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There is nothing moral about David Evans’ anti-democratic crusade – Maia Kirby #SaveOurSocialists

“ It is clear that the rule book has been breached, but not by the CLP & BLP Officers who have been suspended. It is the General Secretary who has awarded himself powers that go way beyond the powers of the NEC as stipulated in the rulebook.”

Maia Kirby

By Maia Kirby, Save Our Socialists Supporter

David Evans response to Secretaries and Chairs shows there has been a clear over-extension of the powers of the General Secretary, based on the flawed application of the EHRC report. The notable omission of the very real and damaging effect of suspensions of local party members from his response also gives great cause for concern.

David Evans finally responded to the 284 CLP Secretaries and Chairs who wrote to him in December calling on him to withdraw his ‘guidance’ and put an end to the disciplinary actions arising from perceived failure to adhere to this guidance. Three months later, with seventy officers still suspended, he has responded, but his response reveals a General Secretary who is using the EHRC report to award himself powers far beyond those delegated to him by the rulebook.

Evans’ response was largely a rehashing of his previous emails – the Labour Party was found guilty of unlawful acts, the EHRC set out ‘expectations around agency’ meaning he had to give ‘guidance’ to voluntary officers. ‘Statutory responsibilities’ meant that branches and CLPs were not allowed to repudiate the findings of the EHRC report. There was apparently ‘significant’ evidence that where more ‘adversarial propositions’ were allowed, a bad atmosphere was created. It was this culture that  led to the decision to extend the issues that were not permitted to be discussed. This is his way of explaining why he extended the list of forbidden topics to include motions of solidarity, and motions on Jeremy Corbyn.

I am told by someone with a better grasp of the law that David Evans’ argument that the EHRC interpretation of ‘agency’ in the party required the party to issue guidance on the content of discussion is legally inaccurate. The EHRC has no authority to set out the application of the legal principles of agency in the Labour Party.

This is not the only misrepresentation in Evans’ letter. He repeatedly refers to his ‘guidance’ – which contained within it items not permitted to be discussed. But to call it ‘guidance’ suggests it is advice for local Labour parties to follow in order to avoid unpleasant confrontation, it cannot be described as ‘guidance’ when the consequence of not following it is suspension from the party. In this case it is clearly an ‘instruction’.

Which begs the question – does the General Secretary have the authority to issue such diktats? The General Secretary draws his power from the NEC, and the powers of the NEC are outlined in the Labour party rulebook. There is no provision in the rule book for the NEC to rule on the content of motions or discussions. 

Evans’ claim to authority on the matters relating to this guidance and suspensions of members relies on an item from the NEC’s code of conduct that commits the party to being a ‘welcoming home for members of all communities’. If the suspension of officers relies upon a breach of this code, then surely it would be right and fair to ask what the criteria is for determining whether a meeting is ‘welcoming’ or not? Who would be making this decision and on what basis?

Aside from the clear procedural issues here, there is actually very little evidence that what David Evans claims – that there were ‘significant’ incidents of ‘exclusionary’ atmospheres following the release of the EHRC report – is actually true. Now, we have had right wing members of our CLP swear, speak out of turn, mock other members, particularly those with a protected characteristic, and make defamatory remarks in our General Meetings over the last five years, often making them deeply unpleasant. One could argue that the hundreds of thousands of new members who joined the party from 2015, inspired by Jeremy Corbyn, were from the offset met by a hostile and exclusionary atmosphere in most CLPs by longer standing members who did not support his leadership of the party. But that unwelcome atmosphere that has persisted, is not the one Evans’ is making reference to. Of all the suspensions that Save Our Socialists are aware of, not a single one relates to discussion or mention of the EHRC report. They are all for motions of solidarity, motions of no confidence and in some cases neither of these.

The irony of the General Secretary using as his rationale for this course of action the desire to create a welcome space, can surely not escape anyone. The suspensions of officers has caused chaos in many CLPs, and had a significant impact upon the mental health of those effected. They have been unable to take part in Labour Party zoom meetings at a time when social interaction and regular support networks are largely inaccessible. Many affected have felt humiliated, their reputations tarnished, unable to stand to represent the party, blocked from having a political voice, but still expected to forward emails, give training in party systems and pay their membership fees. What purpose could the suspension of an officer, for tabling a motion passed to them by members (not writing, presenting, discussing a motion) calling on the whip to be restored to Corbyn, serve, other than to sow division and confusion?

Evans wrote in his response to CLP Secretaries and Chairs that in retrospect he should have been clearer about the fact that it was he who was ruling motions out of order, not that he expected Chairs and Secretaries to do so. This makes little sense and seems to betray not only a lack of understanding of the relationship between the NEC and local party chairs, but indeed the obligations of officers as laid out in the rulebook. The Chair of a meeting has an obligation under the common law to ensure that the proceedings are properly conducted according to law and according to the standing orders or rules of the body concerned. Evans’ guidance required CLP Secretaries and Chairs to break their own standing orders and the rules of the party, by delegating to them the power to rule the content of motions ‘out of order’, a power that neither he nor the NEC has according to the rule book. Further to this, this delegation is in itself in breach of the basic legal principle of delegatus non potest delegare (a person to whom a power, trust, or authority is given to act on behalf, or for the benefit of, another, cannot delegate this obligation unless expressly authorised to do so). If he was himself making a ruling on whether a motion was ‘competent business’ or not, again the rulebook does not permit him this power, then surely his instructions should have been sent to all members, not just constituency and branch chairs and secretaries.

It is clear that the rule book has been breached, but not by the CLP and BLP Officers who have been suspended. It is the General Secretary who has awarded himself powers that go way beyond the powers of the NEC as stipulated in the rulebook, and broken these rules in his treatment of the CLP Secretaries and Chairs who wrote to him three months ago telling him he was putting them in the firing line. The seventy of these who are still suspended, the many who have now been replaced on their Executive Committees due to being unable to stand at the AGM, those who have been unable to stand as representatives of the party, even those who would be his natural supporters will have found themselves placed at odds with their members, whether or not they wanted to be or not. In his treatment of all those members he has breached the Party Rules. Chapter 2.II.7 Charter of Members Rights specifically states that: 7. Members have the right to dignity and respect, and to be treated fairly by the Labour Party. Party officers at every level shall exercise their powers in good faith and use their best endeavours to ensure procedural fairness for members.

So what are the consequences for the Labour Party electorally when the General Secretary has alienated a great proportion of the Party’s most active and dedicated members? We shall soon see. The General Secretary must now as an absolute priority, re-instate all those who have been unfairly suspended, and the NEC ought to investigate how this dreadful episode was allowed to occur. Certainly all party members who believe in the founding principles of the Labour Party, and the values of a democratic society, should think long and hard about whether they wish to ratify Evans’ appointment at the Annual Labour Party conference in September.

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