POLITICS
16/01/2018 13:34 GMT | Updated 17/01/2018 08:23 GMT

Momentum's Christine Shawcroft Elected Chair Of Labour’s NEC Disputes Panel

Veteran Ann Black replaced in first show of Left's strength.

Empics Entertainment

Jeremy Corbyn supporters have used their new majority on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to take control of the party’s crucial disciplinary committee, HuffPost has learned.

Momentum-backed members of the NEC voted by 22 to 15 to oust Ann Black, the longstanding chair of the Disputes Sub-Committee, and replace her with veteran leftwinger Christine Shawcroft.

The unprecedented move means that the Left now have control of the body that decides whether to investigate sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic abuse and other disciplinary cases.

Momentum’s founder Jon Lansman (pictured above) was one of three new local party reps elected to the NEC on Monday, after an election in which the left-wing organisation swept the board against ‘centrist’ candidates.

After Shawcroft’s election, the disputes committee held a lengthy meeting during which it voted on various allegations of misconduct by members, deciding whether to adopt or reject recommendations made by party officials.

Three cases of alleged anti-semitism were considered. In one case the committee decided not to follow a recommendation to refer the matter to the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) for further investigation. A formal warning and anti-racism training were decided on instead.

In another case, officials’ advice that a formal warning be issued was followed. In a third case, the party’s recommendation of a warning was rejected and it was upgraded for a full referral to the NCC.

In a statement to HuffPost, Shawcroft said that “I didn’t vote on anything” as she was the chair.

She added:“I don’t understand the fuss which is being made about the election of chair of this body. Ann chaired it for several years, ably and very well, now I’m chairing it.”

Christine Shawcroft
Christine Shawcroft

HuffPost has seen the tabled recommendation from officers in one alleged anti-semitism case, which states an individual party activist appears to have breached party rules and displayed views ‘incompatible with the aims and values of the Labour party’.

“It is therefore recommended that this matter be referred to a hearing of the NCC and that the party should formulate charges,” an internal memo stated.

However, some members of the NEC disagreed and after a vote by the Disputes Committee the recommendation was not followed. A formal warning was instead issued.

In one other case that was referred up for formal investigation, there was a discussion about whether the use of the word ‘Yid’ was a term of anti-semitic abuse. The defendant had claimed there was nothing ‘intrinsically offensive’ about the term and at least one member of the NEC agreed.

Another recommendation for a formal investigation into a case of alleged racism, bullying and harassment in Tower Hamlets was also deferred until March, a decision that was personally made by Shawcroft as chair.

A majority of the committee disagreed, with one NEC member pointing out Shawcroft’s links to the case.

But the committee lacked the two-thirds majority needed to challenge the chair’s decision. The party member is now free to stand in this May’s local elections.

In a statement to HuffPost, Shawcroft said: “There were several reports at the Disputes Committee, there were full debates on them all, some amendments were put and voted on, the recommendations were voted on, some were passed, some were amended.

“Nothing was overturned. I didn’t vote on anything because I have a casting vote. I don’t have the power to overturn anything anyway.

“I do not understand the fuss which is being made about the election of chair of this body. Ann chaired it for several years, ably and very well, now I’m chairing it (I hope I can do it well!) I have been on the NEC for 19 years, I have the right to stand in a democratic election, just like everyone else.”

Referring to the Tower Hamlets case, Shawcroft added: “There was a lot of concern about tabled papers at the meeting. We were promised at one time that they wouldn’t bring tabled papers. I didn’t think it was satisfactory for two of the papers so I held them over. They’ll come up to the next meeting.

“There was a vote but my ruling was upheld‎ - if some members of the committee had their way we’d still be meeting at midnight! We were running very late as it was, with another committee due to start. The nine NEC delegates from constituencies are there to represent members, so often cases will come up where we know people or we’ve been involved. I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest. We only have one vote, after all. In fact I don’t have a vote at all, unless there’s a tie.”

Both Jon Lansman and fellow NEC member Rhea Wolfson have stressed there is no place for anti-semitism in the party and several high profile cases have already been referred up to the NCC, which determines final rulings.

Ann Black
NEC member Ann Black

Seen as something of an institution for her regular reports on NEC meetings, and attracting some of the biggest votes in NEC elections, Black’s removal marks a significant shift in the balance of power towards Momentum.

Usually, chairs of NEC sub-committees are re-elected unopposed and Black was seen by many colleagues an impartial expert on the party’s rulebook.

The Disputes Sub-Committee, and its individual panels, has a quasi-judicial role in deciding cases and its chair and vice-chair are usually chosen to balance different wings of the party.

But despite spending many years on the ‘slate’ of the leftwing Grassroots Alliance, Black fell out of favour with some activists after complaints that the party had been heavy handed in suspending some members and local parties.

In 2016, the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) pressure group criticised her for her part in ‘disenfranchisement’ of members in the Corbyn’s second leadership election, and in the suspension of Brighton and Hove constituency Labour party. 

PA Archive/PA Images
Ken Livingstone, who still faces a fresh investigation for alleged anti-semitism.

HuffPost understands that several NEC members felt they were reflecting the views of members ‘frustrated’ with Black’s conduct in recent years.

They claim that she was under the spotlight because she voted in 2016 at an NEC meeting to freeze retrospectively the date which allowed members to vote in the leadership contest.  Some 130,000 new members were affected, they add.

Other members of the NEC felt that the party had been either too heavy-handed or too slow in dealing with various allegations of abuse. 

One NEC source told HuffPost that “everyone was very positive about Ann”, while others said that it was clear trade union reps had decided to side with the Momentum local party reps in the meeting.

Crucially, GMB rep Sarah Owen, as well as Unite members, backed Shawcroft for the chair’s post. Unison voted against Black’s removal.

But the backlash from centrists over Black’s removal was strong.

One party member told HuffPost: “This would singlehandedly deter me from making a complaint”.

Labour peer Lord Beecham expressed his unease.

Shawcroft, who has been on the same Centre Left Grassroots Alliance slate with Black for many years, paid tribute to her predecessor in the meeting, declaring she hoped she would continue to serve on the NEC for years to

Shawcroft told the Daily Mirror: “I really don’t know what all the fuss is about”.

She pointed out she had been on the NEC for 19 years and the Disputes Panel was “just a minor subcommittee”.

“The centre left grassroots alliance, which supports the nine [local party] NEC members, represents the mainstream of the party.”

Soon after her election on Tuesday lunchtime, Shawcroft risked a fresh row as the disputes committee failed to refer some new cases of anti-semitism for disciplinary investigation.

A party source said it was wrong to suggest any recommendations by party officials were ‘overturned’. “The disputes committee acts collectively,” the source said. It was for officials to make recommendations but decisions were up to the committee.

Long-standing leftwing NEC member Pete Willsman was said to have criticised party staff for some of the disciplinary cases brought before the committee.

Before the meeting, NEC Young Labour member Jasmin Beckett, seized on remarks attacking Black which were revealed by the Independent.

Shawcroft was heavily criticised by moderate activists after she was suspended by the party for supporting independent Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman in 2015. 

She is a director of Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd, the legal arm of the grassroots organisation.

Black wrote in November about the importance of deciding some of the disciplinary cases, particularly anti-Semitic abuse.

“Anyone who thinks these cases are trivial should read the obscene, racist, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-semitic sewage which we have to wade through,” she said.

She added there were still excessive delays in hearing membership appeals, preparing National Constitutional Committee cases and arranging hearings.

Stephanie Lloyd, deputy director of moderate group Progress, said: “Targeting Ann Black shows the contempt the Momentum-Left have for party democracy when things do no go their way.

“Inevitably the hard-left turn in on themselves and it is pretty unedifying to watch.”

After her ‘administrative suspension’ as a Labour party member in 2015, Shawcroft said the move was “a travesty, an injustice and miscarriage of justice.” 

Rahman, who was also supported publicly by Ken Livingstone, was dismissed as mayor of Tower Hamlets after an elections court found him guilty of electoral fraud and bribery in 2014. 

Critics claim Shawcroft’s directorship, plus her link to Labour Briefing Co-operative Ltd would mean she has a conflict of interest when considering members of either Momentum or Labour Briefing. 

Jennifer Gerber, if Labour Friends of Israel, said: “The hard left have spent two years denying Labour has a problem with antisemitism. They must not now be allowed to stifle investigations into it or action to combat it.”