to sign. Firstly, sitting MPs remain fearful of deselection if they are in any way seen to be opposed to the Momentum ‘line’. And, secondly, the fact that Momentum continues to punch above its weight. The most obvious recent example was when they were able to instruct their supporters at Party conference to keep any meaningful debate about Brexit off the agenda despite the overwhelming pro-European make-up of the Party membership. These two reasons combine to make it easy to believe that even a popular local candidate could be overturned if the vanguard instructs that it shall be so.

But more importantly, it’s just wrong. The Labour Party is the custodian of its own rules, procedures and, thereby, candidates. No third party, whether or not it is largely made up of Labour Party members, can require a Labour Party candidate to toe their particular line, for the exclusive benefit of their aims and objectives. Of course, I’m sure Momentum will excuse the accord, the contract, by saying it is all parenthood and apple-pie. Who wouldn’t support it?

And that’s how it starts. The Russian Dolls of vanguards within vanguards seek to move the power away from the Labour Party to Momentum.
Is any of that the fault of Momentum? Or of Jon Lansman Director of MOMENTUM CAMPAIGN (SERVICES) LTD and sole director of JEREMY FOR LABOUR LIMITED. Momentum’s own statement says, “Momentum is the successor of the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign and is independent, and supportive of, the Labour Party and Labour leadership.” And yet this independent supporter of Labour now wants the final say on who shall or shall not be an approved candidate worthy of support.

Momentum clearly has considerable support inside and outside of the Labour Party. It trots out the straight talking honest politics mantra seemingly without any critique of what it actually says or does. And one can pretty much forgive that, given they have demonstrated it is possible to energise people, particularly young people, to take a view of the politics which affects their lives and the lives of millions across the country. But having woken them up to politics, the National Coordinating Committee of Momentum must now let them make up their own views.

The revolutionary vanguard must step back from dictating who may or may not be a Labour Party candidate. It’s not your job, it’s the Labour Party’s.

The Nolan Report
The Seven Principles of Public life
Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
Integrity – Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
Objectivity – Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
Openness – Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
Honesty – Holders of public office should be truthful
Leadership – Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

Click here for redacted version of the Momentum accord to remove identifying names and dates.

A proper thorn in the side

Since the general election I have not had much time to get involved in wider politics or the Labour Party (I’m too busy being retired) but I thought I’d break radio silence for just a moment to say I’m delighted to see that Johanna Baxter is running again for election to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party.

When I was writing reports for the NEC and its sub-committees you would get the usual unthinking support or unthinking criticism from one side or the other of the factional wings of the Party. But there a were a few people who would consistently give any report whether from Party Staff, or from the Leader, or from an external body a hard, properly critical review. Look at the public comments made by current and previous members of the NEC and it’s not too difficult to work out who is carrying out a real job and who is just carrying a slate.

Jo Baxter was a proper pain. Not only was she likely to have read every dot and coma of any report, but she would have done some of her own background research and was only too likely to come up with some ideas of her own. But whether she was coming up with new ideas, or tweaking the ideas of others, she always did it with the best interest of the Party and of the people we seek to represent at the forefront of the debate. Absolutely no-one could question her loyalty to the Party and to the various Leaders she has served as a member of the NEC over the years. As a former member of staff I was also always grateful to her (and to others on the NEC) who recognised the work of all the staff on behalf of the Party.

If you want someone on the NEC who is just going to toe one line or another then you might want to look elsewhere. But if you want someone who is going to speak up for ordinary members whilst being a loyal, but critical (in the best possible way) member of the NEC then Jo is definitely top of that particular tree.

As she says herself, “If you elect me you will have a representative who will be relentless in holding the Party to account to make sure we are ready for that election whenever it is called. You will have a representative who has a track record of working and campaigning with all sections of the membership, who has still visited more Constituency Labour Parties across the country to engage with members than any other volunteer and whose reputation as an NEC member was of hard work and fair judgement.”

That’s why I will be supporting Johanna Baxter. But you need to make your own mind up and you can read more at www.johannabaxter.scot.

The Clash of left and right

Darling you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

If you say that you are mine

I’ll be here ’til the end of time…

Normally when I come out of the theatre (Don Juan in Soho, if you must know) I write a short critique, mainly for friends, giving my opinion of the play. Tonight, all thoughts of the play, terrific though it was, are swept aside by the almost incomprehensible news that Labour’s elected National Constitutional Committee has decided that Ken Livingstone’s unforgivable and unapologised for behaviour and comments merit a mere administrative suspension from holding office or representing the Labour Party. For 12 months.

And, of course, the decision of the NCC will remain incomprehensible since they do not publish their reasons. Nor are they required to do so under the rules of the Labour Party.

But all right minded observers and commentators, Party members and no, who have read the charges and defence and who have followed the case as it wound its way to today’s conclusion will be aghast. All charges brought against the odious Livingstone were found proven. And yet, unaccountably, the punishment didn’t even fit the least of these charges.

Or is it accountable? How is it that there is a climate within the Labour Party which allows ordinary, decent, elected members of a committee charged with upholding the moral compass of the Labour Party to think they should merely give Livingstone a slap on the wrist.

When Seumas Milne came to me for advice on how to close down the erupting row about anti-Semitism in university Labour Clubs and amongst the left of the Labour Party, I said it was simple. Get Corbyn to make a speech condemning anti-Semitism of the left and right and stating unequivocally that anti-Semites would not be tolerated in the Party. My advice was not sought on the issue again.

The failure of leadership over anti-Semitism – it took five hours and three tortuous phone calls to persuade the Leader’s office that Livingstone should be suspended in the first place – means that anti-Semitism has air to breathe in the Labour Party. And the Jew-haters and Jew-baters pretending that they are merely criticising the actions of the Israeli government have gained ground today. Not only is this an abject failure of justice in this case, but it gives carte blanche to the anti-Semites of the left and right – and mainly the Trotskyite left – to raise their evil standards on the parapets of the Labour Party. Apparently with Jeremy Corbyn’s calm indifference.

The question was posed today by Dan Hodges that:

It’s now morally indefensible to be a member of the Labour Party.

I responded, saying it was difficult to disagree. And it is difficult. I am so ashamed of my Party today that that it would be easy to log-on to the Labour Party web-site and cancel my membership. I know friends and former colleagues who are doing that right now.

Shall I stay or shall I go?

Well, no-one said being in the Labour Party was easy. And it’s my Party and the Party of the many millions desperate for a Labour Government. Not a Labour Party of street corner irrelevant protest. But a Party of power that can change people’s lives for better.

And that means two things. The ordinary decent Party members have got to make themselves heard. And Corbyn has to go. Now. Not to be replaced by John McDonnell’s next puppet, but by a Leader who will not tolerate the racists of the left any more than we should tolerate racists of the right.

Jeremy, last time I saw you I told you I could really recommend retirement. Then I was talking about myself. Now I mean you.

When the music has to stop

  • It’s 4.30pm on Friday 3 March 2017.

I no longer work for the Labour Party. Almost unbelievably, I have retired.

I cannot thank my friends and colleagues – and even some who would not fall in to either of those camps – enough for their kind words and warmth. Not just last night and today. But on each and every day of the 27 years or so I worked for the Party there would be someone with a kind word which reminded me, reminded all of us, why we devote our lives to trying to make the world a better place.

The individual random acts of kindness of one Labour Party friend to another are probably no more or no less than you would find in any other walk of life. But juxtaposed with the vile and unnecessary approbrium that members of staff and ordinary party members have suffered since the beginning of the 2015 leadership election, redoubled since 12 September 2015, those acts of kindness seem to have more value, more meaning than they would in other circumstances.

My count down clock to retirement, set ticking six months ago, was at first a source of amusement. Then concern. Then it was here. All too quickly the final month, week, day was here. I apologise deeply to my colleagues for the work I’ve left undone. But I don’t apologise for having retired. One of my proudest moments was to look at the team I leave behind to deal with the governance and legal issues of the Labour Party.

When the music has to stopAnd contrary to popular belief that’s not just about expelling Trots from the Labour Party – although they will continue to do that. Militant, Socialist Appeal, Alliance for Workers Liberty have no more place in the Labour Party than the BNP or the EDL.

No, the team I leave behind will spend the overwhelming majority of the time, as they always have, making sure that ordinary party members, the hard-working activists who organise the Party, run elections, raise the money have the tools and expertise to do that job within the law and and to the best of their ability.

And so I came to last night. My leaving do. Would anyone turn up? Well yes they would.

I knew it would be tearful. My tears started, to the bemusement of fellow commuters, on the train on the way to London, and continued on and off during the day. I almost had to run out of the office, to flee the desk banging, whooping and cheering which opened the floodgates again.

For my speech I wanted to remind people why we do what we do. If I couldn’t leave people who weren’t even born when I started working for the Party with a sense of purpose, an appreciation that what they do matters, then the whole of that 27 years would have been diminished.

This is the text of my speech. Apart from an opening tale of an ice-cream and an orgasm. Sorry, but if you weren’t there you’ll never know.

When the music has to stopI can’t name check all the great people I’ve worked with over the years. That would make this a very long few words. But I do want to mention the two women in my life and the very similar reaction they had last September when I finally decided that it was time to bring this career to an end.

I think I remember correctly what Emilie said –‘Fuck that – you’re not allowed to retire – what am I going to do without you.’

My partner, Jan, was pretty much identical – ‘Fuck that – what am I going to do with you.’

Obviously, I could drone on and on about my time with the Labour Party but I thought I would mention just a few experiences.

My first General Election as a member of staff was in 92 and my first Leader’s visit was with Neil Kinnock which included arriving by helicopter. Obviously, we had extensive staff training at that time, which was basically ‘find somewhere to land a helicopter – give me a call back in twenty minutes’.

That was relatively straightforward. Less straightforward was being told the day before the event that we had to have an arrival shot involving 1992 helium balloons to demonstrate our commitment to Europe if not to the environment. Clearly, that wouldn’t be needed today.

I managed to get free use of a warehouse overnight to house the balloons. I hired a professional balloon company to blow up the balloons. The bit that hadn’t occurred to me was the impact of a helicopter landing 50 metres away on 1992 helium balloons – but the arrival shots were spectacular.

We had recced a slightly more sedate visit – some giant lab up at Southampton University. Lots of dials and electronic flashes behind this thick glass window. Angie Hunter, who was running the show for Neil, asked if Neil could go inside to get better press pictures and we were told yes. Providing we didn’t mind sweeping Neil up with a dustpan and brush afterwards.

And of course, there was the election that never was. As conference ended in 2007 Peter Watt called all the organising staff together to tell us that there would be a snap general election. Print had been ordered. Gordon would call the election within days. All leave was cancelled.

I told Peter that whilst all leave might be cancelled, and his offer to buy out any holidays was welcome, I didn’t think he could afford to pay for all the consequential damages of me having to find a new home when I told Jan that our trip of a lifetime to the Galapagos was cancelled. Fortunately, Peter saw the sense of that.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t persuade him or anyone else that there would be no election. I didn’t see how a man who had waited ten years for the chance to be Prime Minister would gamble that away no matter how safe the bet. And that’s partly why I think today the next general election will be in 2020.

A little before the 2007 non-event, Peter had asked me to join the team at Head Office, managing the staffing changes in the four southern regions. I think the reality was that he wanted to remove me from bed-blocking younger, more talented people coming through the ranks.

And that’s how I came to be sitting next to Hilary, Alicia and Maz learning more about handbags and shoes then anyone needs to know. It’s just as well Emilie wasn’t in Head Office at that time or we could have opened an Imelda Marcos Tribute museum with no difficulty whatsoever.

And I think that’s probably what attracted me to Alastair Campbell’s interview with Ann Wintour. For the less fashion conscious in the room, she has been editor of American Vogue longer than I have worked for LP. In that interview Ann Wintour said “Leadership is coming up with an idea and executing it. Ideas themselves are a dime a dozen”. Worth remembering by any aspiring leader.

Working in Head Office I seemed to accumulate jobs by accident until I perfected my current Job title – Senior Odd Job Person. But there were some definite plus points to working at Head Office. Margaret in full flow asking a cold caller where they got her contact details was guaranteed to bring the office to a silent standstill in quiet admiration of her skilful technique. Brutal. But skilful.

And that brings me on to the rest of the Governance and Legal team. When people ask me what do I do for the Labour Party, I simply tell them all I do is appoint great people. And this team that now makes the Governance and Legal Unit in London and in Newcastle is the best. And I include in that those members of staff who have recently left the team to retire or take on new challenges.

I couldn’t wish to leave the Party in better hands. And hopefully spending less time in court.

Let me finish with one more election story. It’s a Tony Blair visit to Hove in the run-up to 2005 GE. It’s a visit to a Sure Start Centre. Any organiser who has worked for the Labour Party for more than about five minutes has organised a visit to a Sure Start Centre. Parents, kids, colourful toys.

What can go wrong?

Well, of course, when you are in the middle of a war there will be people who want to protest, and when I arrived with colleagues well in advance a small band of protesters were beginning to assemble.

Being Hove rather than Orgreave, they were neatly assembled behind the barriers the police had put out. On the other side of the road. And, if I remember rightly, they were singing. It was Hove, after all.

There didn’t appear to be any particular threat to the event or even to our arrival shots. But there were two young women sat on the wall leading to the entrance to the library building which housed the Sure Start. I thought I should see why they were waiting. If this was the first step toward the anti-war protestors crossing over the road, I wanted to stop it before it started.

They told me that they had heard Blair might be visiting and they wanted to see him. I asked if they were wanting to join the protest – but no. They wanted to see him because they were both mums, victims of abusive partners and now single parents. They had been trapped in a squalid accommodation trying to bring up children, literally on the bread line. Living on handouts from friends.

Until Sure Start changed their lives. Now in work, in decent homes, they were rebuilding their lives. They wanted to say thank you to Tony Blair and to the Labour Party. And that reinforced the lesson that I’d first learnt in 79 when I joined the Labour Party.

That I relearnt in 83 and in 87 as a volunteer.

And as a staff member in 92 and 97.

And each and every time the Labour Party contests an election.

We can be a Party of Protest. On the other side of the road. On the other side of the barriers. Or we can be a party of power, this side of the road, this side of the barriers.

Changing hearts; Changing minds; Changing lives.

I know which side I have tried to be on.

Thank you.

 

Lend me your ears

We’ve all had that problem of people in the office, at home, down the pub mouthing words at you and they just don’t register. Haven’t we?

Today that was definitely a thing. The clog and clutter in my ears, which I’d been attempting to shift with olive oil and other stuff, shifted. Unfortunately inwards rather than out and the world went largely muffled. My normal hearing is moderate to rubbish but it was getting noticeably worse last weekend when, on a short walk, the birds were clearly justing miming at me rather than singing.

Anyhow, tomorrow – the nurse, the syringe and hopefully birdsong beckon.

Just in time to listen to the great debate – where Ed Miliband will be centre stage and Cameron will once again show why he did everything possible to avoid a head to head with the Labour Leader. After last week’s shuttle diplomacy that passed for a debate-lite, there was a significant, potentially game changing, shift in people’s perception of Ed Miliband as the next PM. When on the same stage – albeit separated by the supporting cast – it will become even more apparent who has the ability and vision to lead the country and who, well, has run out of steam.