Christine Tongue, ex-secretary of South Thanet CLP explains how a couple of words got her expelled from the party:
I am a witch-hunted witch! I’ve been ducked and drowned and burned at the stake. I’ve been expelled from the Labour Party.
I’ve agonised about whether to speak about why I’ve been chucked out. I didn’t want to damage a party I’ve supported for so long and still believe can be saved, so at first I assumed it was an administrative mistake and asked Governance and Legal to send me evidence and to give me an appeal hearing. I sent two emails and even rang them up. Nothing.
But when they suspended Jeremy Corbyn I realised the party was not in a forgiving frame of mind. So why should I be?
So here it is – what I’ve been forbidden to talk about for four months while I was suspended in case I increased my crime. Wait for it! It’s really exciting! Antisemitism, death threat to Keir Starmer, singing The Red Flag backwards? No. Much worse…
I wished GOOD LUCK to Chris Williamson. That’s it!
My exact words, on Facebook, were “Good luck from South Thanet – we have had our own problems.” It was the beginning of November, 2019 just as Chris was in the process of leaving the party.
My sacking letter says: “It has been determined in light of the evidence provided and your response to our questions that you have supported a political candidate who stood against an official Labour Party candidate in the 2019 general election. This action is incompatible with membership of the Labour Party.”
Before you’re expelled you’re usually warned and then suspended. In June I got the warning shot. I was suspended in July.
This was my response:
“I met Chris at the 2018 Labour conference when he was speaking on sustainable food production. I liked him and respected him.
“I wished him luck (as did many, many others) when he finally had to leave the party – in the same way that I might wish someone luck in their future endeavours – however misguided they might seem to be! I certainly did not support him standing against Labour and that was not the intention of my post.”
In fact – if I’d had a chance to speak at a hearing I would have said that I thought it was a bad idea to stand against Labour but, because Chris seemed a nice chap, I wished him luck as in “have a nice future, whatever you decide to do”. If he’d been a work colleague I’d have sent him a leaving card.
But I never got a hearing before expulsion.
Such a tiny remark. I looked it up on Chris’s Facebook page and saw that over a thousand people wished him well one way or another. Has someone in the party trawled through all of them picking off the members and threatening them? People are dying of Covid in unprecedented numbers and some party hireling is searching Facebook for incriminating chance remarks…..
Why? And why me? What have I done to distinguish myself as so toxic I can’t be allowed to stay in the party?
When I lived in Westminster in the early ’90s hatred of Tory Thatcher fan Shirley Porter, leader of the council, drove me into Labour. Blair and the wars drove me out of the party and I always said I’d rejoin if Jeremy Corbyn became leader – as in pigs might fly. I’d known Jeremy through Stop the War and had met him personally through family members who live in his constituency.
But miracles can happen! JC became leader and I kept my word and rejoined, as did hundreds of thousands of others.
I’m 75 and disabled but I was ready to go on the streets to fight for a Labour government under a Corbyn leadership.
I took roles in the executive committee of South Thanet CLP. I was disability officer and press officer. As nastiness grew in the party (a story for another time) we had various run-ins with our regional officials. They took away our ability to communicate with members directly and all emails had to be sent out by regional officials, who read everything, cut bits out and criticised what we were doing.
Our secretary resigned. I became acting secretary and got stuck with the job as the pandemic prevented AGMs taking place.
So I was now a bigger target – and a bigger prize for what I can only think of as the enemies of Corbyn. What are they aiming to do? When I was suspended a huge number of my friends who were having grave doubts about the direction Labour was taking, threatened to leave. Some resigned – maybe that was the point, to get the Corbynites to leave of their own accord. I found myself in the weird position of persuading people to stay in a party that really didn’t want me any more.
How do I feel? I’m furious but I’m also very sad and thoroughly ashamed – not for what I did or said, but for a party I have now lost faith in, and I see abandoning truth and justice, at a time when it’s in short supply in politics. What a waste!
Article first appeared in Labour Briefing.
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