POLITICS
22/05/2018 07:00 BST | Updated 22/05/2018 11:59 BST

Lewisham East Labour Chair Suspended Over Tweets About ISIS Beheading Emily Thornberry

Ian McKenzie facing investigation into 'abhorrent' messages

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A Labour constituency party chief has been suspended over tweets about Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry being beheaded by Islamist terrorists, party sources say.

Ian McKenzie, a former aide to John Prescott and chair of the Lewisham East party, is facing disciplinary action after outrage at a string of social media messages unearthed by journalist Owen Jones.

In one post, McKenzie declared that the so-called Islamic State [ISIS] would behead Thornberry rather than take her as a “sex slave”.

One 2016 tweet read: “Emily Thornberry is too old for ISIS. They won’t make a sex slave of her. They’ll behead her and dump her in a mass grave.”

Twitter
The tweets unearthed by Owen Jones

A 2015 tweet, which appeared in a thread about Ms Thornberry’s comments about the terrorist group, said: “Maybe she’d agree sex slavery to one man only, provided he didn’t sell her on or insist on gang rape.”

Senior sources initially claimed he had been suspended, then backtracked to say the tweets were still being ‘looked at’, but finally confirmed the move.

McKenzie told of his suspension via email at 9.25am on Tuesday.

In a subsequent statement (see below), he insisted: “I did not advocate, nor joke about, Emily Thornberry’s killing, but the very opposite. My tweet was a deadly serious condemnation.”

Ian McKenzie
Lewisham East constituency Labour party chair Ian McKenzie

McKenzie, who this weekend led a successful campaign to pick a centrist candidate for the coming Lewisham by-election, is likely to have his case considered by the July meeting of the NEC’s disputes committee.

He also stood down on Monday night from his role as a policy adviser to Newham’s new mayor Rokhsana Fiaz. 

McKenzie had helped mastermind last weekend’s victory for Janet Daby in the Lewisham East selection race.

Daby beat Momentum-backed rival Sakina Sheikh and Unite-backed Claudia Webbe by a large margin.

Well known within the party for his combative defence of New Labour, he taunted Jones and others for Momentum’s failure to clinch the nomination for the safe south London seat this weekend.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of abuse and discrimination extremely seriously.

“Any complaints are fully investigated and any appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with our rules and procedures.”

Mandu Reid, who is standing for the Women’s Equality Party in the Lewisham East by-election, called the tweets “abhorrent”.

But several senior figures in the party gave their support, including former Cabinet minister Ann Taylor and former MP Michael Foster.

McKenzie’s full statement reads as follows:

I was suspended from the Labour Party at 9.25 am this morning by email, many hours after lobby journalists were told. There has been a controversy on Twitter where tweets I made in December 2015 and January 2016 have been taken out of context and my views badly misrepresented. I wish to clarify them.

At the time of the tweets, ISIS (Daesh) were very strong in both Syria and Iraq and controlled large areas of territory in both countries. In December 2015, there was a parliamentary debate on air strikes in Syria, the debate which had been closed by Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary. 

ISIS captured territory and terrorised local populations. They did this by killing men and separating women into the young, whom they enslaved for sex, and those older, whom they beheaded and dumped in mass graves. All of this is well documented. I remember an especially harrowing TV report of a Yazidi mass grave that had been found.

My original tweet was about an interview about ISIS on Channel 4. I said it would have been good for Andrew Neil to have done the interview because the argument was “ISIS could be negotiated with” and Andrew Neil would have made a better job of demolishing it. Sadly, the link to the interview no longer functions. It is not material though. 

Linda Grant, the novelist, who used to follow me at the time, asked me: 

“When you negotiate you give and take. Interested to know what this woman [the Channel 4 interviewee] would be prepared to give. Sex slavery?”

Linda was clearly saying negotiating with ISIS was absurd because their practices are so abhorrent. She was parodying such a negotiation. She wasn’t advocating sex slavery but the very opposite. I replied, in similar vein, by answering her question:

“Indeed. Maybe she’d agree sex slavery to one man only, provided he didn’t insist on gang rape.” 

By which I sought to show the absurdity of negotiating with these murderous misogynistic barbarians. The tweet does that. I wasn’t advocating sex slavery, but condemning it.

About a month later, on 17 January 2016, Jeremy Corbyn was widely reported as hinting at talks with ISIS. Emily Thornberry was by then the Shadow Defence Secretary and agreed with her Party Leader. Again, in a similar vein as the December tweets, I criticised Thornberry’s view that ISIS could be negotiated with by pointing out the disgusting nature of the ISIS practice of separating women into the young ones for sex slaves, and the older ones for killing. Emily Thornberry is at an age at which she would be selected by ISIS to be killed. I said so. I stated a fact that is disputed by no-one. I did not advocate, nor joke about, Emily Thornberry’s killing, but the very opposite. My tweet was a deadly serious condemnation.

I wish to make clear that I believe the following:

  1. ISIS are disgusting murdering misogynists who, when they conquer an area of a country, enslave the young women and kill the rest.
  2. I do not believe that attempts should be made to negotiate with them, nor is this possible.
  3. I believe that attempts to negotiate with them are capable of being interpreted as tolerating their murderous misogyny.
  4. I think contemplating negotiating with people who behave this way is disgusting.
  5. I will not apologise for criticising murderous misogyny.
  6. I will not apologise for criticising any attempt to negotiate with murderous misogyny.
  7. I do not believe that ISIS should kill Emily Thornberry, or kill anyone, and believe it is very clear I have never said I did. 
  8. I apologise that my tweets in 2015 and 2016 were insufficiently clear in expressing these views, and that they have therefore caused offence. I’m truly sorry that I caused this to happen.

I hope that this unfortunate conflagration can be swiftly ended and that I may be able to go back to doing what I do best: asking people to vote Labour.

22 May 2018