By Esther Townsend
In the last two months the Socialist Party has come under increased pressure about its relationship with RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley. Hedley has been accused by his former partner Caroline Leneghan of violent abuse, and in a separate incident is documented making extremely sexist remarks towards a young woman activist.
Although the Socialist Party has issued no further statements since its earlier defences of Hedley in March and April, it seems as if its members and organisers have been briefed on what to say in response to criticism. A number of themes keep emerging in SP members’ defence of their organisation’s record. We have produced this short statement to reply to them.
For instance: our comrades report that, in debates at the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts conference in November, Socialist Students national organiser Claire Laker-Mansfield made all the arguments which we respond to here. She made similar arguments at a Socialist Students meeting on women’s liberation at Sheffield University the following week. There are many other examples we could cite, and no doubt many more we do not know about.
We urge everyone to read the our briefing published in October, which discusses the cases in some detail, as well as linking to Caroline Leneghan’s blog and to the SP’s public statements. We think it stands up well. You can also read Cathy Nugent’s comments on the case, published on the Workers’ Liberty website in July, here.
Argument 1: Those accused should be innocent until proven guilty
The briefing linked to above says quite categorically: “We are NOT claiming to know for sure whether Steve Hedley is guilty. We accept that in legal or disciplinary terms he should be regarded as innocent until proved guilty (and our concern here is not to try to reopen the RMT investigation).”
That is not an issue here, but a straw man to distract attention from the real issues, which are:
a) Caroline Leneghan’s claims (see here – warning for descriptions of violence and images of injuries);
b) The SP’s handling of the case, including its implied attitude to Caroline Leneghan;
c) Indisputable (and undisputed), documented evidence in the separate case where Hedley behaved towards a young woman activist in a very sexist way – about which the SP has never said a word.
Argument 2: Caroline Leneghan was not a Socialist Party member
Some SP members have argued that since Caroline Leneghan was never an SP member, there is no comparison with the SWP’s Martin Smith case. It is hard to see how this makes sense. Caroline’s non-membership in the SP is surely irrelevant. The case is different from the Martin Smith one, but not necessarily less serious. Even if Caroline had never had any connection to the left or labour movement (in fact she is a socialist and was an RMT activist while she worked on the railways) that would not change the seriousness of her accusations. (In any case, even if for some reason you think this case is less serious than the Martin Smith one, why is that the standard of measure? How does the “fact” of not behaving as badly as the SWP exonerate the SP?)
Argument 3: Steve Hedley was exonerated by the police and by the RMT investigation
Argument 4: Steve Hedley is no longer a member of the SP
When the Caroline Leneghan case first became public, Steve Hedley resigned from the SP. As our briefing explains, this changed nothing politically, since the SP continued to promote him as a good socialist they would work closely with. At the SP’s Socialism 2013 event on 2-3 November, Hedley was present, welcomed as a friend of the organisation. We have been told – though we do not have confirmation – that he was a speaker at the event.
Hedley’s resignation does not alter the SP’s ability to take a critical stance towards him: instead they have continued to collaborate closely with and promote him, trying to use the fact that he is no longer actually an SP member as a (not very effective) shield.
Argument 5: Janine Booth’s vote on the RMT exec
Here the SP passes from evasion to outright lying, by claiming that Workers’ Liberty and Women’s Fightback supporter Janine Booth voted on the RMT Council of Executives for the report proposing the dropping of the investigation into Caroline’s allegations against Hedley. (Sometimes this is spun as a report “exonerating” Hedley, which – we repeat – is not right.) This claim is simply untrue. In the only vote on the RMT executive on the report, Janine voted with the minority who wanted to reject it by referring it back.
Argument 6: All the SP did was report the facts
SP members have also claimed that all their organisation did was report the facts of the case. As our briefing explains in detail, this is not true. The SP statements distorted some facts, omitted others and presented things in such a way as to promote Hedley’s version of events and his political narrative.
Argument 7: The SP has a good record on domestic violence
Whatever the SP’s previous record on domestic violence, its record could not be good – because of this. Wherever the SP leadership stands on domestic violence in general and in the abstract, in this case that issue came below its desire to stay in with a “left-wing” trade union official. Of course, that calls into question how serious their views on the subject are.
The facts remain
1. That the Steve Hedley/Caroline Leneghan case is, while different in various respects, comparably serious to the SWP’s Martin Smith cases.
2. That, like the SWP, the Socialist Party has put its self-perceived organisational interests above socialist political principle.
3. That the separate, documented incident of sexism is, by itself, a condemnation of Hedley. The fact that the SP has never commented on it is disgraceful.
4. That there has been far less upheaval in the SP about any of this than there has been in the SWP about the Martin Smith cases.
We have no doubt that the Socialist Party will accuse us of raising these issues, again, for sectarian or factional reasons. All we can say is that we think the issues are extremely serious, and we do not care if raising them leads to such accusations.
We need major changes in the left to challenge the culture of sexism and lack of respect for women’s rights that exists in various forms – as part of a wider transformation of the movement’s culture, to end the situation where socialists routinely put apparatus above ideas and ideals. The behaviour of the Socialist Party’s leadership in this case suggests it is part of the problem, not the solution. What will Socialist Party members do?