Diary of an ex-Corbyn foot soldier (November, 2021)
Dictionary definition of “foot soldier”: “…a dedicated low level follower…”
Michael Murray: firstname.lastname@example.org; FaceBook: Michael Murray London
The case of Heather Mendick: A Jew accused by Labour of being antisemitic.
“NOI CN-9748” lands on Heather’s doormat
In September of this year a Hackney Labour Party comrade and friend, Heather Mendick, party and community activist, constituency party official, and, in her day job, a post Ph.D Social Research Consultant, received a “Notice of Investigation” (NOI) from the “Governance and Legal Unit” (GLU) of the Labour Party.
NOI CN-9748, came replete with an arms length adversarial tone and legalistic vocabulary. Like the reference to her as “The Respondent,” in the first line of her “Notice of Investigation.” Not “valued Labour Party member”– as she fully deserves to be addressed, for the work and effort she puts in, and has put in as, until recently, CLP secretary, now Vice-Chair of Hackney Central Labour Party and taking a leading role in numerous local campaigns. She is Secretary of Morning Lane People’s Space and Co-Secretary of Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. And organiser of vegetarian feasts for Hackney Labour social events.
NOI CN-9748 began: “Ms Heather Mendick (the Respondent) has engaged in conduct prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Party in breach of Chapter 2, Clause I.8 of the Labour Party Rule Book by engaging in conduct which:
- undermines the Party’s ability to campaign against racism
- may reasonably be seen to involve antisemitic actions, stereotypes and sentiments:
There follows a list of 14 “items of evidence” in support of charges (a) and (b) above – which could be boiled down to one, the 14th, written, of course, pompously and, to establish distance between the Accuser and The Respondent, as xiv:
xiv: 23 February, 2021 “(You) liked a tweet stating antisemitism has been exaggerated within the labour party.”
Perhaps, a couple of others might be mentioned, in the interest of fair representation, and to give a flavour of the email’s contents. For example:
iii. Jan 9th 2020 –“The commitment to kick people out of Labour for antisemitism with no investigation or right of appeal is a problem when antisemitism has been weaponised against the left.”
And, for good measure:
viii. August 30th, 2018 – “I think the row about antisemitism in the Labour Party is neither a rational nor a proportionate response to incidences of antisemitism and how they’ve been addressed.”
All incidents are dated from August 2018 to the most recent cited, February 2021 in no particular order, with some not dated at all, and only one citing where it was published: an article in the Morning Star – and that not dated. (full text of the NOI in the JVL article cited below)
The NOI looks like the work of someone who has been rummaging in a dustbin for bits of incriminating information. And, indeed, that’s what is going on, virtually, picking back through the years of Tweets largely. The process is designed to protect the anonymous, faceless GLU writer of the NOI, not the “Respondent” as a member has a right to expect, according to the Labour Party Rulebook, Chapter II, Clause 2. 7, “Charter of Members’ Rights,” which reads:
“Members have the right to dignity and respect, and to be treated fairly by the Labour Party. Party officers at every level shall exercise their powers in good faith and use their best endeavours to ensure procedural fairness for members.”
“Shanah Tovah Umetukah !”
To add insult to injury, this email didn’t arrive on any old day in September: it arrived on Jewish New Year’s eve.
It’s appropriate that Heather should tell this part of the story, highlighted in bold, because it beggars belief and ought to make anyone associated with this case in the GLU of the Labour Party charged with addressing antisemitism, and, perhaps, Labour in its entirety, ashamed and embarrassed.
“I received the email (from the Labour Party) accusing me, a Jewish person, of antisemitism – on Erev Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year’s Eve) when Jews believe that G-d writes our fate for the coming year in the Book of Life or the Book of Death.
“The email requested a response during the ten days of repentance before Yom Kippur, the day when G-d seals our fate.
“This was done in the name of fighting antisemitism and making the party welcoming for Jewish people.
“In making this claim, the Labour Party is excluding me from the category of ‘Jewish people.’
“I cannot express in words how painful and offensive this is.” (The Weaponisation of Antisemitism: the case of Heather Mendick, JVL, Home: Articles, 7th October, 2021)
You’re right to say antisemitism has been weaponised as part of a war on the left, and is being redefined in the process, to serve that purpose. And you’re right, too, when you say: “…there’s clear evidence that Jewish members appear disproportionately among those being investigated, suspended and excluded for ‘antisemitism’.” (JVL article, cited)
It’s there to be seen in the JVL October, 2021, Submission to the EHRC which cites five times more Jewish than non-Jewish Party members having faced complaints of antisemitism resulting in a level of persecution more than 200 times higher for JVL officers than for non-Jewish party members and 33 times higher for rank-and-file members of JVL.
“There is a particular concentration on visible JVL activists and currently eleven out of the 17 JVL committee members have been accused of ‘antisemitism.’” ( JVL, “We tell EHRC: LP Targeting left wing Jews, needs new Investigation,” Oct 23, 2021)
You’re not often wrong, Heather, as I’ve learned since first getting to know you in the party, but you’re right again in your explanation of the high proportion of left Jewish members falling foul of Labour’s disciplinary actions:
“This is unsurprising as the Party is using its disciplinary processes to police what members can say about Jewish identity and about anti-Jewish racism, and these are topics on which Jewish people are understandably more likely to speak out than non-Jews.”
To a non-Jew like me, that comes across as insightful and helpful in the context of trying to arrive at a shared definition of the problem.
Getting back to your own case: what differentiates you from all, or most, members, Jewish and non-Jewish, who have received NOIs is how you have chosen to respond to yours.
“Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment,” Lao Tzu, Momentum Hackney
Heather began her response, thus: “I do not intend to legitimise these so-called ‘accusations’ with a defence.”
She did not choose to hide behind the common law principle of Nemo Tenetur either (“pleading the 5th Amendment” in the US) – the right not to incriminate yourself when asked to admit something you’re alleged to have said or done – and most of the questions in NOIs and other GLU “investigations” are designed to invite people to incriminate themselves.
Not only that: instead of offering a defence or delivering an aggrieved, conventionally passionate “speech from the dock,” shechose a novel approach – in the context of the ongoing saga of NOIs, suspensions and “auto-exclusion” – of treating this horrible experience she’s going through – as a “teachable moment.”
A “teachable moment” (I would prefer a “learning” moment) is a concept I first became aware of in the TUC Tutors’ training programme back in the ‘70s, though it wasn’t labelled thus. It was linked to a “learner-centred” approach within a “Skills/Knowledge/Affective Learning” training and education based design. “SKA,” as we knew it.
A teachable moment around the intricacies of, say, Occupational Pension Schemes is when your own pension scheme comes under threat: e.g. being changed from a defined benefit to a defined contributions scheme. Then the otherwise boring, arcane subject of pensions becomes something very real and engaging, especially for those knocking on the retirement door.
A political teachable moment for the Labour movement is the aftermath, and ongoing post-mortem, on the 2021 Budget. That teachable moment was seized with both hands by Labour Grassroots’ “Not the Andrew Marr Show” last Sunday, 31st October with the help of Political Economist Richard Murphy and Professor of Accounting, Labour Peer Prem Sikka. (go to Labour Grassroots.com, or google on Youtube to view it). And it’s the subject-matter of this month’s Labour Affairs Editorial.
No apologies for that segue: political economy is where our intellectual energy should be going as a movement if Labour is to have a future and begin to be trusted, and trust itself, with the economy; Not the rabbit-hole of weaponised, exaggerated antisemitism in the Labour Party. That’s one thing Heather and I are agreed on.
A constructive response
To resume the main thread of this diary entry:As far as I can ascertain, an Australian educationalist, Glyn Davis,is due the credit for coining the
term “teachable moment,” whichhe defined as a favourable moment for optimising public awareness and education in a public policy issue.
You can see why Heather is taken with the concept: Hers is a constructive response to extremely threatening and provocative treatment in an effort to turn a horrible experience for all concerned – and don’t underestimate the damage being done to the anonymous persons dishing out this poison – towards the possibility of an individual, and organisational, transformative outcome.
She refuses, as the GLU asks in all such correspondence, to keep this disciplinary process “Private and Confidential,” shared only with the Samaritans believing, in the words of another activist put through three years of the same inquisitional ordeal, and who refused to be silenced proclaiming: “no wrong was ever righted, except with the full glare of publicity.” A quote from Stan Keable – whose successful EAT case against Unfair Dismissal for anti-semitism is documented elsewhere in this issue of Labour Affairs.
So, Heather set out from the beginning: “To use this NOI to explore problems with the way ‘antisemitism” is operating in the Labour Party.”
And, in the spirit of Labour’s own “Charter of Members’ Rights,” (cited above) she said: “I want to ask questions of the people who are placed in a position of judgement over me.”
Instead of responding to each of the 14 “items of evidence” she chose to submit a written statement while posting it online at the same time.
Her rationale: “Because most of the statements (in the 14 “items of evidence”) related to the weaponisation of antisemitism, and to my discussion of that, I wrote a short account of what that means and how that operates. And how that particularly positions left wing Jewish people like me and how that silences us – as well as how it’s being used not just to silence criticism of Israel but to destroy a powerful left-wing insurgency that emerged in response to Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.”
The Postman Always Rings Twice….
A week later she received a letter from the GLU. It wasn’t, as she expected, an acknowledgment of her response, but the start of a whole new investigation. A second bite of the cherry for the GLU. It was effectively a tidying up and reordering of the first 14“items of evidence,” as if anticipating matters being taken to a higher level. With this in mind, one can only surmise, this is why an additional charge has been added:
“Makes mendacious, dehumanizing , demonising, or stereotypical allegations about jews as such or the power of jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world jewish conspiracy or of jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions” (“Jews” in lower case? What’s that all about?)
It’s outrageous, appalling and gratuitously offensive. And comes without any supporting ‘items of evidence,” or anything close.
Nothing in what the Labour Party accuses her in the enlarged list of “items of evidence” comes near the mention, or imputation of a “world jewish conspiracy.”(sic) How could anyone imagine Heather even writing much less mouthing those words?
“Taking each item of evidence in turn,”she was askedagain, “please explain your reasons for posting, sharing or endorsing each numbered item of evidence included in this pack.”
The GLU and the leadership will not have been prepared for what came next.
This time, Heather decided on a different response, again in the spirit of the teachable moment, but using a videoed, oral medium. And, this time providing, to camera, a detailed commentary on all 19 or 20 “items of evidence.”
The video, titled “Why is Labour investigating Jews for antisemitism?” was posted on Youtube and elsewhere on the 27th October. On YT alone, it’s had 5,000 views so far.
With this video, the “teachable moment” isrealised in style, with the technical help of another Hackney Labour comrade, Daniel Taylor.
Now, compare Heather’s approach to contributing to an understanding of antisemitism in the Labour Party to what Deputy Leader Angela Rayner had to say to those who expressed solidarity with the suspended Jeremy Corbyn:
“If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that.” (Independent, 29 November, 2020). Of course, solidarity with Corbyn is equated with “antisemitism.”
(Note “If I have to suspend:’ I’”: losing the run of herself again, ignoring natural justice, due process. the rule book and constitution in her egotistical rant. This from the Deputy Leader, elected directly by the members, to represent them at the top table.)
Or, Wes Streeting. The Mail on Line (24th October, 2021) reported him telling the Labour Shadow Cabinet: “Every day, we should drag a sacred cow of our party to the town market place and slaughter it until we are up to our knees in blood,” (Brendan Carlin, Political Correspondent, quoting “Sources,” of course. But there haven’t been any denials – or writs flying).
Others, listening to the Rayners and Streetings, seeing the treatment of good, hard working comrades – or at the juncture reached by Heather in the deliberately member-unfriendly Labour disciplinary process are inclined to say: feck this for a game of soldiers, and walk away. Tear up the party card. Hundreds and thousands have walked. Not Heather.
Heather’s is an imaginative, principled political response to a political crisis. Hers is the moral high ground.
That has to count for something – even in today’s Labour Party, no?