The purge of members by the right wing of the Labour Party across south London may have had a human cost, after it was revealed that Robert Gibson, the Upper Norwood library campaigner, received a letter notifying him that he had been expelled from the party just days before he disappeared from his home and family last June.
The letter, and its timing, has been described as “shocking” by a senior Croydon Labour figure.
Apart from a few grainy CCTV clips, Gibson has not been seen since the day of his disappearance.
Last month, Hampshire police spent three days combing a woodland area on the Isle of Wight in the latest development in the search for Gibson, but they have not reported finding anything.
Earlier last year, Gibson – who had a history of stress-related depression – had taken part in the occupation of the Carnegie Library in Herne Hill, one of 10 public libraries in Lambeth under threat of closure or some form of privatisation.
Progress-led Lambeth Council, while claiming it does not have funds to maintain Carnegie Library, has this week begun a building project on the cherished Victorian building. The work is costing a seven-fiigure sum, and will convert part of the library into a gym at the behest of private firm Greenwich Leisure.
Following his part in the occupation protest, where Gibson spent several nights sleeping on the floor in the unheated library, he related to friends how he had felt depressed, “wired” and full of adrenalin. His disaffection with Labour’s management of Lambeth was also made very plain.
Gibson had been a prominent and respected campaigner on a range of other community projects in and around Crystal Palace for several years.
He lived just over the Croydon borough boundary in Gipsy Hill with his wife and young son, and was therefore affiliated with the Dulwich and West Norwood local party, which was the former constituency of prominent Blairite MP Dame Tessa Jowell.
Gibson’s expulsion letter, sent from Labour Party HQ, was dated June 9 – just four days before Gibson walked out of the front door of his home not to be seen since. It was also the date of a hotly contested council by-election in Gibson’s home ward, where libraries were a key issue.
The letter has been published by hyperlocal site Crystal Palace Local, with the permission of Gibson’s wife.
The letter to Gibson was signed by Jane Shaw, the Labour Party’s national compliance officer. It carries all the hallmarks of the purge of the membership conducted by Progress-aligned right-wingers in Labour last year in Croydon and Lambeth, which saw the likes of Andrew Fisher, a key Corbyn aide, and David White, a long-serving party official, both suspended, while left-wing comedian Mark Steel was refused membership.
Gibson’s expulsion letter shows that his social media feed had been monitored. “In April you posted on social media that you had offered to stand as a Green Party candidate in a local authority by-election and that you subscribed to the nomination paper of the individual who was later nominated to stand for election today for the Green [sic] against an official Labour candidate,” the letter stated. As such, Gibson had broken party rules, and so was expelled.
Crystal Palace Local reports, “Whether Robbie actually read it or not is uncertain as his wife cannot remember if the letter had been opened when she first saw it.”
The ward by-election in Gipsy Hill last June saw the Green candidate fighting on a pro-libraries platform. Labour held the council seat, but by just 36 votes.
A friend of Gibson told Inside Croydon, “Robert made no secret of his growing disillusionment and deep suspicions about some of the things going on within the Establishment of the Labour Party, particularly in Lambeth and lately Croydon. That a Labour council should be willfully dismantling public services, such as libraries which had been gifted to the people and served the public so well for more than a century, really troubled him.”
A leading member of the Labour Party in Croydon who knew Gibson has described the letter, and its timing, as “shocking”.
“Of course, if he’d been a Tory MP wanting to switch to Labour he’d have been welcomed with open arms and offered a job in the cabinet or shadow cabinet,” they said.
“A lot of people getting letters like Robbie’s have now been accepted into the party on appeal and after protests, but at the time of receiving such letter that would not have been known.”
- The #FindRobbie search for Robbie Gibson continues. Anyone with any information about his possible whereabouts should call or text a confidential missing persons helpline on 116 000.
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