“I have endured more racism and bullying in my five years in the Labour Party than the rest of my life combined”, says Marcia Hutchinson MBE, while another black woman councillor was given a written warning and threatened with expulsion for asking for abuse to stop
A Black woman councillor has resigned only six months after being elected – because she says that the bullying and racism she faced within the Labour party was the worst she has experienced.
Marcia Hutchinson, who received an MBE for services to multicultural education, was elected as councillor for Ancoats and Beswick in May. But in her resignation letter she accuses the party of protecting white establishment figures and binning race awareness training promised after she complained.
She also details the racism she faced because of attempts to bring more black representation onto the council of a city whose population is more than ten percent black – and says that she and others who did not ‘toe the leadership line’ were ‘ruthlessly bullied’:
This work [to correct the imbalance on the council] was not welcomed by some in Labour Party Leadership positions. I have been informed on more than one occasion that I am racist and engaging in Identity Politics. I was even told that I must apologize for my racism in order to be supported by certain sections of the Labour Party.
In 2019 I was elected as Women’s Officer for the Local Campaign Forum which covers the five
Manchester Labour Constituencies. The only two shortlisted candidates were myself and another black woman, Ekua Bayunu.
Despite the fact that delegates could abstain, eight out of 53 chose instead to write derogatory
comments on their ballot papers. (Eg – “they’re both shite”). They only did this when both candidates were black. To sit in a room knowing that almost 15% of those also present are willing to write such things is traumatising. I am eternally grateful to over 100 comrades who found this behaviour vile enough to organise and sign a letter of protest.
After a Regional and National investigation, Manchester Labour finally agreed to implement Race Awareness training. But this was hastily cancelled as soon as lockdown was announced and, unlike all other training, it has never been rescheduled.
As a new councillor, I entered a culture where councillors who do not toe the Leadership line are
ruthlessly bullied. Criticism is simply not tolerated. Any objections to policies which the Leader has decided to implement are dismissed as coming from the ‘sectarian left’. More often than not, the Whips Office is the tool used to carry out the bullying but the culture came from the top.
When, for instance, I pointed out, in the aftermath of the Sarah Everard murder that more tolerence is given to male councillors who have engaged in violence against women (including Richard Leese himself) than female councillors who protest against it; Cllr Leese sent a letter to all 94 councillors as well senior council officers stating among other things that:-
“ I have never experienced one member causing so much anger in the group and I want them to[Richard Leese accepted a caution for hitting his stepdaughter, according to the Manchester Evening News in 2010]
know that something is being done about it. Marcia is one of a small number that complains about a toxic atmosphere in the group. I’m inclined to agree with her, but it wasn’t like that
before they ‘joined’ us,”
And Hutchinson says that the opposition to the plan to make the council more representative was also directed down from above:
I was threatened with disciplinary action by the Whips Office for tweeting support for Pipeline Project Alumni who were shortlisted for council seats. Apparently there is an unwritten rule that forbids support for candidates who are standing against sitting councillors. I say ‘unwritten’ because I checked the Labour Party rulebook and I broke no rules. I did not campaign against any councillor, I simply tweeted in support of all shortlisted Pipeline Alumni. But to those who think being a councillor is a job for life; the two things are synonymous.
Richard Leese wrote another email to all 94 Labour Group councillors which confirmed that I ‘broke no rules’ but condemned me anyway, having allegedly received a ‘large number’ of complaints about me.
Other senior councillors also targeted her, leading her to conclude:
This was not a working environment in which I could function. Colleagues stopped returning my calls and even Council Officers failed to respond to emails. If you have ever been the subject of a group bullying pile-on you will know just how stressful it is.
Yet when she took time off for stress – and in spite of presenting a sick note from her doctor – she found herself being investigated by the Labour group, receiving a message that informed her:
Following your engagement with the Labour Group by virtual attendance and participation in the vote for the new leader and subsequent posts on social media my view is that we can now proceed with investigations [into her complaints and notifying her of an investigation into her own conduct].
But Ms Hutchinson says that what she has faced from supposed colleagues is not the most extreme:
Sadly my experience is not the worst. Fellow new black Cllr Ekua Bayunu, has been under near constant disciplinary action from the day in May that she challenged Richard Leese for the Leadership. Cllr Bayunu’s challenge combined with a feared deselection in his home seat of Crumpsall could well have been the issues which brought home the fact that his days were numbered.
Cllr Bayunu is still being disciplined by the Whips Office. Her latest crime? Sending out a copy of her Manifesto for the October Leadership election to those councillors who requested it.
They can (and probably will) keep up this bullying indefinitely and it is designed to wear us down. The fact that this treatment is being meted out to the two new black women councillors is apparently entirely coincidental. The narrative being pushed is that they are not bullying us because we are black, they are doing it because we are terrible people.
Labour has been heavily criticised under Keir Starmer for anti-black racism, as well as its Islamophobia, anti-Gypsy racism and its war on left-wing Jews – and for the lack of action by the leadership against rampant racism among the Labour right.
Cllr Leese was contacted for comment via Manchester Labour group but neither had responded by the time of publication. However, a Manchester Labour spokesperson told the ‘mainstream’ press that the group’s whips had investigated all Ms Hutchinson’s allegations and found them to be untrue.
Ms Hutchinson’s resignation letter contains links to relevant news articles and attachments showing emails sent by Cllr Leese and others, such as the one below:
Cllr Ekua Bayunu, who has faced worse racism and harassment according to Ms Hutchinson, told Skwawkbox that the Labour group’s response to her own plea for the bullying to stop was ‘an immediate written warning and threat of expulsion’:
There has been an enduring and sustained bullying campaign waged against two new black women socialist councillors. We both received and experienced this as a direct attack on our ability to do the job we’d been elected to.
Marcia truly believes that she can better serve both the people of Ancoats & Beswick and the African Caribbean communities of the city outside the political influences of Manchester City Council.
That’s a very sad testament to how local Labour Party politics are failing working class communities across the city. And how much work we still have to do to not only recruit but also retain committed women councillors. Having the only African Caribbean councillor forced out of her role is a devastating blow to this city.
I’d hoped to be able to say a city proud of its welcoming inclusivity has been let down by a small minority, but actually it’s time to be clear how many of the Labour Group have failed to live up to a standard we should expect of our cities representatives.
I’ve seen residents beginning to ask this question of their councillors and I hope we will begin to see the demand for an inclusive and welcoming Labour Group, an end to a biased and poorly managed disciplinary process and a leader who will never stoop to calling anyone’s ward constituents ‘Horrible people’ or allowing councillor comrades to write abusive racist messages on ballot papers when selecting black women for any positions in the city.
I’m staying to continue this work for as long as I can, though in the weeks prior to Marcia’s resignation I asked the Group Officers and Whips to stop bullying new black women councillors.
Their response! An immediate written warning and threat of expulsion.
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