A principled party needs a complaints system that is trusted, transparent and respects due process
The Labour Party and its members have always articulated an alternative view of the society and world we want to see. To do this convincingly, we need to demonstrate the highest possible standards in our own behaviour and the environment we create in our party.
We are a party of anti-racists and anti-fascists, of LGBT+ activists, of people who have fought sexism, hatred and bigotry, of people who have spent their entire lives campaigning against oppression and injustice.
However, in such a large political organisation, unfortunately the potential exists for incidents rooted in prejudice to arise, whether consciously or through ignorance, through the limitations of our own awareness, understanding or experience. Incidents can also occur when people are deliberately trying to cause harm and wield power over another.
Whatever the cause, when incidents do occur, both the person who feels abused or attacked and the accused need to have a complaints system which they can trust, and which is transparent.
Good investigations take time. But they need to be as quick as possible, because this is a highly stressful situation for both the accuser and the accused.
In this situation the member whose experience has led them to make the complaint should feel affirmed, that they are believed and that they are supported throughout the process, knowing just what will happen at each stage. The accused too should be treated with dignity, with natural justice principles in mind. There should be support for both parties in dealing with the process.
Unfortunately, our disciplinary processes have often been drawn out and traumatic for everyone involved. I have known members whose mental health has really suffered whilst going through the ordeal. Of course, a disciplinary process will always involve some level of worry, but I am sure we can build a system which is less distressing.
More broadly, we need to decide what kind of culture we want to create within the Labour Party. Do we want, as a party, to prioritise punishment alone when an incident occurs? Or do we want a system and a culture which changes minds, which values collective learning and development in our members?
Punitive approaches alone are no good at changing people’s minds. They can even entrench views. In a sense, that route is too simplistic. The Labour Party I want is one which treats all incidents with the utmost seriousness, but also believes in the potential for change – and takes that approach into wider society.
It is possible to have a complaints system which is trusted, transparent and respects due process; that delivers justice and changes minds. If we’re going to create a principled party we can all be proud of, we can and must do all these things.