Following the suspension, lifting of suspension and then withdrawal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn by Keir Starmer, the acting General Secretary of the Party, David Evans, sent two emails to constituency parties. These were contentious because they banned constituencies and branches from discussing a broad range of issues around the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and Jeremy Corbyn and threatened Chairs and Secretaries with suspension if they facilitated such discussion. Your Constituency Executive sent a response.
Our letter together with the General Secretary’s letters are bellow. The Executive considered signing the open letter which has to date been signed by 194 constituency parties, but could not reach a consensus.
Letter from Thirsk & Malton CLP Exec to the General Secretary
14th December 2020
Many thanks for your emails of 26th November and 8th December offering guidance on discussion within constituency parties and their branches of issues related to the EHRC report ‘Antisemitism in the Labour Party’. The Thirsk and Malton Constituency Executive Committee has discussed at some length both the EHRC report and your emails.
To be clear, we unequivocally welcome the report and are calling for the full and rapid implementation of all of its recommendations. The most fundamentally shameful aspect of it is that it took an outside body to investigate and put before us as members the full facts of what has being going on in our Party for a number of years under the stewardship of Ian McNicol and Jenny Formby and successive National Executive Committees.
However, while the report itself is welcome and points clearly to a way forward, your ban on discussion of these important issues is not. It is not well founded, is not properly thought through and is damaging to the Party. The blanket assumption on which it is based, that the membership as a whole and their constituency and branch bodies generally present a culture of values which are racist, is without foundation. Party members deplore racism, have actively campaigned against it for many years and want any racism that does exist in the Party to be expunged promptly. The endemic problematic culture that the EHRC exposed was the one which has existed at the top management level of the Party. The culture that resulted in the appalling failures of process and failure to deal fairly and efficiently with complaints. And it is this specifically which has put the Party in breach of the Equality Act.
Discussion is our democratic right, protected under Article 10 of the European Court of Human Rights, as the EHRC report notes, and is the life blood of a healthy Party. Banning discussion and threatening constituency and branch officers, in case we indulge in racist behaviour, is not only deeply insulting it is a diversion from focussing on and tackling the real problem which is at the top. Morale is low following the General Election and combined with the debilitating effect of Covid-19 this has meant that constituency officers and activists are already struggling to enthuse and gear up members for the May elections. If you want to destroy our chances of running a strong campaign you are going the right way about it.
We understand that you are new to the job and have come into it at a particularly difficult time. However as far as the Party goes your letters are making a difficult situation worse. We are confident that we can run our meetings in a way which is respectful, welcoming to all members and does not contravene the Equality Act. We welcome the Leader’s resolve to focus on winning elections but would ask you to reflect on the fact that he cannot do that without the wholehearted commitment of all Party members. We appeal to you to rethink the way you are approaching this issue and put at the top of your considerations that your overriding responsibility is to respect, support and enthuse the rank and file members.
Letter from David Evans 8th December 2020
Further Update: Guidance on Motions
Open Letter to David Evans from 123 CLPs 8th December. (Up to 175 CLPs by 11thDecember).
Dear David Evans,
We are writing to you, as Constituency Labour Party secretaries and chairs, to raise our concerns about recent emails you have sent us, that instruct secretaries and chairs to prohibit discussion on certain topics.
Our party membership and its collective discussion in local branch and CLP meetings are vital to building an effective local political party. Unfortunately, the recent emails from you, placing restrictions on items of party business that can be discussed in meetings, accompanied by threats and suspensions, are undermining our efforts to build up our local parties. Democratically discussing the issues of party business that concern our members helps us develop and motivate our local party.
Treating our members’ rights with respect is also important for morale and increases the capacity of local parties to turn outwards and campaign in elections. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that was long fought for and has been traditionally upheld by the Labour Party, including in our party meetings. The right to freedom of expression is not only about the right to speak but it is also about the right to listen to others and for different views to be heard. Party members should have the right to express their views, including on whether the whip should or should not be restored to Jeremy Corbyn.
The policing of discussion, on a decision which has received a lot of media attention, is also demanding a great deal from volunteers who take up the role of administrators to facilitate and encourage dynamic campaigning local parties. Our local members and party officers are all volunteers, many of whom work very hard for the party. We feel that your recent guidance only puts us further into the firing line, and is affecting the mental and physical health of chairs and secretaries, many of whom are standing down from their posts because of the stress. This is expertise the Party can ill afford to lose with important elections coming up in May 2021.
Suspensions of officers who allow discussion on the removal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn to take place also raises serious issues – chairs have in some instances had their membership of the party suspended for allowing discussion to take place when the General Committee or All Member Meeting has voted for them to do so. As CLP Officers, we are elected by General Committees or All Member Meetings, not appointed by the General Secretary and therefore we are being called upon, under threat of membership suspension, to break our own standing orders, and the rules of the party.
It is vital for us that the national party acts in a responsible way to help us maintain members’ enthusiasm to campaign for Labour. The attempts to stifle legitimate discussion are harming our local parties and their campaigning capacity, notwithstanding the suppression of members’ rights to speak and be heard.
We urge you to withdraw the ‘guidance’ you have sent to our CLPs and halt any disciplinary action currently being taken against Party Officers for facilitating democratic discussion of party business.
We look forward to your response.
Signed by Secretaries and Chairs representing 175 CLPs
From: “David Evans” Date: Nov 26, 2020 3:49:50 PM