The Labour Party's new General Secretary, David Evans, has written to all CLP [Constituency Labour Party] secretaries with a gag order.
It's less than a month since the Labour Party's NEC [National Executive] allowed CLPs to meet again (online) and debate motions. Previously, and ever since March, CLPs had been allowed to run only social and educational online events, with pandemic precautions being cited as the excuse.
Now Evans writes:
"Some CLPs and branches have had motions tabled to 'repudiate' the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition of antisemitism and its examples was properly adopted by the Labour Party in September 2018. CLPs and branches have no powers to overturn this decision. Furthermore, such motions undermine the Labour Party’s ability to tackle racism. Any such motions are therefore not competent business for CLPs or branches".
Solidarity and Workers' Liberty were glad when the Labour Party NEC adopted the IHRA text. It is not perfect, but the clause in it which has caused most backlash is on the nail, when it gives as an example of antisemitism:
"claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour"
Denouncing Israeli governments for racist policies or racist acts: that's not antisemitic, even if the denunciation is exaggerated or just wrong. But say that the very existence of a state, any state, of Israel is a racist endeavour: that is saying that it is racist to allow the world's only compact Jewish population to exercise self-determination where they live. It redefines them being forcibly dispersed or put under the boot of a conqueror as "anti-racism". It is antisemitic.
No matter how good and right an NEC decision is, though, CLPs should have the right to question or even condemn it. We can combat antisemitism effectively only by convincing and educating people, not by barring them from discussing the issue because they might (and indeed, some will) express unsavoury views. Sheffield Heeley CLP's program of educational discussions on antisemitism is a better model.
Evans follows up with another gag order, and this one, as he accurately says, is in fact a restatement of "the previous General Secretary’s [Jennie Formby's] instruction:
"any discussion about ongoing disciplinary cases remains prohibited".
This means, for example, that if you are suspended for months or even years on end - as a good many people have been - any "discussion" or challenge is barred.
It's as if in society in general we were banned from complaining about, or even "discussing", people being arrested and put on remand.
At least one London CLP secretary has issued a further gag order, which looks as if it too comes from Labour HQ:
"motions relating to these settlements [in the Panorama case] and the circumstances behind them are not competent business for discussion by local parties".
Again, Solidarity has said that Keir Starmer's move to "get out from under" the Panorama legal case makes tactical sense. And probably individuals and CLPs should exercise due caution in dealing with litigious individuals. That's not the same as banning us from even discussing the issues.
Fight for free speech in the Labour Party!