As you know, I have been asked to step down as a speaker at this evening’s “Stand up for Labour Party Democracy= #StoptheLabourLockout” meeting because, following lobbying from one or more LGBT groups, other speakers, including Anna Rothery, threatened to withdraw if I allowed to speak. You chose to keep their contributions and asked me not to speak on the basis that the rally would fold if speakers withdrew. I am very disappointed that the Organising allowed itself to be blackmailed into responding in this way to what is a Rally on Democracy and Free Speech in the Party. After all, we are all resisting the suspensions of elected officers for nothing more than allowing their members to discuss freely matters that are important to them. I am sure the importance of dialectic is well understood by members of the organising group.
Furthermore, I am disappointed that one of the members of the organising group, Ben Selby of the FBU and AWL, has tweeted this inflammatory smear:
I am even more disappointed that the organising group has not requested Ben Selby to take down the tweet, which has already enabled malicious and misleading responses. I would like Ben Selby to remove his defamatory tweet and issue an apology.
As discussed with your representative yesterday, I have written the statement below, which supports the principles of democracy and free speech and which I would like you to read out at the rally in the slot that I would otherwise have had.
Statement from Esther Giles, Suspended Labour Party Member
Hello my name is Esther Giles. I am a mother, self employed gardener and a socialist. I am currently suspended from the Labour Party and my roles of CLP Secretary, Branch Chair and LCF Treasurer. I have recently been a member of the “Save our Socialists” group, which was set up to campaign for the reinstatements of CLP officers for allowing members the right to free speech and debate in their local parties. I am also on the interim steering committee of the Labour in Exile Network, which provides solidarity and a home for suspended and expelled Party members, and those who have left in despair at the current leadership.
I was listed to speak for “Save Our Socialists” at the February 7 ‘Stop the Labour Lockout’ event. alongside Alan Gibbons and Gaya Sriskanthan of Momentum, Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union, Leah Levane of Jewish Voice for Labour and Socialist Councillors and others.
But yesterday I was contacted and it was explained to me that some speakers had threatened to withdraw from the rally if I was allowed to speak, and asking me to withdraw. The reason: three years ago, I supported a comrade who was being pressured to make a statement about trans women and to say that she believed “Transwomen are Women”. My feeling was that, regardless of the issue of the debate – nobody should be bullied into saying something they don’t believe.
I very much believe in free speech in our organisations and in wider society. The best way to fight prejudice, misperceptions and misunderstandings is through education and debate and not by no platforming comrades on the left. Over the last five years, the mere accusation of a Labour Party member being antisemitic has been enough to get them suspended, disciplined and vilified. It is therefore more than ironic that an event billed to fight for “free speech in the Labour Party” should decide to no-platform a speaker merely for standing by a comrade’s decision to exercise that right.
I reserve the right to publish the contents of this email more widely, including in the Left Wing Press
Hi Esther, My name is Caroline Carney. I have just read an email about yesterdays meeting from LAW. I was confused at first because I thought the definition of free speech was understood by all socialists but it appears not to be. So I came here and read your statement. I had better lay my cards on the table. I have been a free speech advocate since I was 5 and sent to a Catholic jnr school. I became an atheist at 7 for the same reason. Being Irish I understand what is at stake when we say freesppech. My definition is a person can say anything they like and shouldn’t be arrested or otherwise harmed for it unless it calls for violence and abuse of others. heir freedom does not mean they are supported it means the opposition have a right to disagree as loudly and as forthrightly as the original speaker. I do not support No Platforming I because if I don’t know what your actually saying I can’t argue you are wrong. I will also come clean and tell you I am Non Binary so I have a genuine stake in what happens when people speak against Trans equality especially when it is violent in content and used as an excuse tocall for rights to be removed or not given. I do not agree with anyone being bullied for any reason and the situation you describe above is one of those instances where I would agree. If you have freedom of speech you must also recognise the freedom of silence. I was delighted to see how many groups were getting together and very disappointed with Momentums decision to cancel your contribution especially the day before the rally.
Fully agree with you. This never should have happened. We need discussion and not no platforming and more silencing and suppression of discussion.
It is those who threaten to withdraw if another is allowed to speak who should be told in no uncertain terms that others will speak as planned and that if they wish to withdraw that is their choice. They will not be allowed to affect the schedule of speakers.
Thank you for your comments, Caroline. I completely understand what you say, Respect and listening, as equals, are key. Bullying and othering are never OK and must always be called out. Solidarity.