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.
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,
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?
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