Clause 1 of the Labour Party’s constitution is to “promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process”.
Laura Pascal was selected as Labour candidate for election as councillor in Cazenove Ward in Hackney and will be on the ballot this Thursday 18th January. It is expected to be a close-run by-election in which postal votes will play a key role and an active Labour campaign has been mounted which would have culminated in intensive work in these final few days. Four candidates are on the ballot paper – Labour, Tory, LibDem and Green.
Laura supports the party’s official positions on the defence of single-sex spaces for women. As with many female candidates of all parties, there has been much online criticism of her, in her case for wearing a scarf with suffragette colours, and for speaking out in support of Labour’s positions for example, that sex and gender are different and that sex matters.
Now it appears from reports in the press that Laura is currently ‘administratively suspended’ by the party during investigation of a complaint about her use of social media. As a result Hackney Labour members were informed on Saturday that the plans for the final days of campaigning have been suspended.
We agree that when complaints about members are received, the party needs to evaluate and investigate, and that during investigations a member sometimes needs to be temporarily suspended. There should also be a presumption of “innocent until proven guilty”. We understand the need for a degree of confidentiality to protect all concerned.
However, when complaints are delivered at a time like this, when a suspension will derail the democratic process, the party needs robust processes to weed out any vexatious complaints. Delays can also turn the subject of the complaint into a victim of drawn-out proceedings where “the process is the punishment”, during which they are unable to make any public comment in their own defence. If they do speak out, even after they have been completely exonerated, then further investigations can be imposed by the party, putting the complaint victim into an impossible Catch-22 bind.
If the complaint hearing against Laura is delayed until after Thursday’s election, we understand that, should she win, she would sit as an independent councillor until the process is completed. If exonerated, she would serve as part of the Labour group.
We call on Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit, London Region and the National Executive Committee to instigate the swiftest possible hearing of this complaint, i.e. in the next 48 hours, so that Laura’s administrative suspension can be lifted and Hackney Labour can return to campaigning for a Labour victory, in line with Clause 1 of its purpose as listed above. This is achievable and is the only honourable course of action.
We believe there is no rule preventing Laura’s supporters, whether party members or not, from campaigning locally for her election between now and Thursday. The local Labour campaign has already been negatively affected by the cancellation of campaigning since last Friday and also by a last minute change only in the last few days by the Council of the location of one of the polling stations. As it’s a marginal seat, this local campaigning may well be needed for Laura to win.
If this seat is lost, the party will have only itself to blame, and will have failed in its duty of care to its own candidate and to women. It will also have prioritised appeasing those party members who have not yet accepted its clear policy position and will have ignored its own core constitutional duty under Clause 1 – to get Labour representatives elected.
We also suggest the party takes heed of the recent judgement in favour of Rachel Meade vs Westminster Council and Social Work England, in which the employer and regulator were criticised for not considering the motivation of a complainant. (“The judge said the disciplinary process amounted to harassment, and that both parties should have done more to examine the motives of the complainant”). If and when a female Labour candidate is being widely slurred online, for example by the local Green Party, for her adherence to Labour party policies, we urge the party to consider carefully whether complaints emanating from that party are vexatious before deciding to mount an investigation and suspend our candidate.
We call on our party to sort itself out and to join us in supporting a Labour win on Thursday.
Labour Women’s Declaration (LWD) advocates on behalf of its 300 founders and 8000+ signatories. It holds the Labour Party to account on women’s sex-based rights and supports a network of LWD activists across the UK who campaign inside and beyond the party. Activists in Scotland and Wales organise as LWD Scotland and LWD Cymru.