Fewer than three weeks ago, a group of Labour women set up the #LabourToo campaign to give party members a voice; a way to share anonymously and confidentially their experiences of bullying, harassment, assault, and abuse by others in the party so that we could make changes once and for all, leaving us with a system that inspires confidence in its process.
At that time, we had no idea of what was to come. Brave activists, councillors and parliamentarians have come forward to tell their stories of harassment at the hands of others within their parties, and resignations and investigations have ensued.
The behaviour that is being talked about doesn’t begin and end in the corridors of Westminster; it is rife within all political parties, and at all levels, from members, to elected volunteers, local councillors and parliamentarians.
What links all these events is power – over and over again the stories demonstrate that it is those in more senior positions taking advantage of those who whether by status or salary are more junior to them.
Our aim is to expose the depth of this problem in the Labour Party to encourage decision-makers to initiate cultural change and the party’s response towards those who have experienced bullying, harassment, abuse and discrimination.
So we were pleased to hear that the national executive committee signed off a new sexual harassment policy, and the announcement shortly afterwards of independent specialists to support those who wanted to make a complaint, alongside training for staff dealing with complaints.
But disappointingly, it doesn’t remedy all of the problems which #LabourToo have been campaigning to change.
We welcome the support provided by the party for women coming forward through independent specialists, but we continue to be concerned that the complaint will be assessed by party staff and go forward to a panel of the national executive committee (NEC) panel which is politically appointed.
How do we know that the members of that panel won’t bring their own prejudices to bear?
Or that the accused won’t leverage their friendships with those on the panel to try and paint themselves in a better light, or the victim in a less favourable one?
Even the Conservatives included an independent member on their final decision-making committee.
We would like to see independent advisers appointed to ensure NEC and national constitutional committee decisions on complaints are handled without prejudice or favour. This would help to create a truly independent process.
We would also like to see safeguarding training provided to all elected Labour members, all staff and for Labour members to be able to access e-learning or webinars to help them change culture at a local level.
It is reassuring to see Karon Monaghan QC appointed to review the specifics of Bex Bailey’s case and to consider the wider complaints process. We hope that her investigation will take a look at sexual harassment and misogyny in the Labour Party as a whole, rather than just parliament, and make recommendations that fundamentally change the way in which safeguarding complaints are handled by the Party.
Without these safeguards, we believe that the process is not fit for purpose and cannot truly provide a system which can be trusted to provide a just outcome for those who have been affected, and ensure they are protected along the way.