Labour faces 'fix' claims over Williamson hearing panel

Questions raised over last-minute change to date of hearing and choice of judges


Labour scrapped a disciplinary hearing into MP Chris Williamson due to take place on Monday after it emerged that a close ally who was set to rule on his future in the party had instead travelled to Brussels.

Claudia Webbe, chair of Labour's disputes panel, was meant to join Momentum founder Jon Lansman and MP George Howarth on the three-person panel judging antisemitism claims against the suspended Derby North parliamentarian.

But in a move that surprised Labour officials, Ms Webbe announced she was not able to attend the hearing after all because she was attending a local government conference. 

Sources told the JC that Ms Webbe's announcement came too late for the party to find a replacement - and instead the hearing was rescheduled for Wednesday.

Mr Lansman was celebrating  a new arrival to his family leaving him unable to attend the rearranged panel. 

It is understood the both Mr Lansman and Mr Howarth were set to agree with party officials that Mr Williamson's case should be sent on to Labour's highest disciplinary body, the national constitutional committee (NCC), so that suitable action could be taken against him.

But party rules state that such a decision can only be taken by a three-person panel.

Sources confirmed that the Jewish Labour Movement are now set to write to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission urging them to use statutory powers to gain access to any electronic messages sent by Ms Webbe ahead of Monday's planned meeting.

When the three-person national executive committee (NEC) panel met again on Wednesday it was comprised of Leicester East MP Keith Vaz, George Howarth and Houda Elmi.

In the wake of the decision to drop the suspension of Mr Williamson, serious questions are now being asked about the make-up of the new panel.

In Wednesday's hearing it was decided that Mr Williamson should escape with a formal warning for his claim that the party had been "too apologetic" over antisemitism rather than face more serious sanctions - including possible expulsion.

Ms Elmi had sparked anger earlier this year when she described the EHRC as a "failed experiment" as the watchdog announced its decision to investigate Labour over claims of  institutional antisemitism.

In a further tweet Ms Elmi wrote that the "weaponisation of racism by anti-Corbyn forces has been disgusting."

She added: "I hope the party investigates those who undermined the fight against antisemtism into order to score political points."

After Mr Williamson's suspension was dropped it emerged that Mr Vaz had led the argument for him to escape without serious punishment.

But Mr Vaz's ability to remain impartial in cases involving antisemtism allegations was brought into question after the MP delivered a statement in support of Marc Wadsworth during a hearing at which the activist was expelled from Labour.

Mr Vaz is also yet to conclude an investigation by Parliament's Standards Committee into allegations involving his private life. Mr Vaz argued he was unable to continue with the inquiry due to medical reasons.

He has also faced allegations of bullying.

Appearing on Newsnight on Wednesday night, Labour's Dame Margaret Hodge accused Jeremy Corbyn's team of changing the panel to ensure Mr Williamson remained in the party.

A Labour source said: "An NEC panel advised by an independent barrister found Chris Williamson had breached the party's rules and gave him a formal sanction.

"He could face further more severe action if he repeats any similar comments or behaviour."

Labour sources stressed that they believed the panel which ruled on Mr Williamson's case on Wednesday was not pro-Corbyn.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive