Reinstate the Wavertree Four! Defend free speech and party democracy!

Four senior officers of Wavertree Constituency Labour Party on Merseyside have been suspended and their names published in the Jewish Chronicle and Liverpool Echo. Their crime, according to material leaked to these two publications, is to have written in a bulletin for CLP members expressing concerns about an article published by their MP Paula Barker addressing the Jewish community in Liverpool.

CLP chair Nina Houghton, secretary Kevin Bean, women’s officer Helen Dickson and BAME officer Hazuan Hashim say they will be defending themselves vigorously against charges which connect them to antisemitism. Furthermore they say: “we will be drawing attention to evidence that someone within the Labour Party organisation has leaked news of our suspensions to the press in flagrant breach of the party’s own rules.”

It is surely no coincidence that, in the week before it announced the suspensions, the Jewish Chronicle reported over an “EXCLUSIVE” tag, that the party was launching an inquiry into Wavertree. In early 2019, the right-wing Spectator magazine accused what it called “a hard left group” of attacking the then MP, Luciana Berger, “because she is Jewish.” In an article headlined “Does Wavertree CLP have an antisemitism problem?”, it denounced all the left wing members of the executive including the four who’ve now been suspended.

The Wavertree suspensions seem to be part of a much bigger picture – a campaign unfolding around the country to investigate, suspend and expel socialists and left-wing activists, often using antisemitism-related charges.  Party members have every right to disagree with and if necessary criticise the MPs who claim to represent them and the people in their communities. In the name of free speech and party democracy, the Wavertree Four must be reinstated! You can sign a petition supporting them on Change.org.

We publish here:

  • a statement from the Four;
  • a summary of the events surrounding their suspension; and
  • the full text of their statement circulated in the CLP Members’ Bulletin.

FROM THE WAVERTREE FOUR

We, Nina Houghton, Helen Dickson, Kevin Bean and Hazuan Hashim, of Wavertree CLP wish to make the following statement.

On Friday 29 May at around 16:00 hours all of us received written notices by email from the Labour Party Governance and Legal Unit that we had been suspended from the party pending an investigation into our conduct.

We wish to state the following:

  • We support all left Labour MPs who are campaigning for socialist policies.
  • We believe in the importance of freedom of expression and the discussion of political differences for the political health and success of the Labour movement.
  • We reiterate our full support for the resolution passed by Wavertree CLP in 2018 in opposition to anti-Semitic and misogynistic attacks, coming from the far right, directed at Luciana Berger, Wavertree’s Labour MP before her resignation from the Labour Party in 2019.
  • We affirm that the differences between Wavertree CLP and Ms Berger were political in character and focused on her opposition to Jeremy Corbyn and the election of a Labour government under his leadership. We categorically deny that she was driven out of the party by racist attacks and anti-Semitic abuse by members of Wavertree CLP.
  • We support Wavertree MP Paula Barker’s expressions of solidarity with the Jewish communities in Liverpool in general, and Wavertree in particular, and her undoubted commitment and track record of opposing racism in all its manifestations.
  • We believe that all socialists should not resign from the Labour Party, but stay to continue the fight for socialist politics and democracy in the Labour movement.

Additionally, the notice of suspension and investigation contained, among other things, the following instruction:

The Labour Party’s investigation process operates confidentially.  That is vital to ensure fairness to you and the complainant, and to protect the rights of all concerned under the Data Protection Act 2018. We must therefore ask you to ensure that you keep all information and correspondence relating to this investigation private, and that you do not share it with third parties or the media (including social media).

The instruction continued:

The Party will not share information about the case publicly unless, as a result of a breach of confidentiality, it becomes necessary to correct inaccurate reports.  In that case we will only release the minimum information necessary to make the correction.

Later the same day, at 21:37 hours, a report appeared in the Liverpool Echo, from which the following are extracts:

The Labour Party has suspended four members of the Liverpool Wavertree party group after they criticised their own MP who was trying to reach out to the Jewish community.

The chair of the Wavertree Constituency Labour Party, Nina Houghton, secretary Kevin Bean, women’s officer Helen Dickson and BAME officer Hazuan Hashim have all been suspended, the ECHO understands.

This comes after all four signed a statement issued to members, criticising Wavertree’s Labour MP for an article she wrote in the Jewish Telegraph.

Ms Barker replaced Luciana Berger as the MP for the area after Ms Berger left the Labour Party citing antisemitism and bullying in her local Labour Party . . . . .

A party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate action is taken. We cannot comment on individual cases.”

Over the following weekend, one of us was disturbed by intrusive phone calls and by an unwelcome visitor, seemingly a journalist with knowledge of the case, who came to his home demanding to speak to him.

Now that the fact of our suspensions is public knowledge, we wish to make the following points absolutely clear:

First, none of us has breached the Governance and Legal Unit instructions to maintain confidentiality and none of us leaked any information about our suspensions to the Liverpool Echo.  It will be obvious that we barely had time even to start to consider how to respond within a period of just five-and-a-half hours, before the story appeared.  We can only assume that the leak came from within the Labour Party, either at a regional or national level.

Secondly, we are outraged that we are being accused by our own party of any offences connected with antisemitism. All of us abhor racism in all its forms and all of us have spent most of our lives campaigning against it. We will be defending ourselves vigorously against these charges; and in the course of our defence, we will be drawing attention to evidence that someone within the Labour Party organisation has leaked news of our suspensions to the press in flagrant breach of the party’s own rules; and in doing so, has caused us all a great deal of anxiety, stress and disruption in both our personal and professional lives.


SUMMARY OF EVENTS SURROUNDING THE WAVERTREE SUSPENSIONS

This chronological summary is necessary to counter distorted media reports and deliberate obfuscation on social media concerning the suspension from Labour Party membership of Nina Houghton, Kevin Bean, Helen Dickson and Hazuan Hashim on 29 May.

Friday 15th MayPaula Barker’s Jewish Telegraph article is published in The Jewish Telegraph

Friday 15th May – Paula Barker’s article is posted on Liverpool Wavertree CLP’s Facebook page by an individual member (to date this has 11 likes, mostly from other CLPs)

Tuesday 19th May – Email from Nina Houghton, Kevin Bean, Helen Dickson and Hazuan Hashim – ‘the Wavertree Four’ -to Paula Barker expressing concerns about the article

Friday 22nd May– Paula Barker responds by email re-affirming what she has said.

Tuesday 26th May at 16.26 – Publication by email of statement from ‘the Wavertree Four’ in the Wavertree CLP Members’ Bulletin (see below).

This bulletin was not a public document: it was circulated only to party members through Labour’s internal email system. With no decision-making CLP meetings taking place where motions can be presented, the four decided to publish their views in the weekly internal CLP bulletin which has been functioning as a medium of debate during the lockdown, and features all sorts of local and national events. At no point did they claim that their statement represented anyone’s views but their own

It is important to note that the bulletin includes the following prominent disclaimer: The views expressed in this bulletin are those of individual members and do not necessarily represent those of the Executive or the CLP as a whole. It is designed as an internal party communication and its contents should not be communicated to non-members.

Tuesday 26 May at 22.19 – The Jewish Chronicle website published an article entitled “Starmer ready to launch inquiry” which names Kevin Bean and Nina Houghton “and two other officers”:

Wednesday 27th May – Thirteen members of Wavertree CLP’s Executive Committee disassociate themselves from the statement written by Nina Houghton, Kevin Bean, Helen Dickson and Hazuan Hashim, and publish a statement to this effect on Twitter (the full EC is made up of 22 members). This was the first public statement about the issue: the four have made no public statements or offered responses to this tweet or to any other comments attacking them on social media.

As a result of this tweet by the thirteen members of the EC, along with other social media posts, articles containing quotations from their statement and the original bulletin article appeared on The Jewish Chronicle and Liverpool Echo websites, along with other leaks of confidential Labour Party information.

[You can download the statement by thirteen members of Wavertree CLP’s Executive here. This link replaces a rather fuzzy image of a post on twitter – JVL ed, 13th June 2020]

Friday 29th May at 16.04 –  Nina Houghton, Kevin Bean, Helen Dickson and Hazuan Hashim receive suspension letters by email from the Labour Party. These are stated to be totally confidential.

Friday 29th May at 21.37 – Article published on The Liverpool Echo website about the suspensions gives the full names and positions of all four members.
(Click on image below to sharpen it)

Sat 30th May at 11.09 – An article appears in The Jewish Chronicle with the full names and positions of all four members. In the following days some of the four suspended members named in these articles are visited and contacted by the media in their homes.


The Members’ Bulletin statement: Responding to Paula Barker’s article in The Jewish Telegraph

As members of who were active in Wavertree CLP in the months leading up to the resignation of Luciana Berger from the Labour Party in February 2019, we wish to make our views known regarding a number of points made by our MP Paula Barker in her article in The Jewish Telegraph of 16 May 2020.

We are deeply dismayed to be placed in the position of needing to correct the misleading impressions fostered by Paula’s article and, yet again, set the record straight about Ms Berger’s departure from our party. It is important to state that we understand and commend Paula’s expressions of support and solidarity with the Jewish communities in Liverpool in general, and Wavertree in particular, and her undoubted commitment and track record of opposing racism in all its manifestations, of which hatred of Jews is an important element with a long and brutal history.

We also pay tribute to the fact that since her election, and in the most difficult of circumstances, our MP has actively supported socialist causes of direct importance to the people of Wavertree, such as the cancellation of local authority debt, support for trade union action against bosses who put their members’ health at risk, and suspension of rent for private sector tenants affected financially by the pandemic. Within the constituency she was one of the first to take the problems in our care homes seriously and insist that action is taken to protect care home staff and residents, and she has not only helped many individuals in need, but also been instrumental in setting up a much-needed food bank locally.

However, we have to express our disappointment and hurt that someone we campaigned for so wholeheartedly appears to have reiterated the inaccurate and factionally motivated position on anti-Semitism which was used in order to personally attack and seriously undermine Labour’s socialist programme during the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

There are a number of points made in the article that we would take issue with, but the most important is the statement that:

’Luciana leaving the Labour Party was a shock to many and I find it deeply regrettable that she felt she could no longer stay….’

Though we accept that it was not explicitly stated that Luciana Berger was forced out of the Labour Party by anti-Semitic abuse from members of Wavertree CLP, Paula’s words will most certainly be taken to imply that we, as a CLP, were responsible. This accusation has been repeated by our political opponents, such as the anti-Corbyn Labour right and the Liberal Democrats on numerous occasions, culminating in Tom Watson’s calumny, under the protective cloak of parliamentary privilege, that Luciana Berger had been ‘forced out by racist thugs’ in Wavertree CLP. In the furore that followed, individual officers and members, such as our then chair, were subject to further abuse and false allegations in the media, all of which were designed to obscure the political differences between Ms Berger and the CLP.

These differences were fundamental; we were in no doubt that she was unhappy with the direction of the party following the election of Jeremy Corbyn, and she openly joined with others to undermine him in every way possible. The Executive invited her to meet and discuss her position on many occasions, but she did not respond. We knew very well that she faced, like all women politicians, horrible abuse on social media, and we publicly expressed our solidarity with her in standing up to this. We expressly offered her our solidarity when supporters of the far-right made threats and posted vile anti-Semitic comments about her. We passed a motion to this effect at the CLP in 2018

Yet our political disagreement with her was cynically attributed to bullying, harassment and anti-Semitism on our part. Members of the Wavertree CLP Executive were consequently faced with extremely damaging and hurtful abuse, and still are. As a result of this article, we now need to remind all our members of what we said in a press statement in February 2019:

… as an Executive we have always and continue now to express total solidarity with Luciana as a victim of misogyny and of antisemitism – coming mostly from the far right. Our Chair is himself Jewish and the suggestion that the CLP Executive is in any way a party to bullying and antisemitism is a false and slanderous accusation.

Furthermore, we are surprised and puzzled to see reference to shock about Luciana Berger leaving the Party, when it was obvious to all that if Corbyn remained in power she was planning to go, along with a group of other MPs who shared her dislike of Corbyn and his Socialist agenda.

We also note that the list of Jewish Labour Party luminaries referred to in the article is impressive but a little one-sided. There are and have been many Jewish members who are or were critical of Israeli Government policy, for example Gerald Kaufman, Alf Dubs, Harry Cohen, Ed Miliband and not to forget Sydney Silverman-from Liverpool and an MP for 33 years-and his son Roger, who submitted to the NEC a warning against the adoption of the IHRA definition in 2018, -saying:

‘I believe that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is deeply flawed. It is clearly designed to protect the Israeli state from legitimate criticism.’

We can only conclude that these other voices were not included because the article reflected the influence of a partial view that claims to speak for all Jewish people: it would perhaps have been more useful to consult a wider cross section of opinion in the Jewish communities before writing it.

We understand the pressure our MP is under from all sides on this very important question. Nevertheless, we are surprised that given the opportunity this article afforded, she failed to clearly and unequivocally defend Wavertree CLP from the slanders thrown at us over the last two years. Our disappointment is especially acute because we believed we now had an MP who could offer sincere support for Liverpool’s Jewish communities alongside a principled defence of the political integrity of the members of the CLP and the constituency which she represents.

 

Comments (11)

  • Barbara Watson says:

    This is disgraceful how can these individuals be suspended for disagreeing with an article it has nothing to do with anti Semitism also why has this been leaked ?

  • dave says:

    Thanks for running this. You could also add something on David Rosenberg’s support for Hazuan Hashim. http://www.labouragainstthewitchhunt.org/campaigns/david-rosenberg-on-his-friend-hazuan-hashim-one-of-the-wavertree-4

    Wavertree is significant because it isn’t just the suspension of entire CLPs but targeted at certain senior officers and follows a string of individual cases.

    It is also very disappointing that Paula Barker, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, should not only allude to the false narrative about Luciana Berger but also talks hyperbolically of the ‘scale of destruction of relations between the part of the [Jewish] community’, how she signed up to the IHRA, that she notes the affiliation of Poale Zion which of course is the JLM, and has steadfastness for the right of Israel to exist and the self-determination of her people (which presumably means only Jews), with the supposed qualification that she will ‘always be a Palestinian rights activist’.

    Essentially like Starmer and the others on the Labour right she is trying to square being a Zionist with being a Palestinian supporter and this seems to be increasingly a qualification for Labour membership, or at least not openly opposing it.

  • Michael Ryan says:

    So, despite the revelations in the leaked report showing us all what has been going on over the last four years, it’s business as usual at Labour Party HQ.
    These four members presented a reasoned, sincere and (to my mind) rather conciliatory critique of the views expressed by their M.P., as they are entitled to do. It was done in the proper way and not broadcast beyond the appropriate local CLP membership.
    Whether anyone agrees with them, or not is of no consequence. Their behaviour was beyond reproach. There is absolutely nothing said that any reasonable person could construe as anti Semitic or improper.
    The same can’t be said, however, for the instigators of this disciplinary action and the outrageous leaking to people and newspapers not connected to the Labour Party.
    If this is the way the Party is going I ain’t going with it.

  • Edward Hill says:

    It is clear that a narrative regarding ‘Antisemitism in the Labour Party’ has been agreed between Keir Starmer and Jewish Labour Movement; this includes any disagreement with the official version being treated as antisemitism per se. On this basis we must now accept antisemitism is rife in the Labour Party.

  • Mary Davies says:

    This McCarthyite witch-hunt shames the Labour Party.

  • Claire Weiss says:

    This attack on democracy must be strongly challenged.

  • Katharine Bligh says:

    If this appalling McCarthyite witch-hunt goes on then, tragically, there will be no chance of a Labour government for a whole generation to come (which means not in my lifetime) – and I am speaking as a third generation Jewish immigrant.

  • CVA says:

    It beggars belief that four members of the Labour Party could be suspended for the post above specially when:
    1- it is done in private as only Labour members of the CLP had access to it.
    2- it is balanced, they clearly still support Paula Baker but are expressing their disappointment that she implied their CLP pushed the former Labour MP to resign from the Party.
    3- I hope that the member/s responsible for the leaks have been suspended too, for breaching Labour Party rules. Of course we don’t know since it is confidential.

  • Margaret West says:

    How about another open letter which we can sign?

    If desired – the letter could be a general one in expressing concerns about the disciplinary process in not being according to current acceptable legal process(es).

    I realise that direct reference to the four Wavertree CLP Officers in such a letter would not be advisable. However the point could be made that public discussion of current legal cases is regulated according to “sub judice” rules wherein cases are dropped if these are abused. The fact that they *have* been abused with lies perpetrated would appear to make some current cases against LP members of dubious legality.

    Concern might also be expressed about the number of “antisemitism” charges against Jewish members of the LP.

    I signed the last open letter you composed concerned the investigation into the Report about the alleged infamous behaviour of LP staff. I did not notice if the letter was reported by the MSM – however it *was* reported in “Labour List” – which at least gave it some well deserved publicity.

  • David Pavett says:

    Whoever leaked the information to the Liverpool Echo and the Jewish Chronicle broke Labour’s rules regarding suspensions. It clearly had to be a Labour Party worker/official. Will this be the subject of a investigation? The LP General Secretary should be asked.

    We don’t know exactly what the four are accused of. This is part of Labour’s Kafkaesque approach to Party discipline which requires that such details are kept secret. Indeed, from previous cases, it seems this information is not made fully clear to the accused.

    The picture that emerges from the recent leaked report on Labour’s handling of charges of antisemitism is of a bureacracy with its own political agenda. Nothing has been done to change that. There have been no suspensions despite the detailed evidence of Labour officials working against the Party leadership. So it is hardly a surprise to find that the Party machine is still acting against left-wing members in order to shut down debate and intimidate the generally.

    One thing is for sure, no party with a bureacracy that acts in this way will ever be able to fully commit itself to working for a socialist programme.

  • maureen rahilly says:

    I think that they should they reinstated as their actions nor they as individuals can be deemed to be anti Semitic.

Comments are now closed.