Labour HQ is urged to lift Corbyn row gagging order
Long-serving Islington North MP’s supporters hold a second ‘solidarity stroll’
11 December, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
Supporters of Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn at the ‘solidarity stroll’ in Finsbury Park
SENIOR figures from more than 140 local Labour branches are demanding that the party’s general secretary lift gagging orders placed on discussions around Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension.
A flurry of diktats imposed by Labour HQ designed to police debate around Mr Corbyn’s position in the party has left local leaders “in the firing line”, the party’s top official Dave Evans was told this week.
In a letter signed by 196 secretaries and chairs from 141 Constituency Labour Party (CLP) branches, Mr Evans was warned that he was trampling on the right to freedom of speech after several key local figures were suspended.
Two senior organisers in Hampstead and Kilburn are among those to have been removed for allowing a supportive motion to pass.
The letter, signed by Islington North’s secretary and chairwoman, said: “The attempts to stifle legitimate discussion are harming our local parties and their campaigning capacity, notwithstanding the suppression of members’ rights to speak and be heard.
“We urge you to withdraw the ‘guidance’ you have sent to our CLPs and halt any disciplinary action currently being taken against Party Officers for facilitating democratic discussion of party business.”
This intervention marks a dramatic escalation in the civil war engulfing the Labour Party since Mr Corbyn was first suspended for comments he made after a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into antisemitism in the Labour Party was published.
A disciplinary panel on Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), voted to reinstate his membership.
But party leader Keir Starmer has since withheld the whip from his predecessor, saying he had been “undermined” by Mr Corbyn even after the Islington North MP “clarified” his earlier comments.
It is understood that Mr Corbyn, who has represented his constituency since 1983, is now exploring legal action against the party.
A second “solidarity stroll” was held this week in Finsbury Park by activists supporting the former Labour leader, while hundreds joined a “Hands Off Our MP” online meeting last week where Mr Corbyn spoke of the “right of free speech in our party”.
The CLP branches’ letter, sent on Wednesday, said: “Party members should have the right to express their views, including on whether the whip should or should not be restored to Jeremy Corbyn.
“We feel that your recent guidance only puts us further into the firing line, and is affecting the mental and physical health of chairs and secretaries, many of whom are standing down from their posts because of the stress.
“This is expertise the party can ill-afford to lose with important elections coming up in May 2021.”
They added: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that was long fought for and has been traditionally upheld by the Labour Party, including in our party meetings.”
A Labour spokeswoman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate action is taken.”