Analysis comment Exclusive

Eslamdoust attacks Skwawkbox over scrutiny of claimed record, smears opponent

Answers raise more questions about bid for role of union leader

TSSA general secretary candidate has attacked Skwawkbox over questions about her claimed record in campaign literature in the election campaign.

‘High-level trade union experience’

Skwawkbox put the questions to the Camden councillor in response to concerns raised about the accuracy of some of her campaign literature and was accused of harassment and misquoting her. Skwawkbox asked:

You’ve claimed ‘high level trade union…experience’ and to have worked ‘at UCATT’ ‘fighting for justice for blacklisted workers’ (see attached), but from comments since this appears to have been limited to a couple of instances of legal advice when you worked as a paralegal. None of this could reasonably be described as ‘high level trade union experience’

In response, Cllr Eslamdoust accused Skwawkbox of ‘intentionally misquoting’ her:

For some reason you intentionally misquote me here.

I have accurately stated that I am a “trade union and labour movement professional”, with senior leadership experience in equalities and in guiding major organisational change. I was Head of Equalities, Stakeholders, and Community Engagement for the Labour Party, in which role I was also Secretary to the NEC Equalities Committee, ran the team which provided the secretariat to both NEC Equalities Committee and to representative structures for under-represented groups, and was responsible for guiding the re-establishment of these structures which emerged from the Democracy Review.

However, the Skwawkbox quote was entirely accurate, taken directly from a campaign post that also claimed Cllr Eslamdoust was an ‘exceptional trade union professional’, which she appeared to have forgotten posting:

She went on to insist that she had in fact worked for UCATT directly:

I have accurately stated that I worked at UCATT. I was employed in a role specifically dedicated to the anti-blacklisting activity the union was undertaking at the time. This followed several years of campaigning on blacklisting matters. I have been endorsed by Jim Kennedy, who was then UCATT National Political Officer, and who was in overall charge of blacklisting matters. I worked closely with Jim and it will be obvious to you that he would not have endorsed me if I had not worked on blacklisting at UCATT.  I have never made comments to the effect you suggest of giving a couple of instances of legal advice as a paralegal. It would be wholly inaccurate to describe my work on blacklisting in such terms, and you have no factual basis for such an assertion. To my knowledge, UCATT never employed any paralegals. Whilst I moved on to work further on blacklisting litigation at UCATT’s external solicitors, this was full time blacklisting casework and could in no way be described as a couple of instances of legal advice.

However, Cllr Eslamdoust’s Linkedin full employment section on her Linkedin profile makes no mention of any period working directly for UCATT, although 11 months at the ‘House of St Barnabas’ private members club is on the list:

The listed experience at legal firm Freshfields is also described as ‘working on high profile commercial transactions’

When asked to comment on why the UCATT employment – now being relied upon as the apparently sole justification for her campaign claims of ‘high-level’ experience and being an ‘exceptional trade union professional’, she did not respond.

The councillor also accused Skwawkbox of ‘physical intimidation’ for attending ‘her’ campaign session in Manchester:

[W]hen you contacted me threatening to publish your false claims about my career history, you conveniently failed to mention that you were intending to turn up to my campaign session. Nor did you mention that you were an integral part of Ms Craven’s campaign operation.

Your arrival at the Manchester campaigning session this morning was clearly designed to cause me shock and alarm to physically intimidate me. Please refrain from future harassment of me.

At no point did Skwawkbox’s Steve Walker speak, or attempt to speak, to Ms Eslamdoust at a campaign session that, far from being hers, was conducted by all three general secretary candidates against the planned closure of almost all UK rail ticket offices, nor was he at any point less than around thirty metres from her. Walker attended the event to photograph all candidates for coverage of the campaign and to take images of busy ticket offices.

Nor is Skwawkbox any kind of ‘integral part’ of Bonnie Craven’s campaign, although this site, as soon as Ms Craven declared her intention to seek nominations in the contest, put on record its support for her as the best qualified candidate with extensive union and political experience, including years in the rail industry for the TSSA union. Accusations of intimidation of any kind, let alone physical, are also rejected as a smear.

Eslamdoust then went on to smear her rival, claiming that Craven was ‘perpetuating’ ‘harassment, bullying and lies’:

Throughout my campaign to become General Secretary of TSSA, I have faced harassment, bullying and lies. In this context, I am not surprised to be told that a blog which is closely associated with Bonnie Craven’s campaign is intending to publish false smears against me. 

I would encourage my opponent to reflect on her behaviour, and how she is perpetuating the damaging culture identified in the Kennedy and Conley reports.  “Bonnie Craven confirmed to me that she had arranged for Steve Walker, who calls himself “Skwawkbox” on his blog and social media, to turn up at a campaign session I was attending today. Given her previous harassment of me, this was an obvious attempt at intimidation.

Ms Craven did not ‘arrange’ for Walker to be at the campaign session. Skwawkbox contacted Ms Craven to ask whether she had ‘confirmed’ any such thing and was told that in no shape or form had she done so. Far from perpetuating abuse, Ms Craven was one of the whistleblowers who first exposed the abuses of the regime of Manuel Cortes, the previous TSSA general secretary.

This site has not in any way ‘published false smears’ against Maryam Eslamdoust. Scrutiny of a candidate’s record and claims is an integral part of political journalism and is to be expected, particularly when questions are raised about claims of ‘high-level’ and ‘exceptional’ experience, but it appeared to provoke a surprising, not to say disappointing, response from the candidate.

Eslamdoust concluded her initial response with what appears to be a legal threat, a request for confirmation that this article would not be published and a repeat of the false claim that Skwawkbox is acting as an agent of her opponent to ‘harass’ her:

Any publication of your untrue claims would be defamatory, and I will act accordingly.   I therefore ask that you confirm by return that you will not be publishing your piece on me, and that you and any other proxies of my opponent will cease your harassment and false claims about me.

Further questions that were put to Ms Eslamdoust in response to her initial comments have not received a reply and will be covered shortly.

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