Pot calls kettle black
After months of infighting the Socialist Party in England and Wales pulled out of the NCAFC. But the fallout exposes the hypocrisy and cynicism of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, writes Rease Higgs
Anyone familiar with student politics and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts will not be surprised that it has descended into turmoil after the Socialist Party in England and Wales announced its decision to pull out.
The majority of the internet tit for tat exchanges that followed can only be described as apolitical and asinine. Nevertheless, they were the product of tensions that have been simmering for the past three months; that is before finally boiling over on Facebook last weekend – much to the bewilderment of those on the fringes of the campaign.
Many NCAFC members had taken issue with SPEW for its support for Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT. His former partner, Caroline Leneghan, had accused him of “domestic violence”.1 Doing the right thing, Hedly immediately resigned from SPEW, stating that continued membership would put “the Socialist Party in a difficult position”. However, he vowed to “continue to work constructively” with the organisation.2 That did not stop a motion being carried at the NCAFC conference in November that resolved to “publicly challenge the Socialist Party about the Steve Hedley case in any forum or capacity that we work with them.”3
But a month later the SPEW leadership issued a statement supporting him, declaring he had “no case to answer.” That followed an internal RMT enquiry.4 Hedley subsequently published a link to his blog in which he claims Leneghan fabricated the allegations because she is mentally ill.
Doubtless feeling vindicated, SPEW members in the NCAFC were noticeably vocal in their defence of Hedley, often citing the decision by the police not to prosecute. However, the matter had faded into relative obscurity on the general left, preoccupied as it has been with the ongoing crisis in the Socialist Workers Party. That is, until the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty began its anti-Hedley campaign after he was apparently issued with an invitation to speak at SPEW’s annual Socialism school.
In October the AWL produced a statement through its feminist front group, Women’s Fightback, snappily entitled ‘The left and women’s rights: why the case of Steve Hedley is as serious as the case of Martin Smith’.5 Around the same time the AWL’s Daniel Cooper, vice-president of the University of London Union, proposed to ULU that it put out a statement about the Socialism event.6
The AWL seemed to have lost control of the anti-Hedley campaign. AWL executive committee member Sacha Ismail was fretting in internal emails that now “the ULU women’s officer, Susuana Antubam, wants ULU to cancel the booking. So there will be an argument on the ULU executive, probably this Thursday. Watch this space!”
This allegedly prompted Sam Morecroft, a SPEW member on the National Union of Students postgraduate committee, to threaten to expose the AWL’s “hypocrisy” if it did not try to prevent Socialism, billed for November 2013, from being banned. As it happened the school went ahead. Despite that SPEW clearly decided to go onto the offensive, fielding its own allegations against the AWL.
In September last year, a little-noticed post appeared on the NCAFC Facebook page. In it, a sexual abuse survivor asked why the organisation had not publicly commented on her case. It had, after all, resulted in the expulsion of the man involved from the NCAFC. She claimed that he is a known serial abuser and explained, absolutely correctly, that transparency about his expulsion was necessary to ensure the safety of other women. It emerged that she had turned up to “an event” at ULU only to find her alleged abuser casually socialising as if nothing untoward had happened. She indignantly protested to the organisers.
Although it was not mentioned in her post, that “event” was Ideas for Freedom, the AWL’s summer school. In the run-up she explained to the AWL’s executive that she would not attend Ideas for Freedom if her alleged abuser was going to be there too. Comrade Ismail reported that EC member Ed Maltby “negotiated an agreement”, so that both parties would “attend different bits” of the school. During one EC meeting, comrade Maltby noted that the man had “got wasted two times and felt people up.”
At least one AWL member has left the organisation after lodging a complaint over the incident. When the resignation letter was posted to the AWL’s internal email list, comrade Ismail attempted to change the subject, claiming that it came as no surprise, “given the new flurry of pressure on us generated by Pat S’s antics”. He was referring to the resignation and publication of internal AWL documents by former AWL member, Patrick Smith.
The AWL campaign to highlight SPEW’s supposed indifference towards domestic violence was clearly motivated by factional interests. Of course, it was dressed up in calls for the labour movement to stamp out domestic violence – as if that were possible this side of socialism. So, while no doubt some rank-and-file members of the AWL have challenged SPEW for sincere reasons, the AWL leadership itself has certainly acted with utter hypocrisy – on the one hand, it attacks SPEW over Steve Hedley; on the other, it seeks an accommodation with an alleged serial abuser.
In one internal AWL email Ed Maltby concludes: “I think that someone should relay all of the information and political points above. We shouldn’t let the SP get away with this behaviour. (Not me as I’m too easily ‘pegged’ as a cynical factional manipulator.)” Quite.
Despite the AWL’s insistence that members of SPEW and the SWP should “stand up to their leaders” over their respective organisations’ handling of cases relating to domestic violence and sexual assault, members of the AWL have been worryingly silent when it comes to their own leadership. Yet tackling sexual abuse and domestic violence on the left is surely about elementary solidarity.7
Instead of dealing with the matter in an open and honest fashion the AWL’s executive preferred a diplomatic deal hatched in private. Given that the AWL’s ‘comrade Delta’ is alleged to be a repeat offender, having a history of “preying on vulnerable women”, transparency might have seen others come forward and helped prevent any further ugly incidents.
This is why the AWL leadership ought to be challenged – not just over a botched handling of a case of sexual assault, but over the secretive and undemocratic manner in which it made its decisions.
7. See ‘Bureaucratic justice and dealing with sex assault cases’ Weekly Worker April 18 2013.
Originally published in the Weekly Worker.