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Marcia Hutchinson quit membership and stood down as councillor accusing Labour of racism and bullying. She says black members were prevented from attending selection to ensure a white man with close links to party hierarchy picked

Black woman Marcia Hutchinson recently quit both as a Manchester councillor and as a Labour party member in disgust at what she described as the racism and bullying she had faced – which she said was the worst she had ever experienced. Another black woman councillor received a written warning and a threat of expulsion from the party for asking for the abuse toward Hutchinson to stop.

But now Hutchinson says the party has blocked black members from participating in the meeting to select Labour’s candidate to succeed her, in order to ensure that her replacement is a white man who works for a so-called ‘centrist’ Labour MP in the city.

Ms Hutchinson says that ‘rules were both changed and broken to replace me with Gareth Worthington, a white man’ – and that the selection is a textbook case of institutionalised racism:

After I resigned as a Manchester Councillor citing racism and bullying, you might have thought that every effort would be made to avoid racism in the selection process to replace me. You would be wrong. Rules were both changed and broken to replace me with Gareth Worthington, a white man.

The definition of institutionalised racism most currently in use was written by Sir William Macpherson after the enquiry into the Metropolitan Police found they had failed to investigate the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence:-

‘The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping.’

The process for my replacement is a case study in institutionalized racism.

Ms Hutchinson went on to outline the structure of the process and the multiple bodies of the party involved – yet in fact representing a relatively small number of influential individuals:

Actually there are a number of ‘organisations’ involved here but together they make up the ‘institution’ of the Labour Party.

● Ancoats and Beswick Labour Branch
● Manchester Central Constituency Labour Party
● City Party (Manchester’s Local Government Committee)
● North West Regional Labour office
● Manchester Labour Group (Manchester’s Labour Councillors)
● Manchester City Council (94 out of 96 councillors represent Labour)
● The Labour Party (nationally)

Although technically each of these organisations is separate there is a common thread of individuals involved.

And she points out the inadequate representation of black people on the council, which has less than half the number of black councillors that should be expected given their significance among the population:

It is not disputed that African Heritage people are underrepresented as councillors on Manchester City Council. We make up 12% of the population but less than 5% of councillors. To my knowledge no action has ever been taken by the Council, the Labour Group, or the Local Government Committee to address this imbalance.

Contrast this with the mammoth rule breaking efforts made to ensure that Gareth Worthington was selected as the Labour candidate to replace me.

Those rule breaches by the Labour right establishment on the council include a breach of the normal practice of imposing an all-women shortlist to replace a departing woman councillor, to ensure that women’s representation is not diluted:

Under Manchester Labour’s current rules where a female councillor steps down there is automatically an all woman shortlist. The rules sent out to members of Ancoats and Beswick branch explicitly state that when a female councillor ‘retires’ there will be an all-woman shortlist.

However, in the wake of my resignation, for the first time ever (as far as I know), an all woman shortlist was converted to an open shortlist in which male candidates were entitled to be shortlisted. There was no debate or vote on opening the shortlist.

The former councillor says that local officials and Labour’s regional office worked together to open up the shortlist to male applicants – and that some locals knew that it was happening six days before the decision was officially confirmed. She then goes on to outline the procedural methods used to disenfranchise black members and black women applicants:

In order to be allowed into the meeting branch members needed to have joined the Labour Party before the 24th of November 2020 and be up-to-date with their membership fees. Labour Party records are not always up to date but in every selection process that I’ve experienced in the past, the party records are sacrosanct. Basically, if your name’s not down you’re not coming in.

However two white people … were allowed to show bank statements to prove that they had in fact paid their subscriptions and were allowed into the meeting.

Four black people who were in the Zoom waiting room were refused entry. When I queried this at the meeting, [the councillor in charge] explained that it was because they had not joined by the cut-off date. But I later found out that two of them, Sharlene Small and ‘IO’ had joined before the freeze date and had paid their memberships up to date. The system may have been showing arrears but unlike their white counterparts they were not given the opportunity to prove that they had paid.

Sharlene Small

Sharlene Small, one of the black women denied entry, said,

I arrived early for the meeting at 6:45 p.m. and stayed in the Zoom waiting room until the meeting was over. While I was waiting to get into the meeting nobody spoke to me. I was simply left in the waiting room. It is simply not true that I was given the opportunity to prove that my membership subscriptions were paid up.

The imbalance in the treatment of black and white members, together with the voting system used, turned out to be decisive in the outcome of the selection meeting:

Two black candidates, Thirza Asanga Rae and Kemoy Walker had eleven supporters, but only seven of those were allowed into the meeting. Gareth Worthington had six supporters and all six were allowed into the meeting.

The meeting voted for a shortlist of two. Had all those present and eligible been allowed to choose the shortlisted candidates by a show of hands, Kemoy and Thirza would have been shortlisted as they had the majority in the room.

However the decision was made to use the system called ‘Anonyvoter’, which meant that each of the people present would be sent an email after the meeting and would have to go online to select their candidates.

One of the people attending the meeting, an older Jamaican man ‘RB’, does not use a computer or a smart phone often and was unable to access his rarely used email account. Despite myself and other members writing to the branch secretary and the NW Regional Office to ask that he be allowed to vote in a different way, this was refused. His exclusion meant that Kemoy and Thirza’s supporters were reduced to just six. The same number of supporters as Gareth had at the meeting.

Brian Barton

Branch member Brian Barton said:

I was angry at the way Marcia Hutchinson was treated as a councillor. Also I was angry at the Chair of the selection meeting who refused to engage in my questioning of the procedures used at the shortlisting meeting.

On 14th November it was announced that Worthington and Asanga Rae had been shortlisted. Ms Hutchinson asked the meeting’s chair how Worthington had been shortlisted and was told this would be explained at the selection meeting. She says no such explanation was given, however, nor was a breakdown of the voting provided.

The selection meeting took place via Zoom on Wednesday 15 December. The three people who were excluded from the shortlisting meeting were so disgusted about their exclusion that they did not attempt to attend the selection meeting. Two of them have written letters of complaint.

Ms Hutchinson also wrote a letter of complaint to the party, copying in local officers and both the party’s regional director and his deputy. Based on the party’s existing track record, the issue is unlikely to be resolved before the by-election is over and done.

Marcia Hutchinson says the party breached its own rules and practices in installing Mr Worthington as its candidate and is calling for :-

● an investigation into the decision to allow an open shortlist
● an investigation into why the black branch members were excluded.
● a full explanation of how Gareth Worthington obtained enough votes to be shortlisted.
● the shortlisting meeting to be immediately rerun with the inclusion of the black members who were prevented from voting in the first one
● the post meeting ‘Anonyvote’ ballots to be sent to all people who were eligible to attend the meeting

She concludes:

All of the organisations and individuals involved in the process by which Gareth Worthington was selected will no doubt claim to be anti-racist and just following the rules but their actions undermine this. There is a name for what took place: gerrymandering.

It had a real impact on real people. Kemoy Walker, a black man who has been on the panel of prospective candidates for over five years was deliberately excluded. Kemoy is a teacher, activist and an active Labour member in Moss Side…

I am aware that much of this information is quite technical but I’m concerned that it reflects a deep-rooted culture of gerrymandering within the Labour Party and it’s something that I feel a moral duty to expose as a whistleblower. Black people are not just underrepresented within Manchester’s Labour Group, but throughout the Labour Party, and have been leaving the party in large numbers since the election of Keir Starmer as party leader.

Just imagine if one tenth of the effort put into getting Gareth Worthington selected was put into getting more black councillors elected in Manchester, the under representation could be sorted almost overnight.

They could change things if they wanted to, they just don’t want to.

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