Dear Crawley Labour – an open letter to my former comrades.

I have been told that some of you wished to hear from me directly. As all lines of communication between me and you have been blocked by those who don’t want you to hear what I might have to say, this is the only way I can communicate with you. If you are not one of those people, then reading this is not compulsory. However, I know that there are enough fair-minded people among you – after all, you are the Labour Party that I was a member of for a long time – to make it worth my while putting pen to paper.

My relationship with the Labour Party survived through many ups and downs and I was proud to serve the Party as a Crawley Borough and West Sussex County councillor . You will know that the day I cut up my membership card was among the saddest of my life. Knowing that there are some who choose to believe that it was done lightly, for petty personal reasons, or even as one person said ‘to get attention’ was insulting and added to the hurt.

The truth is that, at the point I resigned, events had driven me to a point where I had to leave for my own sake and the sake of my family, as well as to keep myself in ‘good order’ to meet the commitment I had made to the people who had elected me to represent them. I could not have done the latter while battling to get allegations against me cleared up. Perhaps once you have read this, you might have a better idea of just what a battle that would have been. My resignation was the end of a long and horrible chapter in a story that had begun over a year before and perhaps even before that:

Rory, my son and a Borough councillor like me, had been placed under investigation eighteen months earlier. This was a failed attempt to prevent him being a candidate in the 2019 Borough Council all-out elections and to replace him with someone else. As he had been selected to fight a Bewbush seat by Party members in the ward, the only way left to achieve this was for the CLP Executive to withdraw his endorsement as a candidate. They could justify doing this if he was under investigation and so a complaint was made. The plan failed. Rory’s appeal against the withdrawal of endorsement was upheld. He went on to be elected. But it seemed that the fact that he was under investigation was forgotten ….

It is not clear what Rory was accused of but, contrary to what has been said, it was not antisemitism. Rory was required to comment on three emails that had been submitted by the complainant. These were an email sent to a woman member in which he had made an ironic reference to ‘mansplaining’. The woman recipient of this email was not the complainant and had not wished it to be part of any complaint. She later wrote to the complaints department to tell them this. The second email contained queries about the selection process. These were forcefully put on behalf of several members who needed clarity that had not been forthcoming. The third was a private email sent to the complainant himself in which Rory rebuked him from going against advice from the leader of the Labour Group and he himself, (as the Group’s press officer) regarding a press statement.

Rory’s investigation was never concluded in spite of his co-operation and many attempts to get the matter cleared up. Eventually, after a year, Rory carried out his threat to resign unless things were resolved. This was at the start of the pandemic and almost immediately he decided to withdraw the resignation because of the situation. This was not straightforward – the Party had acted with uncharacteristic swiftness – but with support from a senior Party member, and a promise to conclude the investigation one way or another within a fortnight, Rory rescinded his resignation. The promise to conclude the investigation was not kept and neither was promised support to achieve that forthcoming. Once again, Rory’s being under investigation was forgotten ….

For the record, neither of us expect any complaints about us to be dismissed without being investigated. We never have. We do believe that there should be some kind of filtering of complaints – it cannot be right that someone can submit an anonymous complaint that automatically results in someone being placed under investigation, with all the consequences that go with that. All we have ever asked for or expected was for investigations to be followed through as swiftly as possible, and for support in achieving that.

It seemed that no sooner had the 2019 elections taken place, than selections were underway for the 2020 Borough and 2021 County Council elections. I had decided not to stand again for election as a Borough councillor. This was in some part because I feared putting myself through a selection process run by a certain CLP officer who had maligned and attacked me at every opportunity and who I knew would do all he could to stop me from being selected.

When Crawley’s dismal 2019 GE election result showed just how far Labour had sunk in Crawley, I reconsidered. I believed that, as the sitting councillor, I would have an advantage and I knew that I could do a lot to help run a good campaign in Northgate and West Green. I wanted to play my part in helping Labour keep control of the Borough council.

Ward members selected me to fight the seat in the elections that would have taken place last year. However, I knew, on seeing the reaction of the CLP officer mentioned above, that it was unlikely I would have been a candidate in those elections had they taken place. Others saw it too and remarked on it afterwards. When it was announced that the elections would not take place last year, the same CLP officer began hounding me – even to the point of emailing me on a bank holiday Sunday – as to whether I still intended to stand the following year.

The decision to stand again for West Sussex County Council was much easier. I loved being a county councillor and felt I had begun to make a difference in the things I care most about. I found Michael Jones to be a supportive leader; the West Sussex LCF was refreshing to work with, and I felt my contribution was valued. I completed the application and sent it off. That very Saturday evening, I received Notice from Party HQ that I was under investigation for antisemitism.

See here:

I did not have to leave the Party. There is always a choice. Many people may think that all you need to do is respond to the allegations, justice will be served and, if you are not guilty, that will be the end of it. I thought that once. Now I knew better. I knew from Rory’s and others’ experience, that it would not work out like that. Had I not resigned, I would have been required to keep quiet about the investigation all the while it dragged on, while others (including of course the anonymous complainant) were free to speculate and spread malign gossip about it. Eventually, the CLP EC would have withdrawn endorsement of me as a candidate. The Labour Party’s disciplinary process has been described as a sick joke – there are around 6,000 members and ex-members, including me, who know that once under investigation, it takes years, and often requires legal action, to bring things to a close.

Many many people – from within and outside the Party, from all over the place, even members of opposition parties, got in touch with me to tell me how unjust they felt the accusations against me to be. They saw how unfair and anti-democratic it is for individuals to manipulate selections and, more importantly than anything, they said they knew I was not an antisemite. I hope some of those people get to read this because I can’t thank you enough. There were times when I went to a very dark place and your solidarity saved me from further depths.

There was only one person who said they thought I was an antisemite. That person has not said this to my face, indeed, he has not exchanged a word with me since I resigned. Like everything else that has been said by this person, it has been said behind my back. Even this person does not believe that the three tweets offered as ‘evidence’ were sufficient to have me ‘kicked out’ as he has put it. He has been asked what is the basis for this belief and has replied that it is my expressed belief that Israel is an Apartheid State. Never mind that this person’s own Union, Unite share this belief about the state of Israel, as does the United Nations and many recognised human rights organisations.

Rory resigned his Party membership a few days after me. from what I have been told, Peter Lamb is clearly aggrieved that Rory and I resigned from the Labour Party last year. He would have preferred it had we stayed because then he would have kept his majority. Clearly our resignations were not part of the plan – the plan was for us to stay and engage in futile behind the scenes efforts to get the investigations cleared up – until the opportunity came for us to be removed and replaced as council candidates – never mind our record, never mind the wider interest, and never mind the price we would pay as individuals.

Just a few days after we resigned, Peter Lamb used the council’s Facebook live Q and A as a platform to announce that he had lodged a standards complaint against us because we were ‘dishonest’. This complaint was rejected, but remained on the council’s Facebook page for months afterwards, even after our complaint that it had been there in the first place was upheld.

I decided to stand as an independent this year because I believe in democracy. Democracy is about choice. Labour members selected me to fight the Borough Council seat and did not want their decision subverted. I wanted the electorate to have the chance to judge me on my record. That is their right. It is not the job of one or two individuals to interfere with that.

Lastly, it was unlikely that Rory or I would have supported Peter Lamb in a confidence vote last year. But we were not approached and so no one will ever know what might have been agreed. Peter Lamb went straight to the Tories and made a deal with them. We were not approached then and have not been contacted since. Until now. You should know that all Rory has asked for in return for support for a Labour administration is a public statement of support regarding the allegations against us – as was promised to Rory over a year ago – and a public apology from Peter Lamb for lodging a council standards complaint and making it public (itself a breach of standards). He also asked for two policy commitments: no evictions of council tenants for a year to enable families to recover from damage caused to their finances due to the pandemic, and a reversal of the decision to close adventure playgrounds. Apparently, the Labour Group have no problem with the policy commitments (although these were not part of the manifesto). The problem is with showing solidarity with Rory and me. I do not think that that solidarity is is too much to expect given the support we have given the Party and the Group over the years – including last year when, in spite of all the vitriol aimed at us, we were stalwart in our support for the Labour Group.

Best wishes,

Your one time friend and comrade,

Karen Sudan

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