Chris Williamson: Hello and Goodbye
Chris Williamson’s suspension from Labour was overturned by a subcommittee of the National Executive Committee (NEC), though with a reprimand. In the LRC’s view Chris’ suspension was wrongheaded and the result of a witchhunt in the first place. Predictably his reinstatement has been met with a storm of indignation from Labour’s right wing. On the other hand Chris reports that he’s had an “avalanche of goodwill messages” from rank and file Party members.
Williamson was accused of antisemitism after he declared in a meeting that Labour had been “too apologetic” over accusations of antisemitism. Since antisemitism can be defined as “hostility to or prejudice against Jews” it is difficult to see how Williamson’s remark is antisemitic. Chris has in any case apologised for it.
Critics allege first that the reinstatement was the outcome of political pressure from behind the scenes, presumably from Jeremy Corbyn. Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth accused the leadership of “political interference” in the decision to readmit Williamson.
Jeremy has made it quite clear that he played no part in the disciplinary process. “I wasn’t involved in the decision at all, it was an independent panel set up by the National Executive.”
Jeremy also played no part in the selection of the three person panel. One member was Keith Vaz MP, who certainly cannot be regarded as a wild eyed Trot.
Nearly one hundred Labour MPs and peers have written a letter of protest, including the eternally disloyal deputy leader Tom Watson. They write:
“It is clear to us that the Labour party’s disciplinary process remains mired by the appearance of political interference. This must stop. We need a truly independent process.”
Then the letter changes tack completely. It declares: “Ultimately, it is for Jeremy Corbyn to decide whether Chris Williamson retains the Labour whip. He must remove it immediately if we are to stand any hope of persuading anyone that the Labour Party is taking antisemitism seriously.”
So which is it? First Corbyn is accused of interfering in the process, without a shred of evidence. Then the critics appeal to him to interfere by withdrawing the whip from Chris!
Do the critics really approve of a disciplinary process where the Party leader intervenes like a dictator in its internal affairs? In such a case the leader could expel his opponents willy nilly. It is absolutely correct that the disciplinary process is independent of the leadership.
In addition to the letter from Labour Parliamentarians, more than sixty Party staffers have written to expose their concern about Chris’ reinstatement. It is clear that our twice elected leader Jeremy Corbyn is still faced with mass hostility from the Parliamentary Party and the Party’s bureaucracy. There have been persistent rumours of a second coup attempt against Corbyn. Any stick is good enough to beat him with.
Where does Momentum stand on this? Jon Lansman has tweeted: “He has got to go.” Momentum members should be asking by what authority Lansman joins in this continued witchhunt.
Just two days after his suspension was lifted, Chris finds himself suspended once more. Party general secretary Jennie Formby has declared that the Labour whip has not been restored. As long as this remains the case, Williamson cannot be reselected to stand as Labour MP for Derby North.
The circumstances of the decision are murky. One of the NEC panel who declared Williamson a fit and proper person to be a Labour MP once more, Keith Vaz has changed his mind. As a result the findings of the panel have been called into question.
Whatever his excuses, the real reason for Vaz’s change of heart is the furore raised by right wing MPs as shown by the letter orchestrated by Tom Watson.
Williamson now faces a two-pronged attack. Apart from the panel decision being referred back to the NEC, the Parliamentary Labour Party has discovered or invented an obscure standing order which declares that they can withdraw the whip from one of their number.
The onslaught is overtly and unashamedly political. The PLP has decided they don’t like Chris’s politics. The disciplinary process should not be politicised.
The accusation of antisemitism is a sham. A fuller quote from Williamson’s speech at the Momentum meeting is as follows: “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.”
Clear enough? Chris’ real crime is not antisemitism. It is the fact that he has forcefully advocated the reselection of unrepresentative MPs, and that he is a doughty defender of Jeremy Corbyn. The real target of this witch hunt is Corbyn’ himself.
The MPs who have conducted this attack should be held to account. The prospect of trigger ballots to start a reselection process is nigh. Resolutions must be moved in every constituency. Labour Party members must oppose this outrage with all their power.