Response from Forest of Dean Labour Party to the complaint lodged by Lydney Town Council | Cllr Bernie O’Neill

In a letter to Lydney Town Council regarding the complaint, later released by Lydney Town Council, Cllr Bernie O’Neill (Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party Chairman) responds:

“I note your correspondence dated 15 January regarding your complaint against Mr. Zac Arnold. Having taken advice from the National Labour Party I have to inform you that no action will be taken by the Local or National Party as your complaint is concerning a resident of Lydney in his private capacity, and not with the Labour Party. Certain assumptions appear to have been made because Mr Arnold is a member of the Party, but this does not preclude him from voicing his opinions in a person capacity.

“Regarding issues raised in the attached emails about a meeting in November 2018, there are some insinuations which cause concerns and the comment about the tragic murder of Jo Cox is particularly galling and beyond belief.

“The events of 14 January at your Council meeting are your concern and not one for us to be involved in, but I do have to say that there are witnesses who are prepared to give a different opinion of the proceedings of that meeting and I trust that you will reflect on the matter.”

Complaint to the Labour Party regarding Shaun Stammers’ social media activity | Zac Arnold

“Dear Chair and Secretary,

“I was appalled this evening to read a post published by Mr Stammers who currently holds the offices of Vice Chairman Policy, Joint IT/Media Coordinator, LGBT+ Officer and Chairman of Cinderford and Mid-Dean Branch this evening on his public Facebook page regarding the decision by the National Executive Committee, in consultation with this Constituency Labour Party, to implement an All Women’s Shortlist to select the next Prospective Parliamentary Candidate.

“Whilst I understand that this is an emotional time for Mr Stammers, the wording in which he made the announcement on his “The Forest Matters” Facebook page has quite frankly done a serious amount of damage to the standing of this CLP and has now begun to spread to the CLPs official social media channels including members of the electorate stating that they will not vote Labour again and stating that they “want a list” of the 13 individuals at the consultation meeting that voted for an All Women’s Shortlist so that they can be “fined for sexism.” At no point in his exchanges with these members of the public demanding names and threatening, effectively, to bring out the pitchforks to puncture Labour’s electoral chances in the district, did Mr Stammers make them aware of the fact that it was actually HIS vote that tipped the balance in favour of an All Women’s Shortlist being the 13th vote – making a majority of 1. Yet, despite this fact, he declared that the CLP “unfortunately” voted by a small majority in favour of an All Women’s Shortlist.

“Simultaneously, after the consultation meeting when approached regarding the reason for him voting for an All Women’s Shortlist he stated that he had to because that is what he had “always stood for.” – Funny how times change now that it is confirmed he is unable to have another shot out of making a career at the membership’s and electorate’s expense.

“In this post, he stated, “I am only saddened that I will not have the opportunity to seek the support of Labour Members in an open and honest selection process this time around.” This statement clearly suggests, and in my eyes is a clear accusation, that either the consultation vote, NEC decision or upcoming selection process is corrupt or rigged. This is utterly despicable and has now led to a sentiment in the comments of his post and elsewhere of members of the public suggesting that we are not trustworthy, we are corrupt and that they will no longer give us their votes. Either Mr Stammers has just committed membership suicide, is grossly incompetent and shouldn’t be trusted with any kind of access to Labour Party social media channels, or worse still, is deliberately attempting to smear the local party as a result of him no longer being able to stand as our candidate. I remind you, the vote was won by a majority of 1 – Shaun Stammers voted in favour of All Women’s Shortlist in the consultation meeting – How is any of this process not “open and honest” thus far?

“This online activity amounts to discrediting the party on social media and could easily severely inhibit our chances of removing Mark Harper from office at the next election, whenever that may come. I have cc’d Phil Gaskin and Sonia Wright in to this email.”

Lydney Town Council lodge formal complaint to the Labour Party | Cllrs Bob Berryman & Brian Pearman

“Dear Sir or Madam

“We would like to make an official complaint against Mr Zac Arnold regarding his behaviour towards our Council/Council Members and Employees.

“At our Full Council meeting last night Mr Arnold, under the Public Forum agenda item, asked three questions of our Council. Under our Council’s Standing Orders questions raised under the Forum must relate to items on the agenda. However, our Council had previously provided Mr Arnold with answers to two of his questions a number of months prior.

“Under the first question, raised under Lydney Town Council’s budget for 2019/2020 (Agenda Item 9b), Mr Arnold sought to challenge/berate our Council for resolving not to participate in providing a District-wide Youth Worker as he felt that the Council held sufficient finance as it has elected to purchase a Town Flag/one of it’s Charitable Trusts had chosen to invest in sculpturing a tree trunk in Bathurst Park into a tourism feature. Mr Arnold was also derogatory towards our CEO and Proper Officer of our Council, and requested that his questions be answered by an Elected Official rather than unelected Bureaucrat. Mr Arnold had previously been informed by our Council that it had resolved to invest in youth provision locally, rather than contribute to a District-wide initiative and Mr Arnold was advised that the CEO was appointed to respond to matters on behalf of our Council. Furthermore, that the initiative referred to by Mr Arnold would likely result in an expense of £25,000.00 to our Council. Mr Arnold was also informed by a fellow Councillor that his question did not relate to the agenda item he had referenced as Mr Arnold had not had sight of the Council’s budget at that time.

“The second question raised concerned a complaint which had been made against our Council by Mr Arnold which Mr Arnold raised under Agenda Item 14 (Committee and Other Reports). Whilst the matter had been considered and resolved and duly minuted (publicly accessible) , with Mr Arnold being informed of the outcome of his complaint in writing mid-November, Mr Arnold did not accept the Council’s decision and requested that he receive a formal apology. Mr Arnold was advised that he had already received the Council’s response regarding his complaint, by this time Mr Arnold had become increasingly agitated.

“The third question Mr Arnold raised under Agenda Item 19 – Press Release/Statement which he referenced an article in Gloucestershire Live, in which the Mayor was interviewed regarding the submission of a planning application from retailer B&M to utilise a vacant, vandalised retail premises in our Town as their new store. Mr Arnold then sought to berate the Mayor for welcoming the news that the retailer was seeking to open a store in our Town, and he launched into a tirade against the management practices of B&M and their facilities provided to their employees. During this tirade Mr Arnold was warned by the Mayor that if he continued with his speech/argumentative manner the meeting would be suspended. Mr Arnold refused to pay any attention to the warnings given, our meeting was duly suspended and Mr Arnold was asked several times to leave the meeting by our CEO/Proper Officer. However, Mr Arnold refused to leave the meeting which resulted in the Police being called to our office to escort Mr Arnold from the building. Mr Arnold then refused to leave the site, despite the Police making a number of requests for him to do so, and we believe he was then arrested for Breach of the Peace and taken to Gloucester (Incident Number 366 of 14 January 2019 refers).

“We would advise that this is not the first time our Council has had cause for concern over Mr Arnold’s intimidatory manner and we would refer you to the enclosed e-mail which has been sent to the Police. Whilst we appreciate Mr Arnold is passionate in his political beliefs, we feel his actions have overstepped the mark of acceptability.

“We trust that you will take action regarding our complaint and we look forward to hearing from you.

“Yours Faithfully (for and on behalf of Lydney Town Council)

“Cllr Bob Berryman (Mayor) and Cllr Brian Pearman (Deputy Mayor and Chairman of the Personnel Committee”

Mindful of the Jo Cox case we do feel that this behaviour warrants noting ‘on file’ | Jayne Smailes

This email was not in the public domain and had not been seen by myself prior to Lydney Town Council publishing it in their press pack on 21 February 2019, not even the rest of the Councillors had seen it prior to 20 February 2019.

In an email to Gloucestershire Constabulary; namely Sergeant Andrew Doyle, and Lydney Town Council Personnel Committee members Cllrs Alan Preest, Bob Berryman, Brian Pearman, Carol Harris and Harry Ives, Jayne Smailes (Chief Executive Officer) states:

“Confidential.

“Dear Personnel Committee/Sgt Doyle

“We write in order to make you aware that following last night’s Meetings three individuals (Trustee Holmes, visitors Zac and Louis Arnold) remained outside the building when everyone was leaving.

“As Carol and I were about to exit/set the building alarm Louis Arnold came back into the office the use the toilet so we had to wait for him before locking up; had Bob/Brian not remained in the Car Park talking we would have had to walk past the three of them for they remained at the planter at the top of the entrance ramp by the door to the building for no apparent reason.

“We do not propose any action be taken however, given recent Facebook posts in which the Council have been heavily criticised of late and mindful of the Jo Cox case we do feel that this behaviour warrants noting ‘on file’ by members of the Personnel Committee and the Police.”

Lessons from Labour: The Hogan statement and membership accountability | Zac Arnold

This content is retrospective, meaning that it was written some time after the event took place. This post was written on Friday 16 October 2020, however it is tagged 9 November 2018 as this is when the event took place. It is an insight into the inner workings of the Labour Party and it’s aim is to analyse and learn from events in order to improve the effectiveness of opposition movements.

Bruce Hogan, a longstanding member of the Labour Party and former teacher. Representing Lydbrook on Forest of Dean District Council, his career in local politics, which spanned from local government to two unsuccessful parliamentary bids and several elections as the candidate’s “agent,” ended in a two year long spiral of unruly behaviour including verbally abusing opposition canvassers whilst leafleting, punching a man in the face outside a local public house and then attempting to change the rules for the standards body that upheld the complaint. He then almost was separated from the red flag when he shouted down and pounded his fist on the table at Cllr Di Martin, the Leader of the Labour Group on Forest of Dean District Council during a public Full Council meeting.

Cllr Bruce Hogan at the October 2018 Full Council meeting, as captured from the councils livestream on their website [Image: Gloucestershire Live, 2018]

On 8 November 2018, I was asked by Shaun Stammers, 2017 General Election candidate and one of the Vice Chairman’s of Forest of Dean Labour Party to formulate a press release regarding Hogan. This press release was due to be issued after the Executive Committee advised Cllr Martin to take a particular course of action. The statement was as follows:

Councillor Bruce Hogan has been a long-standing, loyal and hard-working representative of the community over the course of many years and has been a figurehead of both local politics and the labour movement for decades serving the party as a Councillor, Parliamentary Candidate in two General Elections and as an election agent in numerous elections.

As I am sure you are aware, recently, events have come to light regarding an incident outside a public house in Lydbrook between Councillor Hogan and a member of the public which Councillor Hogan has rightly taken responsibility for and admitted his wrongdoing.

It is with deep regret that, as a result of these actions and his conduct during the October Full Council meeting, that we have been forced to withdraw the whip from Councillor Hogan. We do not take this decision lightly and are saddened that we have been left with no choice.

We recognise Councillor Hogan’s years of dedicated service both to the Labour Party and to the electorate and wish him all the best for the future.

Draft Press Statement from the Leader of the Labour Group on Forest of Dean District Council, Cllr Di Martin
Forest of Dean District Council Labour Group Leader, Cllr Di Martin, who later went on to stand for the constituency in the 2019 General Election with Shaun Stammers as her election agent (Photo: The Forester, 2019)

Now, this statement never ended up being used. The decision was made around a round table in an awkwardly large room in a pub in Coleford, the Executive Committee of Forest of Dean Labour Party – which in itself was in the midst of a major identity crisis. The left pushed for the whip to be withdrawn, “moderates” struggled to argue against the behaviour. Naturally, I took no displeasure in stoking the fire more generally that Hogan’s time was up. The minutes naturally reflected that no consensus had been present in the room and that the EC would support whatever the decision of the Labour Group was. They had to say that, because the group is sacred and does not answer to the membership or even the officers of the party.


Withdrawal of the Whip: The act of expelling an elected member of a political group from that group

When a Councillor or MP has the whip withdrawn, they stop being a representative of that political group and become an independent representative, unless they accept the whip of another political group.


In the end, he cut a deal – between himself and the Labour Group against the will of the party – to slip away quietly by not standing at the next elections in May 2019. A decision that did not best serve the Labour Party, the council or the electorate. It proved that for political capital, the right thing to do is often delayed, deferred, delegated and diverted until there is no real accountability anymore. Where the impression is given that there are no consequences for the actions of elected representatives at any level of Government.

The lesson from this is fairly simple, if we are going to remain within party structures as we know them we need to improve the methods of local party units, and by extension members of the local community, can hold their representatives to account for their actions. Whether this be breaching the Code of Conduct or abandoning policy commitments.

Shaun Stammers was the 2017 Parliamentary Candidate for Forest of Dean Labour Party, when Bruce Hogan acted as his electoral agent. Stammers later took over the role of agent for Di Martin in 2019’s snap vote (Photo: Shaun Stammers, 2017)

In instances where Councillors act in a manner such as this, which either brings themselves or their party into disrepute or acts in a manner that disregards the democratic processes of the Labour Party, the membership and the policies developed by it, there needs to be appropriate checks and balances.

Whilst it is true that the democratic legitimacy, at least in our present electoral system, of a Councillor needs to be respected as their mandate to act on the council is given by the electorate who voted for them at the last election. This, however, does not impact the ability of the political group to implement a series of consequences on their members. Any assertion otherwise is just avoiding the consequences.

The easy solution to this, in my eyes, is for an effective internal recall system within political parties. Within the Labour Party it is stated that Councillors are not “beholden to the party” – meaning that they can effectively do as they please as they are representatives of the electorate not the party. As I have stated, this is untrue. They are representative of the electorate on the council whilst representing Labour as part of the Labour Group, and they need to represent both.

It is unacceptable for policies and consensus hard fought for within the party to be discarded by a council group, they are supposed to be representative of the party not the party representative of them. More generally, it is unacceptable that political groups, in supposedly democratic parties, are treated as more significant with their opinion holding more weight than that of ordinary people and rank and file members.

Instead, could there be a recall process that allows for members and party units to hold their representatives to account, whilst preventing such mechanisms from being manipulated on either side for political or personal gain?

Currently, members of the Labour Party that live in that electoral area for the position in question – in this case, Lydbrook – select their candidate prior to an election. This is a selection meeting and unsurprisingly, especially in rural wards in less active CLPs (Constituency Labour Parties), they are very rarely quorate (at the minimum number of members needed to legally conduct business) and therefore whichever members of the CLP Executive Committee attend step in to make up the votes.

Now, the issue of the way in which candidates are selected is another one which I will link to here when I’ve spewed out some words on it, but the issue here is of accountability between elections. There is currently none of this. Councillors avoid internal meetings or leave as early as physically possible after important votes have taken place. They have the final say over the manifesto for local elections, even over the rest of the candidates who are not incumbents – giving them the power, for example, to remove a pledge to fight to retain two community hospitals which was in line with local and national party policy. Again, I have plenty to say on this which I will link to here. They can maintain their position regardless of behaviour for so long as the group is controlled by a small clique of old friends who’ve been playing the game for decades, they then use this weight to try and control the party.

Solution

If we are going to continue with the political structures we have now, we need to implement a proper internal recall and sanction system. A committee consisting of three members: one member from the electoral area the candidate represents (representing the views of those members as a collective); one member of the Executive Committee, if time permits representing the views of the General Committee (if applicable); and one member of the Labour Group representing the group.

The committee has the power to issue warnings to members for breaches of policy and breaches of an internal code of conduct, which all three elements of the party have had input into. These warnings increase in severity and relate to issues such as conduct and voting. If a Councillors exceeds a set number of warnings agreed by all parties, a vote takes place between the three members, representing the views of their respective party units which will have discussed the matter and mandated a vote in advance. This method applies for the suspension of the whip, which shall be done for investigative purposes if necessary, but also for the withdrawal of the whip for simple cases or those where the investigation is concluded.

This is a simple solution to holding Councillors to account, who can often drift into their respective council structures or defend each other in small collectives that operate as they see fit and defend each other in the face of the indefensible.

The statement

I emailed the draft statement to the Chair, Secretary and Vice Chairman (Policy) of Forest of Dean Labour Party and the Leader and Secretary of the Forest of Dean District Council Labour Group on the morning after the meeting. Cllrs Di Martin and Bernie O’Neill responded stating that they would get back to me, then the whip was never withdrawn.

Zac suspended from membership of the Labour Party for alleged uncomradely behaviour | Nareser Osei

In a letter to myself, Nareser Osei as Acting Head of Disputes at Labour Party Headquarters, said:

Notice of administrative suspension from holding office or representing the Labour Party


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 Party. These allegations relate to social media posts posts and uncomradely behaviour towards another member of the local party. It is important that these allegations are investigated and the NEC will be asked to authorise a full report to be drawn up with recommendations for disciplinary action if appropriate.


I write to give you formal notice that it has been determined that the powers given to the NEC
under Chapter 6 Clause I.1.A of the Party’s rules should be invoked to suspend you from office or representation of the Party, pending the outcome of an internal Party investigation. Because of the nature of the allegations received your presence at branch meetings and all party activity which includes campaigning, may be detrimental to the Party, while subject to this administrative suspension, you cannot attend any campaign activity or party meetings including those of your own branch or CLP, or Annual Conference, and you cannot seek office within the Party or be considered for selection as a candidate to represent the Labour Party at an election at any level*


In view of the urgency to protect the Party’s reputation in the present situation the General
Secretary has determined to use powers delegated to him under Chapter 1 Clause VIII.5 of the rules to impose this suspension forthwith, subject to the approval of the next meeting of the NEC. The General Secretary has appointed Phil Gaskin, Regional Director, to arrange conduct of the Party’s own investigation. You will be contacted in due course with details as to how the
investigation will proceed. Please quote case number DCN-0363 on all correspondence. It is hoped you will offer your full co-operation to the Party in resolving this matter.

*In relation to any alleged breach of the constitution, rules or standing orders of the party by an
individual member or members of the party, the NEC may, pending the final outcome of any
investigation and charges (if any), suspend that individual or individuals from office or
representation of the party notwithstanding the fact that the individual concerned has been or may be eligible to be selected as a candidate in any election or by-election. (Disciplinary Rules, Chapter 6 Clause I.1.A)


**A ‘suspension’ of a member whether by the NEC in pursuance of 1 above or by the NCC in
imposing a disciplinary penalty, unless otherwise defined by that decision, shall require the
membership rights of the individual member concerned to be confined to participation in their own branch meetings, unless the reason for the suspension in part or in full is their conduct in party meetings or there are concerns that their presence at branch meetings may be detrimental to the Party, and activities as an ordinary member only and in ballots of all individual members where applicable. A suspended member shall not be eligible to seek any office in the party, nor shall s/he be eligible for nomination to any panel of prospective candidates nor to represent the party in any position at any level. The member concerned will not be eligible to attend any CLP meeting other than to fulfil the requirement to participate in ballots. (Disciplinary rules, Clause 6.I.3)