I support Bex Bailey – the Labour Party must have an independent system for complaints of harassment

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19 September 2018

In January I resigned from the Labour Party along with Carmel, another female member of the Labour Party.  This was after four months of harassment and bullying by the Executive Committee of Aylesbury Labour Party.  My formal complaint of harassment and bullying to the Labour Party was handled ineptly and unprofessionally at local, regional and national level.  Carmel’s complaint was simply ignored.   It is all set out in the blogs below.

Today, the Labour Party’s NEC is due to consider a report by Karon Monague QC.  She has been commissioned by the Labour Party to investigate the way in which the Party handled the allegations of a Labour Party activist called Bex Bailey.  Bex alleged she was raped when she was 19 by a fellow Labour member.  She waived her anonymity in order to get the Labour Party to take the issues seriously. 

Karon Monague was also asked to make wider recommendations about the Party’s procedures for handling complaints of sexual harassment.   Her report went to the Labour Party in May.  I copied all the correspondence about my complaint and all my blogs to Karon Monague so I hope she took our cases into account.  I don’t know if she did because the Labour Party hasn’t made the report public.

However, Bex Bailey has read the report.  She had to fight to do so and was only allowed to read it under supervision by a member of Labour's staff.  She says the report found “sexual harassment was rife in the Labour Party”.  She added that it was not just her case that had been mishandled, and the “report clearly says that ... senior members of the Labour party have closed their eyes to these issues”.

A Labour Party spokesperson said its procedures for handling complaints of harassment were “not fit for purpose”.  Well, Carmel and I told the Labour Party that many months ago but no-one would listen – not Aylesbury Labour Party, nor senior Labour Party members.

So it’s good to find out that we were right.  But we suffered 4 months of harassment and bullying and got no redress.   

It is also disappointing that the Labour Party has still not accepted the report’s recommendations and come out wholeheartedly in support of a fully independent complaints system. 

A Labour Party spokesperson said “the procedures have been improved, for example by introducing a helpline for members to report complaints, anonymising all cases, and appointing an independent specialist organisation to offer confidential advice and support to any individual affected by sexual harassment within the Party.”

However helpful these improvements might be, none of them get to the root of the issue – complaints need to be investigated promptly, fairly and independently.  

We will see what the NEC decides. 

 

Harriet Harman asks why there is still a massive imbalance of power when women make up half the population – but I don’t need to tell her

29 April 2018

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The blogs below tell the story of the bullying and harassment by the Executive of Aylesbury Labour Party of myself and my colleague, Carmel.  We tried to get the Labour Party to investigate this behaviour.  We failed, we resigned and I thought that was that.   

However, it wasn’t quite the end because Harriet Harman intervened and we went round the Labour Party’s complaint’s system again.  This postscript to our story is set out below. 

Once again the Labour Party proved hopeless about investigating complaints and doing anything about the bullying and harassment of women.   

Carmel’s complaint of bullying and harassment still sits unacknowledged, 3 ½ months after she made it. 

My complaint of bullying and harassment still sits with an investigating officer who won’t respond, 2 ½ months after I made the complaint.   And the General Secretary of the Labour Party tells me (in so many words) not to bother her but to contact my investigating officer (yes the one who won't respond).   

So the Labour Party remains absolutely hopeless.

Although we didn’t get anywhere, I am very grateful for Harriet’s help.  She is the one person in the Labour Party from top to bottom who has responded in a sympathetic and professional way. 

Nevertheless it was with mixed feelings that I watched the celebrations this week when the statue of Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in Parliament Square, the only statue of a woman in the Square.    I watched female Labour MPs pointing out yet again that “women are woefully under-represented in all areas of British cultural and political life”.   I watched them yet again saying they and the Labour Party were commited to increasing the representation of women at every level of politics.  

And I thought what a load of hypocrites because most of these female Labour MPs know about Carmel’s and my complaints and only Harriet lifted a finger to help. 

Harriet suggested at the celebration that all the other (male) statues could be temporarily moved out of Parliament Square and statues of women moved in.  (What a brilliant idea!)

She said “These statues tell us that in culture, in politics and in society, there is still a massive imbalance of power when women make up half the population – why should that still be the case? 

Harriet knows the answer to her question full well.  You only have to read the blogs below.  It’s because women are still bullied and harassed if they try to take an active part in politics – and too many people, including women who have made it to the top, say they deplore what is happening but actually stand by and do nothing.   

My question would be – How many other women are bullied and harassed by members of the Labour Party and find their complaints similarly ignored or dismissed?

Never mind, I can now enjoy commenting on the performance of the Labour Party in Bucks. 

 

Here’s the postscript to our story

I had already sent all my blogs to Jeremy Corbyn’s office and to Dawn Butler MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, who had spoken at the Labour Party Conference last year exhorting women to take a more prominent part in politics.   No response.

I had also sent my blogs to Jess Phillips MP, who had spoken out about the harassment of women employees in Parliament.  She asked what the party thought about our complaints.  I explained.  No response.

I had sent my blogs to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Women and Equalities who had recently taken evidence about gender imbalance in the political parties, including from Dawn Butler.   The MPs on the Committee included Labour MPs Tulip Siddiq, Rosie Duffield, and Tonia Antoniazzi.  No response. 

So when I sent my last blog I didn’t expect anyone would help.   This time I added some senior female Labour MPs to the circulation – Emily Thornberry, Angela Rayner, Diane Abbott, and Rebecca Long Bailey.  No response.     

The only one to respond was Harriet Harman. She said she was sorry to hear what I had been through; that she had asked Iain McNichol, then the Labour Party’s General Secretary, for a report on my complaint; and would report back to me when she heard.

As good as her word, she came back the next day and said my complaint had been passed to the Labour Party’s disputes team and she had been assured that an investigating officer would be in touch the same day.  She apologised once again for what I had been through.

An investigating officer did phone up and she suggested that I make a formal complaint of bullying and harassment.  I did so somewhat reluctantly as judging from my previous experience I didn’t think it would get very far.  I could not see any good outcome for myself; I had resigned from the Labour Party and couldn’t see myself joining the Party again.

Nevertheless I thought bullies should be held to account.  And I wanted Aylesbury Executive to recognise that it had bullied and harassed Carmel and myself; that it needed to change that behaviour; and that it needed to welcome and support women into positions of authority. 

So I put in a formal complaint of bullying and harassment on 14 February.   I also reminded the investigating officer that Carmel had already put in a complaint of bullying and harassment on 12 January and asked the investigating officer how she proposed to take things forward.  No response. 

I chased.  I asked for a copy of the Labour Party’s procedures for handling of bullying and harassment complaints.  Carmel also asked about the process for her complaint.

The investigating officer invited me to have a telephone conversation and sent me a copy of the Labour Party’s Rulebook (over 100 pages long) for my records.  As far as I could see, the Rulebook says nothing about bullying and harassment and is, in any case, available on-line.  

I asked again for the procedures pointing out that if the Labour Party was serious about investigating bullying and harassment, I would have been given the procedures within a few days of making my complaint.  Had she informed Aylesbury Labour Party about the allegations?  Had I even been given a case number?  No response.

Finally, four weeks after I made my complaint, the investigating officer sent me the Labour Party’s policy statement and procedural guidelines on bullying and harassment.  No apology for the delay.  She also said she was keen to meet me. 

I asked about the proposed meeting, for example, the purpose of the meeting, where it fitted within the procedures, who would be at the meeting and would it be recorded as required under the procedures.  I also asked who the “Executive Director Governance” was as, according to the procedures, he or she should have advised on the way in which my complaint was handled.

Most importantly, I asked about Carmel’s complaint still outstanding since 12 January without so much as an acknowledgement.  

That was on 18 March.  No response. 

About two weeks ago I wrote to members of the National Executive Committee which is the governing body of the Labour Party responsible for enforcing its policies and procedures.  This included a number of other female Labour MPs – Kate Osamor, Margaret Beckett and Shabana Mahmood.  I wrote to members of the NEC as a last resort having exhausted all other channels in the Labour Party.  I asked them to ensure that "prompt investigation and corrective action" was instituted on our complaints in line with the Labour Party's statement and guidelines on bullying and harassment.  

A few days later, Jennie Formby, the new General Secretary responded saying my complaint was under investigation and I should get in touch with the investigating officer.

I explained that the ball was in the investigating officer’s court and added it was not helpful to be told to contact someone from whom I have been trying to get a response for weeks with no success.  This was copied to NEC members.  No response.

 

100 years after getting the vote, women threatened and bullied by Aylesbury Labour Party

7 February 2018   

Yesterday was the centenary of (some) women getting the vote.    

In the national news, we see stories of sexual harassment of women working in entertainment, the media, politics and hospitality.  We see women still waiting for equal pay and there is still a gender pay gap.    There is still a disproportionate number of men in senior positions in practically every organisation in our society.  

The fight for equality for women, particularly women from ethnic minorities, carries on. 

So it seems fitting today to end the story about myself and my colleague, Carmel, who felt we had to resign from the Labour Party.   We resigned because the Executive of Aylesbury Labour Party harassed and bullied us for months and because too many people in the Labour Party colluded in that harassment and bullying or watched it happen and did nothing.

Harassment and bullying are rarely about major incidents.  No-one screamed and shouted at us or threatened us with physical violence.  Most harassment and bullying takes place by a series of small incidents over time which isolate, or undermine, or threaten a person.   That’s what happened to us.

Previous blogs describe the way in which myself and a colleague, Carmel, were blocked and discouraged from becoming Vice Chairmen on the Executive of Aylesbury Constituency Labour Party (CLP) – and the lack of support we had from the Labour Party when this happened.

However, we didn’t resign.  We both continued to be active Labour Party members.   Carmel was elected to Vice Chairman of the County Labour Party.   We both supported the campaign against the closure of the Children’s Centres in Bucks.

I was asked by Jacky McKenna, Aylesbury’s Women’s Officer if some of my blogs could go on the women’s page of the CLP’s website.  Yes, of course, I said. 

We were both asked by Jacky McKenna if we could help her set up a Women’s Forum.  Yes, of course, we said.  We were just arranging to meet Jacky McKenna informally in a pub when she said another member of the Executive would have to accompany her and take a formal note of the meeting.  We then both politely declined. 

Then Carmel was abused on Twitter by Councillor Whyte, the Cabinet member for Children’s Services on Bucks County Council.  He called her a “Labour troll” and “bitter and twisted”.   (The details are in a blog on my “Health” page.) 

Carmel asked the Executive of Aylesbury CLP for support.   She suggested the Chairman, Phillip Jacques, write to the Leader of BCC to say this was unacceptable.  This would send a clear message that the Labour Party did not tolerate abuse on Twitter, particularly to women. 

I didn’t expect any disagreement.  Women, particularly in politics, face abuse on Twitter all the time.  Many women have had to stop tweeting because of the threats. 

What Phillip Jacques should have done was e-mail back quickly saying something like

“Carmel, you shouldn’t have to put up with this.  Of course you have our support.  I’ll clear something with other members of the Executive and write to Leaders of Bucks County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council to say Councillor Whyte’s tweet was unacceptable.  Don’t let it get to you.  You are doing a great job challenging his position.  I hope you carry on.”

What Carmel got was a brush off, then silence, then a secret discussion by the Executive, then abusive and threatening e-mails and letters, including from Jacky McKenna.  When I supported her, I got the same.

Still we didn’t resign.  Carmel made a formal complaint to Emma Toal, the SE Regional Organiser of the Labour Party, of harassment and bullying against Phillip Jacques and Mike Butcher, the Vice – Chairman.   Apart from a short telephone call, she got no response, not even an acknowledgement.

I asked Bucks County Labour Party for support.  Carmel and I are grateful for the support we got, particularly from Wycombe and Buckingham Labour Parties.  However, we got no response from members in Aylesbury Labour Party.

I finally decided to resign from the Labour Party when the Chairman of the County Party, Alexa Collins, writing on behalf of its Executive (Brian Gammage, the Secretary and Graham Garner, the Treasurer) said what went on in Aylesbury CLP was none of its business.  

This was the final straw.   Since when have members of the Labour Party walked by on the other side when it sees harassment and bullying?    Particularly as Carmel, as Vice Chairman of the County Party, was one of their colleagues.

Carmel resigned and I followed.

We resigned because

-        We had not received one word of encouragement or support from any member of Aylesbury CLP since we both put our names forward last September to be Vice Chairmen of the Executive. 

-        9 members of the Executive sent us abusive, threatening or highly critical e-mails.

-        Not one member of the 18 people on the Executive has dissociated themselves from this abuse or indeed commented; all are corporately responsible.

-        the SE Regional Office of the Labour Party has colluded in this abuse and bullying or watched it happen.   It has provided no support.

-        Our NEC representative has similarly watched it happen.

-        There is no reputable complaints system in the Labour Party.

-        Bucks County Party formally washed its hands.

-        Only one senior member of the Labour Party has commented on our concerns and she has done nothing about it. 

I am happy to send copies of any of the correspondence on request.    

Yes, there were some people who cared.  But too few and we couldn’t see they would have any effect on the behaviour of Aylesbury CLP members.  There were just too many members who looked on and did nothing.

Here’s the pity of it all.   District and County Councils in Bucks are dominated by Conservatives (mostly men).  All the Bucks MPs are Conservatives (mostly men).   The Conservatives can get away with pretty well anything in Bucks.   They can run an inadequate Children’s Services for years, close down 35 Children’s Centres, and see 7000 children in poverty in Aylesbury.  They can lose millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by incompetence and still they carry on. 

Bucks needs an effective opposition.  It needs the Labour Party to be out there campaigning against austerity.  It needs the Labour Party to support vulnerable children and adults, the disabled, the homeless, refugees – and women. 

Aylesbury CLP has about 1000 members and 18 people on its Executive.  Where the hell are they? 

Our good-bye’s sent on 18 January are below.  Carmel’s is first.

 “Dear all, 

Thank you to all of you that have stood up and braved sharing your thoughts and opinions on recent events. 

The issues here are not just about Aylesbury CLP, or about gender, or about personalities. 

We have the Labour Party rule book with its description of model behaviour and processes. We have a national agenda on values and ethics that I agree with.

But I've seen behaviours and approaches that are just vile.  I have tried patiently to influence but have been met with huge resistance at every step. 

We have seen some extraordinary e-mails sent out by officers, truly inexcusable. E-mails that make Cllr Whyte look like an amateur in terms of dishing out abuse. I'm thinking here specifically around the Women's Officer e-mail. And the Vice-Chair’s private e-mail. And the Chair e-mail telling me I was discussed but with no opportunity to explain or contribute. No, that is not the values or ethics I conform to. 

I have only been with the Party a very short time. I have loved most of it. And I really hoped to have contributed in a meaningful way.  But I have been genuinely repulsed by much of what I've seen. 

I have learned loads since last Friday. I've seen the truth and measure of people. 

I'm a very straight forward woman, I have no hidden agenda and no particular political ambitions. 

I'm an activist, interested in social justice, and equality. 

I have chosen to walk away from all this. That doesn't help the situation. Problems like this just repeat and repeat. When they occur again, we might be reminded of this episode.  What history teaches us is that these things don't just magically get better.

I'm not just an activist.  I'm a Buddhist, a reiki healer and a mother. For me, when I go to bed at night it's important that I can sleep. That I've been courageous and true to myself. 

Three men, Jon H, Robyn S and Barry have stood up and diplomatically contributed in a way that is sensitive and engaging with the issues.  Thank you for that. 

And thank you Linda. What a horrible, public and humiliating experience we have gone through, but when we challenge people, behaviours and beliefs, it is often years before these bear any fruit. 

And finally, I sincerely wish the Labour Party every success as it goes forward. There are a number of people in our region who really share a healthy, dynamic, strong, energised vision of challenging and opposing inequality, fighting for justice, and are committed to standing for the many not the few. 

That's it from me folks, 

I resign

Carmel

 

“Dear Carmel 

What a lovely way to say goodbye.   I have decided to go with you for the same reasons.   I resign.

I'll leave with a question for recipients.  

I think you and I were the only two active female members in Aylesbury CLP.    By active I mean someone who doesn't just go to meetings and talk about policies, but someone who gets out on the streets and knocks on doors and talks to people, someone who goes to protest meetings, someone who puts the case on the radio or to the press, who tweets and blogs, someone who stands as a Councillor, someone who writes to their MP and someone who fights for those who can't fight for themselves.   

Given that we were the only two active female Labour Party members in Aylesbury CLP, how come we both feel forced to resign?

Cheers

Linda” 

 

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Labour’s new national Complaints Team – totally clueless

2 February 2018   

This is the part of the story where I complained to the new national Complaints Team set up by the Labour Party as a result of the public outcry about sexual harassment in Parliament.

Now I didn’t complain that Aylesbury Constituency Labour Party (CLP) should have at least 3 women on its Executive.  I didn’t complain that Aylesbury CLP had breached the rule in the Labour Rulebook in only electing one woman onto its Executive at its AGM.   (Although I could have done).

What I complained about was the way in which the Executive Committee of Aylesbury CLP had handled my complaint about the breach of the rule.  I said the Executive

-        had not followed the procedures for handling complaints laid down in the Labour Party Rulebook;

-        had not handled my complaint in line with the principles of natural justice; and

-        had not treated me with respect.

I also complained about Emma Toal, the SE Regional Organiser, in that she provided advice and support to the Chairman of Aylesbury CLP and no help at all to myself or my colleague.   

Similarly I complained about Ann Black, my representative on the National Executive Committee, who also failed to provide me with help and support.  Instead she criticised me for making my complaints in an open and transparent way implying this was unwise and unhelpful.  She also declined to respond unless I approached her privately on a one-to-one basis.  

I set the complaint out in full and provided supporting evidence.

9 weeks later, someone called Kimberley (who refused to tell me her surname or position in the Complaints Team) decided that the “outcome was correct and the matter resolved”.   I think the outcome she was referring to was that there was now three women on Aylesbury’s Executive.  She made this decision on the advice of Emma Toal, one of the people I had complained about.

What she didn’t address at any time was the complaint I actually made.

Kimberley said she would be informing my MP about the outcome of my complaint.  I’m sure David Lidington will be fascinated but I am not sure it is anything to do with him.  

I asked Dawn Butler, MP, the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, 4 weeks ago if she could look into the way in which my complaint was being handled.  I said I had no confidence that it was being handled within the processes and policies laid down (whatever they are) nor that it was being carried out in a fair and professional way.   

I had no response. 

I subsequently sent my blogs to Dawn Butler; an unnamed member of her office asked for my name and address “for their records”. 

In my view, the Complaints Team have failed to address my complaint.   I believe the Complaints Team is biased and unprofessional.   In fact, I don’t think it has any idea what it is doing – not a clue.     

The Labour Party needs do something about this – and urgently.

If you are interested, the correspondence with the Complaints Team is below.  I’ll finish the story next week.

 

2 weeks after I put my complaint in, no response. 

I phoned up and received an e-mail which said We are looking into your complaint and will be back in touch in due course.  Kind Regards, The Complaints Team”.

5 weeks after I had put my complaint in, still no response. 

I e-mailed to say it would be helpful to know who would be considering my complaint, when it would be considered and how it would be addressed.   No response.

6 weeks after I put my complaint in, I phoned up and received the following e-mail “I can confirm that the issue was raised with the Head of Complaints on 13th December. It has been logged on our Complaints system meaning that it has service level agreement deadlines attached to it that we aim to meet.  

I am afraid that I am unable to comment further however I will email Sophie to chase up.  Kind regards and apologies again that you had to chase. Kimberley  Complaints Team.”

8 weeks after I had put my complaint in, I asked Kimberley to let me know what the service level agreement deadlines were.  I also asked what the point of a complaints system was if it took 2 months for nothing to happen.   I copied this e-mail to Dawn Butler, the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities.

The next day I was sent an e-mail chain between Kimberly and Emma Toal.   The e-mail at the top of the chain said

Hi Sophie

So sorry for sending so much to you I feel awful!

I just want to really quickly check on this one, because the complainant keeps emailing, whether you agree with my course of action.  

Long story short she pointed out a gender imbalance on the EC of her CLP. This was brought up with the region. The CLP went through a consultation with members who decided that they didn’t find the gender imbalance to be an issue.

Emma Toal and I have had a conversation and she has been very involved and has attended meetings at the CLP to ensure it is dealt with.  

Are you happy for me to tell the complainant that we will not overturn the decision of not only the CLP and region, but of the members of the CLP too who voted fairly that everything was fine!

Just putting it past you in case I’m missing something.

Apols again I try not to consult you on everything but sometimes feel I am!

L  Kimberley”

The same day, I wrote to Kimberley pointing out that the rule to have at least three women on an Executive of a CLP is not discretionary; it is not for a CLP to decide otherwise. 

I noted that Kimberley had discussed the case with Emma Toal, one of the people I had complained about, and had taken advice from her but had not discussed the case with me.  I suggested this showed a bias.   

I also reminded Kimberley that the reason I had kept on e-mailing was because my complaint had not been dealt with for 8 weeks and suggested that there didn’t appear to be any process and deadlines for dealing with complaints. . 

I asked if my complaint had actually gone to Sophie and if I could know her surname and position and the surname and position of Sophie. 

I copied to Dawn Butler again.

The next day, I received the following e-mail

“Linda, Quite clearly this was an internal email that was accidentally sent to you instead of to a member of staff I was consulting.

I note your comments but you are incorrect – of course there are policies and deadlines – that’s why I was working on your emails in the first place.

I will consult with the staff as I see fit and we shall conclude as we see fit. My surname and position are irrelevant and I am not disclosing this information to you.  

I note that the tone of your emails has become aggressive and therefore I ask you to simply await a proper response instead of continually emailing. We are dealing with it and you will receive a response.

Kimberley”

The next day, 9 weeks after I sent my complaint in, I received the following e-mail  

Linda Thank you for submitting a complaint to the Labour Party complaints team.  

We note that the following action has been taken in dealing with this complaint:  [a list of actions by the regional organiser and Chairman of Aylesbury CLP followed]

As a result of submitting your complaint the EC now has an appropriate gender balance.

Having discussed this with members of staff from the region, we are happy that the rules were followed, that the outcome was the correct one and that the matter is resolved.

We will not be corresponding with you any further on this matter. Your MPs office will be informed of this outcome.

Complaints Team”

 

Conspiracy or cock-up in the Labour Party?

1 February 2018   

I’m picking up the story again about the resignation of myself and another female member from the Labour Party (see blogs below).  We had both failed to become Vice Chairmen of Aylesbury Constituency Labour Party (CLP).   We had written to Phillip Jacques, the Chairman, and to other members of Aylesbury’s Executive to let them know how we felt and to ask some questions about the process and the lack of support.  

I also copied the e-mail to some active Labour Party members in other Bucks constituencies.   One of those members referred me to the Labour Party Rulebook.   I’ve never read the Rulebook before.  But there it was in black and white

“The Executive Officers of the CLP shall be; chair, vice-chair, vice-chair/ membership, secretary, treasurer, women’s officer. At least three of these officers shall be women.”

It’s worth dwelling on this.  It doesn’t say it would be nice to have at least three women on the Executive.  Or at least three women, if possible.  Or at least three women unless you can’t persuade them and the CLP thinks it’s OK not to have three women.    

No, it’s an absolute requirement.  

I suspect that men have dominated Executives of the Labour Party all over the country since the Party was set up.  I suspect, when challenged, these men have said how difficult it has been to get women to come forward despite all the support.   Well, the Rulebook doesn’t allow that anymore.  There has to be at least three women. 

So I asked Phillip Jacques for his comments as Aylesbury’s AGM had elected only one woman onto Aylesbury’s Executive. 

I also copied this e-mail to Ann Black, my representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee.   She came back within hours to say what had happened was “against the rules and unacceptable” and she would ask the SE Regional Office of the Labour Party to look into it.  She then let us know that the Regional Organiser, Emma Toal, had advised Phillip Jacques to re-run the AGM.

This is what my colleague and I then expected would happen.  The Chairman would write to us quickly and acknowledge something had gone wrong and say sorry.  He would offer us a meeting to explain why things had gone wrong and to discuss how the Executive proposed to re-run the AGM.  He and other members of the Executive would encourage us to put our names forward again.

But this didn’t happen.   We never got a meeting; the Chairman couldn’t make it.  We never got an explanation as to how and why the Executive breached the rule to have at least three women on the Executive.    We never got an apology nor any encouragement.  In fact we never got any substantive response at all.

This is what happened.  My colleague found out from the CLP’s website that the Executive proposed to re-run only two out of the six Executive posts.

When we queried this with Emma Toal, she said she had changed her mind and agreed with the Chair of Aylesbury CLP that 2 posts only would be re-advertised because this was “in the spirit of the rules”.   She had not thought to let us know she had changed her mind, let alone consult us. 

My colleague wrote to Emma Toal and Ann Black expressing her concern with the way in which Aylesbury CLP was run and wider issues about gender equality in the CLP.    The only response she had was from Ann Black who said, “Without responding to every point, you might consider that cock-up rather than conspiracy may often be the more likely explanation.”

The Executive decided to re-advertise two posts – the Treasurer and Secretary posts which it knew neither I nor my colleague were interested in filling.    

I then received an e-mail from Lesley Butcher, the wife of the Vice-Chairman and now the Treasurer.   She said “Linda, this has to stop! You criticise Aylesbury CLP and the way the AGM was carried out and then continue to spread lies about the election of officers. You did stand for vice chair but was not elected, that is democracy! Every single other position on the night was not contested by anyone. …..   it horrifies me to see this type of infighting within our CLP. The damage you are doing by sending out target emails filled with untruths is not helping to pull our constituency together to fight the fight.”

She was supported in making these comments by Julien FitzGerald, the CLP’s LGBT Officer.  No other member of the Executive commented.

At this point my colleague decided to just get on with the rest of her life and continue to help when asked.  She was, in general, then sidelined from CLP activities.

I put in a formal complaint to Phillip Jacques that a) the CLP had breached the Rulebook and b) that I had raised this breach but had had no substantive response.

Perhaps I don’t need to spell out what happened then.  No-one told me how my complaint would be handled.   No-one told me how it had been handled.  

However, as far as I can gather, it was discussed at a closed Executive meeting.  Phillip Jacques may or may not have investigated my complaint which was of course largely about actions taken by Phillip Jacques.  He then wrote a report (or resolution or something) saying there were no grounds for a complaint.

My complaint was discussed at a general meeting of members a) without informing me and b) while I was on holiday.  A statement I prepared for the meeting when I found out was not mentioned at the meeting nor circulated as I requested.  I believe Emma Toal went to the meeting but she did not tell me she was going nor what took place.  I asked for the minutes of the meeting but got no response.   

I was told by Mike Butcher, the Vice-Chairman that I should restrict who I informed about my complaint and its handling. 

I was told by Julien Fitzgerald that I could be subject to disciplinary action by the Labour Party for copying e-mails to Emma Toal and Ann Black.

In response, Ann Black said “As far as I'm concerned it's fine to copy to Emma and myself.  It is not fine to copy to the entire world.  Whether it’s actually against party rules or just unwise and unhelpful I'll leave to the regional office.

From now on I will only reply to messages addressed just to myself and Emma”.

I had already pointed out that I believed in transparency and openness and there were many people who took a keen interest in how the issues of gender imbalance in Aylesbury CLP were being tackled. 

I now clarified that all of the recipients of my e-mails were active members of the Labour Party in Bucks, mostly officers.  I saw no reason why it was unhelpful and unwise to copy them in.    

Ann Black merely repeated that “From now on I will only reply to messages addressed just to myself and Emma”.

I then made a formal complaint to Labour’s new Complaints Team, set up in response to allegations of sexual harassment in Parliament.    I’ll blog about its response tomorrow.    But no – it doesn’t get any better.

 

 

 

Two women scorned

25 January 2018   

This picks up the story of the resignation of myself and another woman from the Labour Party at the point we had both put our names forward for the two Vice-Chairmen’s posts on the Executive of Aylesbury Constituency Labour Party (CLP). 

We had also circulated a draft open letter opposing the closure of the Children’s Centres in Bucks to be discussed at the forthcoming AGM. 

This is when our alarm bells started ringing, albeit quietly at first.

It’s not often that women put themselves forward for posts in the Labour Party in Bucks.  To have two women putting themselves forward with enthusiasm in order to campaign is pretty rare.   So you would think that someone from Aylesbury Executive (perhaps the Chairman, Phillip Jacques?) would have contacted one of us and given us some encouragement.

But no, not a word.

Similarly you would think someone from Aylesbury Executive would have thanked us for the work we had done on our draft letter about the Children’s Centres, welcomed a discussion at the AGM and given us some positive feedback.  But no.  Other CLPs, to whom we sent the draft, responded positively – but from Aylesbury Executive, not much enthusiasm.      

In fact the response of two members of the Executive was extraordinary.

One of these members thought Bucks County Council “desperately needed the CLP’s help to understand the issues and come to the correct decisions”.   So the CLP should “present its case in a calm, professional and objective way to be effective” (rather implying of course that our draft was none of these).

He proposed a redraft of our letter to remove its “campaigning tone” and anything which might be “arguable”.  His proposed redraft was about half a page long and replaced Aylesbury CLP “opposing” closure of the Children’s Centres with “expressing its concerns”.  

The second Executive member said that our draft was “a very poor idea”, “needed a lot more effort and active investigation”, and the CLP “would have no idea where it would go when it sent it by e-mail.”   He then went off to discuss the draft with people outside the Labour Party without even informing us.

My colleague and I explained, yet again, that we wanted Aylesbury CLP to be an active, powerful voice in Bucks, campaigning on local issues like health, housing, social care and education.  

We did not see it as the CLP’s job to help Conservative- dominated Councils.  Cabinet members on Councils were paid (about £40,000) to do the job and they had Council officers with expertise and experience to advise them.    

We thought the CLP’s job was to challenge the Conservatives and hold them to account.  We wanted to do this in a responsible, authoritative and passionate way.   And we particularly wanted to do it for children and young people.

Now you might think that someone (perhaps the Chairman?) would have intervened in the discussions and reminded everyone that the CLP was a campaigning organisation – after all that is what had been agreed at the last AGM.    

But no, not a word.

The two Executive members agreed that one of them should draft an alternative version of our letter.  Needless to say an alternative never emerged.

By now, my colleague had decided to withdraw her nomination.  As she put it - "two Labour women trying to get a bloody letter out... You can all just get on with it."

You might think someone on the Executive would have tried to change her mind. 

But no, not a word. 

The AGM

I let my name go forward for Vice- Chairman.    

I had asked to know beforehand who had applied for which Executive posts.    So I was surprised, when I arrived at the meeting, to find the Vice- Chairman’s post contested.   I was doubly surprised to find that this was the only contested post; in fact there were no nominations for four out of the six Executive posts, including the Vice-Chairman (Membership) post. 

And I was totally perplexed when I heard that the person standing against me, Mike Butcher, wanted to use the Vice-Chairman’s position to improve communications with members.    

In this case why hadn’t he applied for the Vice- Chairman (Membership) post which was all about communicating with members?  If he had, we would both have been elected unopposed.

But no, apparently no- one had thought of this.  An election took place and Mike Butcher was elected.   Apparently members saw the Vice- Chairman’s post as “administrative” and not “campaigning”.    This, of course, was news to me; if someone had mentioned it earlier, I won’t have bothered applying.  

Other members then volunteered for the remaining posts.    My colleague and I were asked if we would like to volunteer for the Women’s Officer post.  We declined.  

The outcome was that the 6 voting Executive posts, with the exception of the Women’s Officer post, were filled by men.

The meeting then turned to our draft letter on the Children’s Centres.  The Chairman of the Executive had agreed this would be put on the agenda of the AGM.  It wasn’t.   However, I had taken paper copies with me and raised it under Any Other Business.    

My colleague and I were very disappointed when the meeting agreed to the emasculated version proposed previously by the Executive member.    We withdrew our draft as we did not want to be associated with this emasculated version.  Our draft, or something similar, was later sent out by all other CLPs in Bucks. 

After the AGM

In the next couple of days, my colleague and I wrote to the Chairman, copied to all the Executive members, to let them know how unhappy we felt and to ask some questions about the process and the lack of support.  

My final question was:

Do you and other members of the Executive realise how it feels to my colleague and me to do so much work and yet not be encouraged or supported to take up major roles in the CLP?  Because I can tell you it feels like the Executive are trying to tell two committed, competent and hard-working women that they should only consider putting themselves forward as Women’s Officer or equivalent.”

I’ll tell you in the next blog if we ever got an answer to my question, and how things just got worse.

Aylesbury CLP are meeting tonight to discuss, would you believe, how to turn itself into an effective campaigning force.

We could have helped.  We are, after all, phenomenal women (see video below)  

 

I have resigned from the Labour Party

 

21 January 2018   

I resigned from the Labour Party on Thursday.   So did a female Labour colleague.  We were both active members of Aylesbury Constituency Labour Party (CLP). 

You might ask why.  Well, it’s a long story and it will take time to tell. 

So for now, I’m just going to tell you the beginning of the story and the end.  I’ll fill in the middle later.

The story starts when I went to the Labour Party’s Women’s Conference last September.  Dawn Butler, the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities gave a speech in which she encouraged us to put ourselves forward and increase the representation of women at every level of politics.   

She read a poem called “I am a phenomenal woman” by Maya Angelou.  You can hear the poem on the video below.  (It’s well worth the men watching it too – it’s fun). 

And I thought well I might as well put my name forward for the Executive of Aylesbury CLP - they are always short of nominations.    

I had a chat with a Labour colleague of mine and she said she won’t mind putting her name forward too.   The AGM was coming up. 

We also wanted to encourage Aylesbury CLP to campaign against the proposals to close all the Children’s Centres in Bucks. 

So we both put our names forward – me for the Vice-Chairman’s post because I wanted to be able to speak for the CLP and get the message across; my colleague for the Vice – Chairman (Membership) post because she wanted to engage with members and get them involved and campaigning. 

We also asked for the Children’s Centres to be discussed at the AGM.  We prepared a draft open letter opposing the closure of the Children’s Centres to be sent by the Chairman of Aylesbury CLP and we asked for the draft to be put on the agenda. 

And that’s where the problems started……..

But you are going to have to wait for the next blog to hear more.   

But how did it end, you ask? 

Well, it ended with a recorded delivery letter sent to my colleague last Tuesday without any warning and without any discussion from the Executive of Aylesbury CLP.  It required her not to engage in a list of six prescribed behaviours.  This would apparently “bring to a conclusion the recent cycle of complaints instigated by you and a fellow member against Aylesbury CLP, its Executive and other members”.    

I have to assume I am the fellow member as I was also sent a recorded delivery the next day (although I declined to accept it). 

The letter was signed by five members of Aylesbury Executive:

Phillip Jacques, the Chairman

Mike Butcher, the Vice Chairman

Tanya Warshaw, the Secretary

Jacky McKenna, the Women’s Officer

Mark Bateman, the Press Liaison Officer (and also Councillor for Aylesbury Vale District Council and the Labour Parliamentary candidate in the last general election). 

It was also presumably agreed by the other 13 members of the Executive.   Their names are on the CLP’s website.   

My colleague and I were shocked and dismayed by this letter.  We simply could not understand what had we had done to receive such a bizarre letter without warning and without any chance to discuss any concerns the Executive might have. 

To begin with my colleague hadn’t made any complaint before 12 January, the day the letter was sent.  I made one complaint in October last year.  Hardly a “cycle of complaints”.

But, in any case, surely anyone has the right to complain?  What sort of organisation writes such a threatening letter in response to a complaint?  

The letter went on to say “As you know, accusations have been widely circulated in e-mails, alleging sexism….

Well perhaps someone somewhere had made an accusation of sexism but it wasn’t me.   

If the Executive think I have sent an e-mail accusing someone of sexism they need to provide the evidence. 

Sometimes of course accusations of sexism are well-founded and no cause for a recorded delivery letter. 

For example, my colleague and I were, as far as I am aware, the only two active* female members of Aylesbury CLP. 

We were also, as far as I am aware, the only two members of the CLP to receive such a letter requiring us to conform to some specified behavioural norms. 

Is that sexism?   

Mind you sending threatening letters out of the blue without any opportunity to discuss also sounds like dictatorship to me.  Petty dictatorship perhaps, but dictatorship all the same.    

 

* By active I mean someone who doesn't just go to meetings and talk about policies, but someone who gets out on the streets and knocks on doors and talks to people, who goes to protest meetings, who puts the case on the radio or to the press, who uses social media and writes to MPs and Councillors, who stands as a Councillor and who fights for those who can't fight for themselves.

 

 

 

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I am a phenomenal woman

by Maya Angelou