STEVEN DOWNES reports on how the Labour parliamentary candidate in Croydon South has been breaking party rules by supporting political rivals
Efforts by the Progress wing of the Lambeth South/Croydon Labour Party to de-stabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership team could stumble over one of their common failings – blatant hypocrisy.
The Hon Emily Benn, the West Thornton councillor, has gone to the newspapers today with a letter she has sent to Labour officials in which she calls for the expulsion of Corbyn’s political adviser, fellow Croydon resident Andrew Fisher, after he sent a tweet 15 months ago apparently in support of a candidate from a rival party.
But Inside Croydon has found evidence on social media of Councillor Benn apparently encouraging people to join another political party, all in the past six weeks – in the time since Corbyn was overwhelmingly elected as her party leader.
The Hon Emily has three times been selected as a Labour election candidate largely, it has to be stated, on the strength of her being the granddaughter of Tony Benn. She describes herself as “a Benn, not a Bennite”, suggesting that she is quite content to play on her family name and reputation, but not to stand for her grandfather’s political principles.
Which may explain, despite Uncle Hilary being a member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, why The Hon Emily Benn, the daughter of a hereditary peer, appears to be so uncomfortable with one of her grandfather’s close political colleagues now heading the party.
Fisher’s somewhat frank opinions of some of his party colleagues, as expressed on Twitter, have seen him make the media big time this week, getting name checks from Tory toad Quentin Letts on the BBC’s This Week programme, and being the butt of a couple of gags on Have I Got News For You. Fisher’s come a long way since writing the occasional commentary piece for Inside Croydon…
In a free, democratic society, being able to express a view on your party’s front bench as “the most abject collection of complete shite”, as Fisher did in September last year, seems entirely reasonable.
Thus Fisher’s complete disdain for Emily Benn’s candidature at the General Election in Croydon South – sentiments which were hardly unique, after all – even prompted him to send one tweet in August 2014 which appeared to recommend voting for the Class War candidate, something which John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, this morning described on the Andrew Marr show as “satirical”.
Fisher had also previously used social media to question Jon Bigger, the Class War candidate, about the apparent contradiction of an anarchist standing in an election. Inside Croydon had described Bigger as “the oxymoronic anarchist”.
Although Fisher later deleted the tweet about voting Class War, someone logged a copy of it and has distributed it to the right-wing press. Presumably, that’s what party colleagues are for.
As the publication of the tweet failed to see Fisher summarily sacked by Corbyn, The Hon Emily – or perhaps the people goading her into taking such action – has gone a step further and written calling for his expulsion from the party. Not content to await the internal musings of her party, she has also made her letter public, saying that Fisher’s behaviour “contradicts Labour party rules”, which state that supporting a non-Labour candidate will lead to automatic expulsion.
The Observer, which ran the story this morning, stated: “It reflects deep dismay across much of the party at the Labour leader’s choice of a hard-left and notoriously outspoken individual to fill such a key role in his inner circle.”
In her letter to Ian McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, Benn writes: “I was the parliamentary candidate for Croydon South, having been democratically elected by the local party.” Of course, anyone attending that selection meeting will know that there was no other viable candidate willing to come forward for such an unwinnable seat.
Benn’s letter continues: “Actively advocating voting against the official Labour candidate, in favour of another party, contradicts Labour party rules.”
Calling on the National Executive to act against Fisher, she adds: “The Labour party is a broad church. I welcome lively debate and robust challenge. However, as I’m sure you will agree, there is a clear difference between this and the behaviour of Mr Fisher referenced above.”
But an investigation by Inside Croydon (ie. we had a look at The Hon Emily’s Twitter timeline) shows her to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Women’s Equality Party, which formally launched this month.
After Corbyn announced his key shadow cabinet appointments, The Hon Emily re-Tweeted a call to arms encouraging people to join the WEP:
When gently chided by a fellow Labour councillor on this, Benn had to be reminded that anyone who claimed to be a member of the Women’s Equality Party was excluded from taking part in Labour’s leadership vote, in the same way that members of TUSC or Class War were blocked from voting.
Tony Benn was himself a great advocate of women’s rights and suffrage, and was part of the reforming Labour Governments of the 1960s and 1970s which introduced the Equal Pay Act and other anti-discriminatory legislation. He also, secretly and at his own expense, had a plaque made and installed in the Palace of Westminster in memory of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. He did so within the Labour Party.
Despite the friendly warning about such overt support for a rival party, The Hon Emily has continued to enthusiastically re-publish messages from WEP founders, such as Catherine Mayer, criticising Corbyn’s appointments, and promoting WEP policies:
Labour has its own policy positions on sexism at work and employment tribunals. Would a RT of Conservative or LibDem policies by a former Labour parliamentary candidate be indulged so readily and without sanction?
The Emily Benn letter comes at the end of another week of faux outrage about a Corbyn appointment, this time of Guardian journalist Seumas Milne as director of communications. The attempt to highlight division appears to be the work of the right wing of the party, which was so roundly defeated by the groundswell of the public who responded to Corbyn’s anti-austerity stance.
Despite various scare stories being circulated by figures of the right about “purges” and de-selections of MPs who do not buy-in to Corbyn and John McDonnell’s policies – it was suggested that Lambeth South MP and Progress poster boy Steve Reed OBE accepted a shadow cabinet position to reduce the threat of de-selection – the only pogrom going on within the Labour Party appears to be the anti-democratic rear-guard action against Corbyn and his team.
That’s Progress, I suppose.
- Want to find out what Andrew Fisher really thinks, in more than 140 characters? His Inside Croydon article archive can be found here
- Andrew Fisher and John McDonnell are among those due to speak at the Croydon People’s Assembly on Nov 7
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