Constituency Labour party (CLP) secretaries and chairs up and down the country are signing an open letter to acting general secretary David Evans condemning his ‘stifl[ing] of legitimate discussion’ and making clear the impossible position his attack on members’ freedom of speech is imposing on hard-working local officers, who act as unpaid volunteers.
The officers, who are bravely speaking out in spite of the risk that it might trigger action against them by the party, are speaking up for their members’ rights – protected by human rights laws reaffirmed by the EHRC’s recent report – and ensuring that Evans has no excuse for ignorance of the extreme stress and distress his tactics are causing.
CLP Secretaries for Labour Party Democracy
Dear David Evans,
We are writing to you, as Constituency Labour Party Secretaries and Chairs, to raise our concerns about recent emails you have sent us, that instruct secretaries and chairs to prohibit discussion on certain topics.
Our party membership and its collective discussion in local branch and CLP meetings are vital to building an effective local political party. Unfortunately, the recent emails from you, placing restrictions on items of party business that can be discussed in meetings, accompanied by threats and suspensions, are undermining our efforts to build up our local parties. Democratically discussing the issues of party business that concern our members helps us develop and motivate our local party.
Treating our members’ rights with respect is also important for morale and increases the capacity of local parties to turn outwards and campaign in elections. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that was long fought for and has been traditionally upheld by the Labour Party, including in our party meetings. The right to freedom of expression is not only about the right to speak but it is also about the right to listen to others and for different views to be heard. Party members should have the right to express their views, including on whether the whip should or should not be restored to Jeremy Corbyn.
The policing of discussion, on a decision which has received a lot of media attention, is also demanding a great deal from volunteers who take up the role of administrators to facilitate and encourage dynamic campaigning local parties. Our local members and party officers are all volunteers, many of whom work very hard for the party. We feel that your recent guidance only puts us further into the firing line, and is affecting the mental and physical health of chairs and secretaries, many of whom are standing down from their posts because of the stress. This is expertise the Party can ill afford to lose with important elections coming up in May 2021.
Suspensions of officers who allow discussion on the removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn to take place also raises serious issues– chairs have in some instances had their membership of the party suspended for allowing discussion to take place when the General Committee or All Member Meeting has voted for them to do so. As CLP Officers, we are elected by General Committees or All Member Meetings, not appointed by the General Secretary and therefore we are being called upon, under threat of membership suspension, to break our own standing orders, and the rules of the party.
It is vital for us that the national party acts in a responsible way to help us maintain members’ enthusiasm to campaign for Labour. The attempts to stifle legitimate discussion are harming our local parties and their campaigning capacity, notwithstanding the suppression of members’ rights to speak and be heard.
We urge you to withdraw the ‘guidance’ you have sent to our CLPs and halt any disciplinary action currently being taken against Party Officers for facilitating democratic discussion of party business.
We look forward to your response.
Around 130 officers from Labour’s 600 or so CLPs have already signed.
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