Who the leader’s office appoints reflects the whole party

10th November, 2015 9:19 am

Labour HQ One Brewers Green

The party clearly doesn’t view the Andrew Fisher case as cut and dried. The reason why he has been suspended from membership rather than automatically expelled is presumably so that there can be an investigation and due process to determine whether his tweet “FFS if you live in Croydon South, vote with dignity, vote @campaignbeard” was what it prima facie looks like, an exhortation to vote for the Class War candidate in Croydon South and against Labour’s Emily Benn, or whether his assertion this was a misunderstood joke is accepted. The party rule in question states that “A member of the Party … supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate… shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member.”

My understanding is that the case will be heard by the NEC Disputes Panel. This body has an identical membership to the NEC Organisation Committee, and nowadays that includes all except a couple of NEC members.

Natural justice requires that a disciplinary case is heard in a quasi judicial way, with voting being based on the evidence, rather than it being determined politically. If that wasn’t the case you could have the NEC expelling people arbitrarily just because they didn’t like them politically. It is essential that no NEC member voting on the case has been seen to prejudge it otherwise their decision could be overturned by a judicial review.

Therefore, I would argue that Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone and Martin Mayer should not participate in the decision, as the leader has stated he “has full confidence” in Fisher, Ken has tweeted that “Andrew Fisher obviously was not supporting Class War” and Martin has said “As NEC member #IStandWithFisher”. When I joined the NEC in 2010 I was immediately instructed by party staff to desist from expressing public opinions about disciplinary cases in case I prejudged cases I might hear – this ought to have been made clear to all current NEC members.

There is a lot of “whataboutery” going on with people asking why disciplinary cases have not been brought against various other party figures who have said contentious things recently. I am not aware that any of these other cases are on the face of it relevant to the “A member of the Party … supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate… shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member” rule. And Andrew Fisher’s, or anyone else’s, case needs to be heard on its own merits, not by means of comparison to other cases. If anyone thinks someone has broken party rules they need to write to the General Secretary or the Compliance Unit giving clear evidence and citing which rule has been broken.

It is important Fisher isn’t seen as above party rules just because he has been appointed to a role in the leader’s office. Every party member has to be equally subject to the rules and equally treated by them.

Even if Andrew Fisher is cleared of any breach of rule and stays in membership, his other public statements suggest this was a hasty appointment to the leader’s office team and taken without due diligence and should be rescinded. In any other job if the kind of language in Mr Fisher’s tweets came to light during a probationary period you would find your employment terminated because of the risk of bringing the company or organisation into disrepute.

People in the leader’s office are obviously personal appointees of the leader but their conduct reflects on the whole party and on the leader, and they are paid from membership subscriptions paid by every party member, so they ought to treat other members with respect. Mr Fisher is on the record saying things like:

o   “fitting that the architect of Labour’s miserable austerity-lite economic policies should lose #Balls”

o   Calling Jack Straw “a vile git”

o   Giving a speech saying “I had the most excruciating half-hour of my life where I was sat in a room with James Purnell. I sometimes have very violent, bloody nightmares about it actually. Fantasies possibly.” “It took every sinew of my self-discipline not to thump him”.

o   Calling Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet “the most abject collection of absolute s***e”.

o   Accusing Yvette Cooper of pushing “racist” policies as Shadow Home Secretary.

o   Calling Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell “scumbags”.

At best these comments look immature and rude. At worst they betray an unpleasant outlook – what kind of person fantasises about punching someone they have a policy disagreement with? They certainly won’t do anything to enhance party unity at a time when we desperately need it. The range of targets isn’t just the Blairite right but seems to encompass anyone to Mr Fisher’s own right, whereas he seems remarkably open to the idea of electoral cooperation with anyone to his own left from outside the Labour Party.

The scrutiny of Fisher’s statements has revealed a nasty subculture of hatred and personalised vilification within sections of Labour’s hard left. Many figures from the hard left, including Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, have personified civility and comradeliness in the way they conduct themselves and talk about their political opponents. But Fisher shows there are others from this wing of the party who don’t just disagree with more moderate Labour figures, they seem to personally hate them and use language that is abusive.

There is a big difference between saying “I hate Blairism” or “I hate what Progress stands for” and saying offensive things about named individuals you are in the same party as. How does that even work in terms of working with people from other wings of the party to develop policy or on the campaign trail? How does it look to the general public if the language staff use about other people in the same party is so vituperative, let alone the language used to describe Tories? The polite and charming component of the hard left need to police the behaviour of their own colleagues more closely and create a culture where this hatred towards other people in the Labour Party is not tolerated.

Further to this, it is not clear to me, strategically, why Jeremy has picked so many staff who sit in such a similar place to him on the Labour political spectrum – wouldn’t it have made more sense to appoint a more inclusive, diverse team that was able to build bridges to the rest of the party?

What is Andrew Fisher’s actual status in the hard left’s operation that means so much political capital and good will is being expended to defend him, rather than just saying, “OK we made a poor appointment, we didn’t know about his offensive tweets, he hasn’t made it through the probationary period”?

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