Farcical and malicious
The December 2 Labour Against the Witchhunt meeting included an important contribution by black activist Marc Wadsworth. Alan Fox reports
Jeremy Corbyn and Marc Wadsworth: you know your friends when you need them
Amongst the many truly pathetic examples of comrades being suspended or expelled from the Labour Party on trumped-up charges is that of Marc Wadsworth - lifelong Labour left, black activist and editor of “citizen journalism” website, the-latest.com.
Comrade Wadsworth, who describes Jeremy Corbyn as “my old comrade” (they had worked together politically for three decades), was summarily expelled by email on June 30 2016. He was informed that his membership had been “cancelled” within a couple of hours of criticising rightwing Labour MPs at the launch of the report by Shami Chakrabarti on alleged anti-Semitism and racism within the party.
That report had, of course, concluded: “The Labour Party is not overrun with anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” - not exactly what the right had hoped to hear. And, as if to put two fingers up to Chakrabarti, the party machine decided to go for comrade Wadsworth. As media officer for Momentum Black Connexions - now superseded by Grassroots Black Left - he was handing out an MBC statement criticising the Parliamentary Labour Party right wing, which at that time was working hard on its attempted coup to oust Corbyn.
TheDaily Telegraph’s senior political correspondent, Kate McCann, requested a copy of the statement from comrade Wadsworth, who describes what happened next:
A woman in front of her ignored me and asked McCann for the release, which the reporter gave her. All I said to the woman were three words: “Who are you?” She replied: “Ruth Smeeth, Labour MP.” I’d never heard of her.1
Smeeth had just resigned from the shadow cabinet and was one of those calling on Corbyn - who was present at the launch alongside Chakrabarti - to step down.
During questions from the press that followed speeches from the platform, McCann challenged Corbyn about the leaflet a “Momentum member and Jeremy Corbyn supporter” had been handing out. She noted that Labour MPs who had resigned from the shadow cabinet to destabilise Corbyn were described in the leaflet as “traitors” and it called on their Constituency Labour Parties to consider deselecting them. Surely Corbyn should condemn this appalling behaviour? At this point, says comrade Wadsworth:
I put up my hand. But Chakrabarti treated me as if I was invisible and called other people instead. Only after I said, “Shami, you haven’t called anyone black”, did she say, “OK, you’re next”.
When I spoke I praised her report and the bravery she had shown recommending changes to Labour rules to make them fairer in the wake of a witch-hunt against alleged anti-Semites, including ex-MP Ken Livingstone.
I questioned why the journalist from the rightwing Telegraph had handed a copy of the news release to Smeeth and said it seemed they were working together against Corbyn.
It was at this point that Smeeth threw a tantrum - egged on by the former senior Sun political correspondent, Kevin Schofield, who was sitting next to her. She walked out and was rapidly followed by McCann and other journalists looking for an anti-Corbyn story. Several outlets reported that Smeeth was “in tears”, but a video that has since been widely circulated on social media clearly showed that this was not the case.2
Incredibly Smeeth claimed that she had been “verbally attacked” by a “Jeremy Corbyn supporter who used traditional anti-Semitic slurs to attack me for being part of a ‘media conspiracy.’” What comrade Wadsworth had actually said in his “verbal attack” was: “I saw that the Telegraph handed a copy of a press release to Ruth Smeeth MP, so you can see who’s working hand in hand.”
It was clear that he had not even known who Smeeth was before the launch, let alone that she was Jewish. But little matters like that are of no concern to the anti-Corbyn right - if you are on the left of the party and criticise someone who happens to be Jewish, then obviously you must be an anti-Semite. And, as comrade Wadsworth says, “Smeeth immediately put out a defamatory statement accusing me - a life-long campaigner against racism - of ‘anti-Semitism’.”
And, showing how rightwingers like Smeeth work hand in glove with general secretary Iain McNicol’s office, within a couple of hours comrade Wadsworth had received that email “cancelling” his Labour membership - on the basis of “comments widely reported”. However, after comrade Wadsworth’s solicitor wrote to the compliance unit complaining about this “breach of natural justice”, the cancellation of his membership was itself cancelled - instead he was informed that he was now suspended pending “an investigation”.
Well, that was 18 months ago, but he is still out on a limb. On February 1 2017 the case was referred by Labour’s national executive committee to the party’s rightwing-dominated national constitutional committee for a hearing. Apparently only one of the six ‘left’ CLP representatives - Pete Willsman, of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy - was against this referral; two were in favour (Ann Black and Rhea Wolfson) and the other three abstained. But comrade Wadsworth has still not been contacted and offered a date for this hearing, despite the intervention of his union, Unite.
As if such a hearing were needed, when all you have to do is listen to what he actually said at the launch via social media. The widely viewed video shows that he did indeed refer briefly to Smeeth working “hand in hand” with the Telegraph and it is at this point that Smeeth is heard heckling, “How dare you? How absolutely dare you?” But comrade Wadsworth calmly moves on to point to the fact that very few Labour activists present at the Chakrabarti report launch were African, Caribbean or Asian and stated that the party needed to get its house in order. This accounted for the greater part of his intervention and Corbyn voiced his support for this point, agreeing that the party must do better.
I suppose some might criticise the comrade for making too much of the fact that Smeeth had asked McCann for a leaflet - not exactly clear proof of the two working “hand in hand”. Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Ruth Smeeth is the former director of public affairs and campaigns at the pro-Zionist Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom). And, among the many documents revealed by Wikileaks was a 2009 cable from the US embassy in London, which gave details of a conversation about Labour Party affairs between embassy staff and Smeeth - who was described as an informant the US should “strictly protect”.3
Everyone knows that, especially during the time of the Chakrabarti report launch in the summer of 2016, very many rightwing Labour MPs, including Smeeth, were regularly briefing against Corbyn. However, the main point is that the accusation from Smeeth is totally farcical - it is clearly malicious, since comrade Wadsworth said nothing at all about a “media conspiracy” and he most certainly did not mention anything that could be interpreted as relating in any way to Jews.
On the contrary, as he says, Smeeth’s claims were “poisonous slander”:
The media-manufactured incident made broadcast and newspaper headlines. Smeeth’s unfounded accusation prompted a backlash online, including some vile racist abuse against me. But, overwhelmingly, thousands of people commenting at the end of newspaper stories - Jewish and non-Jewish - supported me and observed from the video I had said nothing anti-Semitic.4
On January 31 2017 The Guardian published a letter from 12 prominent people, including LAW chair Jackie Walker, which stated:
It is scandalous that Wadsworth was suspended by the general secretary, Iain McNicol, because he dared to challenge a Labour MP who was a high-profile opponent of the democratically elected Labour leader, and raise the issue of black political underrepresentation at the launch of the Shami Chakrabarti report into anti-Semitism and racism. Fortunately, the moment when Wadsworth spoke out was captured on a video that has been widely publicised by the media. It clearly demonstrates he is not guilty of anti-Semitism.
It is essential that, following the successful campaign to reinstate Moshé Machover, pressure is maintained on Corbyn himself and shadow chancellor John McDonnell to intervene in the interests of party democracy. Comrade Wadsworth told Saturday’s LAW meeting that both had expressed sympathy and disquiet about the injustice of his case soon after the initial move against him. But since then the Labour leadership seems to have thrown him under a bus. In the words of Suresh Grover, director of the civil rights Monitoring Group and a long-time supporter and close comrade of Corbyn and McDonnell:
I want to create a momentum to get Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth back into the Labour Party and not discriminated against because of their black politics. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have to publicly state their suspensions are wrong. That they need to be immediately reinstated, otherwise Jeremy and John are not leaders.5