Court rules in Williamson's favour, but Party plays dirty
Court Rules in Williamson's Favour, but Party Plays Dirty
NEC Statement by the LRC
The result of Chris Williamson’s court case against the Labour Party is complex.
Williamson said in a tweet after the ruling: “The battle is won. The war rages on. The High Court has today judged that the Labour Party acted unlawfully in re-suspending me on 28 June, and ‘that there was no proper reason’ for doing so. I’m glad the ‘re-suspension’ has been quashed. However, I’m currently suspended.”
To better understand we need to trace out the timeline. .
Chris was suspended on February 27th. His alleged offence was antisemitism. It is worth recalling what he said in full.
“The Party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted Party. I’ve got to say I think our Party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic. We’ve done more to actually address the scourge of antisemitism than any other political party, any other political party. And yet we are being traduced.”
This is quite clearly a statement of his frustration at the accusations levied unjustly against the Party, not an antisemitic rant.
In June the Disputes Panel readmitted Williamson to the Party. After a storm of criticism from right wingers like Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge one of the Panel members, Keith Vaz MP, changed his mind under pressure. Chris was re-suspended a few days later, finding that the original decision “cannot safely stand”. . It is this re-suspension that Williamson was challenging in the High Court.
Labour also imposed a separate suspension on 3rd September over additional allegations of misconduct. They include the accusation that Chris was ‘disrespectful’ to Margaret Hodge. This is the same Margaret Hodge who called Jeremy Corbyn “a f***ing antisemite” in front of the television cameras and received no serious reprimand.
It is suspected that the Party bureaucracy concocted these additional charges against Williamson as they knew the court case was coming up. They knew their defence was flawed but that they could maintain the suspension in any case. The allegations against Chris have not yet been heard. When will that happen?
Giving judgment on Thursday, Justice Pepperall ruled that in June during the re-suspension “the Labour Party acted unfairly in that there was no proper reason for reopening the case against Mr Williamson”. In effect he was dismissing Vaz’s mysterious volte face as a pathetic excuse. Chris commented, “It’s clear that my 're-suspension' was motivated by media hysteria. The judge said: “it is not … difficult to infer that the true reason for the decision in this case was that [NEC] members … were influenced by the ferocity of the outcry following the June decision.”
However, the judge found that there was “nothing in the new [September] allegations, the timing of the letter of 3 September or the decision to suspend that entitles me to take the view upon the papers that the Labour party is acting either unfairly or other than in good faith”. The court did not actually consider the contents of the case against Williamson regarding the September suspension, just the procedure adopted. Pepperall concluded: “I therefore refuse relief in respect of Mr Williamson’s recent re-suspension. The new disciplinary case must run its course.”
The Party is correctly opposing PM Johnson’s evident attempts to evade the Benn Act, which is the law of the land and strives to prevent a no-deal Brexit. It is ironic that the Party bureaucracy has taken careful steps to avoid the consequences of this court decision through renewing accusations against Chris.
Williamson said it was a "damning indictment of our party's internal disciplinary procedures" and that the Party's bureaucracy "had been defeated in the courts". Chris added: "I never expected, nor wanted, to be in a position where I was forced to take legal action against the party to which I have devoted my life."
The press have generally reported that Williamson lost. In the sense that he remains suspended, that is true. Chris’s overall assessment is broadly correct. “The battle is won. The war rages on.” It’s likely to be a long war. And it’s important. If Chris remains suspended, he will not be eligible to stand as a Labour candidate in the impending election. His enemies, and the Party bureaucracy, evidently intend to drag out the procedures for as long as possible. So Chris can be effectively deselected without a hearing. The current procedures of the Labour Party give them every opportunity to do so.
It is clear that the labyrinthine complaints procedure of the Labour party is not fit for purpose. Political opponents can use it as a weapon of personal spite. Right wing lynch mobs can drive the Disputes Panel into reversing its position. Hearings take ages to happen. It is ironic that victims are more likely to get a fair hearing in the bourgeois courts than in the institutions of Labour. There is still a lack of due process. The reforms suggested by Shami Chakrabarti in 2016 introducing elementary principles of natural justice need to be implemented - now.
Who won? The Labour Party lost. The complaints procedure is perceived as a shambles. The expulsion of socialist fighters like Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth and the continued suspension of Chris Williamson is a disgrace and should be urgently reversed. This is a witch hunt and the LRC resolutely opposes it.
For more information including Chris Williamson’s video appeal, click here.