LEFT UNITY NATIONAL COUNCIL MEETING JULY 28th

A report by Pete McLaren

There were 13 delegates present in the morning and 12 in the afternoon. I missed the first half hour because of travel issues. That was a shame because the standard of debate on the current political situation was positive and constructive, unlike the late afternoon session when the recommendation to expel Stuart Richardson was at times acrimonious, unpleasant and somewhat vitriolic. More on this in my concluding remarks. Now on to the NC meeting itself…..

THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION

This was the main discussion for virtually all the morning session, continuing for half an hour after lunch. Points made in the discussion included:

§ There were many political developments of note, including how we relate to the Jeremy Corbyn influenced Labour party.

§ There are concerns about Jeremy Corbyn, including his linking of British jobs for British workers and the way he is fighting anti-semitism within the Labour party in terms of people not being able to criticise the Israeli state

§ We must be aware of the far right in Britain and Europe: the left seems divided on how to combat it

§ Another Europe is Possible are trying to challenge the Brexit agenda, but they are dominated by Labour party members and may not seize the opportunity

§ There is the beginnings of a fight back but, with regard to the anti-Trump demos, it is not coming from the traditional labour movement, but a much looser collection of people with home made banners and loose political affiliations

§ That fight back can be seen in workers taking action in fast-food outlets like McDonalds

§ Those joining the Labour party find it difficult to influence events because of the bureaucracy

§ We are seeing a rise in neo-liberal ideas which lead to support for ideologies like survival of the fittest. That can lead to fascism.

§ Left Unity is about doing politics differently, something Jeremy Corbyn no longer does

The discussion continued after the lunch break. It was agreed to write to the European Left Forum over concerns about a misunderstanding regarding the Left Forum’s involvement in the South American Forum in Havana. Summing up, National Secretary Felicity Dowling argued there was indeed potential for action by trade unions. We should liaise with NHS workers – there were plans to move workers over to private companies to avoid VAT, and many of these companies did not recognise trade unions. It was vital we worked out ways of combatting the far right: it was agreed this be an agenda item at the next EC and NC, with Dave Landau offering to assist.

MATTERS ARISING FROM CONFERENCE

The following actions were agreed:

§ If motions passed were confirmations of existing policy, we would ask those who submitted them to suggest actions on them, to be taken at the next NC

§ It was agreed to ask for full membership of the European Left.

§ A public meeting on Yeman would be organised

§ South London branch would be asked to submit a rewording of their motion on a ratification referendum on Brexit because of the terminology used.

Following discussion, it was agreed that all resolutions passed would be progressed

AMMENDED CONSTITUTION: CONSIDERATION OF REFERENCE BACK SECTION

§ On motion C4, it was agreed to ask the South London branch to look again at the LU membership figure of ‘under 2,000’ in their motion about gender balance

§ On motion C9, it was agreed to re-instate the status quo: there would be four Principle Speakers. It was further agreed that an International Officer, as agreed at conference, would initially be co-opted until the next round of elections. In this light, it was agreed to co-opt Len Arthur as International Officer in the sort term

§ On motions C12 and C13 about Disputes, specifically regarding the continued existence of an Appeals Committee, and whether or not the final arbiter on discipline would be Conference, the NC or the Disputes Committee, it was agreed, following a suggestion by former national secretary Kate Hudson, that the issue should be looked at ‘in detail in order to get it right’. It was further agreed that a small working group would look into it.

LU NC DISPUTES SUB-COMMITTEE REPORT ON STUART RICHARDSON

Len Arthur, on behalf of the LU NC Disputes Committee, moved the Committee motion on Stuart Richardson, arguing that:

§ The NC has a responsibility to sustain our organisation in Birmingham – a duty of care to our members. Stuart Richardson has broken his suspension from the Birmingham branch

§ Stuart Richardson has rights of representation, but the NC has responsibilities to sustain our organisation in Birmingham. The NC has the right to expel.

§ There was a written complaint from two members of Birmingham LU branch, about his attitude towards disability access, and in an email exchange with the National Secretary he had used an offensive form of words in comparing the access issues of other venues with the Wellington pub in Birmingham. (The venue for a Socialist Discussion Group meeting which was at the centre of the complaints about disability access). He had himself found the lift ‘scary’ when the LU NC sub-committee met with Stuart Richardson at the Wellington in May

§ There had been two breaches of the 2018 conference decision – the disability access issue and, separately, Stuart Richardson had informed Birmingham LU branch members that he was organising a LU stall (as a national member) at the Birmingham Together Against Trump meeting on June 21st thus breaking the terms of his local suspension. As a result, there was no option but to expel

The Chair at this stage interjected stating that, although he agreed with the recommendation to expel, we had to be procedurally correct. The complaint from the Birmingham comrades was new and should be separated. He asked whether this new complaint had been discussed by the LU NC Sub-committee

Len Arthur replied stating that

§ There had been informal discussion to improve the situation in Birmingham

§ The Conference motion had changed the situation

§ How Stuart Richardson replied to the National Secretary showed he had broken the suspension, and following that the complaint came in from Birmingham LU members

At this point I was brought into the discussion having previously informed national secretary Felicity Dowling that I wanted any decision on expulsion deferred. I pointed out:

§ Expulsion is a major thing – this is the first time LU has expelled a member so it needs to be a serious offence against the party or its rules

§ Stuart Richardson has not been consulted on the latest disabled access complaint at all. The members making the complaint had not even had the courtesy to inform him, and nor had anyone from the LU leadership

§ Stuart had no idea there was a motion to expel him at the NC

§ Stuart has a right to put his point of view on what are both new charges presented after he had met with the LU NC Disputes Committee on May 15

§ I became immediately concerned when I received the paperwork for this NC meeting on Thursday July 26th and Friday 25th. As a result I phoned Stuart Richardson and during a 90 minute phone call he strenuously denied all the complaints being made against him from Birmingham LU members relating to disability access, and he completely denied that he had involved himself with the workings of the LU branch in Birmingham

§ Stuart admitted he had informed Birmingham LU members of a stall he was organising. He had obtained materials to organise LU stalls in Birmingham from national treasurer Andrew Burgin on at least two occasions, the latest being on July 13th for the Anti-Trump rally being held in Birmingham later that day

At this point I was interrupted in full flow with a demand that I don’t report any of this. I refused to be silenced if the NC decided to expel Stuart Richardson at that meeting before he had had a chance to answer the allegations. The national secretary argued private matters should not be discussed outside the room. Kate Hudson moved that individual members’ confidentiality should be respected and the confidential aspects of this discussion should not appear on social media, and that was largely agreed. Under protest, I accepted that I would not name general contributors to the debate. I have only named movers of motions in this part of the report.

The chair again suggested the issues in the Disputes Committee motion be separated. Stuart Richardson had not the chance to respond to the new complaint from two Birmingham LU members about disability access. This should be referred back to the Disputes Committee. The motion should be taken in parts.

The following were amongst points made in the next part of the discussion

§ The whole issue needed to be addressed properly and deferral was not helpful. Expulsion should be agreed on both aspects of the motion: Stuart Richardson could appeal to conference (in 11 months time)

§ Stuart Richardson contacts Birmingham LU members regularly and this amounts to harassment

I tried to resume my contribution, but was again interrupted. I asked

§ How is organising a LU stall at a non-LU event in breach of a local suspension of membership?

§ How does it mean Stuart is ‘involving himself with the workings of the branch?’

§ What are the rights of national members within LU? Surely distributing LU materials could be one of them. Stuart Richardson had not organised LU literature/stalls when suspended from national membership up until January. He had not been told not to organise LU stalls

At this point the chair called a ten-minute break. Immediately after it, he proposed the Disputes committee motion be taken in two parts but still go to expulsion. This was generally agreed. The vote was immediately moved from the floor, but the vote on that was tied at 3 – 3 with a number of abstentions. As a result the chair agreed to continue the discussion.

The following were amongst points raised in the this next part of the discussion:

§ It is not clear what was actually meant by being suspended from your branch, but remaining a national member

§ Stuart Richardson had been attempting to represent LU in Birmingham, which was divisive

§ Stuart Richardson has been hostile when spoken to

§ The Birmingham branch must be allowed to function, and disabled comrades must be respected

§ Stuart Richardson has intimidated members of Birmingham branch

§ There has been no reconciliation process: just one meeting

§ There have been many delays in hearing the whole case over a two year period and it was not clear that the local membership suspension had been broken

I was again interrupted when I attempted to make further points about the lack of natural justice in moving to a vote without hearing Stuart Richardson’s reaction to the charges

The following part of the motion was put to the vote:

National Council has the power to act on additional policy between conferences and it is agreed that:

i. Stuart Richardson is in breach of his suspension from the Birmingham branch endorsed by the 2018 LU Conference.

Consequently, given this situation, it is now reasonable for the Left Unity National Council to make a decision to protect its members and organisation in Birmingham by removing Stuart Richardson from membership of Left Unity.

He has a right of appeal to the next conference in line with the decision made at the 2018 LU Conference.”

The resolution was agreed by 7 votes to 2 with one abstention

A vote of thanks was tabled for the NC Disputes Committee, and the meeting closed leaving some items on the table following a one and a quarter hour discussion.

NB This part of the motion was not taken:

ii. The formal complaint against Stuart Richardson submitted to this meeting by members of the Birmingham branch demonstrates his further breach of LU rules relating to accessibility subsequent to the 2018 Conference.

The relevant parts of the motion on disputes passed at LU Conference in June are:

At the NC on 17/3/18 it was noted that no eligible nominations were received for the DC in the annual internal election process, leaving us without a DC. In view of the absence of an elected DC, the NC agreed to directly approach those in Dispute, proposing a meeting with them of a sub-committee of 4 from the NC to discuss their dispute, this would not include any NC members involved in the dispute.

At the NC meeting on 18/4/18 it was reported that whilst one member in dispute had agreed to this process, two other members in dispute refused to meet with the NC sub-group.

It was agreed to report the process to national conference, for endorsement of the process so far, and to ask for agreement for further steps to be taken by the NC, as represented by a subgroup; following any decision of the subgroup and endorsement by the NC, members would have appeal rights to the subsequent conference if they were not satisfied with the outcome.

The NC seeks endorsement of the process it has undertaken so far, and seeks approval from the conference for the outlined process going forward.

At the same time, Conference agreed a new constitution which, amongst other things, states:

Disputes and Discipline:

If party members wish to make a complaint about another member, or party body, they should contact the party’s Disputes Committee.

Where a member is considered to have acted against the interests of the party or engaged in conduct prejudicial to the party, a member or party body will refer their case to the Disputes Committee.

Where either side is unhappy with the decision of the Disputes Committee they make take this to the Appeals Committee. The annual membership conference is the sovereign body for all matters relating to the interests and good name of the party.

Disputes and Appeals Committees:

Each Committee comprises five members and is elected by online ballot of members. Postal ballots are available.

CONCLUDING REMARKS: CLEARLY SUBJECTIVE!

I was so upset and annoyed at what I consider to be a complete miscarriage of justice that I have produced a separate, 8-page, Paper on the expulsion. Procedures have not been followed, and Stuart Richardson was given no opportunity at all to contest the charges which led to his expulsion. He has had no right of appeal, apart from to some future conference, because that was the way the NC interpreted the contradictory positions taken at conference regarding Appeals – and despite earlier discussion at the NC (see above) agreeing a working group to look at the Appeals Committee issue.

I have sent this Paper to NC members calling for an emergency meeting to re-look at the expulsion decision now that I have gathered together all the evidence. The leadership at present are refusing to discuss it until the national secretary returns from holiday in over two weeks time. I am going to make the Paper available to the membership anyway within the next few days – after all, I am responsible to the membership as a directly elected member – but I want to give the NC a bit of time to accept a compromise I have suggested which would mean no recommendations could be made on the NC decision, but questions could be raised and answers attempted to try and speed up the process in the next two weeks. We could also discuss the possibilities of an emergency meeting.

All I will say for now is that, in my 45 years of active socialist activity, I have never come across such an unjust way to deal with complaints against an individual member. That is why I feel so strongly about it. I first became concerned in April and therefore offered to be part of any NC team elected to resolve the two complaints which at that time had been made against Stuart. That request was acknowledged in the April NC minutes. Needless to say, my offer was not taken up. Instead, a meeting was held with Stuart and a Disputes Committee of the NC in May regarding the second complaint which, whilst not being resolved, appears amicable and positive. Suddenly, in June and July, two new complaints emerge, and these formed the rationale for the expulsion. Stuart was given no opportunity to discuss them, and was not even aware of the expulsion motion sent to the NC from the Disputes Committee two days before the NC met!! I really do believe the NC should take stock, realise it did not have sufficient evidence on July 28th to make the expulsion decision, and re-visit the issue as a matter of urgency

Pete McLaren 20/08/18

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