This article in the Morning Star (published on 29 March) defended remarks made by Eddie Dempsey at a recent "Full Brexit" rally, by way of inaccuracies and misleading remarks including about Workers' Liberty. That article has now been taken down from their online publication.
Clive Lewis was branded “out of order” by RMT general secretary Mick Cash today after the Labour MP promoted an article calling a leading trade unionist a “Tommy Robinson apologist.” Mr Cash demanded the Norwich South MP apologise for sharing an article that labelled RMT activist Eddie Dempsey a supporter of the far-right, anti-Muslim activist.
The article, which was written by Jim Denham, a member of the Trotskyite organisation Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), accused Mr Dempsey of being “far right” over comments he made criticising “liberal” Labour members at a left-wing anti-EU rally on Monday. It also called on co-panellists, School of Oriental and African Studies economics professor Costas Lapavitsas and Institute for Public Policy Research economist and journalist Grace Blakeley, to condemn him. Mr Dempsey insinuated that this was an attack on him by the AWL and Mr Lewis, who are both anti-Brexit. He called the anti-racist credentials of the AWL into question, pointing out that in 2007, the AWL were the only political organisation in Britain apart from the British National Party that republished the Danish Jutland Post cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
On the AWL’s website, Mr Denham can be seen defending his organisation publishing the cartoons, despite figures from across the political spectrum considering them to be Islamophobic. Mr Dempsey asked: “Why are you platforming someone many would consider to defend racist positions to attack me?” More than 100 trade unionists have publicly criticised Mr Lewis. Many drew attention to the fact that last year, it emerged that a child AWL member had been sexually assaulted by an older member, and the organisation’s full-time officials did nothing to help the victim. The organisation admitted severe wrongdoing, but no members faced any repercussions or disciplinary measures.
Norwich Labour county councillor Jess Barnard said she was “shocked” Mr Lewis would share an AWL member’s article, claiming that she had already raised concerns with him about the organisation. Mr Cash added: “Clive Lewis should apologise and retract his comment.” Mr Lapavitsas told the Star: “I consider Eddie Dempsey to be one of the most reliable socialists, trade unionists and anti-fascists in this country. “I’m proud to share panels with him.”
Mr Lewis responded: “When a white trades unionist stands up at a Brexit rally and tells an audience he feels the same hatred for parts of the ‘liberal left’ as Stephen Yaxley’s supporters; and that ethnic minorities are being used by the same liberal left to enable ‘the working class’ to be ‘disregarded’ – as a black person, that sets alarm bells ringing.
“I’ve heard this language before and it’s the language of the far right. You don’t beat the far right by parroting their tropes. You beat them by standing in solidarity with all working-class people – whatever their colour, wherever they’re from.”
The reply which the Morning Star hasn’t printed
A copy of the response we sent to them.
To the Morning Star,
Your article of 29 March “Clive Lewis branded 'out of order' by RMT's Mick Cash contains a number of inaccuracies and misleading statements which are an affront to basic journalistic rigour, as well as the standards of democratic debate which the labour movement should set for itself.
The article reports on debate surrounding comments made by RMT activist Eddie Dempsey at a rally organised by “The Full Brexit”: "The one thing that unites [the people who turn out for Tommy Robinson demos] beyond whatever other bigotry that's going on... is their hatred of the liberal left. And they are right to hate them." At the same rally Dempsey also says: “too many in the Labour Party have made a calculation that there’s a certain section at the top end of the working class, in alliance with people, they calculate, from ethnic minorities and liberals, that’s enough to get them into power”. However, the Morning Star article refers to the substance of that debate only tangentially, and instead proceeds by deflection and “whataboutery”.
You refer to an article shared by Clive Lewis MP which criticised Dempsey's remarks, but without linking to it to give your online readers the opportunity of reaching their own conclusions about its content. You inaccurately attribute it to AWL supporter Jim Denham; in fact, Jim had no part in writing it. It a collective statement agreed by the steering committee of the Labour for a Socialist Europe campaign, on whose website it was originally posted on 27 March. Jim, who does not sit on the Labour for a Socialist Europe committee, reposted the article on his own blog a day later, providing a link to the original.
The Morning Star refers to AWL's position on the Jyllands Posten cartoons of Mohammed from 2007. What this has to do with the rights and wrongs of Dempsey's remarks it does not explain.
In any case, our view on those cartoons is a matter of public record. While not endorsing their content, we viewed calls by ultra-conservative political-religious forces for their suppression and censorship as reactionary. Those "calls" came accompanied by death threats against the cartoonists, court cases against editors who republished the cartoons, sacking or jailing of several editors, especially those brave editors in the mainly-Muslim countries who took a stand for freedom of expression, and closings-down of newspapers. We said: “We protest against the suppression of these cartoons on the same grounds as we protested against the suppression of the play Bezhti (written by a Sikh, but offensive to conservative Sikh authorities) or the attempts of some Christians to suppress 'Jerry Springer - the Opera'.” Readers are welcome to read our statement from the time, which, again, the Morning Star did not link to, and judge it for themselves.
The article goes on to say that “More than 100 trade unionists have publicly criticised Mr Lewis”, a seemingly arbitrary figure for which it provides no evidence. A large number of trade unionists have also supported Clive Lewis in the online debate, and condemned Eddie Dempsey's remarks.
More seriously, the article says: “Many drew attention to the fact that last year, it emerged that a child AWL member had been sexually assaulted by an older member, and the organisation’s full-time officials did nothing to help the victim. The organisation admitted severe wrongdoing, but no members faced any repercussions or disciplinary measures.”
It is disappointing that the Morning Star would exploit a serious incident to intervene in a political debate, not by means of engaging with the arguments, but by deflection, distortion, and smear-by-association.
The allegation to which the Morning Star refers, and AWL's subsequent investigation into it, is a matter of public record. In early 2018 a claim was made in an anonymous public blog post in which the blog-poster said he had been sexually assaulted in 2005 (when he was 16) by someone else who was then a member of AWL. Both the people involved parted ways with AWL (for different reasons) in 2008. We instituted an investigation independent of our leading committees and communicated with the blog-poster to offer help if he wanted to take the matter further.
Our investigation showed that in the years following 2005 the blog-poster had talked about the incident with other young members of AWL, but they had followed his expressed wish that they not report it to the committees. But it also concluded that this failure to bring the case to the committees showed an inadequacy of procedures. All the documents pertaining to the matter are available online. We had the investigation scrutinised by independent individuals, not members of the AWL, one with a professional background in safeguarding. The discussions we have had and the measures we have taken to mend the failings are likewise publicly documented on our website.
Throughout the process of investigation we remained as open and transparent as possible, with publicly accessible contact addresses for anyone to raise issues with the working group leading the process. We continue that openness and transparency. The working group remains available for contact at email@example.com.
How we respond to allegations of abuse within our organisations are an extremely serious matter for the entire left and labour movement. The issue should not be exploited in a misleading fashion as part of an intervention into a political debate. At no point has any journalist from the Morning Star contacted AWL for comment on these matters, as journalistic rigour and ethics should have compelled them to do.
The issues which are actually at the centre of the debate around Dempsey's remarks – how the left responds to nationalism; how to relate to far-right movements; the issue of “identity politics” and the relationship of struggles against oppression to economic struggle against capitalism; and more – are issues of vital and current importance that the entire left must debate openly. The Communist Party of Britain has its own views in those debates, and is entitled to use its organ, the Morning Star, to express them. But it should do so openly, and by engaging in the debate on political terms, not by deflection, slander, and insinuation against its political opponents.
Yours, the Executive Committee of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty