“Telling the truth is a revolutionary act” – George Orwell
A motion of no confidence is being proposed against London Student editor Jen Izaakson. Workers' Liberty Students supports the no confidence motion, but this briefing is not about that per se. What it addresses is Jen Izaakson's political record during her time as editor. We are not arguing she should be no confidenced because of her political failings, but we do think that the left should be aware of them.
Jen calls herself a socialist and has convinced some on the left that she is standing up for left-wing principles and being persecuted by an unprincipled fake-left clique. Activists in Workers' Liberty Students have written this because we think all that needs answering, both because of the current controversy and for the general health of our movement.
The reality, in our view, is almost exactly the opposite. Jen has made numerous enemies on the left precisely because her conduct has shown so little regard for political principle and honesty.
To be clear
We have a strong suspicion that misrepresentations will be spread about what this briefing actually says. So let us be clear. We are not attacking Jen as a person or on any sort of personal level. Moreover, we are not saying that she is not in some general sense left-wing in her views, or that she has never done anything worthwhile. In particular we understand that – this according to people whose views we respect – she played a relatively honourable role in the recent SWP crisis, challenging the SWP leadership and receiving a lot of hassle and abuse as a result. This makes her behaviour in the London student movement even more regrettable.
However: Jen’s record has shown her repeatedly subordinating political principle to what looks like sectarian factionalism and personal vendettas.
Many activists on the student left from a wide variety of political viewpoints and organisations have made claims against Jen, going back years (she has been active in the movement for quite a few years). We will not include those here, but limit ourselves to her time as London Student editor. If Jen or any of her supporters object to us mentioning earlier incidents but not explaining, we would be happy to detail some of them.
The Jason Wong transphobia controversy
One observation made by many activists about Jen is her willingness to accuse left-wing political critics of sexism, homophobia, racism and so on with absolutely no evidence (which of course is not to say that some of her other critics have not been not sexist, homophobic or racist). Therefore it was highly ironic when, about a month into her editorship, London Student printed a deeply transphobic article by one Jason Wong of LSE attacking the concept of gender-neutral toilets with reference to the “back alleys of Bangkok”, “sexual assault” and “child abuse”.
A quick google search of “Jason Wong, transphobia, London Student” will bring up numerous protests from a wide variety of students, but for one example see this statement by LSESU’s LGBT officer.
The 2013 ULU election
This year ULU has been highly active in all sorts of campaigns - campaigns that Jen Izaakson has done pretty much nothing to support. Instead she has used her position to attack those running them, once again in an unprincipled way.
It was common knowledge on the London student left that Jen wanted to stand against Daniel Cooper when he re-stood for ULU VP. She attempted to put together an alternative left slate to stand against him and Michael Chessum, trailing the possibility of this in London Student. When Michael Chessum asked her whether she was concerned about helping the Tories defeat Daniel, she replied that she saw little fundamental difference between the two sides.
In the end, receiving what must have been almost no support, as the left rallied around Daniel's campaign, Jen’s slate did not come off. Instead she put her energy into two projects:
1. Supporting Katie Lathan to replace her as editor.
2. Using London Student to quietly and indirectly promote Conservative candidate Will Hall for VP and undermine Daniel's campaign for re-election.
1. Katie Lathan
We will not comment here on the controversy surrounding the London Student editor election result. Instead, we will ask why Jen supported the less explicitly political/left-wing of the editor campaigns. This is not an attack on Katie Lathan, or a claim that she is not left-wing. But we think it is clear that her campaign materials were much less political than her opponent Oscar Webb's. (Links to their manifestos are included as an appendix.)
Moreover the SWP, of which Jen was a member until shortly after the election, also supported Katie. Again there is no obvious political reason why. We strongly suspect it is because Jen asked them to.
2. The VP election
Standing apart from the vast bulk of the London student left, Jen refused to support Daniel against Tory Will Hall, despite the witch-hunt against Daniel over “remembrance” (his refusal to take part in official, pro-war commemoration ceremonies) and even after the revelations of racist and sexist incidents involving leading Hall supporters. Moreover, London Student repeatedly attacked Daniel’s record and boosted Hall. (It should be said that what follows is hard to document because the London Student website is not updated very often – except when articles are published defending Jen or attacking her opponents – and many articles from the paper are not online. A quick check of back issues will confirm everything we say.)
Ever since last October, the paper had given extensive coverage to the right-wing campaign to remove Daniel from office over “remembrance”. This coverage never stated a position on the issues, implying that some students’ desire to oust Daniel was fair enough.
Shortly before the election, the paper printed a review of the three ULU sabbaticals’ records while in office, praising Jen’s and rubbishing Daniel’s. Its claims about Daniel were so inaccurate that Michael Chessum published a special statement refuting them (see here).
It also announced Will Hall’s candidacy with great fanfare, with a headline about, picture of and extensive quote from Hall, noting in one line at the bottom of the article that Daniel was restanding. This article quoted ULU Senate chair Abduttayyeb Hassanali, who was in fact supporting Daniel, in such a way as to make it sound like he supported Hall.
In London Student’s election issue, the paper printed “random facts” under the bottom of each candidate’s manifesto. (It was the comments on the two editor candidates that led to that election eventually being annulled.) Under Dan’s manifesto, the paper printed the “random fact” that Dan is a member of the AWL, stating that we support a two-state settlement in Palestine and that we supported foreign troops in Iraq. The first claim about AWL policy is true, the second a lie. But both were clearly intended to put some left-wing students off voting. Even more bizarrely, the same statements were included as “random facts” for non-AWL members Michael Chessum and Thais Yanez (with the words “is a member of” changed to “is supported by”).
Jen claims that this choice of “random facts” was nothing to do with her, but resulted from a more junior editor googling the candidates. We think this is so ludicrous as to almost require no comment.
It is also somewhat ironic that at a time when Daniel was being witch-hunted over his opposition to militarism, London Student invented a “fact” about him which strongly implied he was pro-imperialist.
To be clear: we are not denying London Student’s right to criticise Daniel, from any angle it pleases. What we are objecting to on political grounds is pseudo-left-wing criticism the aim of which can only have been to indirectly boost the right-wing campaign against him.
Jen Izaakson and “remembrance”
The irony is stronger considering one last, particularly shocking fact. During the election campaign, Jen posted a plug for Katie Lathan on the “Daniel Cooper Must Resign As ULU Vice President” Facebook page, a page created during the Remembrance controversy which morphed into a Will Hall campaign page. Above the link to Katie Lathan’s video she wrote “This candidate wasn’t involved in the remembrance situation in any way...” (A screenshot of this is included as an appendix.) We hope it is clear why this is so appalling.
We also note that Jen never signed the widely-supported statement in defence of Dan Cooper when the controversy began (see here) – but trawling for Tory votes by boasting that the candidate you support had nothing to do with the left taking a stand against militarism is a step further downwards.
The trip to Australia
Shortly after the 2013 elections, UCL’s Cheese Grater magazine published an expose of how Jen had taken a paid-for holiday Australia in return for what amounted to extensive free advertising in London Student. Rather than reiterate the Cheese Grater’s findings, we will simply link to it here.
However, we would ask left activists to note that one recent London Student editor, a left-winger (2011-12), refused the same offer, while another, making no claims to be radical (2009-10), went on the trip but at least wrote an analysis of racism in Australian society. Jen, the “revolutionary”, went and wrote a glowing free-advert with no social commentary whatsoever.
Some have said that they don’t see the big deal here. We can understand such comments from right, but not from from the left. If some left-wingers really believe this, then that is sad evidence of the continued decline of political standards in some sections of the movement.
To be clear: Jen is of course within her rights to go on holiday when she is on leave, and to get whatever free trips she can. She is not within her rights to pay for such a holiday with column inches in ULU's newspaper. And for a self-styled revolutionary to do this and make no comment on political and social issues in Australia is even more unacceptable.
The no confidence controversy
Without commenting on the no confidence motion against Jen directly, we want to note three elements:
1. Jen told Michael Chessum that a court injunction had been taken out to stop ULU Senate discussing the controversy over the London Student election. In fact, this was untrue. We hope it is clear what contempt for ULU’s democracy this shows. We are now told Jen is threatening legal action to prevent a no confidence vote against her. If true, this once again shows total contempt for student democracy.
2. Jen and her supporters have circulated various claims about why she is being subjected to a vote of no confidence which bear no relation whatsoever to the motion submitted (which is included as an appendix for those who have not actually read it). See for instance this statement from the ULU Disabled Students' officer-elect about how Jen misrepresented the issues involved to him.
3. As an obvious factional manoeuvre, Jen’s defence materials, including articles published prominently on the London Student website, seek to present the no confidence motion as a plot by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and/or the AWL – rather than what it is, a discussion called by ten representatives of ULU student unions, from across the ULU political spectrum. These materials identifies as NCAFC activists people who are not involved in the NCAFC at all, in one case citing a non-member as a “leading member”. Once again, little regard for the truth (or journalistic standards). The aim is clearly to ignite factional warfare on the student left.
Regardless of what you think about the campaign to remove Jen from office, we think it is clear that her behaviour over the last two years has been disgrace to the student left and to anyone on the left who cares about political honesty and telling the truth.
Appendix 1: Oscar Webb and Katie Lathan's manifestos for London Student editor
Appendix 2: Jen Izaakson's post on the 'Dan Cooper Must Resign as ULU Vice President'
Appendix 3: Motion of no confidence in Jen Izaakson
Motion of no confidence in the London Student Editor
1) That Jen Izaakson is the current London Student Editor for the academic year 2012/13.
2) That the election for the position of the London Student Editor for the academic year 2013/14 has been annulled by the Elections Tribunal.
3) That the primary reason for this decision was the elections coverage being unfairly biased in favour of one of the candidates (specifically the 'Random Facts' section), whom the Editor was personally supporting. The Elections Tribunal concluded that the Regulations had been breached by London Student.
4) That it is the responsibility of the London Student Editor to ensure that the London Student coverage of any ULU election is sent to the Chief Returning Officer to ensure that it is fair and unbiased. The current LS Editor failed to do this.
5) That the London Student Editor has been on an all-expenses paid holiday to Australia, funded by the Australian Tourist Board, in exchange for advertisements for Australia in the paper. This article that was written by the London Student Editor about Australia was printed twice in one issue and then printed again in the next issue.
6) That the first London Student Editor report to ULU Senate of the year was rejected by the senate.
7) That in the run up to the emergency Senate regarding the elections, London Student Editor claimed to have an injunction on ULU Senate. No such injunction has ever been delivered.
8) That since the Elections Tribunal decision regarding the LS Editor election, the London Student has been used as a campaigning vehicle against it - with little clarity on either the process or who was involved in which decisions.
9) That there has been a generalised level of discontent all year with London Student's editorial standards
10) That earlier this year, London Student printed a transphobic comment piece from Jason Wong.
1) That the elections coverage which caused the annulment of the results constituted a gross misconduct on the part of the London Student Editor.
2) That the trip to Australia did not benefit the London Student in any way, but only benefitted Jen personally.
3) That the behaviour of the Editor in relation to the outcome of the Elections Tribunal has been misleading and cynical.
4) That the London Student is in danger of becoming a personal vehicle for the Editor, not a serious newspaper.
5) That a general level of dissatisfaction with some output and the odd copy error is a part of the course of student journalism - but the present conduct of the London Student and its editor cross a line
6) That the London Student Editor has failed in their responsibilities, and breached the Regulations.
1) That it has no confidence in Jen Izaakson as London Student Editor.
2) To recommended that the Trustee Board of ULU take seriously its responsibilities as publisher, to ensure the paper and editor are conducting themselves in a responsible manner
3) To recommend the Trustee Board of ULU review the regulations & practices within the London Student to ensure correct procedures are being followed.