Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Gavin Webb Latest – Democracy Wins!

If you’ve been following the story of Councillor Gavin Webb, in-out suspended by the party since April in a series of embarrassingly illiberal stomps from above, you may be happy to learn this morning that his latest suspension – the West Midlands Regional Party decreeing the day after Burton Liberal Democrats voted to adopt Gavin as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate that the members were wrong and stopping him standing – has been called off and he is now, as local members decided, officially Liberal Democrat PPC for Burton. And it’s not Gavin’s Liberalism that’s called into question by all this.

I’ve known Gavin for a good many years and disagreed with him almost as often as I’ve agreed with him, but I’m quite certain that he’s both a nice bloke and a conviction Liberal. He’s at about the furthest libertarian edge of the Liberal Democrats, and has a tendency to shoot his mouth off; well, fair enough. I’ve been accused of being on the fringes and being gobby often enough that I’m a bit wary of either of those being used as sticks to beat someone with.

Dodgy Suspension Number One

Back in April, Stoke Liberal Democrats – Gavin and his fellow councillors there having fallen out fairly comprehensively – decided to suspend Gavin from the party pretty much on the grounds of being too racy in the run-up to an election, and to think about it later. So this had nothing to do with any misconduct, but for Gavin shooting his mouth off with views such as his support for legalising prostitution, all drugs, firearms, and drink-driving so long as no-one is injured, as well as that he was uncouth enough to call a BNP councillor a fascist; some of which are party policy, some of which I disagree with, some of which are highly impractical, some of which I suspect no readers of this blog would object to, but all of which everyone knew he’d been espousing for years anyway.
“I’m shocked – shocked – to find that gambling is going on in here!”
Now, suspending for a moment your disbelief at a Liberal Democrat local party spending their time going witch-hunting a week before election day, you’ll be aware that, being a liberal and democratic party, there are rules that mean you can’t go chucking someone in an oubliette and that’s the end of them. There are rules about due process, getting a chance to answer your charges, and all within a decent span of time so they can’t just be deliberately ‘forgotten about’. To cut a long – three-and-a-half-month-long – story short, the party’s extremely keen and on the ball investigation started only the week before that fourteen-week time limit expired, Gavin was never offered proper charges to respond to nor a proper hearing, and so at the end of that colossal waste of time his membership was reinstated automatically, that rule being in place precisely to stop people doing that sort of cowardly, petty pissing about for eternity. Gavin having moved his membership to being part of a Liberal Democrat local party he got on with better rather than arguing for the sake of it, you might think that was the end of it.

Reinstated! Selected! Re-suspended! Um… Why?

Gavin, as a talented, hardworking and articulate party member with much to be articulate about, put himself forward to Liberal Democrat members in Burton for selection as their PPC. Before you can do that, incidentally, you have to go through a training and screening process to make sure you’re up to it and that you agree with the party’s core principles – which Gavin passed with flying colours, and which the Region had no problem with. Bear that in mind. So Gavin told me the story:
“At my hustings, at which the Region's Candidates Chair was in attendance, I was vigorously questioned by my Local Party which I answered openly and honestly – indeed, not every member agreed with everything I had to say but they by and large appreciated the message of individual rights, freedoms and responsibilities. In short, I made no bones about being a libertarian. I was selected overwhelmingly as the Liberal Democrat PPC for Burton.

“However, the following day the West Midlands Regional Executive met, they considered the report from my meeting [in ‘week thirteen’] with the Chair and Local Parties Officers, and decided to suspend me from standing for the Party, internally and externally, for a period of three years.”
Gavin had to make repeated requests even to get the reasons for his suspension, a week and a half after it happened, and he couldn’t forward them to me because the letter from the Region was “Confidential”. Come on. This is the Liberal Democrats, not a national security trial where the evidence has to be heard in camera! As Paul Walter put it succinctly, this is No way to treat a member.

After six months of this vindictive nonsense, Gavin was impatient to get on with fighting Labour in a seat where the MP is standing down and the Tories are split over local council conflicts of interests, while too many in the West Midlands Regional Liberal Democrats seemed impatient only with a Liberal Democrat who didn’t strictly follow the party line. For those who think he just enjoys stirring it, you might like to know that, though he’s been keeping me and others informed of what’s going on – to the extent that anyone could be bothered telling him – he’s generally asked for it not to be publicised until the story’s already come out in other places. For example, I’d known of his ludicrous second suspension for some time without posting on it, Gavin having asked me not to… Until he told me at Conference, amid many hugs, that the Daily Telegraph had asked him to comment on a hostile briefing from within the party, at which point he defended himself. Yes, that’s right: some parts of the party are too busy to talk to people they accuse, but not to talk to the press about them.

I’ve heard from Gavin again this morning, and it won’t come as any surprise to you to read that this latest suspension, too, has collapsed without a proper hearing, because the regional party was pathologically unable to follow due process and have admitted they cocked up the original ‘investigation’. And so Liberal Democrat members in Burton have the PPC they chose, and he can get on with fighting people who aren’t Liberal Democrats at all.

Now, come on – what’s just about the original, central kernel at the heart of Liberalism? Control of arbitrary power. Standing up to bullies. So even if you disagree with a lot of what Gavin Webb has to say, who’s displayed the most fundamental lack of understanding of what it means to be a Liberal here? All those involved in these alleged (but not in public) suspensions should be ashamed of themselves, and take the logs out of their own eyes before they go squinting at the specks in anyone else’s.

This morning, I’ve been writing to OMD:

Gavin was almost that pretty before he grew that astounding beard, you know.

Update: I don’t think I was sufficiently blatant above in linking the way Liberals stand up against arbitrary power above to the defeat in the House of Lords yesterday of the Labour Government’s plans to grossly extend the period in which people can be imprisoned without charge to 42 days, and from that to the way a Liberal Democrat was suspended without charge for 98 days, and then for some more time on top of that. So let me be unsubtle in placing that thought in your head.

Jennie draws our attention to the 42 days issue not being the only shameful thing in that bill, though, and refers us all to Chicken Yoghurt. This is a Labour scandal I’ve genteelly referred to once or twice myself as Crooked Coroners Corruption. Keep on about it to any MPs you know.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

And in at number 36 on The Golden Ton for 2008-9.

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I agree with this post so hard. It scares the living shit out of me that there are people in this party who clearly haven't even read the back of their membership cards...

Why would you join a party of Liberalism if you want to be an authoritarian arsehole? That's like joining the Labour party if you don't believe in socialism! Oh, wait...
Thanks for this excellent filling-in of the details, Alex. A couple of times I have had recourse to following the constitution regarding suspension. I am just utterly amazed that anyone can get away without following the rules to the letter. And it just utterly beggars belief that someone can get on the Approved Candidates List and be elected as a PPC and then be suspended afterwards! It is mindblowing!

It is just so shambolically incompetant, mixed with appalling vindictiveness, that I can't believe it!

Thank goodness that sanity has prevailed in the end. And thank goodness that Gavin is obviously made of fairly strong stuff. Anyone with a weaker constitution would have either resigned up front or had a nervous breakdown.
There are some serious questions to be asked about the competence of West Midlands Regional Party in my opinion.

No way does it take 3 months to investigate something where the essential facts are not in dispute.
We're a liberal party, where everyone has the right to express their views (hence things like 'One Member, One Vote'), and to punish someone for that (especially when they're espousing party policy like the legalisation of drugs) does not correlate with that principle.

thus, I assume that those in Stoke Local Party and West Midlands Regional Party who are behind this will be duly reprimanded for such vindictiveness.
Jennie, I know I’m hardly one to complain about verbosity, but I think there were a few redundant words in your comment – it works even better as: Why would you join a party of Liberalism if you want to be an authoritarian arsehole? That's like joining the Labour Party.

And yay for Paul, too. Great to see someone in the deeply sensible wing of the party defending Gavin so consistently and with such utter disbelief at how rubbish some bits of the party can be! Hywel and James, you have a point…
Leaving aside the apparent bampottery of the Liberal Party (which - from the sound of your post - seems to be available in a matching set of nuttiness with the Labour and Tory parties), it's reassuring in the extreme to see the Secret Coronor's Court will no longer take place:


Less good to see that the ide ahasn't been dropped altogether...
Thanks Alex
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