With just three weeks until the polls close in the latest phase of the never-ending purgatory that is the Labour leadership contest, there continues an anxious wait for some party members and supporters in Croydon over when their voting forms will arrive, if at all.
The battle for control of the party has continued throughout the summer, with challenge and counter-challenge through the law courts over which members are eligible to vote, and how much should or should not be refunded to those who paid fees in the reasonable expectation of being able to exercise all the rights of membership.
And Croydon has played its part in that, as it has influential members of Labour who have done their best to block socialists such as Mark Steel from joining, or to get constituency party officials such as David White or Andrew Fisher, an aide to Jeremy Corbyn, suspended or even thrown out of the party.
Still, some aspect of that process continues, for in a darkened corner of the bunker that is Labour HQ, a special squad of dedicated Blairite staffers have been sifting through members’ tweets and social media postings going back months, even years, to determine who should be culled from the voting process, often on the flimsliest of excuses. Because, hey, no one wants Owen Smith to suffer the same embarrassment as Progress’s candidate in 2015, Liz “4.5 per cent” Kendall, do they?
And while not everything in the preceding paragraph may be based on fact, there is a real sense that some Labour incumbents – including many of the MPs like Lambeth South’s Steve Reed OBE, who played an enthusiastic part in the #chickencoup in late June – are dismissive of the tsunami of new members who have joined in the past 12 months, as they try to cling on to internal power by operating the party as if they inhabit North Korea.
There have been enough reports of members, generally those inclined to support the democratically elected leader Corbyn, being excluded from the leadership ballot that another hashtag has emerged – #LabourPurge2 – and lawyers have even set up helpful online guides of what to do if you think you might have been excluded.
But if you contact the Labour Party expecting a full and detailed explanation of what offence you are alleged to have committed (remember: the exclusions occur without the offender ever being given the opportunity to state their case or defend themselves), or to discover who it was that may have reported your assumed indiscretions, then don’t get your hopes up.
Ten weeks later, with no case to answer, the Blairites who hold paid positions as employees within the Labour Party decided to drop White’s suspension. No explanation, no apology.
White, the lifelong Labour member and secretary of Croydon Central CLP, was suspended – effective immediately, without hearing or trial – on the basis of a single tweet in May. A case of 140 characters being held against one man of immense character.
White’s suspension period coincided with Labour’s Chakrabarti inquiry, which made a series of recommendations about the proper procedures for handling allegations against party members. This included the right of members who had been accused to know the identity of their accusers and what offence they are supposed to have committed.
Duly unsuspended, and having hitherto been denied any information about how he came to be suspended, White wrote to the Labour Party’s compliance unit to request its file on his case.
Eventually, after several weeks’ wait, White received a response. This page is typical of the paperwork he was given:
Thing is, the Labour Party, just like any other public body, has broader responsibilities under the law, in this case the Data Protection Act 1998. Under that Act, White is entitled through a Subject Access Request, to all information they hold about him in relation to his recent suspension, including, as White points out, “details of who my accusers were”.
“The key pages are almost entirely redacted,” White told Inside Croydon.
“I think the Labour Party National Executive Committee should conduct a serious inquiry into the Party’s Compliance Unit,” said White, a former GLC and Croydon councillor and retired solicitor.
“They seem to be using suspensions and other disciplinary measures capriciously, principally against left-wingers who support Jeremy Corbyn . They also seem to be ignoring the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report that people suspended should, unless there are exceptional factors, be told who has accused them.”
Labour’s ruling NEC was recently overhauled at elections which saw a slate of candidates widely seen as supportive of Corbyn take charge. It will be instructive whether they are prepared to act against their party’s senior employees in this matter. If they don’t, they may have the government official, the Information Commissioner, to deal with, since White has now taken his case there.
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