Welcome to Humpty Dumpty Land

JVL Introduction

JVL member Andrew Hornung tells a cautionary tale of the Labour Party’s disciplinary machine seemingly running out of control.

It circulates standard charges phrased in the catch-all words of clauses like 2.1.8 which can mean anything or nothing, depending on how the evidence it provides relates to these charges.

But the Governance and Legal Unit makes no attempt whatsoever to make such a connexion, even after repeated requests to them to do so.

Those accused are asked to search their hearts and come up with what they might be guilty of.

Must be guilty or? Otherwise, why would they ever have been charged?

Hornung also notes an apparent shift in the focus of current cases – from issues more concerned with “antisemitism” related to Israel-Palestine and the IHRA definition, to ones of punishing expressions of solidarity with proscribed organisations and for “undermining the Party’s ability to campaign against racism” if, for instance, the scale of antisemitism in the Party is questioned, or if the notion of a unified “Jewish community” is challenged.

Whether this is longer-range shift or just another string in GLU’s persecutory bow remains to be seen.

Andrew Hornung writes

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll got it right.  And the Disputes Team of the Governance and Legal Unit have learned from him – learned to step through the looking-class to a largely fictional world and learned that being able to define meaning to suit your needs makes you all-powerful.

Last month I received a “Notice of Investigation” from the Investigation Team of the Governance and Legal Unit of the Party.  It contained “Draft Charges” and items of “evidence”.  There was no attempt to link these two, so it is left to the recipient to guess what any given item is evidence of.  In other words, it is a document inviting self-incrimination.

The “Draft Charges” were in any case very general.  They relate to Rulebook Chapter 2, Clause 1.8, which is a catch-all clause referring to hostility to protected categories and therefore antisemitism.  I am additionally charged with “undermining the Party’s ability to campaign against racism” – presumably by questioning the leadership’s estimate of the extent of antisemitism.  Thrown in too, though it is unclear which charge it relates to, is my protest at labelling (libelling, more like) LAW as anti-Semitic and opposing its proscription.

The Notice of Investigation also included as “evidence” – of what they didn’t say – that I had questioned the term “the Jewish community” where it was used to as if there were a single unified entity with a single reaction to events and to imply that those who didn’t react in line with “the Jewish community” (identified no doubt as the Board of Deputies) were, implicitly, not a part of that community…or not Jews at all.

The another email arrived.  This bore the title “Notice of Allegation” and did not come from the Investigation Team but the Disputes Team.  No mention any more of the fisherman’s friend Chapter 2, Clause 1.8  This time the focus was entirely on Chapter 2, Clause 1.5.B subclause v, which says that the following is a Prohibited Act:  “Possessing membership of, providing financial assistance to, sitting on the ruling body of or otherwise supporting (as may be defined by the NEC) any political organisation that the NEC in its absolute discretion shall declare to be inimical with the aims and values of the Party”.

In other words I was being accused of being a supporter of LAW.  No one, however, alleged that I was a member or had provided financial assistance or sat on LAW’s ruling body, or sign a petition or attended a meeting organised by LAW – to my shame, perhaps, but we all make choices as to where to put our efforts and our cash.  So I am accused of being a “supporter” by seeking to defend LAW from injustice.

Let’s be clear, a cook is not anyone who cooks but one who exercises that action professionally or at least with regularity, and likewise a sailor is not anyone who sails and a nurse is not anyone who nurses.:.  But in the Land of Otherwise the content of actions is defined arbitrarily, expediently and in  accordance with factional objectives.  The membership is asked to guess what “otherwise supporting” means, since it is not in fact “defined by the NEC” anywhere.  Rather than defining what “supporting” or “supporter” means, the text simply gives the NEC (or those delegated by the NEC) the authority to define it “in its absolute discretion”.

So I replied: “Not only does the Rulebook open the door to arbitrary, discriminatory and factional behaviour on this critical point [of what constitutes support] but those using it fail to distinguish between two quite different ideas: supporting an organisation (however defined) and supporting that organisation’s right not to be defamed or victimised.  This distinction is crucial.  For example, I am not nor have I ever been a member or supporter of the Communist Party, but were someone to claim that it was a terrorist organisation and arrest its members under anti-terrorist legislation with consequent loss of certain rights on the part of those accused, I would oppose the claim and oppose the resulting injustice….This conflation of organisational support, like-minded thinking and defence against injustice is precisely the basis of thought-policing.”

Of course, my case, not yet decided, is in itself of little consequence.  I relate it here because I think it may be part of a pattern.  It looks to me as if, as far as the Labour Party is concerned, the IHRA document has largely served its purpose of legitimating a conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism and of creating an atmosphere of fear so that any demonstration of support for the Palestinian people might be taken as grounds for suspension…or worse.  In the pages-long lists of “Draft charges” against me including antisemitism – presumably for insisting that the “Jewish community” is not a single undifferentiated entity – no mention is made of the IHRA itself.

Instead the focus is on expressions of solidarity with proscribed organisations – engaging in a Prohibited Act – and defiance of David Evans’ edicts – “undermining the Party’s ability to campaign against racism”.   Of course, this may be because the Israel/Palestine conflict has not recently been in the headlines and so comments on it will have been few.  Even if other weapons are being used more right now, there is no reason to think that the old ones have been abandoned.

In any event it is important that the Left work out a concerted response to this new addition to the Rulebook.  We need to recognise that the little commented rule Chapter 2, Clause 1.5.B subclause v with its vagueness and arbitrariness constitutes a real threat.  This might be a legal campaign or a campaign to get middle-ground NEC members to take a more forceful stand or something else.  I am conscious that this doesn’t sound like an ear-splitting call to arms likely to inspire the masses, but it may be a way of winning over some of the middle-ground, concerned with Party democracy but unwilling to engage with issues of anri-Semitism or Israel/Palestine.
Just to be clear, though: even if we got a majority of the NEC to limit the oil-slick expansion of the idea of “support”, it wouldn’t stop the witch-hunt.  At best it would create a foot-hold for some resistance, and that might be worth doing.

Comments (9)

  • Joseph Hannigan says:

    Attlee and Bevin probably had fierce discussions about definitions eg race or religion etc. but I do not think either sacked Party members or thought it necessary. One day there may be a pure Zionist LP…but it will be small and have few Jews in it.

  • keith russell says:

    Crowd funding for legal action may be the answer

  • John Bowley says:

    Of course, the Labour Party is not campaigning against racism as it truly exists.

    The new management of the Labour Party has been clear that its focus is only on usually unproved and grossly exaggerated political claims of antisemitism.

  • It would seem that anyone, at any time, who expressed any expression of sympathy let alone support for Labour Against the Witchhunt is for the chop.

    As Ken Loach recently said, ‘democracy is dead inside the Labour Party.’ It’s essential that we create other organisations to continue the fight

  • jenny mahimbo says:

    What exactly is a “draft” charge? Either it is a charge or it isn’t. Does the word “draft” mean that the goalposts can be changed at will so that any defence against the charge can result in a rewording/amendment of the charge – catch 22? Who writes the “amendment” to the charge and on what basis?

    Isn’t the move to use the proscribed organisation route as the preferred charge rather than the IHRA/criticism of Israel also a reflection of growing international recognition by human rights groups that the Israeli government is operating an apartheid state?

  • Stephen Richards says:

    A large number of members of the British Labour Party have faced similar accusations because they are ‘Socialists’. This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism it is the final solution to eliminate supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. A form of McCarthyism now manifests itself as part of ‘the establishment’ that has always had a fear of ‘Socialism’, from MSM to educational institutions & local & central gov’t, powerful groups of Neo-Liberal business calls for Socialism to account to the House of Un-Capitalist Activities.

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    Thanks, Jenny Mahimbo. That was exactly my reaction. And I’m sure you’re right about shifting goalposts. Just think: Marc Wadsworth was accused by Ruth Smeeth of antisemitism – big fuss about “Jewish conspiracy tropes”. All patent nonsense! But Marc got expelled just the same on a catch-all charge that being disruptive or somesuch twaddle. One charge may morph into another unconnected charge but the punishment remains unchanged.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    Today I visited the Labour Party’s website to complain about its handling of the data breach, only to find that the complants section provides a special area for accusations of antisemitism. No other minority is accorded this special treatment, not black people and certainly not muslims. This not only demonstrates that Labour under Starmer’s leadership recognises a hierarchy of racism, it is in itself overtly racist and discriminatory. I intend to complain about it but I don’t expect to get them to change this. The worst racists are those who are so racist in their assumptions they don’t even realise they are being racist.

  • Julia says:

    Yes, Jenny Mahimbo, so many ‘weasel words’ in almost all the ‘accusations’ I have seen and the quasi-criminal law language used enrages me.

    I have just read that Crispin Flintoff, a CLP Secretary who recently circulated a resignation letter written to him by his constituency Chair to constituency members as part of a meeting agenda, has now been suspended. Yes, it’s not hard to guess – on the grounds of anti semitism. Another step through the looking glass; Lewis Carroll would be hard put to rival Starmer and Evans.

    Just read that Chris Flintoff a CLP Secretary who circulated the resignation letter of that Constituency Party’s Chair has been suspended a CLP has been suspended on the grounds of anti-semitism

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