Member Carl Freeman`s letter to Iain McNicol
Dear Mr McNicol
Thank you for your letter dated 31 October 2016 lifting my suspension and restoring my membership of the Labour Party. I am relieved that I will now be able to attend the Annual General Meeting of Worcester CLP on Monday 14 November.
However, I have major concerns about the process and in particular, about the penultimate sentence of your letter. Your letter of 31 October contains no reference whatsoever to previous allegations that I had made abusive comments on social media but it does introduce a new allegation that I “showed support for another political party on social media.” There is no explanation behind this allegation. No evidence is offered.
Your letter also contains a formal NEC warning helpfully underlined presumably in case I missed it. I can only assume that there is a word or two missing from the party rule that you cite in relation to the warning as it makes no sense grammatically. “…the NEC may individual warnings to any individual member of the Party drawing attention to the conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is either incompatible with continued membership of the party or may be in, or may lead to, a breach of the constitution, rules or standing orders of the party…” It is also profoundly ironic as it is abundantly clear that this in not in fact an individual warning, but a blanket warning issued to many thousands of members at the same time.
Given the amount of time it has taken to respond to my letter of appeal, it is almost unbelievable that when it was eventually written, it was grammatically flawed. Your penultimate sentence states that: “This letter will remain on your file and we reserve the right to consider this matter in future, should it be necessary.” It is this part of your letter than concerns me most. Please consider it from my perspective.
I am in a Kafkaesque situation in which I am first accused of making abusive comments on social media (which my suspension letter explains may relate to racist, abusive or foul language”) and am then informed several weeks later that my suspension has been lifted but in relation to expressing support for another political party.
Finally, I am effectively threatened that the NEC can resurrect the letter at any time it so chooses and use it against me. Given the nature of the process to date, I am sure that I could be forgiven from inferring that this effectively means that if the NEC wishes to remove my membership rights in future, including my right to vote, it can simply cite your letter of 31 October 2016 and suspend me once again.
That is a totally unacceptable state of affairs and one that I am formally challenging.
Alleged support for another political party The report generated by my SAR (Subject Access Request) largely consists of mundane administrative internal communication … and a single sheet of paper containing what appears to be a 22-word extract from a table. That information does not feature my name but does allege expression of my support for the SNP. There is no date, no source (eg, Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? Email?). I will admit that there have been times when I have admired a range of politicians or the policies of alternative political parties. I have the utmost respect for Lord Soames of the Conservative Party in relation to his stance on Israel/Palestine and I much admired Charles Kennedy’s approach to the vote on the Iraq War (quite rightly adjudged to have been vindicated by the Chilcot report). But as you well know, it is not uncommon for people to be able to admire certain traits in political rivals. After all, Tony Blair praised Margaret Thatcher on more than one occasion.
I feel that there remains some ambiguity over my membership status. You have suspended me once from the Labour Party without presenting any evidence and I need reassurance that this will not happen again. That penultimate line of your letter does feel a little like a sword hanging over my head.
In the closing sentence of your letter of 31 October you wrote, “We hope that this matter is now behind you and we will welcome you back to full membership of the Party.” Well I wish it was behind me too, but it is not. There are some outstanding issues which I would like to be addressed. Four days after receiving my ballot for the Labour Party leadership election, I was accused of making abusive comments on social media. That allegation seems to have disappeared but I have yet to receive an apology for those false claims.
No doubt like your letter of 31 October, your letter of 19 September will remain on file. Anyone reading that letter at some point in the future may believe that I am guilty of having used racist or foul language on social media and that would represent a stain on my character.
Therefore I respectfully request an official letter of apology stating either that the accusations were made in error or that they were investigated and found to be untrue. I am requesting clarity on the recent accusation that I expressed support for another political party and more importantly, evidence.
Precisely what am I alleged to have said or written? When was I alleged to have said or written it? In what medium or on what social media platform was I alleged to have said or written it? If you are unable to produce such evidence then I request a letter acknowledging that my suspension was wrong.
I am prepared to accept that in a busy office, mistakes do get made and that people make errors of judgment. But it is unfair that I should continue to be penalised for such a mistake. If I have made comments in that past that are deemed to be incompatible with Labour Party membership I can only assume that they predate my membership of the Party. If I am correct in that assumption, then surely that has no bearing on my membership? I ask, because on 16 March 2005, Quentin Davies made the following remarks in the House of Commons about Gordon Brown.
“I trust and believe that something nasty will happen to the Chancellor in electoral terms before too long.”
Now to my mind this is a clear indication that he hoped that Gordon Brown would lose his Westminster seat in the May 2005 General Election. I assume that this falls foul of one or other of the Labour Party’s rules. But two years later, the man who said these things in a very public place not only joined the Labour Party but became a Labour MP and subsequently a Labour Lord.
Therefore if it turned out that I had made comments prior to joining the Labour Party (which, had I been a member would have been a breach of the rules), surely those comments cannot be stored and pulled out at any time the NEC wishes to suspend me? I guess what I am seeking is reassurance that going forward the NEC will not use any proven or alleged historical expressions of endorsement of a rival political party against me.
In summary, I am requesting from you a letter containing the following:
an apology for the unwarranted accusations that I made abusive comments on social media as set out above; EITHER detailed evidence of any wrongdoing which justified my suspension from the Party OR acknowledgement that my suspension was wrong; an explicit statement that the slate is wiped clean and that there is nothing on file up to and including Sunday 6 November that the NEC can or will use to suspend me in future.
I am sure that you can tell from my letter of 23 September and from this letter that I am not the kind of person who will simply let things go in the face of ambiguity or unfairness. I look forward to hearing from you in relation to the outstanding issues flagged up above and assuming that I receive a satisfactory reply, then finally putting this matter behind me.
Carl John Freeman:
I have a number of friends who were Owen Smith supporters and who probably believed the hype about “nasty Corbyn supporters”.
But when I got suspended they were genuinely shocked. I have had offers from them wanting to act as a character witness for me. Very sweet of them, but I have never done abuse.
Whilst waiting outside the B’ham hustings (I didn’t get a ticket) while some were booing Owen Smith and calling him a traitor, I shook his hand and welcomed him and genuinely told him it was nice to meet him. It’s who I am and how I am. At 55 I am hardly going to change now.
But that is not the same as “rolling over”. Far from it. When I feel strongly about an injustice I do not let go. It is usually about other people, but this time I guess I am the one feeling oppressed!
Click here to sign statement to Labour Party