A small victory for freedom of speech: the reinstatement of Stan Keable

We reproduce Stan Keable’s statement, the full story can be  read on the website of Jewish Voice for Labour.

Statement by Stan Keable, Tues Oct 26 2021 

[Three and a half years after his sacking for a comments about Zionism during the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration in parliament square, Stan Keable welcomes a small victory in the struggle for freedom of speech and assembly: on October 26 2021 the Employment Appeals Tribunal upheld his unfair dismissal judgment against Labour-led Hammersmith and Fulham Council and the reinstatement order made in January 2020.] 

I was particularly pleased with the reinstatement order, and I am optimistically looking forward to getting back to my permanent post as a private sector housing enforcement officer, visiting tenants in their homes when they need support with repairs. The Council gave evidence that I was good at my job and had a clean disciplinary record. The tribunal noted that I had “maintained good relations with work colleagues”, some of whom gave evidence on my behalf, and confirmed that “reinstatement was practicable” and that “trust and confidence had not been broken and the employment relationship could continue and develop”. 

Despite being eventually vindicated, my three and a half years of victimisation and uncertainty about my future has been a very unsettling experience, and is certainly enough to make any worker think twice about exercising their right to publicly express their political views – particularly if they are critical of Israel’s ongoing settler-colonialism, its discrimination against Palestinian Arabs or its racial-supremacist political ideology of Zionism. While some of my work colleagues stepped up and gave evidence on my behalf, others gave me private support but were understandably afraid to speak publicly. 

The ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt in the Labour Party had already been going strong for two years, focused on trying to unseat Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was no anti-Semite, but he was busy appeasing his rightwing Labour and Zionist accusers. Already in October 2017 I had been witch-hunted out of the party – auto-excluded, without due process, for being secretary of Labour Party Marxists. The purpose of the ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration, organised by the Zionist-led, Tory- led, misnamed Board of Deputies of British Jews, was to brand Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as anti-Semitic, despite ample evidence to the contrary – a campaign which, with the full support of the mainstream capitalist media, has been very successful. 

I joined the Jewish Voice for Labour counterdemonstration, and was suspended from work the following day, and subsequently dismissed, for my comments about the Zionist movement, made in parliament square. That is what the tribunal judged to be unfair dismissal: 

“If it was within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer to dismiss an employee in circumstances where they have lawfully exercised their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, unconnected in any way to the workplace, without using language which was personally abusive, insulting or obscene, and when their views and opinions have, without their consent, been published and caused offence to some, or indeed many people, then there is a very great risk of dismissal to any person who expresses their lawful political views outside the workplace.” 

Seems pretty straightforward to anyone with an eye to workers’ rights, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what I thought when I was handed my suspension letter at 2.15pm the day after the demo, alleging that my comments had “the potential to bring the council into disrepute”. Actually, it was my reputation that was put in jeopardy as both my trade union, Unison, and the council blithely told the press that they “take anti-Semitism seriously” and are “investigating” – thereby implying that I was accused of anti-Jewish racism, a charge which my suspension letter carefully omitted. I immediately asked the dismissing officer a number of questions. Was there a complaint against me? The officer did not answer. What was the identity of the complainant? He did not know. How many complaints were made against me? He did not know. What was the precise wording of the allegation or allegations? I would be informed. What was the precise wording of the allegedly inappropriate comments? I would be informed by the investigating officer. 

The identity of the complainant – the Labour leader of the council, Stephen Cowan – and the precise wording of his complaint, were kept secret from me throughout the Council’s disciplinary procedure and its appeal procedure. This crucial information was only revealed to me shortly before the employment tribunal hearing, when my solicitor obtained a copy of Cowan’s email to the chief executive on the morning of March 27. The leader accused me of “making anti-Semitic comments” and saying “I believe he has brought the good name of LBHF into disrepute and committed gross misconduct” – which is code for demanding dismissal. Then: “Please have this looked at immediately and act accordingly and with expediency … Please advise me at your earliest opportunity what action you have taken.” 

Four hours later, after the chief executive had met the council’s lawyers, my suspension letter contained no mention of anti-Semitism – obviously because there wasn’t any. Presumably Cllr Cowan was informed of his mistake, as he had asked to be informed. That would have been a good moment to drop his complaint. I think he owes me an apology. 

Having mentioned the “very great risk of dismissal to any person who expresses their lawful political views outside the workplace”, the tribunal added: 

“This is particularly so where it seems that, as in this case, members of parliament are willing to put pressure on employers to dismiss employees who hold views with which that MP vehemently disagrees.” 

This is a reference to the involvement of Greg Hands, Tory MP for Chelsea and Fulham. But his two public tweets to Stephen Cowan urging action against me, on March 26 and 27, were merely his contribution to the Enough is Enough anti-Labour demonstration. They had nothing to do with the council, nor with my employment. Greg Hands did not yet know that I was a council employee. 

When he read in the newspapers that the council had initiated disciplinary proceedings against me, he must have been over the moon! So he posted on his twitter feed an open letter to Stephen Cowan, urging “Action on anti-Semitism at Hammersmith and Fulham Council”, saying, with reckless disregard for worker’s rights to a fair disciplinary procedure: 

“I failed to see what further needs to be investigated and how could this man ever return to his role, interacting with tenants and landlords, who may well view Mr Keable as not assessing their circumstances entirely objectively. I believe that your response to these shocking statements by Mr Keable has been both weak and inadequate.” 

As has been normal throughout the witch-hunt, superlative outrage and false accusations of anti-Semitism are unaccompanied by concrete evidence. Hands’s open letter, 10 days after my suspension, made him the second and last person to complain to the council. In truth there were only two complainants: Labour councillor Stephen Cowan and Tory MP Greg Hands. So much for “reputational damage”. 

The council has damaged its own reputation. Attempting to ban public criticism of a racist ideology does not sit well with its equality, diversity and inclusivity policy. My words in Parliament Square, which the council found “offensive”, the tribunal judge described as “calm, rational, non- threatening and conversational”. The establishment’s witch-hunt against critics of Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people has made the Labour Party a hostile environment for socialists. The case against me brought the witch-hunt into the workplace. 

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