A meeting in West Yorkshire featuring controversial MP Chris Williamson, who is suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of anti-Semitism, as guest speaker has been called off for the time being.
Organised by Calderdale Trades Union Council at Hebden Bridge Town Hall tomorrow, the meeting was opposed by some political groups including the Calderdale Liberal Democrats.
They have published a statement of protest also signed by senior local Conservative and Change UK politicians claiming Mr Williamson had been invited to speak about the Labour Party’s handling of anti-Semitism – a claim the Trades Council says is misleading.
The event was cancelled amid fears that demonstrations over Mr Williamson’s visit might impact on a wedding booked in afterwards. The Trades Council says it understands those reasons and aims to reschedule the meeting later in the year.
Mr Williamson is suspended by the Labour Party over anti-Semitism allegations pending a final decision over his future in the party.
The row began when The Yorkshire Post published a video showing the Derby North MP telling activists in Sheffield that Labour had been “too apologetic” over anti-Semitism and was being “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”.
Mr Williamson is fighting the decision and on social media says he has been an anti-racist all his life.
The statement has been signed by Leaders of the Council’s Liberal Democrat and Conservative Groups, Calder Valley’s Conservative MP Craig Whittaker, chair of Calderdale Liberal Democrats Mark Pittaway and Change UK councillor Colin Peel.
At Calderdale Council Cabinet earlier this week Coun Baker asked Labour group leader and leader of the council Tim Swift if he would also sign it, but he declined.
Coun Swift emphasised the Trades Council is not a part of the Labour Party and said: “I don’t think Mr Williamson’s visit is either welcome or helpful but I don’t think that a joint letter from myself, yourself and Coun Benton would be actually particularly helpful or useful in challenging this.”
The statement alleges “the topic on which Chris Williamson has been invited to speak is the Labour Party’s handling of anti-Semitism”, includes an extract from an advertisement for the event and says: “We believe this event seeks to undermine the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s internationally recognised definition of anti-Semitism.
“We believe this event will contribute towards creating a hostile environment for Jewish members of our community,” said the statement, urging the Trades Council to consider disinviting Mr Williamson.
A spokesperson for Calderdale TUC said it was Liberal Democrat efforts to prevent the Trades Council’s public meeting from taking place that should be condemned.
Coun Baker was misleading people as to the meeting’s purpose, he said, adding: “It is easy to forget that the sole purpose of CTUC’s public meeting, given a possibly imminent General Election, was to hold a Labour MP to account over two pledges especially of interest to trade unionists – namely, that the next Labour Government will implement a decent pay rise for all public sector workers and will repeal all the Tory anti union laws.
“Calderdale TUC wants to test those pledges – which are not being made by the Lib Dems nor the Tories they implemented austerity cuts with during 2010 – 2015.”
If Coun Baker had wanted to challenge Chris Williamson over the allegations he faced, he could have done so at the meeting, said the spokesperson.
“Mr Baker could have attended our meeting and made his points and, if Chris Williamson was content to go into the matter of his subsequent suspension, had a response.
“Instead Mr Baker seeks to prevent trade unionists across Calderdale from hearing an MP satisfy them, or not, that Labour’s pledges affecting them will be delivered.
“Members of the Jewish community Mr Baker does not speak for, those who certainly do not believe Mr Williamson is anti-Semitic, have also been denied the chance to hear him speak,” he said.
Rory Deighton, a trustee of Hebden Bridge Community Association, the organisation responsible for running the Town Hall, said that as a community organisation the association constantly balanced the needs of all of stakeholders.
“This issue was discussed at our Board meeting last week where the Trustees agreed that the event, and likely protest, was likely to have an impact on staff and other users of the building that day that we could not accept.
“We have a wedding booked the same day and we agreed to prioritise the special day for these two people, their family and guests over any other obligations.
“Accordingly we cancelled the booking, and the organisers of the meeting have, very reasonably, accepted this decision.”