A party member with a high profile was suspended today – so I thought I’d offer some insights into the journey he faces based on what party members have experienced in the Labour Party disciplinary process.
Firstly a complaint will be made to party HQ. Staff will decide whether or not to suspend you.
You won’t know who made the complaint nor its detail in fact you may not get told by the party officially that you are the subject of a complaint or suspension, you might hear about it in the media or read it on Facebook first.
But you won’t get to see the evidence straightaway.
Once you eventually receive the ‘evidence’ of your alleged wrongdoing, you will learn that your social media has been trawled and comments you made photographed by a group of people, who will remain anonymous, but consist of people who are affiliated to political parties or organisations that are in competition to your party.
Some of these comments will be taken totally out of context to the rest of the conversation. Some of the comments you made in privacy to colleagues and friends will have been included and you will start to question your trust in people.
Names will be redacted of course but you may be lucky enough to know enough about how social media works to be able to see that some of the accounts that have screen grabbed your comments out of context are actually fake.
Their profiles will reveal extraordinarily elaborate fake profile set up to prove they share your values and opinions, complete with check-ins. Oh and you will notice that many of your ‘friends’ have also been taken on by these fake accounts. At this point you may wish to contact social media providers to complain about infringement of your privacy and the fact that fake accounts are allowed – don’t bother, you are on your own.
Being on your own will start to really come home now as you realise you are unable to attend any meetings or events organised by the party you are committed to. And the public lynching on social media will begin. There you will be proclaimed as guilty and every aspect of your life and every comment anyone ever disagreed with will be published. And shared. And retweeted. And blogged. And ultimately it will appear in the Daily Mail or The Sun or The Telegraph, or Conservative Home or …….
And everyone with an opinion will be on it like a rash, because after all in the world of labour politics right now, you are guilty – not innocent until proven guilty.
But the worst of the isolation comes when the investigation starts. `When` being the operative word, because the waiting time is as unpredictable as a waiting list in NHS England, there are people who have been waiting, in pain, since 2016.
When your turn comes, you will be hauled in front of a staff member (whose routine job is managing campaigns in the regions) and refused the right to be accompanied. Well, let’s be fair and explain in case you are not au fait with the rights fought for by the trade union movement, the right to be accompanied means having someone who is experienced in representation to act on your behalf in that investigation.
In labour’s investigatory process you can have a ‘silent friend’ with you at the meeting, but they will be silent, the process denies them the right to speak. You might be lucky and have an investigation officer who has personal standards and allows your ‘silent witness’ to speak. To be fair I have known this happen once. On the other hand you may get the investigating officer in one of the Labour regions who won’t allow you to have the evidence used against you until 48 hours before the meeting.
At the end of that meeting the staff member will write a report, which you will not see, and so not be able to correct any inaccuracies or misunderstandings, with a recommendation as to whether your case should be referred to the NCC with a view to expulsion.
It will be about half a page of A4 and it will go before the NEC disputes committee (tabled on the day) who will by all accounts have about six minutes to consider your case. Please don’t rely on contacting any NEC members to share your experience and full facts on your case, because if that NEC member dares to speak out they will not be seen as a person elected to represent members seeking to ensure the process has been fair but as a person with factional interests who is as guilty as you are for speaking in defence of justice and due process.
If you are sent to the NCC you have about 2 years of this continued isolation to bear. But eventually, about 8 weeks before your hearing you will finally see all the reports. But you are still on your own because you can’t be represented there either unless you have enough surplus income to afford legal representation.
But of course, there is an alternative. You may be fortunate enough to bypass the waiting list by being eligible for the disciplinary process equivalent of ‘private’ treatment. You might be able to afford legal representation from the very beginning, you might have colleagues that can help you in any number of ways. You might not be part of a group that is the target of leaks even.
You might even be fortunate enough to come across a number of activists in labour who are willing and able to help you. People who are committed to justice and fair process who have experience of disciplinary processes and have learnt through experiences of helping the thousands of members who have been subjected to, what they describe as the ‘purge’.
But don’t hold your breath on that one either because their numbers are becoming smaller as they become discovered as having offered support and advice – they too have been outed by certain groups and accused of crimes against the party. Most notably accused of offering sanctuary to antisemites, despite the fact that of the 900 members they have assisted they have only come across 5 cases of alleged antisemitism.
But as we have pointed out, let’s not let facts get in the way of name calling people as ‘trots, rabble, dogs, stalinists’ and any other term those opposed to labour care to throw.
Finally let me give you hope.
The scenarios I have described are changing. The change began when the NEC Membership altered late last year. It’s changed again since the new administration came into effect in the last few weeks. You are lucky, your case will be dealt with by an administration and an executive of which the majority support confidentiality and the provision of evidence in a timely manner to the accused.
You may be even luckier to see these people who believe in justice for all and the need for a fair process introduce a new disciplinary policy that doesn’t act as described above, that allows representation, that supports those who offer representation (without judgement) and protects them from the kind of harassment and abuse they have suffered merely for standing by the basic tenets of a just system. An administration that implements the recommendations of the Chakbrarti Report and does not allow its author to be ridiculed, humiliated and abused for believing in Human Rights inside and outside of the Labour Party.
I wish you well in your journey and I hope you do not suffer what I have witnessed your colleagues, members of our party, suffer through a process that is not fit for purpose and can be manipulated for political gain.
You, and every member of our party, are entitled to a fair process and to be innocent unless and until proved otherwise, to call character witnesses and to be represented by people who should not fear harassment by either anonymous groups with political agendas or persons in power with a factional agenda. Just as any member is entitled to make a complaint, to be heard and not judged.
The ability to clarify any issues, to get support, to ask any questions is virtually non-existent: emails are ignored or fudged. In short there has been no respect for the principles of natural justice.
I hope you and your colleagues will now join the calls for a complete review of our processes because I believe we have a leader who believes in justice and an administrative body and general secretary who will, given the support, make it happen.
Maybe even this letter sent from us last year will no be thrown back in out faces again: