Anne Mc Shane of the Socialist Alliance appeals committee welcomes the long overdue dropping of all charges against the Bedfordshire two
Finally a decision has been made. Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke are not to be expelled. There is to be no formal hearing and the Bedfordshire Socialist Alliance, after over a year of inactivity, is to be democratically relaunched. In December 2002 a request was made to the then appeals committee by the Socialist Workers Party-dominated officers group in BSA that Danny and Jane be expelled.
This was because of allegations that they had made physical threats. Examples were given of various incidents that occurred during meetings. It was said that these incidents were not isolated and the behaviour of Danny and Jane had frightened and intimidated the members and officers of BSA to the point that the branch was no longer able to function with them present.
Danny and Jane flatly denied all the allegations and insisted that they were politically motivated. The old appeals committee, primarily in the honest form of James White (but also consisting of Mike Marqusee, Greg Tucker and Candy Udwin), began to investigate the matter and approached various witnesses for testimonies of what had occurred.
There was a marked contrast in the responses received. It appeared to depend on the specific political allegiance of those present where the incidents were said to have occurred. Non-aligned observers simply described acrimonious and bitter arguments and meetings that got out of control due to the behaviour of all sides. They certainly did not support the allegations made by the officers.
Unfortunately the previous appeals committee, first elected in December 2001, never managed to meet even once and therefore no decision was taken. Things remained unresolved. The BSA was frozen too. The branch was closed down by the SWP officers. Opportunities to stand in the local elections in 2003 were thereby lost and many members drifted away, totally demoralised by the situation. And, of course, Danny and Jane were left with serious allegations hanging over them for an oppressively long period of time. When the current appeals committee was elected in May 2003, the only matter we had to attend to was Bedfordshire. Although we did manage to meet on one occasion in July, we need to be very self-critical that it has taken us seven months to finally recommended to the executive committee that all charges be dropped.
This was after email reports and numerous such exchanges. There were meetings with both Danny and Jane and with Keith Woods, who represented the BSA officers. I also made a careful study of all the documents, before drafting a full report to the appeals committee. It was clear to me that the allegations could not be separated from the political affiliations of those involved. Danny is an active members of the Revolutionary Democratic Group and both he and Jane are ex-members of the SWP. Political arguments and tensions dominated the branch throughout 2002, culminating in elections at one typically acrimonious meeting where Danny and Jane were ousted as officers.
The political leadership of BSA switched from one based on inclusivity to one where the SWP's factional opponents were excluded. It was also clear from all the documents received that there had been uncomradely and unnecessarily personalised behaviour on all sides. Instead of political arguments being had out and then followed by unity in action, branch meetings became battlegrounds. Some BSA members who supported Danny and Jane were very unhappy at what they said was hypocritical behaviour on the part of the SWP. They believed that they had simply wanted to exclude all opposition and were making allegations in order to achieve that end.
Many of these comrades have now left, as have others supporting the officers. However, it is good that we have finally reached a decision that there was no conduct on the part of Danny and Jane that warranted expulsion. More-over, it would have been totally against the interests of natural justice for matters to be reopened and witnesses called after such a delay. Clearly bridges must be rebuilt and the branch needs to be relaunched in such a way that all factions are included and a spirit of tolerance prevails.
Proposals are now being drawn up by the appeals committee. They will be presented at a meeting to be held hopefully later this month. BSA has now got an opportunity to go forward once more. This should be grasped with both hands by all those concerned. Finally I should add that the views expressed here are my own. There will be other views on the appeals committee as to responsibility for the breakdown within the branch. However, we are as one on the central decision.
After careful consideration of all the documents in the long-running dispute in Bedfordshire Socialist Alliance, including a meeting with a representative of the officers, Keith Woods, and a meeting with Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke, we have agreed the following: (a) Danny Thompson and Jane Clarke should not be expelled. (b) A formal hearing should not be convened. (c) The branch needs to be relaunched as a matter of urgency. The Appeals Committee propose a branch meeting be held early in the latter part of January at which representatives of the appeals committee and the executive will attend in order to facilitate the process of relaunching the branch.