Has the witch-hunt climaxed?

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The witch-hunt against the left in the Labour Party has become even more absurd, reports Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists

All those who thought the witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party had reached its limits can think again. The recent arrival of leftwing general secretary Jennie Formby and in-house QC Gordon Nardell (a founding member of the Labour Representation Committee) are clearly no protection, when it comes to the party apparatus taking absolutely ludicrous decisions.

On Monday July 16, long-standing trade union activist and socialist Lee Rock received notice from the Labour Party’s “acting head of disputes”, Nareser Osei, that, “Allegations that you may have been involved in a breach of Labour Party rules have been brought to the attention of national officers of the Labour Party.”

Considering the current climate in the Labour Party and considering comrade Rock’s political biography, we would have expected that he was being accused of the now very popular charge of anti-Semitism (he is an ardent supporter of the rights of Palestinians).

Or maybe his “association with other groups” could have been misrepresented. For example, in 2002 and 2003 he stood as a candidate for the Socialist Alliance. He has even been interviewed by the Weekly Worker a couple of times.

But no. The allegations against comrade Rock are of a more, shall we say, delicate nature. We read that the reason for the investigation is “your participation in an extended debate on a Facebook group, in which you argued in favour of masturbation in workplaces”.

Mr Lee Rock - NOI- blackYes, you read that correctly. That is the sole and only charge raised against comrade Rock. He has not (yet) been suspended or expelled, but is being warned that the allegations are currently being investigated.

This clearly needs a bit of background explanation. In 2015, a certain Simon Danczuk MP was caught out when his phone had tagged a hard-core porn site on Twitter as a “favourite”, and he openly had to admit that he watches porn (like a large number of other men and women). However, much of the media feigned outrage.

Owen Jones, then still almost relevant, wrote a decent article, in which he asked, “Why should we care?” He pointed out that we are all “flawed human beings”, that politicians are “not perfect” and that we should instead focus on and criticise Danczuk’s rightwing politics. Quite right.

However, this article really upset some so-called radical feminists (now going under the label, Terfs – trans-exclusionary radical feminists). The “maternal feminist” group, All Mothers Work, published an article attacking Owen Jones’ description of Danczuk’s behaviour as “normal”. It described people who access porn at work as “unstable perverts who are so incapable of caring about basic social decency and the rights of others that they should be removed from society to protect the rest of us (women)”.

You get the drift. Something that more than 30% of the population admit to doing regularly at the workplace was presented as being a rather freaky habit (another questionnaire even put it at 39%). According to the first poll, rubbing the one-eyed snake at work is in fact more “normal” than people falling asleep at their desk (29%) or arriving late at work at least once a week (16%).

Somebody posted the article in a Facebook group and comrade Rock and others argued against the narrow-minded politics of it, starting with the fact that women have the occasional wank at work, too! Sadly, both polls quoted above seemed to have taken their cue from the radical feminists and only asked men about the issue. Anyway, the result was a long debate with over 150 comments – some funny, some deadly serious – which still “occasionally does the rounds on Facebook, where it is widely hailed as the most ridiculous leftwing debate ever”, as a comrade reliably informs us. The debate even produced its own satirical blog post.

We will spare readers the detailed ins and outs of people arguing over how and where you should be allowed to masturbate. They can read the whole exchange on Facebook, where it is still online. For comrades not on Facebook, the exchange is also available on LPM’s website.

This comment sums up comrade’s Lee various interventions in the debate: “If the person next to me at work goes to the loo, I really don’t care if they have a shit or a wank.” Seems a reasonable view to take. But, of course, comrade Rock did not positively “argue in favourof masturbating in workplaces”, as Ms Osei claims in her letter.

Morality police?

Comrade Rock, however, did argue for the right of people – including the vile Simon Danczuk – to do whatever they wish in the privacy of their toilet cubicle. As long as it does not harm or inconvenience anybody else, there really should not be a problem.

But the point is a serious one: he is under investigation not for committingany kind of offence, but for arguing that what one does in the privacy of a toilet cubicle at workshould not be viewed as a criminal offence– especially not one that would lead to the ‘perpetrator’ being “removed from society”, as the terfs’ article hysterically demanded.

That the feminist morality guardians would disagree with this outlook does not come as a shock, of course. But that the Labour Party should launch an investigation over this issue is simply mind-boggling.

We note that masturbating at work is, of course, not illegal. It mightbe a sackable offence, but only if (a) you have been caught in the act (lock the door, perhaps?) and (b) your employer thinks you’ve broken one of their rules – for example, by taking too much time away from your work or having contravened a particular health and safety regulation.

You might have trouble fighting a claim for unfair dismissal if that happens, but then, unless you’ve done something crassly indecent, there would be plenty of mitigating circumstances: stress levels at work, family risk of prostate cancer (which, according to medical advice, can be reduced by masturbating a few times a day), etc, etc. Some psychologists and doctors even argue that employees should be positively encouraged to engage in auto-eroticism at work, as it can be a very effective form of stress-relief that also increases production levels.

Comrade Rock was not even a member of the Labour Party when this online discussion took place, by the way. Like tens of thousands of others, he only joined Labour in July 2016, in order to support Jeremy Corbyn in the face of yet another coup attempt. In other words, his comments were written 15 months before he even joined. Has the compliance unit not managed to look that up before launching an investigation?

On one level, it is difficult to take this case seriously. It would be laughed out of court by any worthwhile judge. But we would be foolish to believe that it will simply be dismissed. Yes, Jennie Formby and Gordon Nardell are way to the left of that rightwing backstabber, Iain McNicol, and his various minions, who have left party HQ in recent months. But the witch-hunt is far from over. Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are still trying to appease the right, despite all the evidence showing that it does not work (Margaret Hodge’s much-publicised rant at Corbyn for being a “fucking anti-Semite and racist” on July 16 being a case in point).

So we read in the letter to comrade Rock that “the general secretary has appointed Charlotte Walker, investigating officer, to arrange conduct of the party’s own investigation”. We cannot be sure if Jennie Formby has actually read the whole thread on Facebook. If she has, then shame on her for wasting members’ money on launching this nonsense investigation. If she has not read it, then shame on her for not putting more effort into preventing such ludicrous allegations from going forward. Of course, not all allegations made to the compliance unit are followed up by an investigation. Some are dismissed at an early stage, as this one should have been. We hope that Formby, Nardell or one of the other people at Labour HQ will see some common sense soon.

Comrade Rock is, of course, only the latest case in a long list of leftwing activists targeted by the Labour right. Somebody must have put in a considerable amount of time and effort to find this particular online thread, having to read all of Lee’s posts from the last three years. If the Labour Party disciplinary process was governed by any kind of natural justice or due process, comrade Rock would have to be told who his accuser is. Despite the new brooms at Labour HQ, there is little chance of that happening.

Left target

Why then have they got it in for comrade Rock? He has played an important role in organising the left across Sheffield and has made plenty of enemies in the process. Together with former Labour NEC member, Unite’s Martin Mayer, he has set up Sheffield Labour Left List, which organises the left across all six local Constituency Labour Parties (this has become even more important since Momentum Sheffield has been taken over by the pro-Lansman right). He was also a key figure campaigning for Jared O’Mara, the first Labour MP ever elected in Sheffield Hallam, transforming the local CLP in the process, which is now firmly in the hands of the left. More recently, he helped to stop the planned transformation of the district Labour Party into a mere cheerleading club for local councillors.

Now that Jared O’Mara has resigned from the party, potential candidates from the left and right are falling over each other to replace him as parliamentary candidate, with numerous rightwingers joining Momentum to look like they are pro-Corbyn (ironically O’Mara was also subject to discipline for inappropriate comments made on social media more than a decade ago, when he was in his early 20s). Maybe somebody, somewhere feared that comrade Rock might throw his hat in the ring – at least among local leftwing Labour Party members, he would be a popular choice. This move against him – especially considering the nature of the accusations – will at least make it more difficult for him to be chosen as a candidate for parliamentary or local elections.

This is happening all over the country, of course. Empty accusations of bullying and harassment are launched just in time to stop somebody becoming a candidate or to prevent members from voting at a crucial meeting. It is old-style machine politics, but it works. For the individual concerned, however, it is, of course, deeply unpleasant and often traumatising, with their personal reputation publicly tarnished or even destroyed. They might be cleared afterwards, but suspicions about their character often remain.

We presume that Lee’s accuser is hoping for the charge to be raised a step higher: ie, that the national executive committee will find that he has “brought the party into disrepute”, so that he can be expelled. This is how the right got rid of Tony Greenstein and Marc Wadsworth, after all – it is a beautiful catch-all phrase that can cover pretty much anything, as and when needed. Comrade Rock could be another notch in the belt of the witch-hunters – another case that proves how horrible and disgusting Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters really are.

Nevertheless, comrade Lee has been told that he not suspended from membership. A change from the past and maybe a sign that Formby and Nardell are reforming the disciplinary process. It is, of course, to be welcome that comrade Rock – unlike hundreds of other members falsely accused – has not been automatically suspended and is able to participate in all party activities. However, this small step forward is almost entirely cancelled out by the very fact that there is an investigation. It clearly needs to be shut down, now – accompanied by a public apology and action taken against those who have made this vexatious complaint.