I am not alone. My story is just one among many stories. But what happened to me is typical of what is happening to dozens, if not hundreds, of long-standing Party members up and down the country. It is a witch hunt. It is targeting good socialists, many of whom have made a huge contribution to the Labour Party and the Socialist movement over many years. It’s aim is to transform the Party from a broad church that welcomes people who hold different views, but who share a desire for a better world, to narrow sect whose main aim is to maintain the top-down organisation that evolved during the Blair years and within which many of them have vested political careers. Those who supported Corbyn’s leadership, including Corbyn himself, were a threat to that status quo. We must be silenced, and if we cannot be silenced then we must be purged.
The purge of Labour members has been called a witch hunt. The Salem witch trials are often quoted as a cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, extremism, false accusations and disregard of due process. An accuser would would enter a complaint of witchcraft with the magistrate. Spectral evidence – a dream, visitation or mere belief that witchcraft had been practiced – would be presented to the magistrate. The accused – usually a poor misunderstood individual perceived as an outsider in some way – would then be arrested, interrogated and pressed to confess. A guilty plea, expressed with remorse, could save your life. To plead not guilty would be taken as proof positive of guilt and then when you were found guilty you would be certain to be hanged. One of those accused, Giles Corey, an 81 year old farmer from Salem Fields, refused to submit himself to the process. He declined to enter a plea. In order to persuade him to comply, stones were placed on top of him until he couldn’t breathe. He died without entering a plea. Good for him.
I know from others’ experience, and the Leaked Report has confirmed, that Labour’s complaints systems are not fit for purpose. Like the justice systems in fifteenth century America, they are open to abuse. Individuals are placed ‘under investigation’ and invited to defend themselves against accusations based on the flimsiest of ‘evidence’ before officials who have already decided our guilt. Investigations that should never have been initiated – most of the ‘evidence’ cited would not stand up in any court of law and you would be treated more fairly in any half decent workplace – are left to hang indefinitely while ordinary decent Party members are left unsupported to deal with the stress. The letter that accompanies the Notice of Investigation acknowledges the stress that will be caused and includes the Samaritans’ phone number. The letter itself is not signed off by an individual officer. There is no named individual who can be contacted about the investigation.
Being under investigation and/or suspended restricts members’ participation in Party activity, including prohibiting them from standing for public office. It is a method increasingly used by a certain section of the Party establishment to ensure that only individuals who meet their approval make it on to a ballot. It is the way they get rid of you when all else fails – it is what happens to councillors and MPs who have a good record and have been, or are likely to be selected by ward or CLP members, but whose face – or politics – doesn’t fit with those who believe that they, and they alone, are born to rule. Those under investigation are prohibited, under threat of suspension and/or expulsion, from talking about it, This not only silences – cancels – the individual concerned, it allows malign gossip and lies to spread unchecked. Thus are the Labour Party’s complaints systems being used to purge and silence people like me.
Like the elderly Salem farmer, I chose not to submit myself to the judgement of a corrupt and broken system. I chose instead to resign. My resignation, along with that of my son – also a councillor – who has been ‘under investigation’ for over eighteen months, resulted in Labour losing control of a Crawley Borough Council. Two Brighton councillors were placed under investigation shortly after me. They too chose to resign with the result that Labour lost control of that council too. Our resignations have been branded as a ‘betrayal’ of the Party. It is those long-standing members, people who have dedicated many years and sacrificed much for the Labour movement, who have been betrayed. So long as the Labour Party – and by the Labour Party, I mean members, not paid officials – are prepared to stand by in silence while decent people are purged from its ranks, it will not be fit to govern at any level.
It has been suggested that I was wrong to resign, that I should have stayed in the Party to ‘clear my name’. This very suggestion says it all. It is as though I have already been condemned. Like those poor men and women in fifteenth century Salem, it seems the very uttering of a complaint is enough for the Labour Party to hang you. Had due process – even back then – been applied to the Salem witches, they would never have been accused in the first place. Had the Labour Party’s complaints systems been fit for purpose and not open to abuse by those with malign intent, hundreds of members would have been spared an ordeal that is widely understood to have resulted in suicide by at least one.
Members are entitled to know what is going on in their Party. Some may want to know. They can then make up their own minds about it. Below, for anyone interested, is a link to the Notice of Investigation that I received on 27 June. Also the response I might have offered had I trusted that it would be received in good faith by the Party.
Karen Sudan, August 2020