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community organising, Sandwell and Forde Inquiry – LabourList

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The Labour Party offered yet more fiery meetings yesterday. Activists in Bristol West – the local party that had its chair, co-secretaries and others suspended last year, before having its annual general meeting postponed by the South West regional office – held their delayed AGM last night. Run by region, members online reported that the meeting took place over six hours, the agenda was not followed, the deadline for ballots was repeatedly extended, 100 attendees did not vote, a number were able to vote twice and one ballot had rival candidates sharing a tick box. In the end, a result was declared, and the pro-leadership ‘Unity Team’ slate swept the board, to the delight of some on Labour Twitter.

The February meeting of Labour’s national executive committee was the site of bigger arguments and bigger news. Questions were raised over the controversial decision to scrap the community organising unit. There are three camps: those on the left who are pro-COU; those close to the leadership who are pro-COU but not pro those staffing it and/or say the party can’t afford it; those who think community organising is a waste of time. The people calling the shots are thought to be in camp two.

There was also a row over “the Sandwell mess”, as it is known, with the NEC not voting to put Yasmine Dar on the selection panel required after the suspension of sitting councillors, putting forward two white men instead. Left sources described the decision as “shameful”, saying it showed “factionalism trumps our most basic stance on equalities”. Those who voted against Dar countered that region had already put forward their own panel members ensuring diversity and gender balance, and that Sandwell isn’t a straight left-right fight anyway.

Finally, there is Forde Inquiry news. There have been concerns that the independent probe – tasked with looking into the ‘Labour leaks’ report last year that alleged poor behaviour by ex-staffers – has still not concluded despite an original deadline of mid-July, then December 31st, then January 31st. Some members have become suspicious; the information vacuum hasn’t helped. Labour’s general secretary David Evans yesterday provided an update to the NEC: via a letter from Martin Forde QC, it was revealed that the inquiry’s report is delayed indefinitely.

The Inquiry has “recently been made aware” that the Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating the same leak, Forde told the party, and he is worried that releasing his report could prejudice the ICO’s work. The Forde conclusions will therefore only be published once the ICO inquiries are “completed” and “resolved”. (LabourList has confirmed with the ICO that it is looking into the original leaking of the internal report, not the party giving information to the inquiry as reported by some.) Read my full-write up including Forde’s letter here.

Some have speculated that the leadership is leaning on the inquiry or pleased with the repeated delays. Forde has described these comments as “ill-informed” and stated in his letter that Labour has not sought to influence the report. Labour sources say nobody in the party has seen the Forde report. As one source put it to LabourList last night: “It’s in no-one’s interest to drag this out. The guy charges by the hour.” With legal action against Labour over the potential security breaches looming, everyone is worried about the state of the party’s finances, particularly ahead of elections that will be considered a key test of Keir Starmer’s performance as leader.

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