Nick Cohen

Sally Gimson’s deselection and the battle for Labour’s soul

Sally Gimson's deselection and the battle for Labour's soul
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Anyone who doubts that the far left is more interested in winning the faction fight within the Labour party than a general election, should look at how it has treated Sally Gimson, the Labour candidate in Bassetlaw.

At least she was the Labour candidate until yesterday when Jon Lansman, a director of Momentum (it is a company, so the anti-capitalist campaigners can retain corporate control) and two other members of Labour’s National Executive Committee, Andi Fox from the transport union TSSA and Sarah Owen from the GMB, deselected her.

Lansman and his comrades did not have the courtesy to explain to the world why. Indeed, we will see that every courtesy and every element of due process has been absent in the Gimson case. The BBC reported that it ‘understood’ that the deselection came after ‘complaints relating to "very serious allegations" concerning "protected characteristics" – this can relate to issues surrounding race, disability, and sexuality’.

What nonsense. Gimson was deselected for no other reason than she wasn’t part of the ruling clique. The complaints don’t stand up to a minute’s scrutiny. Fittingly they were barely given a minute’s scrutiny by Lansman and his comrades. Gimson was a moderate and the far left wanted the seat for one of its own. It had to chuck out Chris Williamson earlier in the day, because his Jew baiting had become too much for even this Labour party to bear, and someone had to pay.

That’s all there is to say. But I should go through the detail as Gimson’s tale illustrates the level of cynicism in contemporary politics.

John Mann, the sitting MP, resigned to become the government’s independent adviser on anti-Semitism. He has been a vocal and admirable critic of racism in the Labour party, and as his words had so little effect, it was time to move on. Corbyn and his supporters were delighted. Not only had they lost a conscientious voice that never failed to ask hard questions, but the safeish Bassetlaw seat appeared to be theirs.

The NEC drew up a shortlist and clearly expected Keir Morrison, a Nottinghamshire councillor, who announced on Twitter ‘I'm proud to be the ONLY candidate endorsed by @unitetheunion’ to win. He had God’s benediction, or Len McCluskey’s – which amounts to the same thing in the Labour party. To make sure he won the seat they put in Gimson, a Labour councillor from Camden, as a token candidate. Crucially, as events were to turn out, the NEC told her it had vetted her with ‘due diligence’. If they calculated that a Nottinghamshire local party would never go for a posh bird from London, they clearly did not vet her thoroughly enough. Sally Gimson is the type of woman who has kept the Labour movement going for more than a century: open, generous, cheerful and tireless. She was always going to win the nomination.

On Friday, the NEC told her that she had to answer multiple allegations against her. It warned her not to talk to anyone about the case. Gimson wisely retained the services of Mishcon de Reya.

When the 'trial' came it was no trial at all. Gimson was not allowed to attend the NEC ‘court’ or know the names of her accusers. Accusations were garbled at her down the phone. Lansman then said he had more important matters to attend to, and that was that.

Gimson believes she knows who the accusers are but is currently unable to prove anything because of the clandestine way in which the proceedings took place. The validity of the accusations can be gauged though by the fact that not only has the Bassetlaw Labour party protested her removal, but Gimson’s constituency party in Camden has said:

In other words, Lansman refused to let Gimson contest the charges against her in a proper manner and then refused to act on evidence that they were false.

Mischon de Reya are a very pricey firm of solicitors. Paradoxically, the best thing that could happen to Labour would be if Gimson sued them and won. The party would have to pay a fortune in legal fees but at least it would have a realistic candidate in Bassetlaw. Too much is made of Brexit. In constituencies like  Bassetlaw the left’s support for terrorism and hostile foreign powers and its inability to show that it loves Queen and country, is as much a reason for white-working class Labour voters to think again. The seat isn’t that safe: the Labour majority is a little under 5,000. Gimson stood a chance of assuaging the fears of doubtful voters and holding the seat.

But then the far left isn’t interested in winning elections; or isn’t only interested in winning elections. It wants to win control of Labour, which is why Tom Watson and so many others are walking away, and why I wonder if Gimson will regret it if she does decide to stay and fight.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

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