Exclusive: Independent complaints process motion withdrawn by Watson

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has withdrawn his motion for an independent complaints process at the meeting of the party’s national executive committee today, LabourList can reveal.

If passed, Labour’s ruling body would have committed to bringing forward rule changes at this year’s conference that established an independent process to deal with disciplinary matters involving all forms of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia.

It also would have endorsed the idea of automatically excluding a member from the party where there was “irrefutable evidence of racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia”.

But the motion signed by Tom Watson, James Asser, Nick Forbes, George Howarth and Alice Perry was withdrawn as there was not enough support for its proposals among NEC members.

Instead, the NEC decided to support Jeremy Corbyn’s own proposal for reform, which he brought to the meeting after getting shadow cabinet approval yesterday. The ruling body agreed with “the general principle of improving processes and giving an NEC body the power to expel people”, as one NEC member put it.

NEC members were not given the specific two options that were presented to the shadow cabinet on Monday. LabourList understands that their agreement could apply to either option put forward by Corbyn, both of which empowers the NEC.

Under the Labour leader’s preferred option, the “most serious” cases of antisemitism would be referred to special panels that include the party general secretary Jennie Formby and NEC officers (other than politicians), rather than the usual antisemitism panels made up of three or five NEC members.

The power to expel members would no longer be reserved for Labour’s highest disciplinary body, the national constitutional committee (NCC), but be extended to the NEC. ‘Option 2’, as it is known, reads:

“Any complaint that met the criteria for the most serious of cases, would be referred to a special panel consisting of the general secretary plus NEC Officers. 

“If that panel was satisfied that the criteria were met, they would have the power to expel the member. This option would allow for more rapid expulsion in the most serious of cases.”

The shadow cabinet yesterday backed the “summary exclusion” idea and added support for “independent oversight of our processes”. It is not yet clear what this introduction of “independent oversight” would mean in practice and the commitment was not clarified during the NEC meeting.

Following the NEC meeting, a Labour spokesperson said: “The NEC endorsed Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to reform our procedures to allow fast-track expulsions in the most serious cases. This proposal will be further developed so that the NEC can finalise the details of a rule change that is fair and legally robust, ahead of conference. Changes to the party’s rules must be agreed at annual conference, the party’s sovereign, democratic decision making body.

“The vast majority of Labour members are motivated by equality, justice and fairness, and despise antisemitism. As the data released yesterday shows, antisemitism complaints relate to a small minority of members, but one antisemite is one too many. The party is taking decisive and robust action against antisemitism and the rate at which antisemitism cases are dealt with has increased more than four-fold since Jennie Formby became general secretary.”

It is understood that NEC members from across the political spectrum, including Margaret Beckett, voiced concerns about the idea of implementing an independent disciplinary process.

A Labour source commented: “No other political party or trade union has outsourced its complaints process. It is unclear how it could logistically work and comply with our responsibilities under data protection legislation. It could threaten the jobs of hardworking staff who have taken swift and robust action on cases.

“What’s important is that we are transparent about the way in which we are handling cases to build confidence and trust. That’s why we have published the data on disciplinary cases and are seeking to bring forward proposals for independent oversight of our processes.”

LabourList understands that Tom Watson left the NEC meeting early, before delivering his deputy leader’s report. A number of NEC members were angered, and one told LabourList: “Didn’t even provide a written one. Just left despite Jennie [Formby] being unwell and tired and doing her report.”

The NEC source added: “He doesn’t want the questions about why he attacked Jennie probably. People very angry at him.” But another said: “A number of the MPs left as they had to get back to parliament. This is normal.”

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