Excl: what really happened in Monday’s PLP – no vote, but a scurrilous attack on Formby

A 2016 ‘PLP’ meeting

The media has claimed this evening that a motion put forward by back-bench MPs was ‘passed unanimously‘ by the ‘PLP’ – the parliamentary Labour party – calling on Labour to ‘do more‘ to combat antisemitism. The claims were accompanied by lurid accounts of MPs’ ‘fury’ with Labour general secretary Jennie Formby over the issue.

The reality was very different – and far uglier.

The vote that wasn’t

The most glaring inaccuracy in so-called ‘reports’ was that the vote was unanimous. In fact, no vote was taken.

The PLP chair took the motion and proposed amendments – which Wavertree MP Luciana Berger used as a first opportunity to criticise Formby – and then asked MPs if they wished to vote against them.

Nobody indicated that they did, so no vote was taken. But of course, not intending to vote against a motion is not the same as intending to vote for it. Abstentions exist – and a motion is not carried unanimously unless everyone votes for it.

Also, under the current chair’s rules for PLP meetings, no front-benchers at all are allowed to speak – meaning that anti-Corbyn MPs on the back benches have a disproportionately loud voice in the meetings. In such circumstances, a reasoned and balanced debate of the motion was never going to be possible – and ‘bitterite’ anti-Corbyn MPs take full advantage of the rule.

‘Horrendous’, ‘horrific’ ‘bullying’ ‘a disgrace’

Eyewitnesses to last night’s meeting

The behaviour of so-called ‘moderate’ back-bench MPs last night was described as ‘horrendous’, ‘bullying’, ‘a disgrace’ and ‘horrific’ by people who were at the meeting – including by MPs who had expressed their own horror at criticisms of former general secretary Iain McNicol.

But such matters of fact are clearly of little importance to ‘MSM’ journalists with a narrative to push.

Ms Formby then addressed the group, explaining the measures put in place and answering questions raised – but she pointed out correctly that she reports to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), not to MPs. This did not pleased the group, but then right-wing back-benchers do seem to have trouble recognising that they are not in control of the party.

Points of disorder

No fewer than four MPs were allowed to make essentially the same supposed ‘point of order’ – which was little more than another attack on Formby, coupled with a demand for Cryer to ‘enforce’ the motion – which has no force under the party’s rules and for Formby to return to run the gauntlet next week.

Point of actual order

Labour MPs elect their own representatives to the NEC. If back-bench MPs want to know what the party is doing about any issue, including antisemitism, they can – and should – ask their NEC reps to answer questions on those matters, rather than demand impossible detail from the party’s general secretary to which they have no entitlement under data protection and confidentiality laws.

In this context, a ‘PLP motion’ about a party employee who doesn’t answer to them looks like grandstanding and a set-up for a politically-motivated attack, rather than a genuine concern for action on an issue.

And in that context, the fact that – inaccurate – reports of events in the meeting were reaching hostile journalists while the meeting was still ongoing looks like reinforcement of that interpretation.

The motion: accusation is guilt

The PLP motion, long and badly written, can be read in full here. But a couple of key parts reveal that what so-called ‘moderate’ MPs are angry about is not that cases are not being dealt with – which is not true in any case – but that the outcomes are not what those MPs want.

In other words, they want being accused to equal guilt:

The PLP is very concerned by recent reports that a number of cases of alleged antisemitic activity from high-profile members have been dropped.
The PLP calls on the Party leadership to adequately tackle cases of antisemitism…

How many complaints about antisemitism have been received and on how many occasions have NEC officers/the General Secretary used delegated powers to take no further action about these complaints or issued a ‘Reminder of Conduct’ letter as an outcome to a complaint.

An extract from back-bench Labour MPs’ motion – emphases added by the SKWAWKBOX

Of course, the cases are alleged – and a ‘no case to answer’ finding is ‘dealt with’, as is a ‘reminder of conduct letter’. To everyone with a concern for due process and justice, a finding that complaints are unfounded or exaggerated must be possible.

But it seems clear from the motion that to certain members of the PLP, the only ‘adequate’ version of a ‘dealt-with’ case is a guilty verdict. In other words, to be accused is to be guilty.

Which doesn’t look much like a genuine concern to fight antisemitism.

The real response

Earlier on Monday, Jennie Formby issued a response to the motion. It is reproduced in full below – and clearly represents a genuine engagement, as well as showing the extent of her and the party’s efforts to deal with genuine antisemitism and to address genuine concerns:

Monday 4 February: Message from the General Secretary

Please see below a message from the General Secretary, ahead of the PLP meeting this evening.

Dear Parliamentary Labour Party

Further to the PLP motion that is being discussed tonight and has received widespread media coverage over the last 7 days, please find below an update on the actions that have been taken to address the failings in the Disputes Process that existed before I took office in March 2018

For information, this will also be published as an article on LabourList later today.

I look forward to seeing you at PLP this evening.

With kind regards

Jennie
Jennie Formby
General Secretary
The Labour Party

When I became General Secretary of the Labour Party last April, I had been a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee for a number of years.

I had witnessed first-hand that our complaints and disputes procedures were not fit for purpose, with longstanding cases that hadn’t been dealt with, alongside new cases coming in, especially in relation to appalling antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories, mostly on social media.

It couldn’t have been clearer that urgent action was needed to ensure our processes for dealing with complaints were robust, efficient and fair; to resolve outstanding cases; and to establish political education to deepen understanding about, and combat, antisemitism within our movement.

Since then, we’ve made significant progress to strengthen and speed up our procedures, for example:

– We appointed an in-house Counsel, as recommended in the Chakrabarti Report.
– We have nearly completed the process of recruitment to more than double the size of the staff team that handle investigations and disputes processes, and they have been working incredibly hard.
– Rather than the full NEC disputes panel dealing with antisemitism cases, smaller panels of 3-5 NEC members have been established, to enable cases to be heard more quickly, with each advised by an independent specialist barrister.
– These, amongst other reforms, have enabled us to clear all of the previously outstanding antisemitism cases from the investigation and disputes panel stages of the process. Only complaints which have been recently received are still under investigation.
– Where appropriate, cases have been referred to the NCC.
– Conference agreed our recommendation to double the size of the NCC, from 11 to 25 members, and elections were completed before the end of 2018 to ensure these hearings happen more quickly. The NCC is now establishing a greater number of hearing panels to allow cases to be heard and finalised as soon as possible.
– The NEC established a Procedures Working Group to lead reforms to the way disciplinary cases are handled.
– The NEC adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and all eleven examples of antisemitism attached to it.
– A rule change agreed at Conference in 2018 means that all serious complaints, including all complaints of sexual harassment and antisemitism, are all dealt with nationally to ensure case consistency.
– There has been clarity on warnings and sanctions. Should individuals who have received warnings commit further breaches of rules, they are highly likely to be referred to NCC for action.
– It has been agreed that education or training must not be used as a sanction. Education should only be offered when there has been a suitable acknowledgement and apology from the member and where they agree it would be beneficial to them.
– I wrote to the admins and moderators of a range of Facebook groups (which the Party is not responsible for and which have no official status) with suggestions about how they can effectively moderate those online spaces and requesting that any discriminatory content be reported to the Party’s complaints team to allow us to investigate.
– No one outside the Governance and Legal Unit can be involved in decision-making on any investigation, including on antisemitism, and there is strict scrutiny at all levels to ensure decisions are taken based on the full facts and merits of each case.
– The Party already has robust safeguarding and member welfare policies which govern how the Party responds – including by disclosing information to the authorities – where material comes to light revealing a threat to a person’s safety. These policies have been properly applied to disciplinary investigations. I have scheduled a meeting with Commissoner Cressida Dick’s Office to discuss how we can make sure this process works effectively. Outputs from that meeting will feed into the Procedures Working Group which is reviewing policies and procedures affecting member welfare.

Further work needs to be done to ensure NCC hearings happen more frequently and with fewer delays. We have cleared outstanding cases from the other stages of our processes, and the NCC must do the same whilst maintaining complete autonomy of decision-making independently of myself, Party staff and the Party leadership. This work is currently underway and we anticipate changes to procedures will be completed by March.

Another priority is education. I am committed to implementing a world-class education programme on antisemitism for our members that can be delivered in seminars, at conferences and events and online. I want to get this absolutely right, and it’s essential that this is done with the support of Jewish organisations, to ensure our education programme commands their confidence and support. I have been having confidential discussions with a number of individuals and organisations to progress on this extremely sensitive and important matter, and very much hope we will be able to move forward on it together.

Previously, Jewish communal organisations were reluctant to engage with the Labour Party as they did not feel confident that we were taking their concerns seriously. However, the actions I have implemented were as a result of listening to those concerns and I hope that Jewish communal bodies will now feel able to re-engage with us on this issue which is of great importance to us all.

I am proud of the progress that has been made but I’m not complacent. Fundamental change takes time, in particular in a democratic, member-led organisation like the Labour Party, where rule changes must be approved at our annual Party Conference. However, wide-ranging changes are already in place.

There is more work to be done to ensure all cases are dealt with quickly and fairly, and to eliminate the evil of antisemitism from our movement once and for all. I am personally committed to ensuring that Jewish members feel safe and welcome in our Party, and in reassuring the Jewish community that we stand with them against oppression and prejudice.

That is my mission. That is what I as General Secretary, our staff and our whole Party must work towards and be committed to

Labour general secretary Jennie Formby’s letter to the PLP

SKWAWKBOX comment:

Labour has made huge strides under Jennie Formby in dealing with all kinds of complaints, including those concerning alleged antisemitism, in the nine months she has been general secretary.

Inappropriate motions by the PLP, in the wrong forum and aimed at the wrong person, do nothing either to improve the situation or to demonstrate genuine concern for the issues.

And it’s noteworthy that while all the long-standing allegations of antisemitism were made under Formby’s predecessor, right-winger Iain McNicol, he never faced a PLP inquisition about his department’s failure to do more than park cases on seemingly-indefinite suspension.

McNicol – who was pushed to resign last year after refusing to suspend two right-wing Labour figures in the West Midlands who were accused of an array of behaviour including sexual harassment and racism – apparently qualified for a free pass from the PLP.

That last fact speaks volumes about Monday night’s meeting and the ‘MSM’ coverage of it.

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36 responses to “Excl: what really happened in Monday’s PLP – no vote, but a scurrilous attack on Formby

  1. I don’t like threats of deselection but unless these MP’s have their CLP’s completely onside even under the new rules several Mp’s will be under increasing scrutiny these events don’t help their cause to stay as MP’s in the Labour party, if a break away party is to happen I imagine there is nothing to stop them doing this now, they can’t force Jeremy out, they can’t wrestle control of the party, only generate stories for papers with decreasing sales and readership. Perhaps they’re trying to impress the ££ behind the ‘new’ party and preening themselves for the main positions……….I wonder what happened to the last break away party? lol

    • Berger is virtually on a final warning at Wavertree – ‘no confidence is next step! The pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement should not be in the Labour Party, stuffed full of Secular Zionists that at times are both very aggressive and dishonest, sadly!

  2. 2. How many complaints about antisemitism have been received and on how many occasions have NEC officers/the General Secretary used delegated powers to take no further action about these complaints;

    It looks like the usual suspects are, rather perversely, trying to spin the number of baseless and/or exaggerated complaints made into a false ‘proof’ that the NEC isn’t doing its job properly.

    • It’s the way they operate – straight out of the Goebbels propaganda handbook, whilst pretending to oppose that legacy.

      Everyone in the media is shit scared to challenge them.

  3. Listening to comments from the odious Hodge and Streeting as well as reading the Telegraphs front page they seem to be outraged that members who have had accusations made against them have had suspensions lifted following investigation ,that is to say “you were accused you are therefore guilty “.and they accuse us of being Stalinists!

    • Their aim is to reduce the numbers of Left-Wing members in the Labour Party and that is failing spectacularly. They will continue to be a sad bunch of Right-Wing Snowflakes who will over-react to everything!

    • I think that’s an important point. The Israel lobby, ultimately, are not particularly interested in either antisemitism or justice. They are acting in a foreign country’s interests, and using this as a propaganda strategy.

      Sadly and ironically, the technique used is that of Josef Goebbels : just keep repeating a lie.

      Worse – the whole scam is actually antisemitic in trying to conflate Judaism with the predatory nature of Israel.

      • Labour Party guidelines advise members against making the type of inflammatory comparisons you have used when discussing the Israel Palestine conflict.

        If you are a Labour member please abide by those guidelines.

      • “They are acting in a foreign country’s interests, and using this as a propaganda strategy.

        “Sadly and ironically, the technique used is that of Josef Goebbels : just keep repeating a lie.”

        Do you know what an antisemtic trope is, RH?

      • @ Jim Denham…
        I guess RH knows what an antisemitic trope is. I honestly hope that you do not for a fraction of a second think that what RH wrote is. Or do you?

      • Precisely. See my main post : unfortunately the hierarchy of the Party has copped out and shrunk from telling it as it is. Racial discrimination, ethnic cleansing and land theft (have you looked at the map of obliterated Palestinian villages?) needs to be identified for what it is.

        We really don’t need the Party to fall over itself to placate Israel/right wing lobby by putting jam on a shit sandwich.

        and

        “Ha ha” ?? Uh??

      • And in response to Jim Denham : indeed I do know what an “antisemitic trope” is.

        It’s a term used by the Israel/right wing lobby to try to conflate telling the truth about Israel with antagonism towards Jews.

        i.e. rooted in the repetitive forms of repetitive propaganda used against the Jewish population in the Third Reich (before they, too, started shooting unarmed civilians)

        Ironic, isn’t it? But not funny.

  4. Seems like an impressive list of changes from Jennie Formby.

    Skwarky refers to the ability of MPs to raise the issue with their NEC representatives. To me, this raises the rather more fundamental question of why the MPs deserve to have their own NEC representation at all.

    It was a Tony Blair creation. MPs are perfectly well represented through the constituency (members’) section of the NEC.

    Why haven’t the NEC Left pressed for the abolition of the MPs’ section?

    Probably for the same reason that they did not back Mandatory Reselection, they adore the EU and they never press for a planned economy based on public ownership.

    The NEC “Left” are in reality a coterie of Fake Left charlatans whose top priority is to defend the social and economic status quo including the Blairite constitution within the Party.

    • Retaining their places on the NEC weakens their claim to being able to able to raise issues autonomously. Without representation they would have an argument for not having channels to raise matters of concern. I would be happy for them to keep their places on the NEC, but have the means to demand that they report accurately to the PLP removing the need for autonomous ‘accountability’ by Labour officials. The PLP Chair has also failed to do their job properly. Silent MPs need to be challenged in CLPs, but will they be given their assumed Party status.

    • Danny please don’t tar the left of associations with these right wing Neo-Liberal MPs, in my experience nothing is further from the truth.

  5. Disappointing not to have heard any Labor MPs correcting the misinformation given in the press coverage. I expect it will be repeated ad nauseum. When the breakaway is formed, MPs have the option to join it or to their Labour Party but until then they find it more comfortable to be silent and let the demoralisation have a draining effect on the Party. CLPs with a Labour MP need to get their member to speak up.

    On a wider front the history of the Party has given the PLP more of ‘a Party within a Party’ status. Whilst some autonomy is desirable and probably necessary, the Left really do need to do some work on improving their ‘supportive role’ whilst not removing all rights to differ from the wider Party. The scope to misinterpret their rights an instruct officials should have been corrected by the Chair. they are clearly operating ultra vires with no clear means to bring them to account.

  6. Very good article- THANKS SB.

    I’m sick to death of Berger and bitterites that, when Labour does well in the polls and there’s a prospect of a GE/Labour gov’t, they come out and engage in an anti-Labour PR campaign.

    Labour has been shown to deal with reported problems robustly, especially when compared with other political parties. None of those other parties appear to have a cadre of its own MPs intent on self-party-harm.

    I wish their CLPs would sort them out so we can focus and fight for what this beleaguered country desperately needs- A LABOUR GOVERNMENT.

  7. There is an interesting podcast on the ‘Electronic Intafada’ about the ‘antisemitism’ scam, containing a lengthy interview with Asa Winstanley (who has been instrumental in pursuing the issue). It is at:

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/nora-barrows-friedman/podcast-ep-1-whos-behind-anti-corbyn-troll-army

    The interview starts at about the 14 minute mark, although the preceding section – on the situation in the US is also worth a listen.

    In the interview, Winstanley gives a longer insight into his investigations than a single written article usually allows.

    He is, however, critical in one area – about the response of the NEC and the Leader’s office in terms to the patently cooked-up scams. The problem can be seen in Jenny Formby’s response to the PLP : there is no direct facing down of the myth that there is a notable problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party. Winstanley is of the opinion – clearly justified – that the issue will not simply go away by trying to placate the Israel lobby. It has to be confronted.

    The policy of ‘omerta’ (from the Torygraph to Private Eye) that transfixes the whole of the media on the issue isn’t *just* about anti-Corbynism. It also has a long background of fear : journalists and their organisations are absolutely petrified of being chased by the Lobby. This has been incredibly effective in censoring the truth, and it is really depressing that the situation has deteriorated, so that Peter Oborne’s Channel 4 documentary on the issue – from about ten years ago – would have little chance of surfacing today.

    This is the issue that Jenny Formby doesn’t confront – the standard mode of response is one of apology and excuse rather than outrage, and is ample evidence that the NEC’s cave-in over the IHRA definition examples – despite the mountain of rational evidence that it was a confused and ambiguous shambles of a document – has not put the issue to bed. It was a cop-out that damaged good Party members and did nothing about the Fakebook nutters.

    I note, for instance, that Formby is still mentioning the Board of Deputies/ Jewish Chronicle right-wing nexus as representing *the* ‘Jewish community’, instead of calling them out. This only reinforces the Israel lobby tropes.

    This lot are not going to go away, and active supporters of the Israel lobby do need not to be reselected if they continually and publicly undermine the Party. But it is worth remembering that some members of the PLP, like some members of the party and some voters, actually do think that there is a ‘problem’ because of the absolute shut-down of information, and what has become almost an admission of guilt by the Party hierarchy.

    If anyone thinks that keeping quiet achieves a result, just consider the fate of Marc Wadsworth against that of the blatant Hodge in terms of ‘bringing the Party into disrepute’. Great justice that one one. Not.

  8. Oh dear, thought it had all been quiet for a while on the AS front.
    Was always a tripartite attack:
    To undermine Jewish diversity and to seek one dominant Right Wing narrative that offers uncritical support for Israel.
    The Right Wing and Liberal media (in defence of Neo-Liberal capitalism) to undermine a potential JC Labour Govt.
    Right Wing opportunist Labour MPs to undermine Jeremy as they have no ideas.
    Can we replace the mediocre usual suspects with 60 Labour MPs lke Jennie!
    Recommend Bernard Regan’s book on The Balfour Declaration which brilliantly highlights how a home for Jewish citizens in Palestine was predominantly driven by British Imperial policy.
    But Jeremy recently said in the 1900s a number of Lithuanian Jewish workers on the Scottish coalfields were used to undermine wages by the private owners which created community tensions. So what then did Kier Hardie do, join in the criticisms? No he got them to join the miners federation and built community solidarity!
    What finer Leader could Labour ask for and one who can draw from history.

  9. We have the Windrush generation being illegally deported to the West Indies, Polish people being routinely abused in the street, and a wave of Islamophobia encouraged by politicians. And yet the Labour Party insists on making a special case of antisemitism, not because it has any real prevalence within the party, but because it is allowing itself to be bullied by a handful of right wing Zionists.

    • You are right. It is really disappointing that the Party hierarchy has been frightened by the shouty Israel brigade. There really is no mileage in trying to placate them – as son as a ‘problem’ with antisemitism is apologetically admitted, that its taken as confirmation, when, in fact, it is less prevalent in the genuine Labour Party than elsewhere. It’s like admitting to a problem with fraud in the Labour Party when the odd member has been caught with a hand in the till.

  10. “Another priority is education. I am committed to implementing a WORLD CLASS EDUCATION PROGRAMME on Anti-Semitism for our members that can be delivered in seminars, at conferences & events & on-line.” The world according to Jennie Formby; the NEC & the IHRA. A patronising p.o.v. that informs us members that we are ignorant & need education. Israel is a violent, racist & fascistic state that is committing genocide & ethnic cleansing in Palestine, but if we dare say so, we will be expelled from the Labour Party. It is the NEC that needs educating.

  11. I have a problem with Luciana Berger and her ilk, she appears to be more interested in Israel than the plight of their constituents. Antisemitism in the Labour party is not a huge problem and Jennie Formby is tackling the minute bit there is. These smears coming from the Fof I are nothing but smears and local members should consider deselection on the grounds of bringing the party into disrepute.

  12. “A patronising p.o.v.”

    As said above, Steve – I don’t think it’s patronising. I think it’s fearful.

    But the danger is that the IHRA ‘examples’, after the institutional cave-in, are taken as a guide to what is actually ‘antsemitic’. Which leaves the door open for anyone to complain about supposed ‘antisemitic’ ‘tropes’ because somebody who claims to be ‘Jewish’ claims to take offence.

    As many Jewish individuals and organisations have pointed out – to define ‘antisemitism’ is actually quite easy without becoming a fantasy thought police. Similarly, stripped of the wilful confusions, it is quite easy to deal with in disciplinary terms.

    Training ‘discussions’ on what *somebody* *somewhere* might find ‘offensive’ (particularly if they don’t like Israeli behaviour and its history of ethnic cleansing being called out) is totally beside the point in terms of procedure. We might as well have training sessions on not offending flat earthers. Or we might have to be cautious about mentioning the US tendency to invade a selection of smaller states in case it ‘offends’ Trump supporters.

    • Quite so.

      I always thought anti-semitism was any form of discrimination, abuse, violence, desecration of property or spreading false narratives about people who were Jewish by religion or by racial descent.

      Now it seems to be extended to anyone who criticises Netenyahu and his foreign policy, Palestinian rights or even global finance capitalism.

      Forgetting Corbyn for the moment, I smelt something was not quite right when Ed Miliband got a load backlash for recognising Palestine. This is despite the fact that Ed Miliband is Jewish by racial descent, culturally Jewish and by supporting a two state solution automatically supports the right of Israel to exist. I fail to understand how anyone could take offence at this.

      I note Liz Kendall jumped on the bandwagon and denounced this in her leadership bid.

  13. I note the MP’s who confronted Formby wanted to know details about the outstanding cases. They should know full well that such data is confidential and against GDPR guidelines. They’re asking for something that Formby can’t give. They should also realise their CLP’s are monitoring their disgraceful behaviour and I do hope they get deselected!

    • Having said that, it might be that the victims of false allegations could use openness about those accusations as a weapon against the scammers.

      Anyone who has seen the filmed incidents used against Marc Wadsworth and Jackie Wilson would have a job being convinced by the ‘antisemitism’ charge

  14. I continue to believe that nothing less than a test case going all the way to the Supreme Court can determine the legitimacy or otherwise of the IHRA working definitions and examples and, by the Court giving its own definitions and examples, remove doubt as to what is and is not antisemitism.

    • The trouble is, David, that the IHRA is so far removed from a legally coherent document that the law can’t really determine anything except that fact.

      And the ‘examples’ are the most nebulous parts of a fog that they don’t fall near anything that could be considered ‘a hate crime’. Thus the supreme court would just throw out any dispute as being worthy of consideration.

      There is enough sound legal opinion to know that the IHRA ‘definition’ is useless as a … err….definition, or the working basis for anything.

    • The IHRA definition is not legally binding at all. It can only be used as a guideline. It is far too vague and open to interpretation to be the basis of a legal definition in any case.

  15. We know it’s nonsense and I expect every lawyer in the land would agree but without a judgement the as-mongers can make all the accusations they want.
    I say it needs nailing.

    • “I say it needs nailing”

      I reckon we can all say ‘amen’ to that. Unfortunately, the NEC decided to run it up the flagpole, instead. I wish I could see a practical way forward. Perhaps, ironically, supporting legal action against the NEC on behalf of suspendees is the only way. Irony of ironies.

  16. I have Three comments and a question to ask.
    1. The full motion and the amendments would have been useful to read.
    2. A comment was made that people were asked if anyone wanted to vote against the amendments. Is this comment correct? If so then proper procedure surely had been ignored as each amendment should have been voted on and then the amended Motion should be voted on. This is proper procedure for all such motions and decisions by any organisation.
    3. No time limit seems to have been set for opening a complaint hearing. This would seem to be essential in view of the fact that previous to Jenny Formby taking charge as General Secretary complaints were followed by suspensions, then left like an open sore, without any serious party attention, to either skin over or suppurate according to how much the people involved could put time and money into the issue. This I feel is not what the Labour Party should be about.

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