Last Wednesday, Labour societies across London rescinded their participation in and support for the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) of the Westminster borough. Their cited rationale was the CLP’s decision to invite Chris Williamson, a supposed “anti-Semite”, to speak.
UCL Labour sparked the boycott, followed by Birkbeck Labour, LSESU Labour and King’s College Labour Society. The move by LSESU Labour comes after Catherine MacLean was elected its Chair this month.
What’s a CLP?
A CLP is a group of Labour Party members that are attached to a constituency. It organises meetings, is involved in the selection of candidates for general elections, as well as delegates to the Labour Party Conference. University Labour societies are often active in supporting campaigns in their local CLPs.
Why the boycott?
The CLP invited the Derby North MP and Shadow Fire Minister Chris Williamson to its all-member meeting which will take place today, the 27th of November. He is due to give a talk and participate in a Q&A.
UCL Labour was the first to boycott campaigning for Westminster, tweeting that Chris Williamson is an “anti-Semite”.
LSESU Labour tweeted that they will “no longer [campaign] in the CLP until the invitation is rescinded and an apology issued. Antisemitism is not acceptable in any form within our party, and we condemn it completely.”
LSESU Labour told the Beaver: “LSE Labour has decided to stop campaigning in Westminster constituency because we feel that the invitation towards Chris Williamson is grossly inappropriate and offensive, given his choice to share platforms with and support antisemites. He has been condemned by a number of Jewish organisations, and we feel that their voices are the most important on this issue, and we should listen and support them.”
Last year Williamson spoke to The Guardian in defence of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party: “I’m not saying [anti-semitism] never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.”
Williamson has associated and shared platforms with ex-Labour members such as Tony Greenstein, Scott Nelson and Momentum activist Jackie Walker, who some Labour members claim made anti-Semitic comments.
In August, the Jewish Labour Movement called upon Labour leadership to rebuke the government whip from Williamson after the aforementioned comments were made and he supported Jackie Walker.
Their statement on Wednesday stated that the actions taken by Labour societies were “really important and heartening”. “Labour Students are again making it clear that they will not tolerate goading, intolerant and insensitive behaviour wherever it exists, including by members of the PLP” (Parliamentary Labour Party).
How were the Labour societies’ decisions made?
KCL Labour posted a tweet by one committee member that was presumably unseen or unconfirmed by their executive committee has now been deleted. They later added that “whilst there may be issues surrounding Williamson, this tweet does not represent the society or committee in any way & wasn’t agreed to. We will be campaigning for Steven Saxby – who is a wonderful future MP & KCL student. We apologise to anyone impacted.”
A supposed member of UCL Labour, tweeted that “one of our committee tweeted this w/o consultation. So strange to blame Steven [because] of Chris”. She added: “as a society we’ve always tried to fight antisemitism through training and events, not stopping campaigning for a CLP”.
It is however, often the case that executive committees and sometimes sub-committee members will make decisions on behalf of the society. Society members are not often consulted.
LSESU Labour told the Beaver: “This decision was reached through an Exec Committee agreement, which we then put to the sub committee, who also agree and support this action. We have been democratically elected to represent LSE Labour members, and we hope that they will stand behind us.”
They added: “LSE Labour has been assigned Chingford and Wood Green as our marginal seat to campaign in, and we will be campaigning there. Labour Students clubs have been expected to be foot soldiers in marginal seats for years, but we should be using our voices to speak up for what is right, and we don’t think that it is right to support a CLP when we think they have made a completely unacceptable and disrespectful decision.”