Monday, 17 August 2020

Why we are resigning from the Labour Party

July 24, 2020

We are women of colour active in non-party grassroots organising for social justice for many years. Like thousands of others, we joined the Labour Party (2015) when Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership, calling together a movement to fight for an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-austerity, anti-war government to be elected. Such a government, alongside a strong grassroots movement, could have been transformative.

We got to know old and new members who helped us find our way in a rigid party structure, and were elected officers in our branch, our CLP, and as delegates to conference. We joined Momentum and organised community meetings. We focused on bringing grassroots justice issues to the fore – detention centres, Windrush, racist attacks including on Mosques, anti-rape, police violence, poverty and housing. We were part of a team of canvassers who increased the Labour vote in 2017 and 2019 in our multi-racial and immigrant neighbourhood and in some other constituencies. Our communities have been among the most loyal Labour voters but are the least respected.

We support Palestine and Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS), and faced a bullish core of white mainly male defenders of Israeli apartheid, some of them councillors, determined to suppress the membership’s support for Palestine by stating or implying it was antisemitic. We made official complaints within our CLP and to London Region about the treatment we and other women, including Jewish women, experienced from these men. There has been no response from HQ. On a recent webinar evaluating the leaked report that exposed gross racism, sexism and sabotage by HQ, a woman councillor reported that similar treatment was going on in constituencies up and down the country: “It’s as if they are protected.” A woman council leader resigned recently citing similar misogyny and bullying from inside the Party.

We are leaving the Labour Party because:·

Starmer’s grovelling apology and the Party payment of hundreds of thousands of members’ money to staff who attacked members and conspired against winning elections, despite legal advice that the Party had a strong defence, is the last straw·

Sabotage, and gross racist, sexist abuse and bullying by HQ are rife but Starmer is more concerned with who leaked the report than what’s in it.·

The 850-page report exposes how staff in charge of complaints, including on antisemitism, were themselves routinely abusive, especially to Black women MPs. HQ undermined Corbyn’s leadership and pursued witch-hunts against members. We were shocked and furious to find out that the 2017 election was lost by a mere 2,500 votes because of sabotage by HQ and right-wing Labour MPs, some of whom are now in Starmer’s shadow cabinet. Starmer’s first response to the report was to get those who leaked it.·

Antisemitism is being misused and elevated above every other form of discrimination, including racist attacks against Muslims and people of colour. False accusations of antisemitism were manufactured and used by Labour’s right-wing to discredit Jeremy Corbyn and launch a witch-hunt within the party where anyone on the left could be attacked for saying what was disapproved of by a small clique. Keir Starmer has said that he supports “Zionism without qualification” and that his “first priority” is “to tackle anti-Semitism” in the Party. Not the hostile environment, and structural and life threatening racism that Black, Asian, Muslim, immigrant and asylum seeking people, and people of colour generally face daily; not the causes of the Grenfell fire that killed 72 people, overwhelmingly immigrant and/or of colour, as if their lives didn’t matter; not poverty which 4.5 million children, disproportionately children of colour, suffer turning up at school hungry; not climate change which threatens all our lives; not Covid-19 and Tory negligence, indifference or worse that has killed tens of thousands, again disproportionately people of colour.·

Black Lives Matter. Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, told the BBC:

“I worked with police forces across England and Wales bringing thousands of people to court, so my support for the police is very, very strong.”

As people of colour and antiracists rise up against police violence and racism in every sphere, Starmer’s response is to belittle BLM as a “moment”, condemn the toppling of statues of slavers, and dismiss calls to defund the police as “nonsense”. As DPP he refused to prosecute police officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes in a terrifying extra-judicial execution and then lied about the victim to justify the killing. Starmer’s disrespect for Black lives has already caused resignations from the Labour Party—it is worthy of Boris Johnson and points to a political affinity between them.·

Starmer is putting supporters of Israeli apartheid in charge of Labour’s disciplinary procedures and of who members are allowed to associate with. All the leadership candidates, except Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler, endorsed the 10 pledges of the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD). The BOD defends Israeli apartheid, ethnic cleansing and the bombing of Palestinian civilians. How can such an organisation be given power over the membership? The aim, it seems, is to move on from the antisemitism row and increase Labour’s electability. We refuse the racist presumption that treats Palestinians (and pro-Palestinian members) as collateral damage to Labour’s electability.·

Palestinian Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter supports Palestinian rights because there can be no liberation for any of us unless the boot of racist occupiers is taken from our necks everywhere. To allow anyone to be treated as expendable by a party seeking power, opens the way to many more of us being expendable, if that party wins power. To put the BOD (which has attacked Black Lives Matter for supporting Palestine) and the Jewish Labour Movement (which told people not to vote for Corbyn) in charge of the membership gives carte blanche to the Israeli government – a foreign apartheid power aligned with Trump and other reactionary forces worldwide – to take charge of the Labour Party. Already Black women MPs have been reprimanded for participating in a zoom meeting where two Jewish anti-racists, one of them a Black Jewish woman, who had been hounded out of the Party by the vicious witch-hunt, were present. Another Black woman MP is facing verbal abuse and physical threats for supporting BLM; the leadership response has been faint.·

Starmer claims to be a “human rights advocate” but unilaterally reversed a policy decision passed overwhelmingly at Conference to support self-determination in Kashmir. He gives a green light to occupation by Modi’s racist, sectarian violence against Muslim people, with Muslim women on the front lines.

BAME officers were invited to a zoom meeting with Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner on 15 June. Astonishingly, the Windrush scandal, the tragic Grenfell fire, racism against immigrants and asylum seekers, were never mentioned. BAME officers were prevented from seeing or hearing each other and our questions. BAME elections to the NEC were flawed, making it almost impossible for independent accountable candidates to be nominated much less elected.

We won’t campaign for a party where people of colour and anti-racists, and our movements, are maligned and attacked, and where we would be silenced. We resign with immediate effect. We will continue to work with anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-capitalist members in the Party. We need each other to build a strong movement to win the changes we have all been fighting for.

Cristel Amiss & Sara Callaway, formerly Joint BAME officers, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP


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