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WLG Steering Committee Statement on Chris Williamson MP

You will no doubt have seen that Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North, has been suspended by the Labour party and had the whip withdrawn pending an investigation into his conduct following complaints, including from other Labour MPs. This relates to comments that he made at a Sheffield Momentum meeting about Labour’s approach to anti-Semitism and his booking of a room at the House of Commons for Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), to enable them to show a film about the suspended Labour activist, Jackie Walker.

The initial announcement of an investigation into these matters was only later followed by the suspension and withdrawal of the whip, seemingly in response to demands from a number of prominent party figures, including the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, and a letter from the Tribune Group of 38 Labour MPs, which includes the Welsh MPs, Chris Elmore, David Hanson, Stephen Kinnock, Anna McMorrin, Owen Smith and Jo Stevens.

There has been much discussion of this issue, within and beyond the Labour party, and the WLG Steering Committee felt it important to put our own position on the record, via the following statement:

The Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) Steering Committee is concerned by the suspension of Chris Williamson and by much of the public discussion of his case. We accept that the party needed to investigate the issues that gave rise to the complaint against him but we believe that the suspension and withdrawal of the whip was unfair and unnecessary and that much of the commentary by Labour politicians and media commentators misinterprets Chris Williamson’s comments and misrepresents his attitude towards anti-Semitism.

Chris Williamson has been accused of suggesting that Labour has apologised too readily to people in the Jewish community who may have experienced anti-Semitism. It seems clear to us, however, that this was not his intent; rather, he was seeking to argue that Labour politicians have often been too quick to accept questionable claims about the scale of the problem and ill-informed criticism of its handling of it, rather than accurately quantifying the incidence of reported cases* and acknowledging the party’s positive record in challenging racism, while admitting that more could still be done.

One may agree or disagree with this view, or feel that Chris Williamson should have taken greater care in the way he expressed it (as he himself appears to accept in his public apology) but it is surely well within the scope of legitimate debate. No significant Labour officer or elected representative has disputed that anti-Semitism is abhorrent or sought to deny that it exists within the Labour party. But to seek to close down any discussion about the prevalence of anti-Semitism or the best way of fighting it is to undermine Labour’s best traditions of healthy debate and to hamper efforts to root out prejudice and address the conditions that allow it to develop. The conduct of some commentators also risks creating a “hostile environment” in which anyone defending Palestinian rights and criticising the Israeli state fears being tarnished as “anti-Semitic”.

Chris Williamson has a long record of actively opposing racism and fascism in all their forms – indeed, a more impressive record in this respect than many of his detractors can claim. Like Jeremy Corbyn, he has distinguished himself by speaking his mind fearlessly on a range of issues, from Labour’s housing policy to the campaign to undermine the elected government of Venezuela. Unlike many other MPs, he has been a strong advocate of democratisation within the party and a loyal supporter of our elected Leader. 

We find the ‘trial by media’ to which Chris has been subjected deeply unedifying; those who object to his comments and actions are, of course, within their rights to submit formal complaints but to air their grievances so loudly and publicly can only undermine Labour at a time when we should be united in holding the Tory government to account and risks denying Chris Williamson a fair hearing.

We note that the Labour NEC decided some time ago to abandon the automatic use of administrative suspension pending the outcome of a disciplinary complaint, in all but the most serious cases (such as when the member in question poses some sort of ongoing threat to others). We see no justification for suspending Chris Williamson and call for his suspension to be ended and the whip restored.

WLG remains implacably opposed to anti-Semitism, along with all other forms of racism, such as Islamophobia, and bigotry and prejudice of any kind. We offer our unconditional solidarity to all those who encounter such hatred, regardless of whether we otherwise agree with them politically. We believe that all cases of anti-Semitic abuse should continue to be dealt with through the party’s disciplinary procedures and we applaud the steps taken under Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby to implement the Chakrabarti recommendations, including the expansion of the NCC to deal with cases more quickly, as well as the efforts made to educate our members about the issue.  

We believe, however, that the tone of public discussion on this issue often militates against the kind of frank and serious discussion needed to develop effective solutions. The strident calls for punitive action against Chris Williamson are an unhealthy symptom of this problem and we believe he deserves our support in seeking a fair hearing.
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*Statistics published by the General Secretary reveal that, over the last ten months, complaints received have led to 453 members being investigated for anti-Semitism; it has been pointed out that this amounts to 1/12th of 1% of the total party membership.

BBC Report: Mark Drakeford may overturn Independent Living Fund changes

The following article was published on BBC Wales News Online  and this blogger takes no credit or responsibility for anything written below.

Welsh Labour leadership candidate Mark Drakeford has told supporters he is willing to reverse changes to funding for disabled people if there is evidence they are losing out.

Councils have been put in charge of support for 1,300 former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

But research by BBC Wales found that about 100 people had care packages cut.

Mr Drakeford blamed the UK government for breaking up “that part of the welfare state”.

The money was protected until earlier this year when the Welsh Government scrapped its Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), and passed the responsibility to councils.

The ILF was provided by the UK government until 2015, when it was transferred to English councils and devolved governments.

Research by the BBC Wales Live programme showed about 100 of the 600 recipients who have been reassessed have had care packages cut.

In response on Wednesday, the minister in charge, Huw Irranca-Davies, said he did not believe there would be any “losers” as a result of changes.

Mr Irranca-Davies has previously said he will not “rethink the policy in its entirety.”

But at a leadership campaign event in Blackwood on Thursday, Mr Drakeford said if an independent evaluation “shows the new system is not working as well as the old one then I would be prepared to reverse it because this is money intended for a very specific number of people for a very specific purpose”.

He blamed the UK government for “breaking up that part of the welfare state”, saying the ILF had “more or less disappeared” in England.

 

“I do understand that people who rely on the Independent Living Fund say to me when it was in a special grant we knew it was there and we had confidence that money would come to us,” Mr Drakeford said.

“The money is the same as it always was and most local authorities I believe are doing a decent job of continuing to hand the money on.

“But we are beginning to pick up information that in some places that is not happening and the money isn’t going to ILF recipients in the way that it would have been last year.”

Huw Irranca-Davies

 

Mr Irranca-Davies had agreed to the evaluation, he said, adding that it would be carried out by someone “who is nothing at all to do with local authorities or the Welsh Government”.

If evidence shows the payments work as well as before “then I think we should carry on with what we are doing now”, Mr Drakeford said.

“But if the evidence is the opposite – that the money isn’t reaching people for whom it is intended – then I think I will be prepared to look again and go back to the system that the recipients of ILF have had confidence in up until now.”

The promise drew applause from a small audience of supporters at the event in Blackwood where Mr Drakeford laid out plans to help the least well-off in society.

He said he would be prepared to set targets to reduce the number of children taken into care and promised he would appoint a cabinet minister responsible for housing.

Campaigner Nathan Lee Davies with Jeremy Corbyn

 

Welsh Labour’s Spring conference passed a motion supporting a campaign to reinstate the Welsh Independent Living Grant.

‘Save WILG’ has been run by Labour member Nathan Lee Davies and has had backing from Welsh Labour politicians and Welsh Labour Grassroots – the Welsh arm of the left-wing Momentum campaign group.

But the Welsh Government has pressed ahead with the transfer of the money and the responsibility to local authorities.

More on this story

 

Activist celebrates after Welsh Labour backs independent living campaign #SaveWILG

Taken from an original article by John Pring on the Disability News Service website:

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A disabled activist who has campaigned to save the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) is celebrating after the Welsh Labour annual conference voted to back his campaign.

Nathan Lee Davies has led a campaign to force the Labour-run Welsh government to reverse its decision to scrap the grant, which was introduced to support disabled people with high support needs in Wales to live independently after the UK government closed the Independent Living Fund in 2015.

An estimated 1,300 people in Wales receive support through the WILG scheme.

And this week, at their annual conference, members of Welsh Labour voted in favour of a motion that called on their government to maintain WILG, at least until the next Welsh assembly elections in 2021.

Before the vote, Davies had also secured support from Labour’s UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who posed for a picture holding one of the campaign’s “WHERE THERE’S A W.I.L.G. THERE’S A WAY” tee-shirts.

After the vote, Davies posted a blog in which he described his “emotional day” following a victory he said was “key for disabled rights across Wales and throughout the UK”.

He added: “We should all rejoice while remembering the fight is far from over as we need to ensure Welsh Labour listen to the will of their members.”

Davies has previously described his terror at the prospect of his cash-strapped local authority taking over full responsibility for providing his care package, having been told that without WILG his own care package would be reduced from 86.5 hours to just 31 hours a week.

He has described the campaign as a “life or death” fight.

He told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday) that the passing of the motion was “obviously the high point of our ever-growing campaign” but that it “does not mean that we have succeeded in securing WILG”.

He said: “We must continue with our campaign and ensure the Welsh government listen and act upon the wishes of their members.

“One thing is for sure, we won’t rest until we preserve and improve the Welsh Independent Living Grant.”

He thanked the cross-party and union support for his campaign – including the “wonderfully supportive” Clwyd constituency Labour party, which proposed the motion – and the other recipients of WILG.

He particularly praised members of Welsh Labour Grassroots – which represents the Momentum movement in Wales – who he said had “worked tirelessly to ensure independent living remains an option for those with high care and support needs”.

Davies is hoping that the Welsh government – which will have a new first minister in the autumn after Carwyn Jones announced that he would be standing down – will now reverse its decision to scrap WILG.

A spokeswoman for Welsh Labour said: “As with all motions passed at conference, this will now be considered by Welsh Labour’s policy process ahead of the next assembly elections.”

The Welsh government announced in 2016 that, after a two-year transition period, it would transfer all the £27 million-a-year provided by the UK government to support former ILF-users in Wales directly to councils.

It decided there would be no continuation of the interim WILG scheme it had been running as a stopgap since the Department for Work and Pensions closed ILF in June 2015, and would not set up a new Welsh ILF, even though such a scheme had been set up in Scotland.

All the £27 million-a-year funding is set to be transferred to Welsh local authorities this year, and they will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients by 31 March 2019.

The Welsh government’s new Social Services and Wellbeing Act is supposed to provide new rights for people to access a re-assessment of their support at any time, with local authorities under new legal duties to support independent living.

It believes that this is a more progressive system than the one operating in England.

But Davies has said previously that the decision to transfer the £27 million to councils and close WILG meant the Welsh government had “sold disabled people down the river” and was “washing their hands of all responsibility for social care to former ILF recipients and transferring the pressure onto local authorities”.

The Campaign Continues… #SaveWILG

Life is hectic at the moment.  I have just had a meeting with Huw Irranca-Davies to discuss the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant.  This was probably the most important meeting of my life and others present – including Ian Lucas MP – said I performed well, but as always I am my own worst critic and I feel that I should have pushed things further.  We were limited to time and I had to loads that I could not say so I am proposing another meeting in Cardiff if this guarantees us a longer meeting to discuss all the essential details.

The talk seemed to be more about how the Welsh Government could get local authorities – such as the hapless one in Wrexham – to fulfil their legal obligations in a more efficient manner.  I kept pointing out that this was not good enough as it would still leave us without representation from an external, third-party body that is independent in nature.  This is the bottom line of what we want and I will continue to campaign until we get it, although I am not holding  my breath as we search for humility and humanity within the Welsh Government.

I am overloaded with things to do as next Wednesday is the opening of the #SaveWILG art exhibition at Theatr Clwyd in Mold, North Wales.  The official media day for this is on February 2nd while on February 3rd we have a community awareness day for the #SaveWILG campaign.  We have managed to line up lots of exciting entertainment and a really good day is in store.  We hope to see you there 🙂

Our North-East Wales WLG/M comrades are centrally involved in organising this great event. It will be a fantastic occasion, but we need to get as many people there as possible! This is a day of entertainment and information. There is alcohol, soft drinks and food on sale at the venue and there is full Disabled access and a Disabled toilet. Some of our comrades are performing, but we would love to hear back from you or anyone you know how is in any way creative and/or a performer. Please do get in contact with either Vic Grout (vic.grout@glyndwr.ac.uk) or Louise Bosanquet (louise.bosanquet@hotmail.co.uk) if you would like to perform or know someone who would. The least we hope anyone can do is promote this event by sharing the flyer and printing it off and putting around your area, disability groups, CLPs etc etc. Raising awareness of the event is crucial to the campaign’s success! The event is FREE to all. Please do help in any way you can!