David White: After 6 weeks I have been given no indication who my accusers are

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David White

Prior to his suspension in early May, David White was the secretary of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. White still hasn’t received details of the timescale for the investigation or what Labour Party rules he is alleged to have breached.

Below is his submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, explaining that his local party has called for his suspension to be lifted but this has been refused.

The Party suspended White following complaints over a single tweet in defence of Ken Livingstone. He wrote “The odd thing is Ken’s references to Hitler were largely accurate (google Haavara agreement) but way it was put unfortunate,” but later deleted the message.

White has said, “The Labour Party should review its internal procedures so that people are not routinely suspended when anonymous accusations are made against them, and all investigations should conform to the principles of natural justice.” The antisemitism witch-hunt that accused so many advocates for Palestinian human rights, including Naz Shah MP and Tony Greenstein, appears this week to have come to a halt when confronted with real fascism.

SUBMISSION FOR SHAMI CHAKRABARTI INQUIRY – DAVID WHITE           

Preliminary points

I have been a member of the Labour Party for 46 years and am Secretary of Croydon Central CLP, though currently suspended (please see below).  Over the years I have held various positions in the Party and have been a Croydon councillor, Greater London councillor and Parliamentary candidate.

In my opinion there is no significant problem of anti-semitism or other forms of racism in the Party.  The recent publicity about the issue is in my opinion largely driven by forces outside the Party for political reasons, or by elements within the Party who want to destabilise the leadership of the Party.

The Labour Party has always been at the forefront of campaigns against racism. I have almost never experienced anyone in the Party speaking or acting in an anti-semitic or racist way. There has been opposition in the Party to the actions of the Israeli Government in its treatment of the Palestinians, but that is a different matter.

Although I have not been given full details, I believe my suspension relates to one tweet which I wrote mentioning the Haavara Agreement between the Nazis and some Zionists in the early 1930s and saying that Ken Livingstone was largely accurate in describing this as a historical fact.  My local party has called for the suspension to be lifted but this has been refused. After 6 weeks I have been given no indication of when the investigation into my case will be started, what the timescale is or who my accusers are.  I comment later in this submission on what I regard as wholly unsatisfactory procedures which exist at the moment in the Party for dealing with allegations of anti-semitism or other forms of racism.

Boundaries of acceptable behaviour and language

I think free speech is very important and we should avoid setting down too prescriptive rules about behaviour and language.  People should in general be free to put their point of view even if it offends, provided it is within the boundaries of the law and is not overtly hateful to a particular race or religion.  Often these matters depend on the context and the intention of the person concerned, so cases need to be looked at individually.

Matters should be looked at objectively.  It would in my opinion be a very dangerous route if we take action against people because someone else complains they feel offended on a subjective basis.

I think we should recognise that in this social media age people’s views and comments are seen and scrutinised much more that in the past.  It is easy on Twitter or Facebook to feel you are talking to one other person or a small group when in fact you are publishing something in a public forum.  Things that are written can look very different when taken out of context.  On Twitter the 140 character limit often means that thoughts have to be expressed in a truncated way, which can lead to misinterpretation.  For all these reasons we should be much more relaxed about what people put on social media and excuse the occasional slip.  Obviously though this does not mean we should ignore postings which show entrenched racism.

I believe it is very important that your Inquiry affirms that it is NOT anti-semitism to criticise the actions of the Israeli Government.  Many Jews are critical of the Israeli Government.

Likewise it is not anti-semitism to refer to or comment on historical facts, for example relating to the history of Zionism.  If the facts are believed to be wrong other people are free to dispute them.

We should beware saying that certain words or phrases (eg “Zio” or “tribal”) are automatically anti-semitic.

Compliance procedures

The Party’s current procedures for dealing with allegations of anti-semitism and other forms of racism are a disgrace and I hope your Inquiry will call for radical changes in the future. I recommend that:-

1)  Suspension should not be routinely applied whenever a complaint is received. Suspensions are a serious matter and can lead to great stress for the person accused.  I believe there is at least one case where a person has lost his job merely because he has been accused of anti-semitism and suspended.

2)  There should be a pre-suspension stage in which a person accused is given full details of the allegation against him/her and given a chance to explain himself/herself.

3)  Where a complaint appears to have no substance the person accused should be cleared from the outset.  In my case for example no reasonable person could possibly conclude that the tweet I wrote was anti-semitic. Despite this, and the fact that Croydon Central CLP Executive Committee unanimously asked the Party to lift the suspension, the suspension continues with no end in sight.

4)  Anyone accused should be told what the charges are against them, who has brought the accusation and what are the procedures and timescale for dealing with the matter. Basic principles of natural justice should be observed.

5)  Cases should be dealt with far more expeditiously than at present.

6)  If someone is found to have transgressed the rules the first approach should be to see if the matter can be dealt with by education.  It is often the case that a person will understand why some words or actions have been criticised, apologise and learn from the experience for the future. 

7)  The personnel in the Compliance Unit should be reviewed and Mr John Stolliday moved from his current position, in view of the way recent matters have been handled.

Training

It is not a good idea to have particular Jewish, Muslim, African-Caribbean or other groups involved in training.  There is no guarantee that they will be representative of their community as a whole.  The Party should rely on its general principles of opposition to all forms of racism and discrimination in its training

Ensuring Labour is a welcoming environment for members of all communities

I believe there is already generally a welcoming environment.  Wards and constituency Parties need to place emphasis on contacting new members individually if possible to see what they expect from the Party and what they can contribute.  The Ethnic Minorities Officer in each party has an important role.

I believe at the moment some Muslim members of the party feel marginalised because of the unfair suspensions which have taken place, which disproportionately affect Muslims. I hope that your Inquiry will be able to restore a sense of balance and fair play on these issues.

David White

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