ReportsGreg Hadfield

The Freedom to Speak of Socialism in Brighton

ReportsGreg Hadfield
The Freedom to Speak of Socialism in Brighton

WITCH-HUNT IS NOT THE WORD I would use. McCarthyism is more appropriate. Brutish thuggery and vile intimidation best describe what confronts one of our bravest Members of Parliament. This is not an article about the normal give-and-take of political discourse. Nor is it about the rantings of fringe figures on the periphery of civilised behaviour. What Chris Williamson, the socialist MP for Derby North, experienced in two weeks in Brighton and Hove - bravely and unwaveringly - will cause profound concern to any socialist, any democrat, who cares about freedom of speech. And law and order.

This article is all the more shocking because Mr Williamson’s opponents include high-profile representatives and lay members of the Labour Party. Central is the worrying behaviour of Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove.

The events shed a fascinating light on myriad organisations and individuals determined to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming our Prime Minister. However frightening recent weeks have been, I offer a forensic, dispassionate, and well evidenced account of the background to the recent controversial visit of Mr Williamson to Brighton on Thursday, 8th August.

What I will not do is discuss why the MP was recently suspended - then unsuspended, then suspended again - by the Labour Party. Disciplinary processes within the party are confidential and anyone who has gone through the process and maintained their membership throughout - as I have - should be regarded as innocent until proven otherwise. Cases are not judged in the court of mob rule - even when the ‘mob’ comprises anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. Importantly, Mr Williamson faces no accusation or sanction from any of his parliamentary colleagues.

As the event organiser, my plan was for a public meeting about a democratic, socialist economy. I agreed a date with Mr Williamson, a proponent of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and booked a venue I have used many times before, in my home constituency of Brighton Pavilion. Within hours, Mr Kyle’s office - and the little-known Sussex Jewish Representative Council - had complained to the venue and pressured it into cancelling my booking. Mr Kyle said publicly: “I made my views known - our city should not be a welcoming place for people who bait the Jewish community or sew [sic] seeds of division.”

There we had it: Mr Kyle, a Labour MP, had successfully intervened to stop another MP from speaking in a neighbouring constituency that Mr Kyle did not represent. I appealed to Caroline Lucas to express support; the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion did not even acknowledge my email.

z Worse was to come - for which Mr Kyle must shoulder responsibility. His initial intervention, in effect, ‘gave permission’ to what opponents of Mr Williamson - including many of Mr Kyle’s supporters - did next. Within hours of me announcing a seafront hotel as the replacement venue, two men approached hotel staff, warning of “consequences” if the meeting went ahead. Meanwhile, others telephoned (female) staff and called them a c-word that few would use.

Barely 48 hours before the event, the hotel - which, in full knowledge of the content and context, had given an “irrevocable commitment” to withstand undemocratic pressure - cancelled because of “abuse and threats”. I met the manager and immediately understood why he had no choice. (Subsequently, Mr Kyle claimed the same manager had told him there had been no intimidation.) A final back-up venue was Friends’ Meeting House (FMH), a Quaker venue that has a long and distinguished record of defending free speech by hosting controversial meetings. I decided to keep the venue secret; I told only Sussex police, emphasising all 250-plus registered attendees would meet nearby in the city centre shortly before the 7pm meeting.

Unfortunately, even before I confidentially informed the police, a convicted criminal helped engineer a “Twitterstorm” - combined with telephone calls and emails - aimed at Quakers in Britain. It was, however, only when Sussex police stated they could not guarantee the safety of the venue, its staff or Mr Williamson that FMH reluctantly withdrew.

With less than three hours to go - and with Mr Williamson aware of the threats to his safety, without security, in an open-air, unregulated public space - nearly 200 comrades sat in Regency Square, Brighton to hear a speech about a democratic, socialist economy.

This is what solidarity looks like. This is what free speech sounds like. In our city. In our name. And this is what Mr Kyle needs to learn.

Meanwhile, Mr Williamson prepares to address a succession of fringe meetings during the Labour Party conference in Brighton. We will not be stopped.

  • Greg Hadfield is a member of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party. Read a fuller version of this article on his blog:    

was elected secretary of
Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party on
July 9th; the results were ‘voided’ on July
14th; he was suspended on October 26th. He
blogs at
Twitter: @greghadfield