IN APRIL LAST YEAR, South Thanet Labour Party democratically selected Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt to be its parliamentary candidate. She won our vote by expressing her determination to apply the socialist spirit championed by Jeremy Corbyn to transform the fortunes of Thanet - one of the most deprived areas in the country.
But hardly had our cheers for Rebecca’s selection died away when a campaign of ‘dirty tricks’ was mounted against her. Ominously, supporters of a rival candidate pointed out that Rebecca hadn’t yet received the endorsement of the Labour Party’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee (NEC).
The NEC’s endorsement of a parliamentary candidate is usually regarded as a formality. In this case, it became a weapon in a malicious onslaught on Rebecca.
First off, the right wing Guido Fawkes blog tried to smear her, using posts about the antisemitism row in the Labour Party made from a Twitter account to which Rebecca contributed. Then a character calling himself “Lee Atwater” began ringing up local Labour Party activists - and even Rebecca’s home - on a dirtdigging expedition.
Atwater’s alias gave us more than a clue as to what he was up to. The real Atwater was a right wing American spin doctor famous for destroying the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, using vicious personal smears. The fake Lee Atwater was a right wing activist with strong links to the Tory Party and a history of gathering social media dirt to use against his political enemies.
Outrageously, Thanet’s “Atwater” implied that Rebecca was involved in vivisection simply because she proofread two articles for a relative, and he suggested her partner went to Eton on the strength of having a one-week football scholarship there, aged 12!
In the face of these smears, Rebecca co-operated fully with Labour Party officials. She made a statement apologising for any offence the tweets might have caused.
Regional Labour Party bosses advised her to carry on as our candidate. So she did - and South Thanet could not have asked for a more hard working and inspiring candidate.
Rebecca made regular appearances in the local press. She campaigned against cuts in our health service and education and led the protest against rail privatisation. She also pioneered a series of events to kickstart Thanet’s ailing economy.
But meanwhile a complaint about the Guido Fawkes smears was apparently enough for the NEC to launch an ‘investigation’ into Rebecca in July. For months, Rebecca heard nothing more as she worked tirelessly to win South Thanet for Labour. Then, in December, Rebecca was called in front of a three-person panel of the NEC. She was given a hearing of just one hour and, incredibly, only one member of the panel was there in person. The others took part by telephone.
The evidence against her consisted of three tweets published by Guido Fawkes. The tweets said that accusations levelled at suspended activist Jackie Walker were politically motivated, that antisemitism had been “weaponised by those who seek to silence anti-Zionist voices” and referred to “Accusations of AS [antisemitism] levelled in an attempt to discredit the left.”
Rebecca’s supporting evidence included testimony from party officials, a leading Oxford University academic specialising in antisemitism and a well-respected rabbi. These endorsements, Rebecca believed, demonstrated conclusively that neither she nor the tweets were remotely antisemitic.
But the NEC panel disagreed. They said they had decided not to endorse her candidacy because, in the light of the tweets, her “conduct does not meet the high standards that are expected of parliamentary candidates and has the potential to bring the party into disrepute.”
The decision sparked shock and anger among Labour Party members and supporters, not only in South Thanet but also in neighbouring constituencies.
Members had seen Rebecca in action - and they could bear witness that her conduct certainly did meet the “high standards expected of parliamentary candidates.” I, and so many who voted for Jeremy Corbyn as our leader, voted for a Labour Party in which grassroots democracy would flourish. In this instance, the NEC has not only ridden roughshod over grassroots democracy - it has also committed the most appalling breach of natural justice.
Worst of all, we have no appeal against the decision. Unless and until it reviews and reverses its decision, it is the NEC which has brought the Labour Party into disrepute, not Rebecca.
And our battle is not just for Rebecca but for justice and democracy in the party as a whole. A campaign to have Rebecca endorsed by the NEC has been set up; latest details at: https://www.facebook. com/Rebecca4Labour.
In anticipation of legal action there’s a crowdfunder at: https://tinyurl.com/ y7d9awfb. Legendary radical barrister Michael Mansfield has agreed to represent Rebecca.
A packed emergency GC overwhelmingly passed a motion to call on the NEC to endorse Rebecca immediately. There was a clear mood of rebellion.
is Vice-Chair of South Thanet CLP and chair of Thanet Momentum