Manchester witch-hunt

Steve Smethurst has been bureaucratically excluded from membership of the Socialist Labour Party. The chair of his branch preferred to close down an SLP meeting rather than allow the membership to discuss the question. We reprint below the text of his letter to Manchester members

Individual Report to the Manchester Branch of the SLP on my exclusion from the party

I am writing this report because I feel that this is necessary if the branch is to get a full picture of the events and issues surrounding my exclusion from the party. I understand that the branch committee has asked two of its members to investigate and prepare a report on the same issue. The original purpose of this report was as a written submission to this investigation. But since no committee member has so far contacted me about this, I must now submit it to the branch directly.

Some party officers say that I am not a member of this party. They say that I do not have a party card, and that my application for membership was never endorsed. Moreover, they say that my application to become a member is still under question because another member of the party has made a complaint against me. This is a smokescreen.

The real issue at stake is the attempt by the right wing of the party to witch hunt revolutionaries, to bar us from membership. They cannot do this openly because they will be seen to be undemocratic. So they use bureaucratic methods to manoeuvre and scheme. Basically, what confronts the branch now is a stitch-up - a witch-hunt.

So to the facts, and the events which surround them. I do not have a party card. I paid subscriptions to the party upon joining on March l3, sufficient to last beyond the conference. I am informed that my application form was then sent off to London.

Periodically within the next seven weeks I inquired as to the whereabouts of my card and was variously told, “It is coming”; “I’ll chase it; “Here’s the phone number for you to chase it”; “Don’t worry we’ll get it sorted”. On no occasion in those seven weeks was I informed that I was not a member.

Party cards are issued from the centre, and there are a hundred legitimate reasons why my card might be delayed in the excitement surrounding the formation of the new party. I was in the meantime accepted into branch membership. I took on all the responsibilities and duties of a party member, and enjoyed all its rights. I was active in building the SLP in both Manchester and Oldham. I took full part in branch life. I was party to making branch policy, proposed motions to branch meetings, voted, won some, lost some. My name appeared on the party membership list, I contributed to party funds and recruited to the party. At one point I was selected to stand as party candidate for a Manchester ward in the May local elections. Now some bureaucrat turns round and tells me I was never a member of the party!

During the month of April a major part of my work was to assist in the local election campaign of comrade John Smith in Oldham. I was one of a team of volunteers from the Manchester branch to assist in Oldham, the other team assisted comrade Jack Crossfield’s campaign in Ashton. My work was to coordinate activities, campaign door to door, build public meetings and make election campaign leaflets. I performed my duties diligently and to the best of my ability.

The allegation levelled against me is that I produced an inappropriate leaflet. This was the pretext for my being barred from the party. On April 4 I submitted my idea for a leaflet to the Oldham branch. It was agreed, with minor amendments, that it would be used after the election address was distributed. On the evening of Tuesday April 23, John Smith handed me some more text and a cutting. However, this was not enough to make a full leaflet and I combined the two. I handed the finished artwork to Phil Griffin on the morning of Thursday April 25. It was agreed that Phil Griffin would hand the printed leaflets to John Smith on the evening of Friday April 26.

A leaflet was delivered to John Smith. However, it was not the one agreed by the Oldham branch. It was instead a cut down handbill advertising the Arthur Scargill meeting on Sunday April 28. The reason given for dumping the agreed leaflet was that there was insufficient time to print it.

The leaflets were distributed, the meeting has held, May Day was celebrated, the elections were held and we all set off to conference. It was at this moment that I was subjected to the bar. At the door of the conference I was informed by Phil Griffin and comrade Carolyn Sikorski that I would not be admitted. The National Steering Committee had decided to question my membership, at Phil Griffin’s request, due to a complaint made against me by the Oldham candidate, John Smith. The allegation being that I had doctored the leaflet! Quite frankly, comrades, I was astounded. On the night of the count John Smith had told me of his dissatisfaction at the dumping of the leaflet. Obviously Phil Griffin did not know this. However, I was given no hearing and I was forced to sit out the conference as an observer from the gallery.

On my return to Manchester I quickly confirmed with John Smith that indeed he had made no such accusation. Phil Griffin’s story changed: it was now he who had originated the allegation. Moreover, rumours were circulated that I was not asked to produce any leaflet, that what I produced was inflammatory, ultra-leftist and outrageous. He was scraping the barrel to find mud to sling.

I decided that I must take the matter to the branch. Comrades from the Manchester branch also took up the matter with the unelected interim committee. It was requested that the matter be dealt with as a matter of urgency by the branch at the first possible moment - the forthcoming Manchester annual general meeting. The request was denied by the interim committee who refused even to discuss it. Furthermore, I was to be excluded from the AGM too.

I was determined to bring the matter to the branch and attempted to address the AGM. Phil Griffin was in the chair. He claimed that I was not a member. He refused to allow me to address the meeting. He moved a procedural motion that “Only members are allowed to attend the AGM” and members who were not yet familiar with the issue supported the chair. I left the meeting with good grace. I did, however, extract the pledge from Phil Griffin that I would be permitted to address the first ordinary Manchester branch meeting.

I have since learnt from comrades that at the branch committee meeting of June 5 the issue of my exclusion was discussed. The decision was made that two members of the committee would investigate my exclusion from the party. The two members were instructed to interview all parties involved and report to the next branch meeting. To this moment no approach has been made to me, to seek my views on the matter, by either of the two members who volunteered for the job.

In conclusion, comrades, the notion that I have never been a member of the party is a nonsense, a smokescreen. My membership has been confirmed by the practice of the branch, its officers and myself more thoroughly than any party card could. The circumstances of my exclusion are an example of the most appallingly bureaucratic and anti-democratic practice I have ever witnessed inside the workers’ movement. I have received no written notification from any leading body or member of the party, either to say that I have been excluded, or to explain the reasons for my exclusion. I have not been invited to a hearing, I have not been asked for my opinion. Every attempt to address the branch that I have made, or has been made on my behalf, has been blocked.

The grievances over my treatment at the hands of a rightwing leadership are many.

Despite the many criticisms I have outlined, I bring the matter to the branch because I wish to remain a full loyal member of the SLP. The SLP needs the commitment of working class revolutionaries like myself.

This is an important opportunity for our class. Only the fullest democracy will ensure its success.