“WITHDRAWAL OF WHIP FROM JEREMY CORBYN: 1st ANNIVERSARY”
Diary of an ex-Corbyn foot soldier (December, 2021)
A year ago, 19 November, 2021, the Chief Whip is reported as writing to Jeremy Corbyn, suspending him from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) for 3 months pending investigation into whether he had broken the PLP Code of Conduct. The day before, the 18th, Starmer said he, as Party Leader and as PLP Leader, had taken the decision not to restore the whip. So, what is the PLP Code of Conduct? What does it say about suspension and restoration of the whip; who has the authority to do it and what is the procedure to be followed? Read it below in full. You may come to agree with us this was a wrongful withdrawal and ought to be rescinded forthwith.
What’s another year?
A week is a long time in politics? If that’s true, the withdrawal of the Labour whip from Jeremy Corbyn, is an eternity. Certainly, that’s what it feels like. But it wasn’t supposed to be like that. We were told the suspension would be reviewed within three months, or sooner, pending the outcome of an investigation. Now, a year later the world is no wiser. And tens of thousands of members have left the party, cancelling their contribution standing orders on their way out and voting for cuts in their union’s political donations to Labour. Plunging the party into a financial – and moral – crisis.
So, tell us again. What was the reason for the suspension? How was it authorised? According to which Labour Party rules, precisely? Why has there been no mention of the “investigation” into Jeremy’s alleged offences since the announcement of the whip withdrawal in November 2020?
Asked last weekend on a Sunday BBC show how much longer was Corbyn to be in Limbo, Keir replied “He (Jeremy) knows what to do.” How long more is this crack going to go on? Until the calling of a General Election and a rushed decision to be made about whether Jeremy, or A.N. Other, is to be the official Labour candidate? The shit show that’s going to create in Islington North – and wider afield – if it’s not resolved?
We’ll start with a look at the disciplinary procedure that ought to be involved – but doesn’t seem to be – in the withdrawal of the whip from a Labour MP.
The Labour Party Rulebook 2020
Chapter 1 Clause 1 of the Labour Party Rulebook begins: “Its purpose (the Labour Party) is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.
From that one might assume that in its 157 pages (2020 edition), dealing with the party structure, comprising organic “party units” and “affiliated organisations,” the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) would take up a lot of space. Not so. How little it is featured and the implications of this, is discussed later.
To find the disciplinary rules that apply to the particular case at hand – the withdrawal of the Parliamentary Party whip, from Jeremy Corbyn – you have to look elsewhere than in the main text of the Labour Party Rulebook and its copious appendices.
So, to make sense of what happened last November, and having scoured the Rulebook I began a search for the rules governing the withdrawal of the whip from a Labour Party MP.
I came across a correspondence in November 2020 between an individual, who shall remain nameless here – and the House of Commons Library. They (I’m obliged to say “they,” I think) had made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for a copy of the extant PLP Standing Orders and was sent a copy of the 2000/1 version, which had a hand-written note on it – “most recent copy.” As the one posited in the H of C Library by the Labour Party. (It can be found on the internet by googling “Parliamentary Labour Party Standing Orders, January 2000.”)
Then, low and behold I came across another, later version, including the 2014 amendments. If there is a later substantially amended version I haven’t managed to find it.
The contrast between the easy availability of the latest Labour Party Rulebook compared to the PLP’s Standing Orders/Code of Conduct tells us a lot about the PLP relationship with the Labour Party.
That said, perhaps a quick guide to Labour Party structures, and, in particular the relationship of the Parliamentary Labour Party to the – can we say “host”? – Labour Party might be appropriate.
This Code of Conduct begins by stating that all Members (ie MPs) are, first, members of the Labour Party and, as such, are governed by the rules of the party.
Chapter 5. IV. 3. Points out that all nominees shall undertake, if elected (to House of Commons), to accept and comply with the Standing Orders of the PLP.
Chapter 5 Clause 2.3.B of the 2020 party rulebook lays down, inter alia:
The PLP and the Labour Party
That the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will operate under standing orders, which must be endorsed by the NEC;
That there shall be a Parliamentary Committee elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party, in accordance with PLP Standing Orders;
(The Parliamentary Committee is the de facto executive committee of the PLP);
That there shall be a Chair of the PLP, elected by the PLP in accordance with PLP Standing Orders.
Chapter 1. VII.says: There shall be a leader and deputy leader of the Party who shall, ex-officio, be leader and deputy leader of the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party).
For the purposes of the Constitution of the Labour Party, the Code of Practice adopted in 1968 as amended in 1996, 2006, 2011 and 2014 shall be regarded for all purposes as part of the Standing Orders of the PLP. The Code of conduct shall be attached to the Standing Orders.
Appendix to the Standing Orders of the Parliamentary Labour Party:
The Code of Conduct The Code of Conduct begins: “All Members have a duty to conduct themselves at all times in a manner consistent with membership of the PLP,” and, under three broad, predictable headings:
(1) General Conduct: attendance; working relationships with other Members; acting in harmony with PLP policies; not bringing the Party into disrepute;
(2) What’s called “Coordination and Collective Action”: Regional/departmental working groups with PLP authorisation only; Chief Whip’s role in coordinating motions, etc., and Members’ compliance;
(3) Voting in the House: Arranging appropriate abstentions with Chief Whip.
There follows the procedure for handling disciplinary issues arising from breaches in the above, the role of the Chief Whip and the Parliamentary Committee in expediting them and the range of sanctions: from a verbal reprimand to Precautionary and Administrative Suspensions from the PLP
Rule on Withdrawal of the Whip
The section referring to the Withdrawal of the Whip is:
4 (d) Discipline
Withdrawal of the Whip
Following the conclusion of an investigation into a Member’s conduct or in exceptional circumstances, withdrawal of the Whip (ie expulsion from the Parliamentary Labour Party) may be decided upon by a meeting of the Parliamentary Party at which prior notice of the motion has been given by the Parliamentary Committee.
The notice of motion shall include the terms of the proposed withdrawal including the length of time the withdrawal is proposed to last.
Withdrawal of the Whip shall be reported to the NEC and to the CLP of the Member concerned.
Member’s Right to be heard:
Any member against whom disciplinary action is proposed under paragraph 4 (d) shall be given at least three day’s notice, and shall have the right to make representations to the next meeting of the Parliamentary Committee prior to a motion being put to the vote.
Jeremy’s initial suspensionfrom Party membership automatically incurred the withdrawal of the whip, as per the PLP disciplinary code. So the obverse should apply: that lifting the suspension automatically lifted the withdrawal of the whip. But Keir Starmer chose not to see it that way.
Starmer: “Judge me on my action, not my words.”
Keir Starmer began his tweet, announcing Jeremy’s departure thus: “Since I was elected Labour leader, I have made it my mission to root out antisemitism from the Labour Party. I know I will be judged on my actions, not my words.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle antisemitism.
“In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn.”
I will keep this situation under review.“ (Keir Starmer @Keir Starmer, Tweeted 18 November, 2020)
Let’s be clear. Jeremy made a comment on the EHRC report that Keir Starmer felt undermined his antisemitism “mission.” Keir, as leader of the Labour Party felt obliged to act. After all, when Corbyn was first suspended from party membership, automatically incurring the withdrawal of the whip from him, Keir had said “those who pretended it (Labour antisemitism) is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem.” (Guardian, 29 October, 2020).
But did he have the authority to deny the whip to Jeremy summarily, off his own bat? Especially after a disciplinary panel of the NEC had unanimously lifted Corbyn’s suspension the previous day ?
In the same tweet, he claimed he had that authority: ”I’m Leader of the Labour Party, but I’m also the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party.“ Note that he is not claiming here the authority to expel Corbyn by solely on the basis of being party leader, but as leader of the PLP. The Labour Rulebook establishes him as PLP leader arising from his party Leader position, it’s true. But does being PLP leader give him the authority to withdraw the whip, or suspend, MPs? Not by any objective reading of the PLP Disciplinary procedure it doesn’t. Not by a mile. But it does draw attention to the relevance of the PLP’s disciplinary procedure to the Corbyn case – and in Corbyn’s favour, not Starmer’s.
Contrasting accounts of the withdrawal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn
Contradicting Starmer’s account, that the action against Corbyn was on his own initiative, the Mirror’s Political Correspondent wrote:“The decision not to restore the whip to Mr Corbyn was made by his successor as party leader and the Chief Whip, Nick Brown.” (Oliver Milne, Political Correspondent, The Mirror, 18th /updated 19th November, 2020.)
So, that’s alright then? Is that how it works according to the PLP disciplinary procedure above ? The Leader of the Labour Party, in his capacity as Party Leader/cum PLP leader, together with the Chief Whip come to a decision, perhaps over the phone in these Covid times, to summarily withdraw the whip from Jeremy Corbyn without any reference to procedure as laid down in the PLP Disciplinary rules which, in turn, are required by Rule to be endorsed by the NEC ?
There is no mention in the PLP code of conduct of the Leader of the Parliamentary Party – or the Party Leader – having the authority to withdraw the whip from an MP.
Jessica Elgot, the Guardian’s Chief Political Correspondent, in her piece (19th November, 2020) had a slightly different version to that of her Mirror colleagues of how events unfolded.
She reported that the Labour Chief Whip, Nick Brown, wrote to Corbyn on Thursday night saying “the whip had been withdrawn for three months – suspending him from the parliamentary Labour Party – pending an investigation into whether he had broken the PLP code of conduct. Corbyn has been told the decision will be kept under review and his conduct during the suspension will be taken into account.”
So who – Starmer on the 18 November, or Nick Brown on the 19 November – formally notified Corbyn of the withdrawal of the whip?
And, either way, was Corbyn informed by either of them about his “Member’s Right to be Heard” spelled out in 4 (d) of the PLP disciplinary procedure above?
All the questions above are rhetorical questions. They may be taken as a “discovery exercise” for Labour members to scrutinise the PLP’s Standing Orders and Code of Conduct, including the Disciplinary procedure as it applies to MPs, in order that they be enabled and empowered to come to their own conclusions about the dragged-out withdrawal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn which, it is argued here, was a wrongful withdrawal of the whip and should be rescinded.
The PLP and Party membership: Time for a rule change
There is another learning point that ought to be mentioned here.
It concerns the relationship between the PLP and the general membership. The Rulebook says in its opening lines, as was cited above: the purpose of the Labour Party “is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”
So why doesn’t the PLP report to annual conference ? The NEC does. And the National Policy Forum (NPF).
The “Campaign for Labour Party Democracy” (CLPD) believes it should.
At the 2021 conference it attempted, but failed, to get a motion on the agenda calling for the PLP to be accountable to annual conference. The substantive part of the motion called for the following:
“The NEC shall present to conference the report of the PLP, which shall include: a summary of its activity during the previous year, including its work to advance or implement the Labour Party’s policy or programme;
“An addendum by the Chief Whip detailing any, or all, disciplinary action taken, or ongoing, in relation to any MPs who were elected to Parliament as Labour MPs;
“Conference shall confirm, or shall void, any decision taken to suspend, or expel, from the PLP, any MP elected to Parliament as a Labour MP;
“The decision of conference in determining these matters, as it sees fit, shall be final.”
The failure to cut through in today’s Labour Party isn’t surprising. And the already overflowing pile of documentation around all the other rule changes at this year’s conference, the limited time and facilitation to discuss them adequately, didn’t help.
For those interested in looking more closely at this proposal it’s strongly recommended they look at the CLPD’s “Let’s Make the Parliamentary Labour Party Accountable to Conference.” You’ll find it on:clpd.org.uk Scroll down to:Labour Party Conference 2021.
But, what about …….?
With the CLPD article is a useful “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) appendix which addresses such matters as the legality of such a proposal – in the context of Labour as an “unincorporated association” where conference has the authority to amend Party rules as it sees fit. How are private disciplinary details handled ? How is members’ data protected ? Does this proposal mean that conference would be taking on itself the authority to suspend or expel members ? Just some of the questions posed – and answered.
As the CLPD claims, and, we hope, this article reinforces: “There is currently a gaping hole in the Labour Party rulebook in that the PLP is not accountable to Annual Conference. The work carried out by the PLP to advance or implement Labour Party policy and discipline within the PLP are not reported to conference, nor do delegates have a say on disciplinary decisions they believe are of concern.”
Jeremy Corbyn, in his 12th month of banishment from the PLP is a victim of the current, unfit for democratic purpose Labour Party rules, procedures and structures.
And the 34,000 odd who voted for him to be their Labour Party MP in Islington North: where do they come in ? Do the “outward-facing” strategists of Starmer’s Labour care?
Dictionary definition of “foot soldier”: “…a dedicated low level follower…”
Michael Murray: firstname.lastname@example.org; FaceBook: Michael Murray London