Why I had to go. But don’t mess up; I’ll be watching. | Jon Clempner

Why I had to go. But don’t mess up; I’ll be watching.

Feb 01

Why I had to go. But don’t mess up; I’ll be watching.

There has been a lot of speculation about why I resigned as Leader of Harlow Council, as a Councillor, and subsequently as a member of the Labour Party. I had not intended to issue a statement, and just move on, making a contribution to the town and community I love in other ways. There has however been active briefing and misinformation, ranging from it was my free choice, to it was because of my health, and more specifically because of my mental health, so I probably ought to put my side of the story.

Those who follow my personal social media will know I did not react well to an active campaign against my leadership by a local Momentum organiser (which this individual denies, despite several independent witnesses), being called a neo-Nazi by some Corbyn t-shirt wearing person outside the Labour Party Conference, and events at a national level targeting Labour Councillors and Labour Councils that do not conform to the particular form of ideological purity that seems to have taken a grip of the party, and that will shortly culminate in the output of a party ‘democracy review’ to make Councillors more accountable to a small group of party members (and less to the actual electorate presumably). Councillors, unless formally endorsed by the privately owned company Momentum, seem to have replaced the Parliamentary Labour Party as the focus of the hard left’s ire.

Being an active social media user, and being in a particularly unhappy political place, my social media output reflected that. I’ll be honest my angst did concern some of those people who genuinely cared about me. But I was officially warned about my calling out the behaviour of others (and to be clear, no names were mentioned, and only the specific perpetrators or the witnesses to their campaign would have known who I was referring to), as it might paint the party in a bad light.

I had intended to use the Christmas Break to reflect on my position, and make an active decision on my future, but due to family circumstances, including my mother being in and out of hospital, I did not get the chance to do that until the 7th of January, the day after I had dropped my mother off at my Brother’s. I posted on my private Facebook page that I was inclined to go on, but privately I gave myself until the 13th March to make a final decision, which would have got the council through the Budget and Local plan, and ensured that if I did decide to go, the by-election would be on the same day as all the other local elections in May.

I was however summoned by the Chair of the Labour Group, and the Deputy Leader on Monday 8th of January, and informed that the Labour Group needed clarity and I had to make a decision (it turned out that most of the Group hadn’t any clue about what was going on, so exactly who was demanding clarity is still not clear). We briefly discussed the three options – giving me more time was discounted as it would not have provided the clarity that apparently the group was demanding, I could commit to carrying on – at least until after the May elections when there would be an election for Leader in the normal course, or I could go. I was given one and a half hours to make a decision. In that short time I could not agree to go on indefinitely, and that left me with only one option. I had to go, and apparently I would be told by the Deputy Leader after the group meeting when that was to be.

The Labour Group was briefed that evening, apparently to the effect that I had decided to resign, with no context. The Chair of the Labour group was asked by another group member (who could not be at the meeting) to ask the group to give me some more time to make an informed and rational decision. That option was apparently not put to the group, and it was clear that many group members were unaware that I was ‘considering my position’.

When I found out that the group had not been given the background, and not asked if I could have more time to consider my options, I challenged the Deputy Leader, and to cut a long story short following a flurry of emails (all of which I have clearly kept a copy of), it was asserted that I had always been given the option of more time, and that I was ‘gaslighting’ (I had to look it up), to try to put suggestions into others minds. Those that know me well will know that being blatantly lied to, in the face of personal experience and evidence, is something I have zero tolerance of, and given that, I felt I had to go immediately.

With one or two notable exceptions, the Labour group, and the party as a whole (with the exception of press releases put together by the regional party press office) seemed to want to airbrush me out of existence, and partly because of this, and the fact that the Labour Party was becoming a deeply unpleasant place, I resigned from the Labour Party shortly after.

Now there are some in the local party who will be glad to see me go, some because of personal ambition, some because of ideology, and some because they just want to keep their head down and not attract negative attention from the thought police, and no doubt this blog will result in the amplification of the negative briefing that had been going on, and some open personal attacks. What is uplifting however has been the kind words of support from almost everyone else outside the party (and to be fair, as I said one or two notable exceptions within the party). I have been inundated with support on social media, by email, private message and text, as well as in the street, supermarket, and one or two house calls. Local businesses, faith groups, public and private organisations, friends and strangers have all wished me well and thanked me for the positive difference that has been made under my watch. I am proud of what has been achieved.

I am going to leave the positive stuff, on what I intend to do in the future (which very much has making a positive contribution to Harlow at its heart), the legacy for the town and for the Council, all of which should bear fruit in the next few years, to a later blog. But I am going to end on an appeal – whoever takes over, understand that ‘I don’t do detail’ is not a badge of honour, professionalism, pragmatism, and competence are not the opposite of passion and conviction politics – they are essential bedfellows, and that being leader is more than a nameplate on a door, and putting your name to a press release. Don’t mess up – I will be watching.

 

3 comments

  1. George Kieffer /

    Dear John

    Genuinely sorry to hear that you felt it necessary to resign as Leader. You have done a lot for Harlow and its residents and as a result the future looks a lot brighter or Harlow’s future prosperity.

    I wish you all the best for the future and I am delighted to hear that you will continue to work for the benefit of Harlow in the future.

    Kind regards

    George

  2. Paul McLintic /

    Hi Jon

    Democracy needs respect and tolerance for others’ views and there are troubling signs in both Labour and Conservative parties of this respect and tolerance breaking down. When as a result good people like you are driven out by the bullies, and I you are entitled not to want to put up with them, then it’s the worse for our society.

    So, local politics will be the worse for your leaving the council but, as you are going to devote yourself to the town in other ways, all is not lost. I’m sure you will find fulfilling and useful things to occupy your skills.

    Thank you for being an example of how to do it well in public service.

    Also, well done for your entry in the Harlow Open. It’s an engaging photograph.

    Best wishes

    Paul

  3. David . /

    Hi Jon, sorry to hear what has been happening, afraid it becoming more common in our party in the last two years. I wish you well for the future, I hope one day {when sanity returns to our party} you will rejoin the Labour fold. I am still currently a member {29yrs} I am willing to stick out the slow moving hurricane, lets hope it will pass before i go to my resting place. We still have many good members in our party.

    still living in hope for the future of our party,

    David

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