I write “apparently”, not to suggest in any way that I disbelieve the Skwawkbox. Its writer and I have been friends online for many years now, and I consider him to be utterly reliable.
It’s just that I find it hard to believe that a senior member of an organisation that claims to be reputable could produce such a work of fiction and expect it to be taken seriously.
If I were a member of Wallasey CLP, I would be incandescent with anger right now – not only at the false claims made against that organisation, but also at the recommendations made at the end, which I understand the NEC’s disputes panel has accepted in full. On what grounds, when the report is so full of falsehoods, inaccuracies and misdirection?
Here are six of them:
1. The report suggests that the atmosphere in Wallasey CLP had become hostile due to an influx of new members who had different ideas about the way meetings should be run than some of the more long-term members.
Calls for a different – but also perfectly correct – approach to meetings may generate heated debate but that is not the same as saying newcomers were creating a hostile atmosphere.
My own CLP had a couple of very heated debates last weekend, over motions I had drafted on behalf of my branch – but the heat directed at the issues under discussion, not the people discussing them. Big difference, and one that leads me to ask: Were the writers of this report looking for an excuse?
Considering the claims about calls to deselect councillors, this seems possible.
As the Skwawkbox points out, CLP members are well within their rights to complain about their councillors, to campaign for them to change their policies or even to call for their deselection – or the deselection of an MP. That is not a matter in which disciplinary procedures may be justified; those people are exercising a democratic right.
But Skwawkbox raises an important point:
What the above … does provide is motive: councillors fully expecting to be deselected because of an influx of highly-engaged new members might understandably wish to exploit any opportunity to neutralise that democratic threat – just as an MP who knew she faced an emphatic vote of no-confidence and eventual deselection might.
2. Next is the allegation that a CLP member threatened another with violence when all members apart from delegates were asked to leave the Annual General Meeting. The report states:
“It has been reported by several respondents that one member loudly threatened physical violence to another member during this period. Whilst it is unlikely that this threat would have been carried through, this created a frightening atmosphere…”
Really? Or is that just the impression we are intended to have? Let’s fill in a few of the details the report omits. It seems the person who threatened violence was a very small woman at the front of the room – in response to a loud insult from a very large man at the back. Skwawkbox‘s verdict:
A small woman shouted across a room at a big, mouthy man[*], “shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you”, or words to that effect. While this kind of behaviour in a public meeting cannot be condoned (and is likely to result in disciplinary action), it would not constitute grounds for serious general alarm to most people – let alone for the suspension of a CLP of many hundreds of members.
So now we’re getting a picture of a CLP whose members say and do whatever they please – up to and including threats of violence. An inaccurate picture, as we have also seen; heated debates, opposition to certain representatives and a large man being threatened by a small woman are not to be taken as serious signs of a CLP in crisis.
But they do help to build up a false narrative leading up to the next allegation.
3. This is one of the better-known claims – that Angela Eagle was subjected to homophobic abuse at the same meeting.
But there are serious problems with the claim. Firstly, Ms Eagle was not present – therefore it is impossible for her to have been subjected to the abuse.
Secondly, it is alleged that three people – in separate parts of the meeting room and independently of each other – used the same word. But nobody sitting near them will accept this claim; they actively assert that it was not said.
In the context of the atmosphere of hostility that the report has tried to create, maybe this seems possible. But there was no atmosphere of hostility in Wallasey CLP and This Writer can only agree with the Skwawkbox‘s verdict:
That 3 people would each, independently, in separate parts of the room and on separate occasions, use the same epithet, without being heard by most of those immediately around them and about a person who was not even present is almost unimaginable.
4. Ah, but these are not the only allegations of abuse; it has been rife within the CLP, according to the NEC report, which states:
“One member in particular has endured a significant level of personal abuse. A hashtag was created to encourage people to ‘shame’ him publicly and his home address and personal details were published online. It is likely that this had a substantial detrimental impact on the member’s family. A website appears to have engaged in a course of intimidating behaviour to this member.”
In order to sustain its narrative – that the “hostile” atmosphere in Wallasey CLP is the responsibility of “new members” who support Jeremy Corbyn (this is implied by the alleged abusers’ alleged opposition to Angela Eagle, who opposed Mr Corbyn at the time) – the abused person would need to be an Eagle supporter. But- well, here’s Skwawkbox again:
According to sources within the CLP, far from being an Eagle supporter abused by ‘hard left’ Corbyn supporters, the ‘one member in particular’ is a young man of 16 or 17 years of age who started an online petition calling for the resignation of Ms Eagle.
So it seems that, in order to justify its narrative of abuse against Ms Eagle and her supporters, the author of the NEC’s report has falsified the evidence.
I’m going to skim past the section about the broken window as I have covered this in depth elsewhere. Skwawkbox makes good points – especially in the part pointing out that, with a choice of two Labour Party office windows – one easily marked out with a sticker – it seems hard to believe that someone who wanted to attack Ms Eagle’s constituency office would have broken the window of the communal stairwell between them.
5. Instead, let’s concentrate on the abuse Ms Eagle’s staff are alleged to have received. The report states:
“The office received a death threat for Angela Eagle, for which a man has been arrested. Instead of condemning this and supporting the MP and the office staff receiving this, members have questioned whether this really occurred.
“Even if one did not believe these events happened, the comradely response would be to support fellow members in true distress. Members instead went to the press to insinuate that the allegations were lies.”
Pot, kettle, black – or, if you like, “do as I say, not as I do”. No evidence has been provided that the “many hundreds of abusive, homophobic and frightening messages” the NEC’s report claims were sent to Ms Eagle’s office originated with members of the Wallasey Labour Party – just as there is no credible evidence that members hurled homophobic abuse at her during the AGM, no credible evidence that there is an atmosphere of hostility in Wallasey CLP, and no evidence at all that members of the same CLP hurled a brick through Ms Eagle’s office window.
Both sides went to the press. Ms Eagle was the first to do so; perhaps that is why her opponents in the party followed suit. As Skwawkbox points out:
Even assuming the distress was true, this claim is ironic in the extreme when one considers that the allegations of homophobic and other abuse were given to national print and broadcast media by Ms Eagle and/or her supporters.
Before coming to the report’s recommendations, let’s look at the final sentence:
“This report should not be used to exacerbate problems. Claims and counter-claims will not improve the environment, and we will not act on unsubstantiated allegations.”
Considering that Ms Eagle’s immediate response to the report was to use it to justify herself via a verbal, political attack on some of her CLP members in front of television cameras and print journalists, she is now in line for censure.
That is quite correct, and I certainly hope a motion to that effect is sent to the NEC at once.
As many of her fellow Progress members leapt to publicly reinforce the impression that the alleged abuse was real and to use it to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, they should be equally liable to sanction.
That is also correct. Skwawkbox has published social media posts by some of these politicians, who include Gloria de Piero, Caroline Flint, and Karen Buck – all of whom should receive the same treatment for ignoring the wishes of the report’s author.
So there you have it: Falsehoods, inaccuracies and misdirection – all accepted as the honest truth by the NEC’s disputes panel in a decision that makes no sense at all.
Except – wait, what’s this?
The report makes several recommendations, including a call for the CLP to be suspended subject to a review in the spring. It says: “During the suspension, any candidate selection should be conducted by the Regional Board.”
What was that suggested motive for the suspension of Wallasey CLP and the investigation that produced this worthless report, again?
Councillors fully expecting to be deselected because of an influx of highly-engaged new members might understandably wish to exploit any opportunity to neutralise that democratic threat – just as an MP who knew she faced an emphatic vote of no-confidence and eventual deselection might.
What we have here is a clear attack on democracy, namely the Wallasey CLP members’ democratic right to choose their own Parliamentary candidate. This has been about keeping Angela Eagle in her job, against the wishes of her own fellow Labour members.
We really need the names of the people on the NEC’s disputes panel and a record of the vote by which this report was accepted – because anybody who supported it is under suspicion alongside Ms Eagle and the MPs mentioned above, who supported her on the social media.
And then we need an independent investigation into the behaviour and motives of all participants in this fiasco.
Oh yes – if you want to read the full report to the NEC, here it is.
[*] There’s that word “mouthy” again – and being applied to a man. Wasn’t This Writer attacked by certain people for using it to describe Jess Phillips over the summer – people who refused to accept that it wasn’t a gender-specific term? One can only question what they have to say about this use of it – and conclude that the answer is, most likely, nothing. It would not help their narrow-minded cause.
Yes, I am still angry about that, and rightly.
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