Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Croydon North/Lambeth South [delete to taste] has resorted to filing a formal complaint to the borough police commander about a constituent, after the resident had the audacity to ask questions of their elected representative.
One of Reed’s constituents had four police officers turn up at their home last month, following the MP sending a letter to Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Andy Tarrant, in which he accused the Croydon resident of using “abusive, threatening and inappropriate behaviour” towards him.
This news, coming just days before Croydon North Constituency Labour Party holds a leadership nomination meeting, will do nothing to restore grassroots members’ faith in their local MP, after Reed refused to answer their questions about his stance over party leader Jeremy Corbyn at their recent annual meeting. The following weekend, Reed resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, claiming that he had consulted his CLP members.
With members talking of “a real sense of fear” over the way that their CLP is being run, the idea that Reed is bypassing regular policing channels and appears to be using his position as an MP to go directly to the borough’s top cop when he’s been asked a few troublesome questions is unlikely to be well received.
“I am truly outraged by Steve Reed,” said Genevieve Murray-Dinsmore, Croydon North CLP’s women’s officer.
“I was shocked to hear about the distress caused to a young constituent. I think sending the police to a constituent’s home was a real lack of judgement by Steve Reed. One of the people living there was traumatised by it.”
The police visit arose because Reed sent a letter to the constituent last month, using his official House of Commons headed notepaper.
In his letter, MP Reed wrote, “The only form of communication I will accept from you in future is written letters sent by post, and I will only respond to these if I consider them reasonable. Neither I nor my staff will reply to your emails, you will be blocked on social media, and if you phone my office staff have been instructed to advise you to put your comments in writing and to then end the call. If you come to my office in person, my staff have been instructed to call the police immediately. If you attempt any other form of harassment, I will call the police immediately.
“I consider your behaviour to be threatening and abusive.”
Since his rapid return to the backbenches, Reed is paid a basic £74,962 per year salary to do his job of representing the residents of his constituency. He also receives expenses towards the running costs of his offices at Westminster and Thornton Heath, where he has at least three state-funded staff members to help undertake his constituency casework.
Clearly, since Yorkshire MP Jo Cox was murdered this summer, elected representatives are entitled to exercise caution in their dealings with the public. Yet they also need to strike a balance to ensure that they fulfil their obligation to serve their constituents.
Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central MP, had a panic button installed in his constituency office after a visitor lost their temper during a meeting.
Other MPs have been suspected of exaggerating perceived threats in an attempt to avoid being held to account: infamously, Croydon South’s former Tory expenses-claimer, Tricky Dicky Ottaway, made a 999 call for back-up when he was “threatened” by a bunch of pensioners lobbying him at one of his surgery meetings.
In Reed’s case, he has form for calling on officials to keep tabs on people who he has decided might be “troublesome”. In 2012, just before he became an MP, when he was still leader of Lambeth Council, Reed instructed Town Hall officials to spy on the emails of his colleague councillors, which in one case resulted in a Labour councillor resigning from the party.
Yesterday, we contacted Reed to give the MP an opportunity to explain why, in his recent dealings with a constituent, he had resorted to what may appear an extreme course of action.
Among our questions, we asked:
- Can you explain why you opted to involve the Borough Commander, rather than going through the usual channels to file a complaint to the police?
- Do you often feel threatened when your constituents approach you to seek your views and support for matters of importance in Croydon North, London and the nation?
- How many constituents have you blocked on social media since being elected as an MP in November 2012?
- How many complaints of harassment have you made to the police since 2012?
- How do you respond to the accusation that your resorting to complaining to the Borough Commander can be seen as an abuse of your position, and a form of intimidation and bullying?
Apart from the auto-generated acknowledgement, Reed has not responded to any of those questions.
Reed, a long-time vice-chair of Progress, the Blairite party-within-a-party, was able to find the time, however, to grandstand on social media last night, stating, “Problem is we’ve imported the politics of hate of the SWP, TUSC etc, who are infiltrating us via Momentum.” Pots and kettles, anyone?
The constituent visited by the police at Reed’s behest has been told that there will be no further action taken. “What frustrates me is having a Labour MP in one of the most deprived areas of London who clearly does not care about listening to his constituents and feels threatened by a differing point of view or debate,” they said, not seeming the slightest bit threatening.
They maintained that, apart from once calling Reed a “bastard” on Twitter, in their correspondence and occasional meetings in person, they had never made any direct threats against him or otherwise been abusive.
Croydon North CLP in 2015 supported Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership. Reed backed his fellow Progress vice-chair, Liz Kendall, and this year is backing Owen Smith. Croydon North CLP has an all-member meeting on Monday to decide which candidate gets its nomination this year.
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