Birkenhead: exclusive insight into the construction of a Mail smear

Today’s Daily Mail carries a lurid headline alleging that ‘hard’ (i.e. about in the centre if this were Scandinavia) left Labour members are ‘forcing’ so-called ‘moderates’ out of Merseyside:

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It’s a laughably poor piece, full of the usual dog-whistle terms – even ‘Bolshevik’ – and repeating without challenge the kind of smears that the right has been exposed manufacturing in the Merseyside borough of Wirral, particularly a supposed ‘secret meeting’ to discuss:

a topic that had been dogging Labour for months, turning a party built to advance tolerance and fairness into a cauldron of intimidation and abuse.

Namely: the widespread bullying of its centrist MPs, councillors and party activists by ultra-zealous supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.

It’s nothing new. Last weekend the Murdoch-owned Times ran a similar piece, presenting claims by a Wirral councillor closely allied to former Labour MP – now independent – Frank Field. The councillor in question was not present at the events she claimed to describe – but the Times did not mention that inconvenient fact.

But the SKWAWKBOX now brings its readers an exclusive insight into the process of the creation of the Mail’s smear-piece – details of its press enquiry to one of the Birkenhead Labour members it smears: Birkenhead constituency Labour Party Secretary John Maher.

A rather oily email from the author of the Mail article to Mr Maher presented him with a series of points the Mail planned to publish and asked for his comment.

Mr Maher responded in detail to each point, showing each to lack credibility. The Mail’s questions are shown in blue and Maher’s responses in bold red. Italicisations have been added by the SKWAWKBOX for emphasis:

On July 8th 2016 you were the subject of a complaint about alleged bullying sent to Labour’s Regional director Anna Hutchinson. A witness statement reads: “Our branch meeting which followed the AGM passed a resolution in support of Jeremy Corbyn. This meeting was very hostile and I have since been approached by several members following the meeting, who felt that they were not in a position to vote against the motion for fear of the consequences. At one point during this meeting, John Maher said: “does anyone dare speak against this.”

Unsurprisingly, this is a complete fabrication. A malicious complaint was made to Anna Hutchinson, but it was dropped when she learned that the meeting room had been covered by CCTV (with sound) and that the only supportable complaint of bullying was against a right-wing Councillor called [redacted].

The witness statement adds: “I was a police officer prior to re-joining the Labour party and have been trained in reading body language when in confrontational situations. To me it was clear that the body language displayed by both John Maher and his friend Rob Smiley was clearly threatening. Throughout the debate they had raised voices, clenched fists and were gritting their teeth, all clear signs of danger.”

This ‘complainant’ left the meeting shortly after it had started. He made his complaint, I believe, as I had objected to him publicly stating that he was a local government election candidate, when he had no right whatsoever to make that claim, as we had not yet undertaken any democratic selection process. He moved away from the area shortly afterwards.

On October 12th 2016 “Birkenhead Executive Committee members were forced to leave a meeting of Birkenhead and Tranmere Branch” at the Stork Hotel, after you took exception to their presence. A witness statement says they were “questioned in a hostile manner,” then “challenged as to whether it was in the constitution or party rules that we could attend” and “accused of being spies and requested to leave.”

Again, another fabrication. They were politely asked to leave as: a) they had not been invited and b) their presence was against Party rules, as only bona-fide members can attend meetings, unless invited.

The witness statement says you then proposed a motion to have the couple kicked out. “The motion was put and carried with some members abstaining and many visibly embarrassed and upset as to how we were being treated. We agreed to leave and walked out.” The female activist was “in tears.” A second witness statement reads: “I was horrified and embarrassed by the level of hostility.” The elderly woman “was visibly shaking and looked incredibly uncomfortable.”

Again, lies. Nobody was in tears and everybody, apart from Cllr [redacted] [right-wing councillor referred to in the first response], was perfectly calm and polite. This could be clearly seen on the CCTV footage, which is why Anna Hutchinson took no further action. Nobody ‘abstained’ on anything and nobody shed a single tear.

On January 28th 2017 you signed a petition from Wirral Needs which is critical of Wirral Labour Group and their management of the Council’s budget.

I sign a lot of petitions, and many of us have differences of opinions on Council budgets. This is probably true, but so what? We’re a Democratic Party, that has comradely disagreements, where’s the story in that?

On 19th April 2017, Birkenhead Momentum, which you chair, used Facebook to accuse Labour Councillors of “glorifying food banks, enforcing Tory austerity and cosying up to Council officers.”

Momentum doesn’t organise on a CLP basis, and never has. I haven’t been a Momentum member for some time now. I’ve never made any such statement. I don’t have a Facebook account, so that would be a good trick, wouldn’t it?

On September 15th 2017 you emailed Momentum members seeking to persuade them to attend Birkenhead Labour’s AGM and vote for a hard left slate of council officers, stating: “This cabal of right-wing, clapped-out councillors needs a shake up.”

Define ‘Hard-Left’? Really? This is pathetic. I’ve stood for election at CLP AGM’s as have the ‘hard right’ if you want to use infantile terms. Do you question the ‘Hard-Right’ right to organise? Before you say these are not YOUR allegations; are you seriously saying that there is any journalistic integrity in pursuing these fantasies?

Minutes of the October 2017 meeting between the complainants and Andy Smith record that Mr Smith “asked that the file of evidence be submitted electronically” saying he would “escalate the matter and ask for some advice.” So I wanted to ask:

  • Were you made aware of these complaints and of any subsequent investigation into them?
  • Do you want to comment on any of them?

I believe the ‘Hard-Right’ is desperately trying to conflate TWO completely separate meetings. The Birkenhead Town Hall meeting was a meeting of the Labour Group of Wirral Councillors. I am not a Councillor, so I did NOT attend that meeting. I believe there was only one item discussed at that meeting, where a former Wirral Councillor was defamed by right-wing Councillors in the meeting. I understand that those Councillors are still, currently under investigation by Labour’s NEC. You would need to ask Anna Hutchinson about that. Andy Smith has been relocated to London.

The response to the points – which provided easily verifiable information – portrays a scene of right-wing councillors desperately smearing in an attempt to hold onto positions from which they fear the membership wants them removed – and even points out that some of the right-wing councillors involved are themselves under investigation for their smears.

Yet you would be hard-pressed to find any moderation of the debunked claims that the Mail went on to make this morning – except a mention that Maher and another smeared member denied the accusations. By denying them, the Mail claims they are merely,

adding to the sense of dysfunction.

Claims by right-wingers are presented in detail and as if factual. Verifiable comments by left-wingers that show the the right-wing claims to be nonsense are referred to in a single, dismissive sentence.

SKWAWKBOX comment:

The article goes on to repeat already-discredited claims against other local figures, again treating right-wing allegations as fact – and references the resignation letter of Cllr Mike Sullivan from the Labour group.

No mention is made, of course, of the fact that Sullivan’s letter was authored – according to the properties of the Word document – by a ‘public affairs strategist’ closely allied to the right-wing Labour council leader.

But in so studiously avoiding reference to John Maher’s easily-checkable rebuttal, the Mail has at least done us all the favour of laying open the anatomy of smears by the right against the left.

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  1. They are reinforcing the smears of today by digging up old smears from the past.

  2. Torn due to there being strong evidence this level of abuse backfires big time, the great British public do not like it
    At end of day it appeals only to those who are beyond the new old Labour party

  3. The ‘hard left’ that brought us the Welfare State, social housing, free education, the NHS… All the things that the Tories are busy destroying and parasiting off. The hard left that tried to make post war Britain more compassionate and fair? That hard left?

    We’re being taught by the mainstream media and Blair et al to reevaluate that kind of socialism and consign it to the ‘hard left’ pigeonhole.

    Compassion, fairness and equality are bad things now. We must instead look away from those things because they are ‘hard left’ and old Labour.

    Moderates and centrists have shown their true colours: greed, selfishness, barbarity and war. So excuse me if I chose hard left over neoliberalism.

  4. I am reminded of the episode of Yes Minister in which Hacker tells Sir Humphrey “I’m not interested in the truth,I want something to tell Parliament.”

  5. Seriously contemplating digitally recording all our future CLP meetings: with the members approval. as a form of proof against all this kind of bollocks!

  6. The witness statement adds: “I was a police officer prior to re-joining the Labour party and have been trained in reading body language when in confrontational situations.

    For absolute…

  7. But Militant were Trotskyists – top down bourgeois socialists who tried to create a vanguard with their elite central committee and ready made programme – they also believed in the banking concept of political education where they just had to deposit their programme into the heads of the working class and they and only they will lead us to socialism – a socialism FOR – bourgeois socialism.
    And I would describe the left behind JC as left wing democratic socialists (apart from political imbeciles like Alliance for Workers Liberty (Revolutionary Commumist League) ) and we should be grassroots, bottom up -a socialism WITH.
    Militant etc. lost for one reason – they were a separate party but denied it thinking you can sneak socialism and you will never win working people by being dishonest. The Right Wing and Liberal media will try this line of attack all else has failed but I believe left wing democratic socialists will win by being honest.

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