In the summer of 2016, Brighton and Hove Labour Party held its annual general meeting at a city centre venue. Following the huge expansion of membership the summer before, over four times the previous number attended. Queues stretched around the block, particularly after a large contingent from a nearby Momentum rally arrived.
The venue quickly exceeded capacity, and the venue staff closed the doors as admitting further people would have breached fire safety limits. It was decided, on probably ill-judged advice from Region, to hold the AGM in three “shifts” so all could participate.
At the main door some people believed that they were being prevented from taking part, and that the person refusing them entry was from the Labour Party, not the venue. There was a heated confrontation.
As a result, the member of venue staff complained to a member of Labour staff (who himself was, during the event, elbowed in the ribs and called a “Blairite c***”) and several members of the outgoing City Party Executive. They then told me what had happened.
After the meeting I posted one tweet, half of which referred to the incident. It was wrong that this staff member, unconnected to anyone in Labour and just doing his job, had been caught up in a confrontation at such close quarters that the persons spit hit him. Ultimately he declined to make a formal complaint.
This incident had nothing to do with the subsequent annulment of the AGM and breakup of the City Party.
The elections held that day, using open buckets to collect ballots and held over three sessions, could not in the Party’s view be guaranteed to be safe.
The successful candidate for Chair was immediately suspended and subsequently expelled by the NEC for membership of the proscribed organisation the Alliance for Workers Liberty.
The NEC decided that the City Party, at over seven thousand members, was too large to function as a single unit, and determined that the three constituency parties should be reconstituted.
As someone who helped found the city party structure to more effectively contest local elections, I disagreed with that step in principle, but acknowledged it in practical terms. It was never my decision or one I had influence over. I had no involvement in the decision and was informed the day before it was announced. I don’t think the reasons for the annulment of the City Party elections and the return to CLPs were properly explained.
Again, my tweet, and the incident at the door, had nothing to do with the AGM being annulled and the City Party being broken up.
Claims were made that it was a desperate attempt by “Blairites” to cling on to control. The outgoing chair was Lloyd Russell-Moyle, now the Corbyn-supporting MP for Brighton Kemptown. He took over from Nancy Platts when she went to work in Jeremy Corbyn’s office. Plenty of the outgoing Exec were on the Left, and standing again. By and large the City Party Executive had worked well bringing together all strands of the Party.
That one tweet has been used repeatedly over the past two years as “proof” that I have regularly “lied and fabricated smears” to discredit the Left and attack the leadership nationally.
Repeated again and again in blogs and on social media, particularly in the closed Facebook groups of the three local CLPs, these claims have become “the truth”.
My achievements in office have therefore always had a “yes, but..”. Is it any wonder I’ve been told, again and again, that “the membership won’t support you” carrying on as Leader?
None of this has been central to my decision to stand down, but it has been a distraction and a drain on delivering Labour policies in the city.
My decision not to seek re-election now means I am free to set the record straight. Of course those members convinced that I’ve spent the last two years fabricating “smears” – one of whom branded me an “execrable toad”, and another who referred to “murdering psychopaths” sharing the same traits as me – are very unlikely to believe a word of this, even if they read it.
That doesn’t matter and I’ve nothing to gain or lose now other than to put my side of the story, and to demonstrate the lengths some have gone to in order to pursue factional goals and personal vendettas. It was never about me attacking, or them defending, Jeremy Corbyn, it was all about settling scores. As Neil Schofield blogged last week, there were attempts to oust me as Labour Group leader even as we were campaigning to win the last local elections, months before Corbyn even stood.
I’ve had some personal abuse, yes, but it is nothing compared to the mysogynistic abuse and personal harrassment some of my women councillor colleagues have had to deal with over the past five years.
It’s the right thing to do, now, to call this behaviour out.
This blog post isn’t about me or my leadership, it’s about the Labour Party, about winning a majority Labour council in Brighton and Hove.
It is my hope that the many good and decent people on the Left and in the majority in the local Labour Party will now see through this kind of behaviour and, if they really believe in a new, kinder, gentler politics, kick these malicious people out of their movement. If they don’t, they may well find themselves on the receiving end of it next.