85 year old Ray Thompson: I have not brought the Labour Party into disrepute

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Guest post by Ray Thompson, of North West Durham Constituency Labour Party. Ray has been informed that he is being investigated by the Labour Party for comments made on social media and in leaflets that he has distributed, specifically about the Teaching Assistant dispute. For details of Ray’s notice of investigation, see here. This is a letter Ray has written to the Unison County Durham Local Government branch, where he is an honorary life member, asking for assistance:

“Dear Branch Secretary,

Request for Legal Advice or Assistance

I am an Honorary Life Member of Unison and a member of the NW Durham Labour Party. I have received a letter from Labour Party head office notifying me that I am being investigated following allegations that I have brought the Labour Party into disrepute. The letter does not identify who made the allegations. I have had an email from a Mr Westerman, the LP investigating officer asking me to take part in a telephone interview with him to discuss the allegations. I have informed Mr Westerman that I am not prepared to take part in such an interview until I have obtained legal advice on the matter. I am also angry that I am apparently expected to co- operate in an investigation into allegations made against me by anonymous people, although I have not made that point to Mr Westerman. The letter from LP head office also contained a dossier of seventeen items written by me which had been compiled from social media and leaflets I have published.
As an Honorary member I am asking the Durham branch to arrange legal assistance for me on this matter.

I am now eighty five and have been an active and dedicated trade-unionist all my working life. For ten years I was Works Convenor at the Consett Iron Works. Following the closure of those works I worked at Derwentside College at Consett and was the NUPE branch secretary there for eight years. When NALGO and NUPE combined to become Unison I was elected to be the first Chairman of the current Unison County Durham branch. When I retired in 1996 your branch nominated me to be an Honorary Life Member of Unison and I treasure the framed Certificate of Membership signed by Rodney Bickerstaff.

Durham Unison branch also voted to nominate me for the TUC ‘Gold Medal’ for my services to the trade union movement. I declined the offer because at that time I felt a TUC ‘ Gold Medal’ meant very little from a TUC which had utterly failed to stand up for the miners in their struggle. I wrote and thanked the branch explaining my decision and sincerely stated that the branch’s nomination of me for the medal was of more honour and value to me than the medal.

I enclose a copy of the Labour Party ‘investigation’ letter and hope the branch will support me on this matter. I will also send the branch copies of all the ‘evidence’ in the dossier which has been compiled. I trust the branch will note that in every case I have put my name to my comments, unlike whoever has made the anonymous allegation against me. I am not afraid to speak the truth as I see it and I am always prepared to be accountable for it.

The working people of this country desperately need a Labour Party whose MPs and Councillors can be respected and trusted and can be voted for with confidence. Not those who are perceived to be there for their own benefit and expect Party members to be part of a ‘conspiracy of silence’ to cover up their wrongdoings. I will not do that.

I have not brought the Labour Party into disrepute – I have merely brought to public attention others who have done that.

Although whoever made the allegation is shamefully hidden, there is no doubt that many voters in County Durham will be convinced, rightly or wrongly, that Durham Labour Councillors are behind it. If the local or national Press take an interest in this story that would certainly damage their prospects in the forthcoming local elections.

Thank you all, yours fraternally,

Ray Thompson”

Letter of investigation:



Ken Livingstone: the tangled web


Do I think Ken Livingstone is an anti-Semite? No.

Is that important? Yes.

Do I think his unsolicited defence of Naz Shah was necessary or clever? Absolutely not.

Are elements of the Labour right exploiting those comments for cynical, factional gain? Yup.

Are those attacks also aimed at Corbyn’s leadership? Erm, yes – of course.

Was that predictable? Pretty much.

Do we need further conspiracy theories, involving racist or anti-Semitic tropes? No.

Is everyone who is defending Ken guilty of that? No.

Is Ken the only politician with an addiction to headlines? No.

Do I think that his comments about Hitler and Zionism were well judged, a valuable contribution to the debate? No.

Would that be the case whether they were historically accurate or not? Yes.

Have other politicians made similarly crass interventions? Yes.

Have they all been the subject of disciplinary investigations and a high-profile media hounding? No.

Does that make Ken beyond criticism? No.

Would it have been easier if Ken had apologised? I reckon so.

Was that ever likely? No.

Does that mean that he should be expelled? No.

Does the Livingstone scenario stop us from talking about Israel’s flouting of international law, treatment of the Palestinian people, illegal settlements and killing of civilians? No.

Does that discussion need to be wrapped up in the type of language that David Icke would be proud of? No.


Daniel Kebede: solidarity to the Durham TAs (speech to the #TAsMarchOn Rally 25/3/17)

Guest post by Daniel Kebede of the NUT (speech to Durham Teaching Assistants Rally, 25th March 2017):


My name is Daniel Kebede and I’m a teacher in North Tyneside. I teach within a school for children with social emotional and behavioural difficulties. It’s a challenging environment. We teach mainly white working class boys all of whom have been permanently removed from a mainstream setting. None of our children come from private schools or posh estates, none have had an easy start to their lives, I’m yet to come across a Tarquin or Wigbert…. but I love it.

I’d like to start by thanking the Lions of Durham for inviting me to speak here today. As a rank and file teacher and NUT activist it is a real honour. I am the assistant branch secretary of North Tyneside NUT and I am proud that we are here today. North Tyneside NUT supports your struggle unconditionally. Not only do you have the support of North Tyneside NUT and NUT activists in our region, but I am pleased to be joined on this platform by my General Secretary, Kevin Courtney. What is clear, is from the root to the fruit, the National Union of Teachers, stands in solidarity with the Durham TAs.

I’d like to tell you about someone called Pauline. She has 100 different tasks to do a day. She does the morning toast, she takes care of any tears, she deals with extreme behaviours and that is just the tip of the iceberg. She has a workload that can sometimes feels like it never ends, but she has one job. She is a teaching assistant. She is the teaching assistant in our classroom and my job would not be possible without her. The bond we have is special as we both know what we each us goes through everyday, trying to provide the best with for our children in a climate of continuing government cuts. Her job is far from easy, the financial rewards are not enough her salary is already too little. But I value her. And if she was to go on the strike, like the teaching assistants in this county, well I wouldn’t cross her picket….. for starters she’d kick my arse. I know the fire of our Pauline. And if there is one thing, that Durham County Council have underestimated, it is the fire of the Durham Lions.

Because let us be really clear, this dispute… as so many have been before, is underpinned by the devaluation of a woman’s work. This predominantly female workforce, who have already had their labour undersold are being SOLD OUT. Not because what they do is not highly skilled, nor without risk or responsibility but because there is a system which normalises their devaluation. And what we have seen throughout history is that where there is no resistance the gravest of injustices occur. I imagine for Durham County Council subservience and submissiveness was what was expected as a response to these changes, that they could have been nodded through with little or no noise. Well Simon Henig and Alan Napier you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

The decision of Durham County Council to attack already low paid women workers, cuts of 23% and thousands of pounds a year, must be continued to be resisted. This dispute will go down in history, like dispute of Jayaben Desai and the striking Sari’s of Grunwick. It will go down in history like the striking sewing machinists of Ford Dagenham. It will go down in history, with only one outcome. Victory for the Durham TA’s.

So my message to Durham County Council is this. End the uncertainty. End the 18 months of worry and pain that is being forced upon these workers and return with a deal of fair pay. Because there is no excuse for these cuts, these cuts are a political choice.

The Durham Lions, you are the essence of resistance. You strike fear into the men in suits, the policy makers who don’t only want to attack you, but want to attack us all. Our schools are being privatised, not only because the rich don’t pay their taxes, not only because businesses see a way of making profits from education. But because privatisation means replacing comprehensive education with selection and elitism. With their grammar schools, they hope to teach us that we aren’t entitled to a decent education, we aren’t entitled to share in the same fruits or eat from the same plate. But they’ve got it wrong. Because there’s a fight back and it is being led by you. So, when you win we all win. But it’s important to remember, we can all be lions. Teaching Assistants, teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters working people up and down this country, have a shared struggle. And it is when we stand our power multiplies.

I started this speech by saying thank you and I want to finish it by saying thank you. Thank you, the Lions of Durham for leading the fight back in education. Thank you for inspiring others to stand up and say no to employers who seek to extract the maximum productivity for the minimum cost. Thank you for fighting on behalf of our class, on behalf of all working people who are being brutalised by a government and economic system that benefits the few and not the many.

To the County Durham Teaching assistants thank you for your strength, for your power and for solidarity.”