At last night’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party you told MPs off for leaking information to websites. Passing information to websites, even Labour-friendly websites, is not in the comradely spirit, you said.
A particular example you gave was the reporting of Labour MPs who didn’t vote in the select committee elections. You said that this was definitely not in the comradely spirit.
You framed the point in general terms. We thank you for your delicacy. But Labour Uncut is the website in question. The select committee non-voters was our story. And it is only Uncut which has been publishing reports from PLP meetings and leaked round robin emails sent to Labour MPs.
We thank you for making your points in a comradely fashion and offer this response in the same spirit.
1. Non-voting MPs in select committee elections
You should have published this list. MPs should have been told in advance that a list of non-voters would be published, then it should have been. As citizens, the question of whether or not we vote in Parliamentary, local government and European elections is a matter of public record. As MPs, every vote you cast in the House of Commons is a matter of public record (not just whether, but how). As Labour MPs, your specially weighted votes in the leadership election will be published (not just whether, but how).
By all the above standards, it is indefensible that 25 Labour MPs’ choice not to vote in important new Parliamentary elections should be secret. If you had published the list, we would have had no story.
2. Communicating results of select committee elections to Labour MPs
We also published the email the PLP sent to all Labour MPs giving the results of the first tranche of elections, those elected unopposed, and those elections now outstanding. Again, you should have published this. By emailing it to 258 of the most indiscreet people in the world, you were hardly treating it as information which it was important to keep secret. So why not publish it? The Tories did.
And people outside the tea room want to know, and have a right to know. As chair of the PLP, you are not just the shop steward to the 258 Labour MPs; you also have a responsibility – as do they – to the 150,000 members of the Labour party who put them there.
the PLP is not just a Westminster club, much though it might feel like it. PLP select committee elections are not just a matter for the people eligible to vote in them. The party members who select you as candidates and thus send you to Westminster also have some ownership.
You sent out another email last night with the latest results. Why didn’t you publish this? People want to know. And not just Labour members. Citizens.
(Nor has Uncut published vexatiously or irresponsibly. We deleted the part of the first results email which apologised for a cock-up – so as not to embarrass the officials concerned and not to make cheap shots about irrelevant things too easy for the enemy.)
3. Reports from PLP meetings.
You have a better argument here. There is value in a private meeting. From the party’s point of view, it would be better if everything that happened at the PLP stayed at the PLP. As you know, this very point is often made at PLP meetings, and it always gets the biggest cheer and a resounding clap.
To some extent, this is just the natural tension between the organisation’s wish to have a private conversation with itself and our equally valid journalistic imperative to discover and report.
The plea to MPs for discretion is undermined, though, by what happens whenever the leader or anybody important speaks at a time of any moment. As you know, what happens then is that an army of spinners goes out from the meeting, plunges eagerly into the waiting press throng and sets about telling them exactly what has been said, how the leader triumphed, the mood of the meeting shifted, the crescendo was clamorous, the day was won.
On such occasions, MPs who have anything good to say about how well it all went are encouraged to loiter and drop some grassroots credibility into the ear of any hack who will listen (which is not usually many: they have neither the time nor the appetite for coal-face authenticity).
So, yes, it would be nice to have a truly private meeting. But you can’t have it both ways. The confessional is sacrosanct. It is not sacrosanct most of the time, except when it suits the priest to tell everybody what was said.
The list could go on. These are a handful of particular examples of a general issue. Which you’re addressing through the wrong end of the telescope. The question shouldn’t be “how can we better keep our proceedings secret”? It should be “why are we trying to keep our proceedings secret in an age of openness”?
We at Labour Uncut are obviously not the only ones who think so. There is no shortage of Labour MPs ready to share information which they see no reason to withhold.
Transparency is all the rage these days, Tony. The PLP needs to catch up.
With best wishes,
in comradeship and solidarity,