Exclusive: the ‘Shawcroft incident’ – definitive version


Christine Shawcroft

Political media – and the right inside and outside Labour – have been abuzz over Facebook comments yesterday by NEC (National Executive Committee) member Christine Shawcroft, in which she hit out at union involvement in the Labour Party, claimed that union behaviour had strengthened her support for Momentum’s Jon Lansman for the position of General Secretary – and called, briefly, for ‘disaffiliation’ of unions from the party.

Since then, senior figures in the Labour movement have come out to underline the importance of unions to the movement.

Ms Shawcroft told the SKWAWKBOX:

I’ve withdrawn the post. The unions have done great work over the years. Everyone on the left wants to work with them, not against them.

However, the ‘olive branch’ had a thorn, as she added:

That needs to work both ways.

In spite of the thorn, the conciliatory tone will be welcome.

But what happened to lead to the ‘Shawcroft incident’?

The SKWAWKBOX has spoken to other NEC members among both ‘CLP’ (Labour member) representatives and union delegates. As near as can be fairly achieved, without judgment and while respecting confidentiality where needed, the following describes what took place.


The NEC’s ‘Disputes Panel’ met yesterday to address around twenty cases. Every NEC member is entitled to attend but Disputes meetings rarely have a full complement because of other commitments. For this meeting, eight or ten members were absent – including two of the MPs on the NEC – although some who weren’t physically present were able to dial in for some or all of the meeting.

The cases

The cases heard were various, but included at least two involving allegations of criminal behaviour.

An NEC member who was at the meeting told the SKWAWKBOX:

Disputes meetings are only supposed to last an hour, but usually go on double that – but even then, the time is too short. Twenty cases is about the usual number – and that’s too many, even for two hours.

The information we receive from the investigators can be sketchy and is often just a summary of their findings. Some members basically just want the recommendations of the investigating unit to be rubber-stamped – and treat any queries as an attack on the integrity of the investigators.

As the cases all involve members, the CLP people feel its their territory and feel a big responsibility. The union members usually keep fairly quiet, perhaps aware of the risk for reputational damage if they dismiss a case, or else that it’s not their territory as it concerns party members.


The Chair

Christine Shawcroft is the new chair of the panel – a change that was not without controversy and which came with a considerable amount of stress amid right-wing smears.

Crucially – before she ever knew she would become Disputes chair – Ms Shawcroft had assisted at least two of the people whose cases were heard – and gave evidence yesterday in one of the cases that contradicted the findings of the investigators.

Some members asked her to recuse herself from the chair for that case on the grounds of a personal stake in the outcome, but she declined.

Union members present then told the panel that they would abstain from voting on some of the cases – including at least two that Ms Shawcroft felt strongly about. A union NEC delegate told the SKWAWKBOX:

I can understand why Christine was frustrated, but we had little option. The reports on the cases made recommendations and a referral to the NCC [National Constitutional Committee] doesn’t automatically mean expulsion.

In the absence of any concrete evidence to justify throwing out the recommendation, we’d be pilloried for dismissing a case that might involve serious allegations – in fact, there’d be a shitstorm. And nobody was arguing that there was no case to answer.

You can easily make an argument that Labour’s disciplinary processes need a complete overhaul, but at the moment they are what they are and we have to act within them – and we have to go on the evidence presented, we can’t just assume right or wrong.

The rejected compromise

In an attempt to buy time for further investigation and discussion, a proposal was made to take some of the most contentious cases off the table until a future meeting, but this was rejected by those who wanted them dismissed. This forced a vote on whether to pass the cases to the NCC, which passed.

The aftermath

Several NEC members told the SKWAWKBOX that the fallout from the meeting was almost immediate, with extremely angry words and text messages.

But of course, if it hadn’t been for the social media messages sent out subsequently, few others would ever have heard about it.

The media

The media have attempted to cast yesterday’s events as indicative of a split between the Labour Party’s left membership and the unions. This is understandable, given Ms Shawcroft’s social media posts – but deeply inaccurate.

The unions on the NEC are divided – still – between those behind Corbyn’s leadership and those who yearn for a return to a more centrist position. But Unite and other left unions played an absolutely vital role in upholding the wishes of Labour members for most of the past two and a half years since Corbyn was first elected leader – a period when the member representatives on the NEC were not strong, or numerous, or sometimes united enough to do it.

The left unions fought to prevent the coups. The left unions fought to make sure Corbyn’s name was on the ballot paper after the 2016 ‘chicken coup’ leadership challenge.

The left unions fought to extend voting rights in the second leadership ballot to as many members as possible.

And the groundswell of Labour member support – including most of the NEC members elected on ‘left slates’ put together by Momentum and the other grassroots member organisations – has been behind union candidate Jennie Formby for the soon-to-be-vacant General Secretary positiom.

The overview

The reality of what happened yesterday at and after the Disputes meeting was not union vs member representatives – it was personal.

Primarily, it was the personal investment of Christine Shawcroft – and to a lesser degree, one or two other NEC ‘CLP’ members – in the outcome of a handful of disciplinary cases meeting an outcome that wasn’t what was passionately wanted, with a side-serving of crossed-wires over perceptions and motivations.

Add to that mix a rash decision to vent frustrations publicly and the wishes of the Labour right and part of the media estate to present an outburst of personal disappointment and rage as a factional fracture, and it brings us to where we are about now.

What comes next?

Several NEC members told this blog that a silver lining of the blow-up was that the ‘Organisation Subcommittee’ that met immediately after the Disputes session agreed that the disciplinary process needs to be reviewed and a meeting with the leader’s office was agreed to iron out conflicts and discuss options. This can only be healthy for the direction of the movement and the functioning of Labour’s ruling committee.

In addition, the questioning of the role of the unions in the Labour movement functioned – in spite of the media presentation – to bring the key figures at the top of the movement together.

Senior union figures aligned with both wings of the party spoke out about their commitment to and vital role in the Labour Party, as did senior parliamentarians and party movers – as did Jon Lansman, for whom Ms Shawcroft had said the incident had strengthened her support.

The mere mention of a threat to that role will have focused any minds that were wandering to other priorities, strengthening the movement and spurring all those in leadership to gather themselves to push onward united.

Talk of division, in that sense, said far more about the wishes and hopes of the media and those who do not want to see the continue growth of the (small ‘m’) momentum of the Labour Party as the genuine representatives of ‘the many, not the few’.


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23 responses to “Exclusive: the ‘Shawcroft incident’ – definitive version

  1. The balance of power in the Labour Party is changing, so frictions are inevitable.

    The membership is increasing in number, as is the amount of money it donates to the party. We are on track to becoming a million members party.

    The unions have to calibrate to these changes. The Labour Party is not their property. This is a collective enterprise and we must all work together to return a Corbyn led Government.

    The GMB’s reactionary general secretary, Iain McNicol, was a complete disgrace and his treatment of party members was unacceptable.

    Business as usual is not an option. The right wing unions need to accept the new reality or bugger off and affiliate with the Liberals along with the other centrist liabilities currently infesting the Labour Party.

    • Comrade Iain McNichol may have been many things, but being the Genera Secretary of the GMB was not one of those. He was, before assuming his present post, the Political Officer of that Union.

      • Don’t be obtuse David.

        Iain McNicol was the general secretary of the Labour Party and his corrupt anti member activities were supported to the hilt by his union, the GMB.

        The GMB would be well advised to keep its head down for the time being for betraying the membership of the Labour Party.

  2. Eighteen months ago it was publicly stated that the Disputes Committee had agreed the need for a new disciplinary procedure. The elements that process would contain would include the right to representation, the presentation of all evidence used to suspend and other areas that are basic rights of justice. Rights that our unions have fought for in workplaces. Rights enshrined in the ACAS codes which if breached can lead to a judgement of unfair dismissal at Employment Tribunal.
    We are still waiting.
    The disputes committee is vitally important in the process of an accused member’s journey through the system. An investigation is conducted by staff of the party. At that investigation the member is denied representation and must self represent. They do not have the right to be accompanied – again a basic tenet of the union movement – instead they can have with them a ‘silent’ witness who cannot speak.
    The investigation report is not seen by the member before it goes to the Disputes Committee and it contains the recommendation of the officer as to whether the case should be referred to the NCC with a view to expulsion.
    At NCC hearing the member is yet again unable to be represented unless they are fortunate enough to be able to afford legal representation.
    At hearing any procedural issues are not taken into account.
    So yes members are hurt and angry. They feel let down by a process that does not afford them fairness. Anyone who argues the process is acceptable needs to reflect that if that is so then they undermine everything our unions fought for and achieved to protect staff from unscrupulous employers.
    IMO our unions and our NEC representatives need as a matter of urgency put together a modern procedure that reflects standards we expect of employers.
    There is a vast array of talent and expertise in our Membership. There’s a vast amount of expertise regarding discipline in our unions. Rather than say we have to work with what we’ve got, rather than say we need a new procedure then appear to do nothing to push it forward – Make it Happen.
    Let’s see the expertise of our membership recognised and utilised. Why not have Panels of investigators within the party who can act to independently assess the facts?
    There is so much that could be done and should be done.
    Labour proved it is possible to implement a complete restructure of our process for complaints of sexual harassment, it did so in days. Why not do this for complaints?
    We don’t need a miracle, we need a new process and the end of the shenanigans we have seen.

    • I agree. And taking 20 cases in an hour or two means an average of just 6-12 minutes per case. Which strongly suggests officers’ recommendations are just being nodded through

  3. The way suspended members have been treated is deplorable, some suspended for over a year. This is cruel in anyones language.
    Personally I think the cases that go to the NCC (apart from the very serious ones) should be struck out on the grounds that to bring the case before the NCC is an abuse of process.

  4. Clearly the disputes panel is not fit for purpose.

    It is extraordinary that NEC members do not see the irony re their own integrity when they: `treat any queries as an attack on the integrity of the investigators`.

    The integrity (or otherwise) of an investigator should stand or fall on the quality of the investigation – not simply assumed by the NEC members who turn up at a Disputes Panel. Why do i even need to point that out?!

    So they are saying that they do not ever question the rationale, the way so called evidence was disseminated, what spin is put on it – wow. It is horrifying that it is not a matter of course that the investigation report is not scrutinised. What then is the purpose of this disputes committee if they are just going to do what the investigator says. This beggars belief.

    ANY NEC member who considers they are unable to do so should show at least half an ounce of integrity and say they will not sit on the disputes panel.

    I hold them responsible for this stain on the labour party and the pain and anguish that they are continuing to allow to happen. I have see the style of investigations and they are not carried out from a neutral perspective – the whole vibe is that they ask questions to trap members and the underlying assumption is one of guilt.

    I repeat no NEC member should take a place at a Disputes Panel unless they are committed to natural justice and that requires you to look objectively at the investigation. In fact I now consider that the investigator must be stopped from giving any recommendation. They should simply supply the report, and the ob of the disputes Panel should be to scrutinise it and do so from a neutral position that is motivated by fairness and natural justice.

    It is appalling that the promised overhaul of the complaints procedure has not even been started. So where then is the integrity of the NEC members on that huh?

    I suggest readers take a look at the Shadow NEC blog where you will get an insight into the pain and suffering caused to members because of the appalling lack of care and lack of respect for natural justice.


      • The thing is that any NEC member can attend, and I consider, whether they attend or not, they have a responsibility to stand up for natural justice.

        Given how dysfunctional and not fit for purpose the Disputes Panel is, and given the lack of responsibility for that taken by the NEC I consider that we should have a separate system for overseeing it – one that respects natural justice and is objective and does not shy away from ensuring justice because they don`t want to be seen to question the investigation technique or content.

        It is time for the complaints and investigation process to be headed by a legal qualified individual and it should be rooted in neutrality and provides for someone who is being investigated to have an advocate who can support them through the process to ensure a fair investigation and hearing.

  5. 20 cases considered in 120 mins means 6mins/case (3mins in the allotted hour). How could the Disputes Panel possibly come to an independent judgement for the overwhelming majority of cases?

    The most disturbing bit of this Disputes Panel fracas, is in revealing that its mode of operation has first and foremost provided an opportunity for Iain McNicol, and LP staffers acting as investigators, to use their power to push their own political agenda with regard to suspensions. That Christine Shawcroft was unhappy with TU NEC members not acting in accordance with their union’s instructions is secondary. Such behaviour could not occur without the complaint having first been prosecuted and processed by LPHQ.

    Christine Shawcroft’s outburst may not have been very comfortable but it has exposed a ‘rotten system’ which desperately needs to be reformed.

  6. The obvious follow on question is how does the NCC panel work? Maria Carroll seems to suggest that it also leaves an enormous amount to be desired:

    ‘At NCC hearing the member is yet again unable to be represented unless they are fortunate enough to be able to afford legal representation.’

  7. Satire ridicules foolishness by exaggerating it beyond reason.
    Not Kafka, Swift, Carroll or Orwell could have done anything to make “It’s been six minutes – NEXT CASE!” sound more ridiculous.

  8. We need to enshrine proper rules and they should all accord with natural justice, proportionality, presumption of innocence, speed, disclosure of evidence so the party is at least as fair as our public law. Hastings CLP has distilled a brief Clause from Chakrabarti that it is pressing should be the baseline standard for all new rules. See Fbook page for Hastings Preamble.

    Both the Unions and CLPs must take this on and are equally mired in the Blair legacy and its antecedents. But Jennie Formby herself is aware and concerned that even everyday workplace TU practice is vastly superior to Labour’s current practice, so as you say this should be about invoking TU norms, not weakening the link.

    Besides, the Union Link is a way bigger issue and is what binds Labour as a party with the working class, and was all but smashed by Thatcher. Lansman’s flirtation with anti-TU voices should ring alarm bells and reveals his shallow self promotion. The importance of the Link should drive re-building of union strength in the Party to match the wonderful CLPs’ growth, rather than competing over rival claims to the NEC cake.

    I am pleased that Christine has backtracked from her calls to break the link but the incident has highlighted the narrowness of the whole discussion. She has of course witnessed lots of bad behaviour from the TUs on the NEC over many years. Now our mass CLP membership can create a better balance and a real working partnership.

  9. That Hastings Fb link should be Hastings Call for Justice, it’s in the form of a Preamble that can go at the top of your submissions for the Democracy Review. Have also sent it to Jennie Formby and hope she will endorse it as part of her platform but not sure if it got through to her. Hope Skwawkbox can pick it up as a baseline standard to apply to all rules, as we really can’t rewrite all the rulebook in a Comment thread.

  10. A chairperson must act impartially when chairing a Disputes Committee and not be a partisan. Going by the report in this article it seems that Christine Shawcroft was not impartial. It does not matter that she is on the ‘left’ or the ‘right’ – it is her duty to make a procedure credible and just. It follows then that if she is susceptible to these outbursts, the question can be asked whether she is the appropriate person for this role.

  11. As a victim of Labours disciplinary procedure why do I have to read on this blog that NEC disputes panel could have just dismissed the allegations made against me? Instead I have to “prove” that the allegations – which include calling somebody a Blairite, but the worst is that of racism, at a separate hearing.

    I presented them with the evidence that showed clearly that the allegations were vindictive and part of a campaign against me, for the “sin” of helping to throw out a Tory MP and replace him with a Labour MP, much to the annoyance of some of the Weaver Vale CLP executive.

    I do not know the origins of the allegations and I haven’t seen any proof, I suspect that is because it doesn’t exist and the party knows it’s all trumped up. This was taken with Iain McNicol who dismissed it saying the procedure had begun. Wow, thanks for that caring attitude.

    On 7th December I requested and paid for a subject access request to see the “evidence” against me. Despite numerous requests for the party to fulfill their legal obligations I still haven’t had the information I require. The party are now in breach of the law.

    When I know who accused me of racism, I intend to take it further to clear my name, but I cannot do that until I know who it is. Meanwhile, I am expelled from the party, with no way of clearing my name until such time as the party can be bothered to hold the disciplinary meeting. That’s now four months, not long by comparison with others, but shows what a farce the disciplinary procedure is.

    IMO the members who make false, unsubstantiated, malicious and in my case libelous allegations against other members for their own ends, must themselves be subject to the disciplinary procedure.

  12. It’s important that members are aware of just how bad the process is, how urgently we need change – I know of a case where a new member (joined summer 2015) was suspended (for challenging Blairites in the CLP) in spring 2016 and remains suspended to this day. So that’s been a member for 32 months and suspended for 24 of those and counting – is this a record? And as commonly happens, there has yet to be an explanation of what the ‘charge’ is.

    How is it that the ‘misdemeanour’ (whatever it may be) is so great that it warrants a 2 year suspension (and counting) yet not enough to warrant expulsion? Another example of a disciplinary process so broken that talk of a review sometime is just laughable.

    • Sadly all that is heard by the Membership and more worryingly, the public at large is the small number of cases that are needing further investigation and perhaps a hearing. They don’t hear of the vast majority of cases of those who were suspended, auto expelled or excluded from membership during the leadership election where the allegations against them were either minor or mistakes or no infringement at all. There are innumerable examples of people who were caught up in that exercise for such as the example you quote. The daughter of one of my colleagues in our clp was autoexcluded for an alleged membership of another party – Green Peace. We lost a keen young member and an entire family to labour from that.
      Despite these cases being consistently brought to the attention of all through social media, CLP meetings and networks there remains a a small minority who will not listen and continue to create a myth about our membership for political gain.
      Those who try to raise concern about these people are ourselves subject to abuse and allegations merely for standing by the right to a fair process.
      The vast majority of the cases I know of have done far far less to bring the party into disrepute that those who deliberately leak confidential information from the very top of our structures.

      • From what I can see, Regional Office staff and Regional Board members are playing a largely unseen but influential role in the process – predominantly Blairites turned Bitterites, given the new membership. As for making changes, Board members are one thing – they could be voted out if they allow their elections to become known about! – but RO staff is a bit more tricky. Maybe as part of reforms, things like much greater transparency and thorough member involvement in RO affairs could help in the necessary transition to alignment with new members? – in my CLP, of ca. 1450 members, 80% have joined post-Milliband and 40% of pre-Corbyn members have gone.

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