A Labour MP facing deselection is threatening her party with legal action over an alleged campaign of “misogynistic” bullying against her.
Lawyers acting for Emma Lewell-Buck say the South Shields MP, who could soon be ousted by the so-called trigger ballot process, has been subject to six years of abuse from local party officials.
Two letters to the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), sent by Lewell-Buck’s lawyers, Goodhart Solicitors, says the party has failed to properly investigate the MP’s numerous complaints since she was elected in 2013.
One letter calls for the party to immediately stop a bid by local party members to remove her, as it may ruin her attempts to adopt a child.
It comes as Labour faces questions about whether it is doing enough to tackle sexism, as four out of the five MPs hit with deselection threats so far have been women.
Senior MP Helen Jones has said there is a “culture of contempt for women” within Labour and that the party must act.
The correspondence, seen by HuffPost UK, states there is an “all-pervading spirit of corruption, bullying and intimidation” in the South Shields local party and that Lewell-Buck’s election agent resigned in January citing “misogynistic and bullying behaviour” towards the MP.
Labour denies Lewell-Buck’s claim that the party has failed to properly investigate claims of bullying and points out that the South Shields Constituency Labour Party (CLP) was suspended for 19 months in 2016 while an internal probe took place.
When the party was reinstated in 2017, former Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn’s, helped to oversee meetings. Labour insists there is “no evidence” to suggest bullying.
But the letter written on Lewell-Buck’s behalf claims the MP has repeatedly been “intimidated or brow-beaten” at meetings since then and that a bullying culture “has been allowed to continue and possibly even empowered by the Labour Party”.
Lewell-Buck has sought counselling in recent weeks, it is understood.
The letter says the MP has “regularly received a significant number of aggressive and unpleasant emails from councillors, the cumulative effect of which caused her to feel intimidated and threatened”.
It also pleads with the party to stop the reselection process while Lewell-Buck is attempting to adopt.
The NEC agreed in July that reselections would be delayed for pregnant MPs.
It is understood that the party will not make an exception for Lewell-Buck’s case as she is not currently on adoption leave, which would be comparable to maternity leave.
The letter says the trigger ballot process “runs the risk of [the MP] unfairly losing her position” and that in turn could “have a negative impact on her adoption prospects”.
“The adoption process can be extremely stressful and any additional stress caused by the reselection process must be avoided,” it says.
Labour says that the adoption point was raised on September 16, after the reselection processes were already underway.
An earlier letter from the lawyers called for the expulsion of a number of officials who were allegedly behind “totally dysfunctional and toxic” culture. HuffPost UK understands that Goodhart Solicitors received no reply.
The letter added that some Labour councillors have been “openly embarrassing and swearing at members and shouting” at the MP during meetings and alleged “instances of members being exposed to physical and verbal threats and refusal of entry to meetings”.
The second letter in September, sent after the first was ignored, reads: “It is disappointing that the central Labour Party has completely ignored our client’s complaints and has treated her (and us) with the utmost disdain.
“This is outrageous. Someone within the Labour Party really must take ownership of this matter without delay.”
Lewell-Buck, who is backed by the pro-Jeremy Corbyn campaign group Momentum, found out on Monday night that activists voted to trigger a process which could see her deselected.
She will now face a vote of the entire membership within the Constituency Labour Party.
Anderson is said to have made several attempts to convene meetings with Lewell-Buck and party officials, but Labour says these were ignored by the MP.
Lewell-Buck has said she would not sit with party officials she felt were targeting her.
The party also said it emailed all South Shields members to ask about issues within the CLP and received just eight responses.
A Labour source said: “An investigation took place which didn’t find evidence to back up these allegations, and a wide range of measures have been put in place to support Emma Lewell-Buck and the CLP.”
Separately, in August last year, local Labour members wrote to Corbyn asking for action.
It reads: “South Shields has long been blighted by a dysfunctional and nasty core of CLP executive officers supported by a significant cohort of councillors, stifling debate and democracy, aggressively threatening and shouting down anyone who dares have a differing view or opinion.”
The leader has not responded, and the party has said it is a matter for officials. South Shields CLP officials declined to comment.