So I haven’t blogged for a long time, and the two main reasons for this are laziness and Twitter (which of course reinforce each other).
Further to receipt of data relating to my recent subject access request, however, it seems appropriate to make the effort to document the anatomy of my suspension (or purge) from the Labour Party.
There are several facets to this and I’m not going to deal with every conceivable possibility or interpretation – I’m just going to give a basic overview, along with what I consider to be a plausible narrative. People are of course at liberty to read and make up their own minds. I also make no apologies for any lack of coherence – blogging amid childcare and the Lego Movie is *hard*.
Anyways, just before running through things, I should just say that I’ve deliberated carefully about disclosing the identity of the individual who reported me to Labour’s Validation team. After all, as will be seen, this person made clear in her email that she feared her identity becoming known to me. Ultimately, however, I’ve decided that the public interest value of disclosure outweighs this person’s right to privacy – a specious right in any case, in view of what is assuredly a reprehensible and defamatory email.
So here’s the chronology, which – for completeness – begins at the beginning.
1. 9th September – I receive a letter signed by Iain McPurgester, sorry I mean Iain *McNicol*, explaining that I have been suspended from the Labour Party due to “Comments… posted on social media”, comments that purportedly breach a rule brought in specially for the Leadership election relating to “abusive” behaviour.
2. 12th September – I write to Iain McNicol to appeal my suspension, asking for further details about the alleged breach (specifically, the comments concerned). At the same time, I submit a subject access request for all data held by the party concerning me and/or my suspension.
3. Around 26th September (I can’t be sure of the date as I’ve temporarily misplaced the document) – I receive a letter from Mike Creighton, Labour’s Director of Audit and Risk Management, explaining that my subject access request is to be processed, but that it may take longer than the statutory 40 days.
4. 24th October – I receive an email from Phil Gaskin, Labour South West Regional Director, stating that he has been instructed by the General Secretary to investigate my case, and informing me that he will be in touch soon to arrange an interview. The same day, I write back to Phil to advise that, while I have no objections to a meeting, this can only reasonably happen once I have received the information requested in my appeal letter.
5. 26th October – I receive all data from the Labour Party relating to my subject access request, but no response to my substantive appeal. The data provided, however, allows me to piece together a chronology of my suspension. This chronology, along with the relevant evidence, is as follows:
a) 22nd July – an email is sent to Validation by a Labour official expressing “concern” that I have “tweeted abusive language to Owen Smith MP”. It isn’t clear who sent this email, or indeed how the person came upon my “abusive” tweets, but from their citing of my membership number, it was evidently someone with access to the membership database. Alongside this email are copies of three tweets – two concerning Owen Smith, and a third concerning Gaby Hinsliff…
What to say about these tweets? Well, to be sure, they’re not complementary. But are they any more “abusive” than Owen Smith’s conduct during the Leadership campaign? I’m thinking specifically, though not exclusively, about his constant insinuations that Corbyn had fostered anti-Semitism within the party, which were an absolute disgrace and will forever stain his record as an MP.
b) 25th July – Emma Clifford, a Labour member, emails the Validation team off the back of this Twitter exchange, claiming I “push the boundaries regularly”, that I hold “strong views about Israel”, and pointing to the fact I stood for TUSC in 2014. Clifford attaches multiple screengrabs and files, including one tweet of mine that obliquely references Luke Akehurst’s role as Chief Exec of the lobby group “We Believe in Israel”.
The general “McCarthyism” of this email aside, what I find particularly distasteful (yet at the same time revealing) is the citing of a blog post with the clear intention of casting me as anti-Semitic. That’s an allegation I not only refute, but consider defamatory. For Clifford’s benefit, I can confirm that the person who runs the blog concerned is a right-wing Israeli named Ora, whose raison d’etre is seemingly to smear anti-zionists and BDS activists, and with whom I’d had a run in on Twitter just prior to her libellous blog post.
Regards the TUSC thing, yes, it’s true, I ran for local council as a TUSC candidate in 2014. I’ve never made any secret of this, and indeed discussed it up-front with my CLP on first joining Labour. My CLP Exec was happy with my reasons (namely that I’d stood as a trade unionist disillusioned with Labour, not as a member of any of TUSC’s constituent parties) and duly permitted me not only to take on an Exec role, but also to stand as a Labour candidate in the 2016 local elections.
One final thing here. It seems that the Owen Smith-supporting Emma Clifford isn’t averse to Twitter “abuse”, provided it’s of the “right” kind. Here she is, for example, retweeting the foul-mouthed Tom Atkinson:
And, just for the avoidance of doubt, here’s Clifford confirming (very early on) her support for Owen Smith:
c) 2nd September – a note is added to my Labour membership record stating that my status is now “AE” (= Auto Exclusion) owing to my having stood for TUSC in 2014.
d) 3rd September – an email is sent from a member of Labour’s Compliance/Validation team to an unidentified person I presume to be Clifford, confirming that I am to be reported to the NEC. The email references an earlier conversation between the two persons concerned and also refers to an “October meeting”, implying – to me – a degree of familiarity that is concerning. The email also advises that the decision to report me to the NEC is based on what they have turned up googling, rather than what the person concerned (presumably Clifford) has told them, which seems wholly implausible, while also suggesting a degree of conspiracy.
e) 7th September – an email from an unidentified Labour official to a second unidentified official, titled “Please reinstate”, advises that my “AE” has been changed to “Suspended”, and that I’m not to receive a ballot for the Leadership election. The same day, a note is added to the membership database stating that my AE has been “rescinded and changed to suspension”. A corresponding note added to another part of the database confirms that my suspension is for “Abusive Conduct”.
So where does all this leave me? Well, as far as I can make out, in quite a favourable position, insofar as my candidacy for TUSC has clearly been scrutinised and judged, rightly, not to be an issue (I presume my more recent candidacy for Labour was decisive in this regard), while my suspension is seemingly based merely on three tweets: two to Owen Smith that, in my opinion, were far less egregious than the way Owen Smith conducted himself during the Leadership election (is Owen going to be suspended? I don’t think so), and a third, ridiculously innocuous one to Gaby Hinsliff.
If a regional rep really wishes to travel to Cheltenham to interview me about these three tweets, they are welcome to do so, though I’m thinking that’s a pretty colossal waste of time and money. If, on the other hand, a regional rep would like to travel to see me to (a) apologise profusely for suspending me on wholly spurious grounds; and (b) discuss the apparent collusion between Owen Smith-supporting Labour members and Labour Party officials, then I’ll happily clear my schedule. 😉
Anyways, that’s enough. I’m bushed, and my kids, in the absence of parental supervision for the past two hours, have started a bloody riot.