Consensus is increasingly rare within the Labour movement these days. But on one thing there is near total agreement. Ken Livingstone will be re-investigated and subject to further disciplinary action. That was decided on Wednesday when Jeremy Corbyn reported that the national executive committee (NEC) had received further complaints and would review once again the disrepute to the party Livingstone has caused.
The national constitutional committee (NCC) must get it right. Labour is running out of second chances with the Jewish community.
On Tuesday night, as three of my NCC colleagues sat in judgment on Ken Livingstone, I was on my feet in the council chamber at Ealing town hall spelling out the impact that this week’s benefit cuts will have on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and demolishing the government’s spin that hospital closures will “sustain and transform” the NHS. I was not on the panel. I had withdrawn from involvement in the NCC case.
In dealing with some of the most difficult disciplinary cases the Labour party handles, the expectation on NCC members is very clear: honesty, transparency, objectivity. Deal with the facts of the case, and don’t pre-judge the outcome. Listen to the arguments. Act in the best interests of the party. If you are conflicted, or pre-determined in your view, do not put yourself forward to hear a case.
On Livingstone, this wouldn’t have been possible for me. There was no way I could have taken part. Time and again Livingstone has sought to offend British Jews.
Since my election to the NCC at conference last year, and in my role as national secretary to the Jewish Labour Movement, I have seen some of the ugliest parts of our wider movement.
When Livingstone first made the comments that led to his disciplinary action, and then again when the Chakrabarti Report was published, I called on the party to expel him.
I was in that room back in 2012 during his fourth mayoral campaign, at that meeting he had with Jewish Labour members. Instead of making peace, he doubled down on his insensitive and crude attitude toward Jewish voters.
I am Labour to my core so, at local, general and mayoral elections, I have bitten my tongue with voters about Livingstone’s worst excesses.
I have seen first-hand his longstanding belligerent and offensive behaviour toward the Jewish community, which has had a lasting and damaging impact.
It has not just damaged Jewish Labour party members who, like me, question if Labour can really provide the space in which we take political action to right the wrongs of this world. It has lost us elections. It deprived London of a Labour Mayor. It damaged our chances to win key marginal seats in Finchley and Hendon in 2015.
Reports in the press this week that some NCC panel members went into his hearing with their minds already made up to save him are deeply troubling and risk undermining the integrity of the process, the committee and the party.
The allegation continues that in deciding on his punishment, the vital principle of proportionality under which the NCC operates was abandoned.
Livingstone was found to have brought the party into disrepute on all counts. Expulsion would have been on the table as an option. Instead, a two year ban from some activities within the party, including time already served, was decided upon instead. A slap on the wrist is in not a proportionate punishment.
Over the coming weeks, there will be serious discussions within the Labour party to protect the future integrity of the NCC and Labour’s disciplinary procedures. There can be no repeat of what has transpired. As before I will have no involvement as an NCC member in Livingstone’s case, but I do have an obligation to speak out when the integrity of the NCC is called into question, whatever the case may be.
Meanwhile, the Tories have launched their local election campaign. As of yesterday their government has cut the financial support available for grieving families with children who have lost a parent. Their cut to the employment support allowance (ESA) will make it harder for disabled people, who face greater barriers, get back into work. The ending of the modest family element of child tax credit will make the added costs of a new child that bit harder for low income families.
The seemingly never-ending sideshow that is Livingstone’s ego cannot continue to distract us from what matters most: opposing the government and providing an alternative.
Peter Mason is a Labour councillor in Ealing and represents the Socialist Societies on the party’s national constitutional committee.