The Barnett v. Dhedi fallout: things are getting nasty

If a recent exchange of correspondence is anything to go by, the Barnett-Dhedi affair (covered in two previous posts) has turned decidedly nasty.

Writing on behalf of the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques to Cllr. Robbins, Media Officer Irfan Akhta’s stance is predictably shrill. Cllr. Barnett’s infelicitous language is ‘Islamaphobic’ and ‘grossly offensive’. Religious viewpoints  must be ‘respected’ and ‘understood’. The fact that an internal Labour Party investigation found Cllr. Barnett had no case to answer only adds insult to injury. ‘The community’ was owed an explanation. The investigation should have been ‘an open, transparent process’ with ‘the public…kept informed’. What actually happened was ‘non-transparent’ and ‘raised more questions than answers’. Now, not only are Cllr. Barnett’s Muslim constituents afraid to approach him, but the local Labour Party itself stands accused of being insufficiently vigilant in opposing ‘all forms of discrimination, including Islamophobia’. Even ‘Muslim cllrs’ are chastised, for apparently insisting on due process. In the minds of zealots, thus are molehills turned into mountains.

By contrast, Cllr. Robbins response is very surprising indeed. His tone is notably tart. Having originally consulted the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques over the Barnett-Dhedi affair (at least if its central protagonist is to be believed), Cllr. Robbins now emphasises that this is a private Labour matter, which must be addressed in terms of its rule book. And he also suggests that the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques may be intent on promoting divisions, a point underlined in his parting shot that his door will remain firmly closed to those who are ‘stirring up hatred and pitting communities against one another’.

There is also a sting in the tail. For it is revealed that because he recently spoke to the Waltham Forest Guardian, Cllr. Barnett is to be suspended for a further three months.

Looked at in perspective, this is clearly yet another skirmish in Waltham Forest Labour’s continuing civil wars; the vanities on display are markedly unappealing; and it is difficult (on the basis of the evidence that is currently in the public domain) to see much merit on either side.

But there are also some serious issues emerging. What are we to make of a party which forbids elected councillors from speaking to the local press? To repeat, Cllr. Barnett was found by an external inquiry to have no case to answer. If the Labour hierarchy declined to make this public, surely Cllr. Barnett had every reason to? After all, his integrity and reputation were at stake.  Is the decision to suspend him anew in itself not an attack on free speech and democracy? What exactly is the Labour leadership so afraid of?

Likewise, what of Cllr. Barnett’s contention in his defence statement (published on this website) that Cllr. Dhedi was the causa causans of this whole affair, by placing on Facebook ‘a post…which was clearly an attempt to justify the murders of the Charlie hebdo [sic] cartoonists’? Either this is true, or it is an invention, but whichever is the case, significant repercussions must surely follow.

Finally, someone, somewhere, must have the full transcript of the two Facebook friends’ conversation on that fateful night.

Dare we hope for a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ moment?

Now that will be fun….