14th July 2020
Dear NEC candidate,
It has now been more than two years since the LabourToo project compiled a report of 43 examples of sexual harassment and abuse against women within the Labour Party, and sent them to the Leader’s Office and National Executive Committee, among others.
These incidents ranged from inappropriate comments and touching to rape and sexual assault and were not confined to Westminster or to any particular period of time. They were shared by women at all levels of our party, including members and activists, elected politicians and candidates, party staff and interns.
One woman wrote: “I felt really uncomfortable and not able to report it to the Labour Party because the people I had to tell would have known him and wanted to protect him.” While another commented: “I said nothing at the time. How could I? I would have lost my job. I was scared I would lose friends, and the support of other activists and councillors in my community.” Even those few victims who did complain found the process demoralising: “It was dealt with completely unacceptably by the party and essentially covered up because of fears of how it would look to the outside world/media and damage our reputation.”
The women who told us their stories did so without identifying themselves or the perpetrators – and hence without any expectation that action could be taken as a result – simply so that those with the power to change how our party deals with these matters would see the widespread nature of sexual abuse and harassment. Many of them alluded to the fact that senior party members not only knew about the sexual harassment but were happy to ignore it, and more than one said they felt betrayed by a movement that has always stood for equality, fairness and justice. Very few women had considered reporting the incidents through the formal processes available; none had seen action taken against the perpetrator.
As we said in our report, we have always known that these experiences are not easy to share. “Women are all too easily told they are lying or that they have an agenda, or that they themselves are to blame for their own victimisation. These risks are enhanced by the features that are at other times our party’s greatest assets; our democratic structures, the strong bonds that are formed when members campaign together over many years, and the enormous loyalty of all those who choose to work or volunteer for our party. It would be very difficult to stay or advance in the Labour Party having made an accusation against a fellow party member, and especially a longstanding one with powerful allies.”
Sadly, despite the changes that have happened in our party over the last two years, we do not believe that the above is any less true today. This is not to say that there have not been positive developments. The party published an improved sexual harassment policy and process in 2019, which for the first time included having initial complaints investigated by independent people and Rape Crisis contracted as a route for complainants to seek specialist support. There has also been significant progress for Parliamentary staff, with an independent complaints process set up in 2018 to deal with bullying and harassment.
Nevertheless, it remains the case that no case can go forward within the Labour Party unless elected members of the NEC allow it; the outcome of any disciplinary hearing is also exclusively in the hands of elected members of the NCC. This means that there is still no option for a member of the Labour Party who is harassed, abused or assaulted by a well-connected party figure to have it dealt with by people who are demonstrably free of political bias or loyalties. We believe our report still stands as evidence that such a system cannot inspire confidence in ordinary Labour Party members, and as such, is not fit for purpose.
But we remain hopeful. We were delighted to see that all three leadership candidates publicly supported the call for a more independent party disciplinary process, and that Leader Keir Starmer made it one of his key pledges to replace the NCC with an independent body, whose members are those with the most relevant expertise. Alongside this we stress the need for compulsory training in sexual harassment and adult safeguarding for all party staff, elected Labour representatives and key elected officials in local Constituency Labour Parties, as well as Mandatory DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks for those seeking selection as candidates, both at a national and a local level. Systems need to improve for victims to feel confident in coming forward, but no one should be exposed to abuse in our party – we need to create a culture where this simply doesn’t happen.
We write to you now in the hope that you will not only support this much-needed reform of our party, but that you will publicly commit to making it a reality within the year.
LabourToo is a volunteer campaign, run by women who have supported and campaigned for Labour for many years. We believe that the reform we are calling for will help to strengthen and unify our party and renew the link between its governance and its values. We urge you to play your part in delivering this vital and overdue justice for Labour women.
The LabourToo Team
Thank you to the following NEC candidates who have signed up to our letter:
- Alex Beverley
- Calvin Rodgerson
- Cam Rose
- Gurinder Singh Josan
- Johanna Baxter
- Joshua Harcup
- Kira Lewis
- Luke Akehurst
- Michael Payne
- Shama Tatler
- Terry Paul
- Theo Michael
- Tommy Kirkwood
- Vince Maple