Labour general secretary Jennie Formby rebukes Tom Watson in letter to Labour MPs

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Tom Watson in letter
Labour general secretary Jennie Formby rebukes Tom Watson in letter to Labour MPs

Jennie Formby has sent an email to Tom Watson, copying in all Labour MPs and Lords, rebuking him  for seeking to personally “log and monitor” complaints made by the parliamentary Labour party about antisemitism and abuse within the party.

In it she lays out the Labour Party’s formal complaints process and accuses him of having “decided, without consultation and without regard to existing processes,” to forward complaints to his private email address.

It comes after Watson’s announcement on Monday that he would personally take charge of antisemitism and bullying complaints. In an email to all MPs, he said that he would “like to see any issue or complaint” that they raise with Formby.

But in an email today, Formby told Watson: “It is absolutely inappropriate for you to set up a vague parallel complaints monitoring system.” She raised the party’s responsibilities under GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018.

“I am therefore perplexed by your suggestion and am not sure what exactly you are trying to achieve.”

In her letter, Formby accused Watson of having undermined the work of Labour Party staff in dealing with complaints, who she said found his intervention “extremely distressing”. She announced that as well as publishing statistics on Labour’s antisemitism cases, the party will appoint Lord Falconer to scrutinise its disciplinary procedures and ensure complaints are dealt with quickly and correctly.

Formby asks all Labour MPs and Lords not to send complaints to Watson but to submit them through the formal party channels. It sets up a tussle for power within the Labour party between the deputy leader and the general secretary.

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The full letter from Jennie Formby:

To:  Tom Watson

Cc:  All Labour MPs and Lords

Dear Tom,

Thank you for forwarding to me a copy of your letter to all MPs and Lords. You raise several points that require clarification and I will take each of these in turn in my response.

As you are aware, I have always been clear that members of the PLP should contact me at any time if they have concerns or issues requiring support. I have done my best to be responsive to these, particularly in meeting parliamentary colleagues whenever this has been requested. This continues to be coordinated by me and my team and does not require any prompting.

With regards to the reporting of complaints, as you are also fully aware, there is a clear single process for reporting complaints which begins with an email to the Complaints team at  complaints@labour.org.uk . As stated above, I am happy for MPs to contact me should they have queries about any particular case which directly concerns them or if they are the complainant. However, for reasons that I know you fully understand, such as coordination and consistency, the initial complaints should be made in accordance with our agreed processes.

You have decided, without consultation and without regard to the existing process, to ask colleagues who raise issues or complaints with me, to forward them to your private email address, as you will be ‘logging and monitoring’ all complaints.  It is absolutely inappropriate for you to set up a vague parallel complaints monitoring system.  Both the Party itself, and you as an individual MP, have very strict responsibilities under GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 to safeguard members’ data and ensure it is processed only for clearly defined and lawful purposes.

Information about members of a political party is likely to be “special category” data attracting enhanced standards of protection. The Party has elaborate systems in place to ensure that data relating to complaints and disciplinary procedures involving members is processed securely and within a compliant environment. The suggestion that you as an individual data controller should receive and store data relating to complaints unrelated to your personal role as an MP, on a private email address, or indeed any other system, is completely unacceptable and exposes you, and the Party, to significant compliance risks. Furthermore, you will undermine the work that my staff and I are doing and will confuse and pollute the existing formal process, compromising it and slowing it down.

Politicians have no role, nor should they, in processing or in monitoring complaints. All of the extensive work that has been done by the NEC working groups and the team in GLU, with the advice and support of the Executive Director of Legal Affairs, has been to specifically safeguard the complaints process from political interference. I am therefore perplexed by your suggestion and am not sure what exactly you are trying to achieve.

I have been very clear that I want to increase transparency to build trust in the system. Therefore, in addition to securing the agreement of the NEC to publish statistics on our antisemitism cases, I am delighted that Lord Falconer has agreed to work with us as a critical independent friend for the Labour Party. He will be scrutinising the Party’s disciplinary procedures and processes, and how they operate in practice; to assess and confirm that they are effective in ensuring cases are dealt with fairly, consistently and with reasonable speed; and are adequately robust in dealing with misconduct by party members.  In strict accordance with GDPR rules, he will have  appropriate access to our staff and to any documentation he considers it necessary  to see.  Lord Falconer is a distinguished and highly experienced QC, as well as a very widely respected member of the House of Lords, so is an ideal person to carry out this role. Our arrangements with him will in no sense seek to establish a parallel database or processing operation.

In addition to pointing out how inappropriate your suggestion is, I mustalso ask you to consider the impact that your letter has had on our staff in the Governance and Legal team. They have been working incredibly hard to clear all complaints, not just those of antisemitism, including the considerable backlog that had built up from 2016.

The suggestions you outlined so publicly have understandably led the staff to believe that their work and dedication is being questioned by you and coming from such a senior member of the party leadership, they have found this extremely distressing.

Since taking on the role as General Secretary I have been unremittingly clear that the welfare of our staff is extremely important, and I would ask you both to respect the contribution that they make and to recognise that they are unable to rebut or respond to any criticism you make in the public domain.

I am copying this to all Labour MPs and Lords to ask them not to send complaints to you or to any other unauthorised individual, but to submit them through the proper channels as outlined above.

Regards

Jennie

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