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Oxford Labour calls for withdrawal of General Secretary’s undemocratic “guidance”

‘Saying a ruling is mistaken in some way isn’t equivalent to disobeying it, & to prevent the expression of such opinions is contrary to democratic rights & will prevent proper political debate.’

Text from the motion

By a member of Oxford and District Labour Party

On Friday 13 November almost 200 members attended a packed online meeting of Oxford and District Labour Party. Several motions submitted by branches that called for the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn to be overturned were ruled out of order in advance following threats issued by Labour Party General Secretary, David Evans. Officers in other CLPs have already been suspended, seemingly for allowing similar motions to be discussed. Oxford members responded by voting overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution insisting that these restrictions on democratic debate be revoked.

Avoiding the ban on making reference to an individual, the Oxford motion slams the notion of any member being investigated under the disciplinary process for expressing disagreement with the ruling of a court or other tribunal: ‘Saying that a ruling is mistaken in some way is not equivalent to disobeying it, and to prevent the expression of such opinions is contrary to democratic rights and will prevent proper political debate.’ Noting also that the General Secretary’s guidance refers to an issue which has already been widely discussed in public and in the media, including by senior party members, it condemns the practise of releasing information about the suspension of a member to the press even ‘before the member themselves has been informed’.

The resolution also draws attention to what it calls ‘unacceptably threatening language’ used by David Evans, with those in attendance describing feeling ‘afraid to open their mouths’ due to these threats. One local party officer explained how people were unwilling to contribute to fundraising efforts in the current climate, while an NHS doctor who was present told how colleagues in the health service had been looking to Labour for support in the midst of the pandemic, but now felt ‘demoralised’ by the divisive actions of the leadership.

Responding to questions from the floor, the Chair admitted to being ‘uncertain’ as to what exactly might trigger punitive action from the party hierarchy and promised to seek greater clarity in advance of future meetings. Despite the presence of several prominent national Labour Party figures, none appeared able to offer any reassurance to concerned members.  

Only the Tories gain from the current leadership’s decision to focus on internal factional warfare. Hounding Jeremy Corbyn might be easier than standing up to Boris Johnson but will not bring a Labour government any closer. The use of disciplinary procedures to pursue such an agenda is not only wrong in principle, it will serve to undermine the very integrity of those processes. By taking a stand members can demonstrate solidarity and collectively build confidence – branches and constituency parties should continue to find ways to make their voices heard.

Text of the Oxford motion:

“This ODLP notes the guidance sent by General Secretary David Evans to local party officers on 5th November 2020.

We strongly agree that it is important to protect the integrity and confidentiality of our party’s disciplinary process and to maintain best practice throughout the conduct of any disciplinary enquiry.

It is our view that such best practice, irrespective of the issue concerned or the identity of the member whose conduct is under investigation, must include:

a)   That information about the suspension of a member must not be released to the press and discussed in public by any party members before the member themselves has been informed about the suspension.

b)  That members should not be investigated under the disciplinary process for expressing disagreement with the ruling of a court or other tribunal. Saying that a ruling is mistaken in some way is not equivalent to disobeying it, and to prevent the expression of such opinions is contrary to democratic rights and will prevent proper political debate.

The General Secretary’s guidance refers to an issue which has already been widely discussed in public and in the media. Senior party members have expressed an opinion in public on the issue. We understand that the Labour Party NEC will be making a formal response to the issue in question, and regret that this response will not be informed by wider party consideration of the very serious issues raised. 

The ordinary members of this branch fully endorse the General Secretary’s statement that “our meetings must be conducted in accordance with our rules and guidance and in the spirit of creating an open and welcoming environment for people of all communities and backgrounds”. However, we believe that all members, not just those in senior national positions, should have the opportunity to engage in responsible debate, within these parameters, about issues of concern to the wider party.

We are particularly concerned that the General Secretary’s statement that, “the Party will not hesitate to take appropriate action – including against individual members – where our rules and guidance are not adhered to, or standards of behaviour fall below that which we expect”, in the context of the national party’s interpretation of those rules on this occasion appearing contrary to our fundamental values of free speech and open debate, uses unacceptably threatening language. This could be experienced as intimidation by volunteer local officers.

We call upon the General Secretary to withdraw his guidance”.

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