The Huffington Post’s Paul Waugh has tweeted a copy of a complaint sent by – as Waugh describes it – a ‘former Labour staffer’ to Labour’s new General Secretary Jennie Formby:
The complaint is very revealing – but not in the way its sender presumably intended. Here it is in full:
The first noteworthy aspect of the complaint is that it displays a remarkable level of ignorance about Labour’s rules and procedures. Chris Williamson is a Labour MP, not merely a party member. As a Labour insider confirmed to the SKWAWKBOX:
For anything less serious than a clear breach of rules or an offence such as sexual harassment, a complaint against an MP goes nowhere near the General Secretary or even the NEC. It’s dealt with by the Whips.
Whatever anyone thinks of Chris Williamson’s comments about Marc Wadsworth, there’s no suggestion that they’re either a rules breach or criminal. This complaint is addressed to completely the wrong person.
The complaint contains a serious libel against both Chris Williamson and Marc Wadsworth – by linking them to antisemitism.
Because – in spite of the readiness of some media and political commenters to commit a similar libel – Marc Wadsworth has not been expelled for antisemitism, but for a non-specific charge of bringing the party into disrepute.
The NCC – presumably because the incident is widely available on video and anyone who wishes can see that Wadsworth did not say what he was initially accused of saying – steered clear of an antisemitism dismissal, although the application of the IHRA definition was discussed, including the idea that the mere fact someone might perceive it as antisemitic – a problematic aspect of the rule adopted at last year’s conference (although that requires ‘reasonably be seen’, not merely ‘might be’) was discussed.
That in itself was a legal error, because Wadsworth’s supposed offence took place in 2016, when the rule was not in force – and retrospective application of a new rule is not valid.
Any claim that Wadsworth was expelled for antisemitism is defamatory – and therefore, so would be the claim that, by making comments supportive of Wadsworth, Williamson is ‘seriously undermin[ing] the work that you and the leadership are doing to take the issue of antisemitism seriously‘.
The so far anonymous complainant tells Ms Formby that Mr Williamson’s ‘behaviour’ is ‘a direct attack on the NCC‘ (National Constitutional Committee) and ‘furthermore could be interpreted‘ as an invitation to ‘attack our sovereign body – the NEC‘.
Quite apart from the severely problematic idea that saying something that could be interpreted by someone as something is an offence deserving suspension, this nonsensical complaint is excruciatingly hypocritical.
When former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s case was before the very same body – the NCC – for review, there was widespread outrage among many moderate MPs about the NCC’s decision to extend Livingstone’s suspension rather than expel him.
Those MPs were anything but shy about expressing that outrage. For example, Ilford North MP Wes Streeting called it ‘betrayal’:
Whatever your opinion of Livingstone’s suspension and the comments for which he received it, the complaints about the ‘behaviour’ of Streeting and others in attacking the NCC were conspicuous by their absence.
No matter what you think of the issues, if it’s ok for MPs to criticise the NCC in one set of circumstances where you think it has made a bad decision without them being kicked out of the party, it’s ok for someone else to do so when they think it’s made a bad decision.
Sadly, hypocrisy by the Labour right is never in short supply.
It doesn’t take too much thought, examination or background knowledge to see the clear flaws in the ‘staffer’s complaint. So the question arises why someone would make it, when it’s pre-destined to be unsuccessful.
It’s possible, of course, that the ignorance on display in the complaint calls into question the authenticity of the sender – who is not named. But it’s more likely – since presumably Waugh would check bona fides – that the ignorance is intentional.
The decision to expel Marc Wadsworth today makes it hard for the Labour right to claim that ‘Corbyn’ – their usual shorthand for what in fact has nothing to do with Corbyn and everything to do with the party’s still right-dominated NCC, because that is the party body responsible for serious disciplinary cases – is not being tough enough in cases of alleged antisemitism.
The decision to expel Wadsworth is risible, given the easily available video of what he said and how he behaved – but nobody could reasonably claim it’s not severe enough.
But if you want, for factional purposes, to have a case that you can persuade the ignorant isn’t being taken seriously enough by the leadership, then making a complaint about an issue where the party’s rules and procedures don’t allow the leadership to take the action you claim to expect sets that up nicely for such disingenuous claims.
Of course, it’s also possible that there’s a simpler reason for the complaint. The claimed reason is tenuous to the point of being nonsensical. But you don’t have to look too hard to find another reason why someone on the Labour right might want to ‘knobble’ Chris Williamson.
A thorn in the side
Williamson appeared on Thursday on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme – and gave bland centrist Chris Leslie, who has routinely undermined the party’s leadership – a thorough schooling in the importance of MPs respecting Labour’s membership.
And in the absolute fairness of the idea that those members should get to decide who represents them:
Williamson has been one of the bravest and most vocal critics of Labour’s so-called ‘centrist’ MPs who have consistently attempted to damage the party and disrespected their members who support the party’s new direction.
Such as Leslie, for example, who received a mass rebuke from his members for his behaviour after last year’s General Election.
He has, in short, been an enormous thorn in the side of the right-wingers – and one of the most up-front in saying that members should have the right to select a new candidate when they want to, instead of Labour’s current, byzantine ‘trigger ballot’ system that the right knows how to work to its advantage to protect right-wingers with little member support.
And that is far more credible and logical as the right’s motive for going after him now than some nonsense about the fact that he’s challenged a decision that many right-thinking observers consider – as Williamson termed it – perverse.
As for bring the party into disrepute, well – ask any Labour member which MPs have done that and the chances are very high indeed that there’ll be a list of candidates that spring to mind, but it’s unlikely to include Chris Williamson.
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