The letter which David Evans, Labour Party General Secretary has sent to CLPs shows the anti-democratic intent of the current leadership. His letter is an attempt to silence opposition. Mr Evans says that the “Panorama settlement” is not “competent business for discussion”. In effect Evans is trying to deny the right of party members through their CLPs to criticise decisions of the party leadership. This is a flagrant assault on democracy, and members rights.
The decision to reach the settlement, to make an unreserved apology and withdrawal of “accusations”, was not made by the “administrative authority of the Party”, the NEC, but by the Leadership. They did not even discuss it with the NEC so they had no democratic mandate for such a settlement. The decision was autocratic.
“The withdrawal and apology are binding on the party and any motions which seek to undermine or contradict them will create a risk of further legal proceedings for both the national party and local parties. As such, motions relating to these settlements and the circumstances behind them are not competent business for discussion by local parties.”
If a decision cannot be questioned or challenged that means that the leadership is unaccountable to the members.
In relation to the IHRA definition of anti-semitism Evans says that CLPs have tabled motions to “repudiate” the definition. It’s not clear from his letter what this means. Certainly it’s true that individual CLPs have no ability to overturn this policy, though it’s difficult to imagine that any of them think they can. However, Evans appears to express his political point of view when he writes that “such motions undermine the Labour Party’s ability to tackle racism”. That is a matter of opinion. The role of the General Secretary does not include giving us his personal political views.
CLPs have a perfect right to express their opposition to this definition and seek to change the Party’s policy at annual conference. However, you have to wonder on the basis of our short experience of how the new General Secretary operates, whether such motions would be ruled out of order on some spurious grounds.
It has to be said that the settlement is a not very subtle means of pre-empting the Forde inquiry into Labour’s leaked anti-semitism report. Is it now likely to contradict Labour’s settlement statement by criticising the very people who the Labour leadership has apologised to? A party spokesperson at the time had described the staffers as “disaffected officials who have always opposed Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it and have both personal and political axes to grind”. This is hardly a far-fetched statement given the content of their opinions as expressed in the report.
The statement which announced the settlement said that the Party had “issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations against the whistleblowers” in the documentary – and that it “unreservedly withdraws these allegations”. Is the Ford report likely to embarrass the leadership by contradicting its decision? You wouldn’t bet on it.
At any rate, whatever your view on the substance of the issue, what is clear is that the Leadership has over-reached itself in its determination to try to prevent CLPs from criticising its action. This is profoundly undemocratic. If it can do this on the issue, why not others?
The key to democracy in any labour movement organisations is membership control of them. The members, in this case, should assert their right to freedom of discussion, their right to judge and criticise decisions of the Leadership, their right to challenge them in the democratic channels of the Party; their right to overturn Party policy if they disagree with it. Mr Evans edict should be rejected. It should be withdrawn.