Following her outburst last week, reportedly saying to Jeremy Corbyn:
You're a fucking anti-Semite and a racist. You don't want people like me in the party."
(more about which you can read in my previous post) Margaret Hodge has defended her accusation, although denies the swearing and repeated it in the media since, obviously without the swearing. On the 18th July she was sent a Notice of Investigation from Jennie Formby, General Secretary of Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC). Luckily for us Hodge has tweeted it:
She has also tweeted the reply sent by her lawyers:
I'm not going to dissect the solicitor's letter here. I'm sure you can draw your own conclusions from reading it. It seems a pretty lengthy reply to what is just a notice of investigation. Note on tweet 5/7 how attention is drawn to abuse Hodge has received. Abuse obviously shouldn't be tolerated in any political party. However, it's ironic that abuse is raised in a case where Hodge has been abusive herself. It shows the double standards that some Labour MPs seem to hold about their standard of behaviour and that of supposed (but not proven) Corbyn / Labour supporters. Battle lines have most definitely been drawn and the tone has been set.
You would expect consternation about the notice of investigation from many Labour MPs but I wasn't expecting to hear that John McDonnell thought it should be dropped. The headline in the Guardian was:
Labour should drop action against Margaret Hodge, McDonnell says
What he actually said was:
Someone has made a complaint so that’s being investigated. My view is let’s resolve this very, very quickly, almost drop the complaint, and let’s move on. Or if someone wants their complaint investigated, let’s get that done quickly.”
While there is much to be said for dealing with the complaint quickly, presumably with the aim of healing yet another rift before too much damage is done, the complaint should continue. The headline must have been something of a kick in the teeth for the 3,017 people purged from voting in the Labour leadership election of 2016 either by suspension, expulsion or having membership denied for far less reason than the cause of the investigation against Hodge.
It is doubtful that many (if any) of those 3,107 would have had the means to so challenge the decisions, often arbitrarily made against them, let alone access to a Silver Circle law firm that:
Grace Blakeley also raises a good point:
In a party that designates itself as "the party of equality", the complaint should be fully investigated to show that there is not one rule for members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and another for Labour Party members in general.
There's a huge debate in the Labour Party right now about antisemitism (again, just as Labour are ahead in the polls funnily enough). The current furore is over the acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Labour have accepted the definition but changed the working examples so there is scope for political debate about Israel. You can read more about it here.
According to Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Labour Party, the NEC Code takes the IHRA Working Definition and supplements it “with additional examples and guidance”, thus creating “the most thorough and expansive Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism introduced by any political party in the UK”. Similarly, Jon Lansman, a fellow member of the NEC, calls the Code “the new gold standard” for political parties, “stronger than anything of its kind adopted by any political party in this country”. The Code, he says, “fully adopts the IHRA definition, and covers the same ground as the IHRA examples” but goes further, making it more workable. That is the view from the inside."
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) were unhappy with this and on Monday 16th July passed a motion calling on the National Executive Committee (NEC) to drop the code of conduct proposals. On Tuesday 17th July, the NEC refused to allow a vote on the proposals instead deciding to consult more Jewish groups over the Summer. A Labour spokesperson said:
“The NEC upheld the adoption of the code of conduct on antisemitism, but in recognition of the serious concerns expressed, agreed to reopen the development of the code, in consultation with Jewish community organisations and groups, in order to better reflect their views.”
However, Margaret Hodge, a member of the pro-Israel / generally anti-Corbyn Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), was seemingly incensed by this. According to witnesses she approached Jeremy Corbyn after the Trade Bill votes on Tuesday evening and said to him:
You're a fucking anti-Semite and a racist. You don't want people like me in the party."
To which Corbyn is reported to have replied calmly:
I’m sorry you feel like that.”
Corbyn's office has since said that action will be taken.
Twitter exploded, with certain justification. The PLP are quick to jump on abuse from alleged Corbyn supporters and refer to it time and again in the media, yet here is a member of the PLP verbally abusing the leader of the party. When it comes to the language she used, it is interesting to compare it to when Catherine Starr applied to join the Labour Party to vote in the 2016 leadership contest. Her application was famously rejected because of a post on Facebook which said:
I fucking love the Foo Fighters"
Therefore, Corbyn supporters were understandably irate about Hodge's verbal abuse. The whole situation stank of rank hypocrisy. From the abuse angle and from the swearing angle.
The next day's response of the right wing of the PLP, including many members of LFI, was a co-ordinated tweet-a-thon about how Margaret Hodge saved her constituency, Barking, from the BNP.
So... Did Margaret Hodge actually save Barking from the British National Party (BNP)? In 2006 the BNP won 11 of the 13 seats it contested in local elections, after which there were calls for Hodge to be deselected and by 2010 had they had 12 seats. In 2007 Hodge assimilated the rhetoric of the BNP around the housing issue in particular, in much the same way as the Tories have assimilated the rhetoric of UKIP to hoover up their support since Brexit. She called for social housing policy to take account of length of residence, citizenship and national insurance contributions.
We should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants"
This garnered praise from BNP councillor, Richard Barnbrook:
I am indebted to you for having the gumption to tell the truth about housing allocation"
and he reportedly wanted to deliver flowers to her for supporting BNP policy.
The Labour Party however, were horrified:
There is no evidence whatsoever that immigrants are causing a problem with social housing. My problem with that is that's the kind of language of the BNP and it's grist to the mill of the BNP."
Housing is allocated according to need and it is disingenuous for Margaret Hodge to suggest otherwise. The problem is lack of housing supply and it's a shame she wasn't so vocal in the campaign for the building of more council housing"
It is not fair for her to play one group of people off against another. Margaret Hodge is missing the point. The problem is clear, there are not enough council houses to meet the demand."
In 2010 Nick Griffin, the BNP leader himself, contested the Barking seat and came third with 6,620 votes compared to Hodge's 24,628. Did she see him off? Or did she attract enough of his voters by pandering to BNP rhetoric? Or perhaps credit should instead be given to the multicultural voters of Barking, where turn out was high, thanks to Labour campaigners, for not voting for Griffin. Indeed, Griffin himself blamed the high turnout for placing him at a disadvantage and for leading to all 12 council seats being lost.
As for Liz Kendall's tweet saying Hodge has "fought tax dodgers" and for women's rights, it has perhaps slipped her memory that in 2013 the Telegraph headline was:
and if you were to dig further back to her time as leader of Islington Council:
We also shouldn't forget she has form for haranguing Corbyn - from the being one of the instigators in the letter of no confidence in 2016 to this in Islington in 1995:
Imagine disliking someone so intensely for so long then they become leader of your party. How that must stick in her gullet. However, it's no excuse for the hypocritical verbal abuse which should now be dealt with - with the severity that Labour Party members using similar language, in abusive and non abusive situations, have been dealt.
Theresa May is so scared of a leadership challenge over her Chequers Deal that she has suggested parliament break up for recess a week early. At a time when the UK is facing it's biggest peacetime challenge, May wants everyone to go on holiday.
Even though some MPs are against:
it is expected to pass.
This is quite despicable. Since the House returned on 5th September 2017, parliament has been in recess for 71 days, not including conference season. You can see the dates here. Summer recess, starting on 24th July as originally planned, would add another 42 days. So in this parliamentary year, MPs will have 16 weeks and 1 day in recess. Adding another 5 days, as May is suggesting, will make one day short of 17 weeks of holiday in one year. That is more than school children, who are better behaved and teachers who, I would argue, work much harder. You don't see teachers finding the time to write newspaper columns for example, books even, owning other businesses etc. You may find teachers having second jobs, as many MPs do but not usually through choice and not usually in high, well paid, corporate positions with a revolving door when their teaching career ends.
MPs will argue that they use recess time to catch up with their constituencies, that it is not holiday as such. They may indeed spend some of this time pursuing constituency business but to all intents and purposes they are on holiday.
In what other area of work does anyone get so much holiday? Indeed, what business would be expected to run itself for 6 weeks while it's bosses all went on holiday? MPs are paid more money than most of us could dream of and they can claim huge expenses on top of that. Many go straight into highly paid, corporate positions when their career in politics is over, thanks to that ever revolving door. The pension scheme is more generous than many of us could hope for and worth the insecurity of tenure that it is purported to reflect. More information on parliamentary pensions can be found here:
The current parliamentary system is a disgrace and it's in every MP's interest to perpetuate it. Therefore, it will never change. It is too steeped in tradition and privilege, with MPs hungry for the revolving door that follows, for any of them to vote for it to change. But change it should. Sixteen weeks of holiday is obscene. Making it seventeen makes it even more so.
Earlier this week, prior to Donald Trump's first visit to the UK since becoming President of the United States, it was mooted that he would like to meet his "friend" Boris Johnson. Indeed the US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, said:
Boris Johnson has been a friend of the President"
Trump himself has said that Johnson would:
make a great Prime Minister"
All of which makes you wonder if they know what Johnson has said about Trump in the past.
In 2015, during his campaign to become the Republican Presidential candidate, Trump claimed that there were no go areas in London, where even police were too scared to go. He had been talking about banning Muslims from America when he said:
We have places in London and other places that are so radicalised that the police are afraid for their own lives. We have to be very smart and very vigilant"
To which Johnson replied:
I think Donald Trump is clearly out of his mind if he thinks that's a sensible way to proceed, to ban people going to the United States in that way, or to any country. What he's doing is playing the game of the terrorists and those who seek to divide us. That's exactly the kind of reaction they hope to produce.
He went on to say:
Crime has been falling steadily both in London and in New York - and the only reason I wouldn't go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”
Surely Trump and Woody Johnson know this? If they don't, should we tell them? Should we warn them of his hypocrisy, duplicity and disloyalty? That the only person to whom Boris Johnson is a friend, is himself? Because, as Theresa May has found out, with friends like Johnson who needs enemies? Or would it be much more fun to let them find out for themselves?
In this current climate of Brexit and racism, you'd think we should welcome organisations that Stand up to Racism and Unite against Fascism. Indeed, when you look at the officers of Stand up to Racism, at first glance they are impressive from a left wing perspective:
Why is this a problem?
In September, 2012 a female member of the SWP made an allegation of rape against a member of the Central Committee, who throughout the proceedings was know as Comrade Delta. Comrade Delta was asked to stop doing any work on behalf of the party while the allegation was investigated. Instead of involving or encouraging the female member to go to the police, the SWP dealt with it at a Disputes Committee. In a transcript of the SWP Conference 2013 (which the female member was not allowed to attend, even though she wanted to) leaked to the blog, Socialist Unity, Sandy B states:
Comrades, we have to welcome the fact that we have a disputes committee. We have no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice.
The Disputes Committee decided to use the standard legal definition of rape. They also decided to look at sexual assault and whether the relationship between Comrade Delta and the female member was abusive. The rape and other sexual assaults had happened over a period of six months in 2008/2009. The female member had made an informal complaint in 2010 about sexual harassment which didn't reach the Disputes Committee. A resolution was reached about this at the time. However, with confidence over the way the SWP handled the Assange case, she felt that she would get a fair hearing coming forward again in 2012.
In October 2012 the seven members of the Disputes Committee met for four days to hear evidence from Comrade Delta and the female member. Five of the Disputes Committee were either past or present Central Committee members, two were Central Committee members at the time of the hearing. All of the Disputes Panel knew Comrade Delta well and none knew the female member. This is the first indication that the hearing wouldn't be entirely fair.
A second indication was that:
she (the female member) was expected to respond immediately to the evidence that Comrade Delta was able to bring – she never got to see it in advance. He had her statement for weeks before she appeared in front of the panel. Some of the issues that were raised were things she had blocked out, and it was an incredibly traumatic experience for her."
A retrospective sign is the understanding about what the Disputes Committee's role actually is. As was stated at the 2013 SWP Conference:
We’re not a law court. We are here to protect the interests of the party.."
Although acknowledging the difficulties women face in a capitalist society when they make allegations of rape, notably victim blaming, one of the witnesses said that the Disputes Committee asked the female member about previous and subsequent relationships.
She was questioned about why she went for a drink with him, her witnesses were repeatedly asked whether she’d been in a relationship with him, and you know … she was asked about relationships with other comrades including sexual relationships. All this was irrelevant to the case.
It is said that one of the Disputes Committee who had experience in dealing with rape cases had to tell the Committee to stop certain lines of questioning as they weren't appropriate.
The Committee unanimously found Comrade Delta not guilty of rape. There was more disagreement over the sexual assault and harassment allegations. Therefore, the Committee found these were not proven. As such no disciplinary action was taken against him. It is said though, that he left the party in July 2013.
However, during the proceedings a witness for the female member came forward with allegations of her own about sexual harassment by Comrade Delta. She resigned from her job at the party. Charlie Kimber (presently Joint National Secretary, SWP) didn't want to accept her resignation on the basis that she should not be punished for bringing forward a complaint. However, by the time she felt she wanted to return to the job she was told repeatedly that she would "disrupt the harmony of the office".
This isn't the only evidence of bad feeling following allegations. The first female member was shunned after her hearing, as this testimony shows:
Recently the complainant wanted to attend a meeting and tried to talk to a local member. He told her that it wasn’t appropriate for him to speak to her and he walked away. What kind of message does this send out – that if you have a serious allegation to bring against a leading member, don’t bother because you’ll be victimised for doing so?
Since this hearing, the SWP have had others and don't seem to have learned anything about the victim blaming line of questioning and have reportedly been more threatening towards people coming forward with allegations.
Later in 2013 another female member made allegations of rape towards another senior party member. She left the party but was persuaded to go to the Disputes Committee. There she was questioned in a similar way to first female member. This included questions about her sexual past and
[They asked me] had you been drinking? … Are you sure that you said no, and are you sure you didn't consent. Was he drunk? Because it would be different if he was drunk."
During this hearing two other women made allegations of attempted rape and sexual impropriety about the senior member. The senior member was suspended and recommended to read up on women's liberation.
The female member involved in this hearing said to The Guardian:
"They said, if you go around calling him a rapist, you'll be in trouble. If you tell anyone, you'll be in trouble … They didn't elaborate. They're not the kind of people to get on the wrong side of.
Throughout all of these proceedings, which culminated in hundreds leaving the party including senior figures, Weyman Bennett was on the Central Committee and is to this day. All of this has happened with his knowledge. He is complicit in covering up rape and sexual abuse allegations in the name of the party. As co-convener of Stand up to Racism, he organises events and speakers etc. It is no passive role. I should imagine if Tony Cliff, a founding member of the SWP, were alive he would be horrified at the turn the party has taken.
The Left is divided on what to do about this. In 2016 an open letter was sent to all people due to speak at a Stand up to Racism event, to ask them not to attend because they would be sharing a platform with Bennett - a Central Committee member of a party with a rape culture. Jeremy Corbyn even split his supporters by turning up to speak at the last minute, having previously said he would not be going.
On the one hand, we do actually need to stand up to racism, to unite against fascism as a matter of urgency. However, do we need to do it in the company of a man such as Weyman Bennett who has facilitated such a culture within his own party? Just imagine if the boot were on the other foot and the Tories had an organisation where the co-convenor was a member of a right wing faction that were known as rape apologists. The Left would be, rightly, up in arms. As Karl Marx said:
Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex."
Going by this, progress by the SWP is poor indeed.
At the beginning of the article it states that, "it is likely that Sabby Dhalu was a member of the Socialist Workers Party in 2012/2013 at least." The reason for this is that in the transcript of the 2013 SWP Conference on the blog Socialist Unity there is an entry from Sabby.
For most of today, no-one knew where Boris Johnson was. Chris Grayling was on Radio 4's Today programme this morning and said:
“I have no idea where Boris is, genuinely no idea where Boris is.”
The reason for Johnson going AWOL is that tonight MPs are voting on plans to expand Heathrow and because he is not in favour of the proposed third runway, he wants to avoid the vote. The Tories are being whipped to vote for expansion. Therefore, in order to vote against expansion, Johnson would have to resign his role of Foreign Secretary and his principles obviously don't stretch to that.
This is a divisive issue for the Tories. Zac Goldsmith famously resigned as an MP over expansion plans and in the following by-election stood as an independent, where he amusingly lost the seat to the Liberal Democrats. Sadly, his principles didn't last long and he stood as the Tory candidate in the 2017 general election and won the seat back.
Johnson famously said that he would join John McDonnell in lying down in front of bulldozers should the expansion get the go ahead.
However, Jacob Rees-Mogg was quick to point out that he made this promise while Mayor of London, not an MP, so it wasn't binding.
Theresa May has spent some time recently deleting her anti Heathrow expansion posts on her website. It's almost like she's hoping no-one will notice that she has gone from being against expansion as a constituency MP to pro expansion as prime minister.
Principles don't seem to be something May understands, as her history of going from being a Remainer to trying to implement the hardest Brexit possible shows.
Johnson did eventually turn up in Afghanistan, confirmed by the the Afghan Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Perhaps the bulldozer he was talking about is in Afghanistan.
It's not just the Tories who are divided on Heathrow expansion. Labour MPs have been given a free vote, the party being officially opposed. However, possibly 40 Labour MPs are in favour due to the jobs they believe expansion will bring. The usual suspects it has to be said. Unite the Union, one of Labour's biggest backers, are also in favour for this reason.
The SNP haven't yet decided on their position.
Greenpeace, in 2016, gave "10 big reasons a new runway at Heathrow is bad for the UK" which is worth a read. They are also running a campaign to tweet MPs who are as yet undecided. You can join in with that campaign here. It's not too late. 50 Tory MPs are expected to "rebel" so, even though the government is unlikely to be defeated especially with the backbone Tory "rebels" have shown so far, it's worth a shot. Perhaps we can show the backbone that Johnson lacks.
Been at work all day or watching the World Cup? Out all night and not had time to catch up on your Twitter feed? Here's a round up of some of the news.
Today it was widely believed that the law would be changed to make upskirting illegal. Upskirting is where someone sneaks a camera underneath you skirt and takes photos without your knowledge or permission. To the media this morning it was a done deal and premature congratulations rightly abounded.
However, the private member's Voyeurism (Offences) Bill introduced by Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse was stopped by an archaic procedure whereby an MP can say they object, which is what Tory MP Christopher Chope did to cries of "Shame" and the disappointment of the rest of the House. Many people might think that he did this because he is a fan of upskirting but he says it is because he hates private members' bills and sees it as a moral crusade to challenge them.
One of the vilest takes on this turn of events comes from "Britain's highest profile lawyer":
The bill now goes to the bottom of the pile to be raised again at the next Private Members Bill session on 6 July, 2018.
This shows how archaic our parliamentary system is. Filibustering and the object rule should be the first customs in a long list to go. However, this is unlikely to happen because parliament serves the privileged not the country and the privileged will not vote to change things that benefit them. Which leads us onto the next topic, revolving doors.
Yesterday Tory MP Edward Argar was appointed as the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Justice, He replaces Phillip Lee who resigned on Tuesday over Brexit. Argar worked for Serco for three and a half years and was the Head of UK and Europe Public Affairs at Serco for nine months before being elected as MP for Charnwood in 2015. Serco runs five private prisons on behalf of the Ministry of Justice. While the Ministry of Justice stress there is no conflict of interest just because of his previous employment, it will be interesting to keep an eye on his role and where he goes if / when he loses his seat in Charnwood.
The endless revolving doors in politics clearly indicate many MPs are in it for themselves rather than serving us or us all being in it together. When their world is so different to ours, how can they understand or legislate on what is best for us? Talking of bad legislation brings us neatly onto universal credit.
Universal Credit was brought in by Ian Duncan Smith as a flagship policy designed to bring six benefits into one with the aim of encouraging people into work rather than being stuck in a benefits trap. It was meant to save money by streamlining the benefit system. However, it has been beset by costly delays and disastrous implementation. Today the National Audit Office released their latest damning report.
They say that universal credit may end up being more costly than the system it replaces and the DWP cannot measure whether it will meet the aim to get the extra 200,000 people into work.
Forty percent of people claiming report that they are experiencing financial difficulties because of the roll out of universal credit. The DWP denies this but evidence points to universal credit being the cause. The National Audit Office states that the DWP do not know how many are suffering hardship because of universal credit.
In 2017, 25% of people were not paid on time, 40% of those waited 11+ weeks, 20% almost five months. Since pressure from parliament last year, this has improved slightly with 21% not receiving their full entitlement on time. The DWP expect little or no improvement on this in 2018.
Rent arrears have increased with the introduction of universal credit, with many private landlords reluctant to take on tenants who claim it. Amyas Morse, Head of the NAO said:
The Department has kept pushing the Universal Credit rollout forward through a series of problems. We recognise both its determination and commitment, and that there is really no practical choice but to keep on keeping on with the rollout.
A damning report from which the DWP has no place to hide.
The Gig Economy
Today the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain was given permission for a full judicial review of a previous ruling that confirmed the self-employed status of Deliveroo riders. This follows hard on the heels of the ruling that Gary Smith did have employee status while working for Pimlico Plumbers and the result will have a big impact on the gig economy as a whole.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary said:
The next Labour government will clamp down on bogus self-employment and strengthen employment rights for all workers"
However, until then, it is expected that the current government will make legislative changes this parliament to protect the gig economy. It's definitely a case of watch this space.
There have been 7 resignations over the EU Withdrawal Bill this week. Tory minister Phillip Lee resigned on Tuesday saying:
Yesterday Laura Smith (yes, that's right, who?) resigned from a junior shadow minister role in order to vote against the amendment to keep the UK in the EEA. This was a spectacularly attention seeking resignation given that Labour's position was to abstain. It would be understandable if Labour's position was the complete opposite to her's but to resign in order to not abstain is pretty diabolical. Almost as if it was contrived to take media attention back to Labour's right and away from the Tories' divisions. Five Labour parliamentary private secretaries also resigned but in order to vote for the amendment to stay in the EEA. There's no point in naming them because you won't have heard of them either. However, it allowed the media to go large on the headlines that Labour had SIX FRONT BENCH RESIGNATIONS. People with only half an eye on politics would then think that the Labour shadow cabinet had collapsed, which a cynic might say was the result they were after.
However, what was notable was the reaction of other MPs and the media, especially in relation to Phillip Lee. Words like brave, heroic and courageous were bandied around. Nearly every Remain MP who rose to speak on Tuesday congratulated him on his brave decision to stand down, for sticking by his principles and so on and so forth.
What complete and utter balderdash. None of these people have done anything remotely brave or heroic. They have resigned from ministerial / shadow ministerial posts but they haven't lost their jobs. They may have stood up for something they believed in by resigning but it has cost them nothing. They may have lost a little extra income but an MPs basic salary is more than the majority of us could ever dream to earn, with a guaranteed, comfortable pension. MPs will normally receive a pension of either 1/40th or 1/50th of their final pensionable salary for each year of pensionable service depending on the contribution rate they will have chosen. Not to mention their office expenses and allowances for second homes and travel. It's just grandstanding. Their lives haven't been irrevocably changed by their actions. They are still wrapped in more privilege than we shall ever know. That MPs and the media think it is brave or heroic is just another sign of how far removed they are from us in their Westminster and establishment bubble.