September 22nd, 2016


Some thoughts on my suspension

As people know, I received my ballot in the Labour Party leadership election and voted rather late, on the 14th, after a series of complaints, in the course of which I was told that a large batch had been meant to go out on 24th August and that there had been a glitch. On the 17th, I received a letter dated the 16th which said that I had been suspended from the Labour Party, and my vote disallowed, on the basis of abuse contrary to the rules which I had committed on 6th May and 3rd December as well as on other dates. Thanks to the kind offices of Jane Carnall, I have looked at my political tweets for those days and am mystified as to how I have committed abuse within the meaning of the rule book ie sexism and racism, and foul language.

On the 6th of May I said ‘Imagine what Labour's results in England would have been without constant plots and bitching’. On the 3rd December I was primarily involved in defending the freedom of speech of Labour Party members in the aftermath of the Syria vote, sometimes in direct dialogue with Tom Watson and Andy Burnham. The only conceivably relevant tweets are these : ‘ Earlier I referred to Hilary Benn as a lickspittle running dog of colonialism ad imperialism. I did not, of course, intend to hurt his feels ‘ and ‘ I don't especially want to swear at MPs. I will fight for the right to swear at MPs because I wish to retain the right to use biting sarcasm ‘. A few days earlier I had said that the right to say ‘fuck off’ to Tom Watson was an important right and in reference to his vote and how disgusting I thought it, I told him that he could get me expelled if he didn’t like it. And that’s it – a discussion of the role ot swearing and other forms of strong language in political discourse as a vent for strong views about mass murder as policy.

I don’t swear on line regularly myself – you are more likely to find the word ‘fuck’ in my poems than in my tweets. In any case, the occasion on which Jess Phillips publicly told Diane Abbott to fuck off and boasted of having done so is pretty clear evidence that those particular words are not a disciplinary offence in the Labour Party, so foul language has to be very foul to qualify as abuse.

I didn't use the words 'fuck off' on 3rd December but my dialogue with Tom Watson would have linked to the tweet a few days earlier in which I did talk of 'the right to say fuck off to Tom Watson', which is not abuse, but a discussion of the right of free speech and its limits. That would be enough for a bot to pick up.

‘Lickspittle running dog’ is Maoist phraseology rather than foul language and is any case something I would never use entirely seriously – it’s what I said about Hilary Benn when very angry but even then it is hard to see how, though rude, it contravenes the rules. More generally, if in the heat of the moment I were to use language that could be construed as racist or sexist, which is highly unlikely, my friends would point this out to me.

I am deeply offended at my suspension and the claim that I have done something wrong. I have, however, a theory as to how it happened, a very worrying theory.

It’s hard to see how even with a lot of volunteers and staff working full time on it, the Labour Party could have managed to suspend so many people in so short a time – a record number in Labour history, I would guess, even given the rise of social media – without automating the process with bots and algorithms.

I think I have been suspended for the word ‘bitching’ which is not racist or sexist but which contains the word ‘bitch’ which is sexist. A really useless bot would pick it up and not notice the letters round it. I think furthermore that this is a plausible explanation of why so many people who have been suspended cannot imagine what they have been suspended for – no-one is doing proper quality control on bots which are primed to search for a variety of words, and do not notice when those words are syllables in larger words or if they are being used ironically, in quotation marks and in very specific contexts.

Iain McNicols is a very intelligent man and must be aware that this is happening, and I am forced to conclude that he knows and does not care. Another strong indicator as to his motives is that he has chosen to interpret the rules as meaning that anyone accused of abuse should be suspended without further ado and any investigation of the accusation deferred until after the leadership election and the conference. That decision is clearly motivated by bias – it is also the jurisprudence of the Queen of Hearts - ‘Verdict First, Trial Afterwards’ rather than anything which belongs in a democratic organization. It is a disgrace that the ‘Corbyn’s supporters are vile abusers’ narrative has become so prevalent that liberal commentators are not outraged by this, even without it’s being proved that the accusations are not personal denunciations but based on algorithms and bots.

It’s rather worrying that the pattern of late receipt of votes, endless complaints, arrival of votes, instant suspension of membership for alleged abuse, is not limited to me but appears to be widespread.

It is also hard to see how so many people are going to get due process on the investigation and appeals procedure this side of the next General election.

It is also rather worrying that the form letter that comes out informing people of suspension tells us that we have been denounced. This creates a poisonous atmosphere both locally and, in the case of those of us who are public figures for various reasons, professionally – if in fact the denunciation has come from a piece of code rather than a person, that is particularly irresponsible of the Compliance Unit.

Further, the use of bots to decide guilt or innocence is a worrying precedent. Imagine what a totalitarian government could do with it – imagine what a government department like the DWP may be doing with it as we speak.

Cardinal Richelieu said that seven honest words were enough to find some basis to hang a man. Iain McNicol has surpassed him.