I was at the twinge conference fringe event last night, which was great fun, but I confess that all the talk of new media being used for political engagement rang a little false considering what happened to my wife, Jude, about two weeks ago.
Out of the blue she received a letter from the ‘National Compliance Office’ stating that a report had been considered by Labour’s National Executive Committee which included the recommendation that she take down a blog post from May 2008 or face expulsion from the party.
The blog-post in question related to a trip that our MP took to Africa – paid for by Nestle.
When the story about the Nestle trip first broke, local Tories seemed to think that this was an MP’s expenses ‘scandal’. Jude, quite rightly in my opinion, pointed out that taking a trip paid for by Nestle was perhaps a misjudgement given that:
* Ormskirk has many Labour voters who would understand precisely Nestle’s history of pushing baby-milk in Africa – breaking international rules
* Ditto in Skelmersdale, but which also has a low proportion of breast feeding mothers
* and that our MP was previously the Chair of the Women’s Hospital in Liverpool and should therefore understand these issues and the likely reaction by Labour supporters in West Lancs.
It’s fair to say that Jude’s language made it very clear that she was unhappy and might have mellowed following a sleep, but there certainly wasn’t anything that an MP ought to take offence at. UPDATE: Jude tells me that she can understand why Rosie might have taken offence, but I would suggest that an MP ought to have a thick skin.
As it is, Jude’s blog deals primarily with knitting, our children and our various attempts at grown-up domesticity. It is read by a handful of family and friends – and, I was darkly informed last year – monitored by some who we might not class as friends.
The blog went up and nothing was heard. I think one comment was made.
Move the clock forward fifteen months and we heard on the grapevine that an NEC investigation into allegations of bullying in the West Lancs Labour Group was taking place.
This wasn’t a surprise.
Debate at Group meetings can often be described as robust – and so it should be. These are Councillors standing up for their wards and they certainly didn’t enter politics for a quiet life.
Members of the group, plus ex-group leader Alan Bullen, were invited to a series of interviews as part of the investigation. Jude and I weren’t, obviously, as we’re not Councillors.
The surprise came in the report’s recommendations.
No acts of bullying worth disciplinary action were found (a sensible conclusion). However, it did find against Jude for blogging “personal attacks” on the MP – with the threat of expulsion; against Cllr Bob Pendleton for “personal attacks” on the MP being reported in the press – with the threat of expulsion and a ban on Alan Bullen being a candidate until 2012, because he might use the platform to criticise other members.
I will blog about Bob and Alan’s treatment in the future, as their judgements are even more bizarre than Jude’s.
Jude, understandably, deleted the post and is a little embarrassed about the whole situation.
One can’t help but wonder why someone didn’t just pick up the phone or drop her an email and ask her perhaps to ‘tone it down’ or explain why Rosie Cooper went on the Nestle funded trip in the first place.
If the investigation in West Lancs was into bullying, then I would respectfully suggest that the NEC look at whoever made the complaint in the first place.
To make matters worse, the letter from head office stated that the judgement had been shared with the current Labour Group leader (why?) and with Labour Group members (why?) thus throwing the whole thing into the public domain.
Jude has been a loyal, active and campaigning servant of the Labour party for over ten years – first in Twickenham CLP and later in West Lancs. It was perhaps a misjudgement to be so overtly critical of our MP – who we have both campaigned for and would again.
But to come down on her with the full force of the NEC instead of just picking up the phone – well, that’s just wrong, and shows a complete lack of understanding of not just new media, but of basic common communication skills.